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As Transformers and Bond sales sink, Activision backs away from licensed games

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As one of the largest video game publishers in the world, Activision Blizzard puts out a huge number of games across a broad swath of platforms every year. Its original games can be hugely profitable. Over the past five years, Activision has released four separate Call of Duty games that have generated $1 billion in sales within months of their respective releases, and the Skylanders series is also now a billion dollar franchise. A huge portion of its catalog though, has always been games based on popular movie, television, comics, and cartoon licenses. In 2012 alone, eight out of fourteen console games published by Activision were licensed titles. Based on the reviews of games like Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, 007 Legends, and Men in Black: Alien Crisis, the terrible reputation of Activision’s licensed games is well deserved. According to Activision, the publisher is turning away from licensed games going forward.

“Like any successful business, Activision Publishing consistently works to align its costs with its revenues—this is an ongoing process,” the company told Kotaku in a statement on Tuesday, “In 2013, we expect to release fewer games based on licensed properties and as a result are realigning our structure to better reflect the market opportunities and our slate.”

Activision still plans to release a number of licensed games in the coming year, including High Moon Studios’ Deadpool, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, and a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Game. For the first time in some years, though, Activision doesn’t have an announced Spider-man, James Bond, or Transformers game on its release schedule.

Why shift away from licensed product now? While movie tie-ins series like Transformers were once cash cows for game publishers, the rise of mobile and social games have made $60 licensed console games less attractive to consumers – especially when these games face poor critical reception. For example, 2007’s Transformers: The Game sold more than 3 million copies across multiple platforms. 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon meanwhile only sold upwards of 1 million. More recent titles have fared even worse. The aforementioned 007 Legends sold a measly 360,000 copies, compared to the more than 3 million copies 007: Quantum of  Solace sold in 2008. 

The drawback of Activision reigning in its licensed game business is that some employees have lost their jobs in the process. “Approximately 30 full-time employees have been impacted globally, which represents one half of one percent of Activision Blizzard’s employee population. We are offering those employees who are impacted outplacement counseling services.”

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