If you want to survive in the video game business these days, you better make sure that you’ve got all your bases covered. It isn’t enough to have a snappy game for PlayStation 3 on a Blu-ray disc for sale down at Walmart. It isn’t even enough if that game is the most brilliantly conceived artistic vision in the history of the medium. The big publishers survive through ubiquity, by having games on every platform at all price ranges accessible to as many people as possible. Electronic Arts knows the score: The company has invested heavily in mobile games, buying up huge studios like PopCap games, and its mobile revenues grew 17% last year to $284 million, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue from digital platforms.
Activision Blizzard has been less aggressive in expanding beyond the traditional console and PC space. The company does huge digital business, $1.4 billion in fiscal 2012 alone, but that’s thanks predominantly to downloadable sales and subscription fees for Blizzard titles like World of Warcraft and add-on content for games like Call of Duty. Mobile games simply aren’t a priority for Activision.
That’s changing fast. Activision announced a new partnership with Flurry Inc. on Wednesday. Flurry, a mobile analytics company, will team with Activision to open a new mobile game publishing arm for the companies. It will seek out independent game studios making mobile games then publish and promote those titles on Apple’s iOS handhelds like iPhone and Android devices. These games will fall under the existing Activision Mobile Publishing umbrella, but the developers will keep ownership of their intellectual property, a rare move for Activision and publishers broadly.
The two companies are playing up the indie angle hard. Flurry CEO Simon Kalaf said, “Activision’s ability to support indie developer innovation, paired with Flurry’s ability to reach over 250 million consumers daily through its AppCircle user acquisition network, positions us to help generate the next wave of top mobile games.”
This is the second major development in mobile games for Activision in recent weeks. As reported on May 22, Activision is opening its own mobile game studio in the U.K. and former members of Rockstar Games are assisting in the staffing process.
All in all, Activision is taking a safe approach to the mobile business. The company’s revenues actually fell year-on-year in fiscal 2012, dropping to $3.9 billion from $4.6 billion the year before. Now is not the time for Activision to be spending huge sums acquiring established mobile studios to force itself into a position of power in mobile games. By publishing promising indie titles and founding its own studios though, the publisher is cultivating the businesses necessary to survive in the changing industry. The mobile revolution has already arrived though, and Activision’s shareholders should keep their fingers crossed that the company isn’t too late to the party.