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A Tale of Two Publishers

EA and Activision's battle for revenue supremacy is less interesting than their divergent strategies.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Published as part of our sister-site' widely-read weekly newsletter, the Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to newsletter subscribers.

Ever since Activision merged with Vivendi - leapfrogging Electronic Arts to create the world's largest third-party publisher - the fortunes of the industry's top two have been watched intently. This week's quarterly financial results from the pair are no exception, having been discussed and dissected across both the industry and the markets.

One thing is certain - Activision Blizzard retains its crown, beating its own guidance to pull in over $1 billion in revenue, while EA managed only $644 million, with losses leaping to $234 million. EA protests that its performance is down to deferred revenue adjustments, but even if you adjusted for that, Activision would be the larger publisher by some margin.

Those headline figures, however, are merely scraping the surface of the data which these results actually show us. The facile question of which publisher is bigger is increasingly unimportant as the market diversifies and expands - what's really interesting here is to look at where those revenues come from.

Looking more closely at the figures in that regard reveals that while it may be fun to think of Activision Blizzard and EA as being locked in a titanic struggle for superiority (and there's little doubt that some people at the companies involved see it that way, too), these are actually two very different companies, operating in surprisingly different markets.

Consider the relative breakdown of revenues by platform. The single biggest slice of Activision Blizzard's revenue comes from massively multiplayer games - more specifically, it comes from World of Warcraft, which accounts for a third of the publisher's revenues. Electronic Arts does compete in this space, with Warhammer Online for example, but it's a fairly small part of EA's business.

On the other side of the equation, the single biggest contributor to EA's revenues was the Nintendo Wii platform, which has grown strongly in prominence in the past year. In second place on the publisher's chart was the PC platform. The publisher's champion products reflect that - EA Sports Active and The Sims 3 are named as top performers.