Monday, August 29, 2016

Prepared for Legion, and Ding, Level 100 #27

So I've finished preparing the Joar empire for Legion, which is to say, I didn't do a whole lot.  The first four or five toons that I'm likely to level have had their bags cleaned out and they are more or less ready to go.  Folks are generally either in Orgrimmar, Stormwind, or their garrison, and most folks have done the Broken Isles quest line (although I wonder if that will actually even be needed after a while, I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow).

I'm generally taking a much more casual approach to this one than I have in the past.  No lengthy to-do lists.  No significant advance preparation.  Even some basics like buying food I didn't bother with, because it has finally occurred to me that there's almost always better food and bandages available almost immediately in the new questing areas.  But hey.  I'm ready.  Ready enough.

In the meantime, I managed to get toon #27 to 100 purely on the back of doing invasions.  This was neither the fire mage or the shaman that I had been working on, but instead was a third druid.  Sunfiring the shit out of everything was just excellent for keeping that XP rolling in.  I managed to get him to 100 in slightly less than half the time that it would have taken to do purely by questing.  And with the added advantage that he was immediately iLvL 700 based on all the chests he had to open.

The one thing that I did do in preparation for launch was to get all the current /played times for my toons recorded so that I can appropriately measure the time to level to 110 for all them.  Strangely, it's not that I even care about the speed at this point.  That gets adjusted so much these days over the course of an expansion that I'm not sure it matters anymore.  But because I've been doing it since Cataclysm, I hate to stop now.

At some point tomorrow afternoon'ish, Joar will be embarking on the path to 110.  I'm actually not in any giant hurry at this point.  Just going to enjoy it for what it is.

Cheers.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gearing Up Alts, and Ding #24, #25 and #26

OK, so #24 and #25 were quite a while ago, and were my boosted Outlaw Rogue, my third hunter and now a shiny new demon hunter.  I was going to go ahead and finish up the demon hunter quest line on the alliance side as well, but I noticed that I actually hit 100 pretty far before finishing the storyline, so I figured I'd wait so I could use the starting area to get a head start towards 110 on him.

So rather than work on #27, #28 etc using the invasions, I'm actually using them to gear up some of the lesser geared alts.  The goal is to have all 26 level 100's at a minimum ilvl of at least 660 by the time Legion releases.  I may bump that up a bit at some point, because at least now, I'm showing really fast gains using the invasions.  My lowest geared alt at the moment is at 626 and that's essentially with only working on this for a day since I was out on holiday all of last week.

So I may pick up and try to invasion my way through some levels on some toons at some point, but at least for now, I'm sticking with just gearing folks.

So here are some generally spoiler free thoughts on the invasions and Broken Shores questline.  My first thought on the Broken Shores quest line was to wonder when George R. R. Martin started writing content for Blizzard.  In general, I thought the story was pretty well done, although there were a few things that I was wondering (and I haven't finished the whole Harbinger series yet, so some of this may be expalined there).  Main question in my mind was where was Khadgar?

Also, portions of the main scenario still seemed a bit glitchy to me, which was disappointing, but in general, it was a really nice way to get a feel for your new class layouts and abilities if you hadn't done so already.

The invasions have been fun so far as well.  I'm a bit confused by the weapon drops and weapon upgrade items given that we'll all be replacing our weapons in a couple of weeks, but I guess that's okay.  The invasions are also making me very happy that I finally splurged and bought top level flying for all my toons.

So that's it for now.

Cheers.

Friday, August 5, 2016

An Analysis of Blizzard's Second Quarter Earnings Release

So this quarter again marked more changes in what Activision-Blizzard reports in their earnings releases on a quarterly basis, and we'll get to more information that later.

Overall, it was a fantastically successful quarter for Activision-Blizzard.  They reported non-GAAP revenue of $1.6 billion for the quarter, compared to $759 million in the prior year, an increase of 112%.  Non-GAAP EPS increased from $0.13 per share to $0.54 per share, and increase of 315%, and soundly beat the consensus estimates by the analysts that follow the company, which were $0.42 per share.

The company also generated an enormous amount of cash during the quarter, with free cash flow of $435 million for the quarter and $717 million year to date.  They paid off another $816 million of debt taken on from the Candy Crush acquisition during the quarter.  Combine that with the repayments from Q1, and that means that they've already repaid $1.3 billion of the $2.3 billion in total debt that they took on to help finance the King / Candy Crush acquisition just FIVE MONTHS AGO.  This company continues to be a cash generating machine.

On Monthly Active User's ("MAU's"), the company's new organization-wide user engagement metric, MAU's as a whole were down, with declines in both King and Activision more than offsetting a significant increase for Blizzard, driven mostly by the release of Overwatch.

Here is the table from their 10-Q:


The decline at Activision from prior quarter is due to the release of Call of Duty:  Black Ops III in the fall of 2015, which caused numbers to be high for the last couple of quarters.

So overall, a very positive quarter for the Company as a whole.

The one interesting change that I referenced earlier is that for the first time in recent history, the company did not include any detailed financial information for their individual segments (i.e., Activision, Blizzard and King) in their earnings release.  That information is still publicly available, but as I discussed last quarter, you now have to hunt down their Form 10-Q filing with the SEC to find it (see my discussion of what's in their 10-Q here).

So in terms of information for Blizzard specifically, revenue for the quarter was up 92% from $385 million to $738 million.  Operating income for the quarter was up 185% from $117 million to $333 million and operating margins increased from 30.3% to 45.1%.  For the first six months of the year, revenue for Blizzard was up 40% from $737 million to $1,032 million.  Operating profit for the first six months increased 64% from $256 million to $419 million.  Operating margins increased from 34.7% to 40.6%.

According to their 10-Q filing, the increase in Blizzard revenue was due to increases for Overwatch and Hearthstone, offset by declines in Diablo III (which released in China in the second quarter of last year).  Revenue was also impacted by declines in Heroes of the Storm and Warcraft (due to a smaller subscriber base).  They also mentioned that sales and marketing costs were up for Blizzard due to current and future product launches.

The other specific item that was mentioned on the earnings call was the pre-purchases of Legion were tracking in line with where they were with pre-purchases for Warlords.

So that's it for this quarter.  Stayed tuned later this month for more from @AlternativeChat and I in podcast form as we'll dive into more details on the earnings release, quarterly reports and other developments!



Monday, August 1, 2016

A Change in How Blizzard Reports Revenue

On Friday, Blizzard hosted a brief conference call with their investors to explain some changes that would be coming with this quarter in how they present their revenue.

As I've discussed in this space before, Blizzard presents their revenue on both a GAAP and a non-GAAP basis.  GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.  GAAP requires that Blizzard record their revenue when it is actually earned and not necessarily when they collect the cash.  

As a quick example, let's look at the WoW Token.  On a non-GAAP basis, as soon as Blizzard sells that WoW Token to someone, they are counting that $20 as non-GAAP revenue as soon as they have your cash in hand.  But on a GAAP basis, they aren't allowed to record the cost of that Token as revenue until someone actually uses it for game time.

Similar differences occur if you are pre-ordering a product like Legion, or if you are paying for your subscription in 6 month blocks.

Back in May, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates public companies like Activision-Blizzard that trade on U.S. stock exchanges, issued new rules and regulation on the use of non-GAAP measures by public companies.  

In response to those new rules, Blizzard announced that they will no longer be disclosing non-GAAP revenue in their earnings releases.  Only GAAP revenue.

They said they will continue to use non-GAAP revenue internally to measure their performance and incentivize their people, but just won't continue to disclose it externally.

Here is a link to a presentation that Blizzard used on the call on Friday that explains the differences:


So what does this mean for those of us that follow Blizzard closely.  Very little.  As you can tell from the presentation, while they won't have an actual line on their earnings release for non-GAAP revenue, all of the information that you need to calculate that number will still be there and easily available, so we'll continue to calculate it and talk about it in the analysis that I do every quarter on their releases.