The past four months have been miserable ones for Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA). EA stock has fallen a stunning 44% from its July peak. Though lackluster outlooks delivered during that time have been cited as the cause, the selloff still seems excessive relative to the gamemaker’s guidance.
Merely pointing out the oddity doesn’t exactly inspire new bullish interest. Electronic Arts stock still looks and feels like a falling knife, and without a clear response to the growth of game-streaming and more competition from smaller, alternative developers, the foreseeable future isn’t exactly thrilling.
Nevertheless, this is the time — the time when it appears completely unownable — to start wading into the position in EA stock you’ve been postponing.
Why Has EA Stock Fallen So Far?
Take your pick of reasons why Electronic Arts has been battered since July. Rival Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) certainly has to get some of the credit. Its newest iteration in its Call of Duty franchise looks like another winner, keeping interest in EA’s comparable Battlefield series in check. Simultaneously, Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO) subsidiary Rockstar is turning heads with its long-awaited sequel to Red Dead Redemption. Meanwhile, what the better-known rivals can’t take away from EA, indie and lesser-known publishers can. Who would have thought that Fortnite, from Epic Games, would have become the sensation it has?
It’s not just a failure to keep gamers interested that’s worked against Electronic Arts stock though. Times and technology have changed — as have consumer preferences.
Yes, the aforementioned advent of streaming games and online access is one of those changes EA didn’t seem to anticipate. It unveiled a subscription-based PC game platform earlier this year, but it’s hardly a game-changer.
Electronic Arts is also still doesn’t have a commanding presence on the increasingly important mobile gaming landscape, which is democratized for the benefit of smaller publishers, and doesn’t lend itself to EA’s full-sized-screen strengths.
It’s not that Electronic Arts has been devastated by colossal failure on any one of these fronts. It’s that it’s struggled on all of them, leading the company to lower its guidance a couple of quarters in a row now. The second instance dialed back EA’s 2019 full-year revenue estimate by $450 million, convincing at least some investors had become only a shell of its former self.
EA Has Been Here Before
Something that’s often overlooked about the video-gaming sector, but it’s a very cyclical industry.
It’s not a cycle that’s in sync with the economy’s expansions and contractions. Gamers always seem able to come up with a few bucks to buy the latest games or newest consoles. Instead, the video-gaming business — and even gamemakers themselves — are subject to a combination of technological leaps, lazy game development and sheer boredom.
One only has to go back to 2012 to see this idea in its most recent former glory. That was the year console sales fell 21%, year-over-year, and sales of video games themselves in the U.S. were off 9%.
Reason? There weren’t any new games that excited the masses. The PlayStation 4, from Sony (NYSE:SNE), wouldn’t be released until the end of the following year, along with the Xbox One, from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). In the meantime, then-aging Xbox 360’s and PS3’s just weren’t doing it for gamers. The only new console at the time was the Wii U, from Nintendo, but it was destined to drive lackluster results regardless of its release date.
With no new and better consoles to play them on, there’s not a tremendous reason to buy new games. There’s also little reason to develop new titles.
It’s not just a matter of technological limitations, however, that can crimp sales of video games. It’s also a function an ever-changing culture.
To be fair, it’s complicated and even a bit contradictory. While the advent of eSports feels like it would be a boon for video game publishers, spectators aren’t necessarily hardcore gamers themselves.
There’s also the distinct possibility that many consumers are simply dealing with video game fatigue, and want to try something different… even if only for a while.
Older investors may also remember all-too-well that back in the late-70’s, the Atari 2600 at-home gaming system was all the rage. By 1980, however, a glut of ill-advised, unwanted and unmarketable games killed the at-home console business for the next several years. While not to the extent seen then, the current gaming environment is arguably overloaded with more (often mediocre) titles than most gamers want to sift through, drastically fragmenting the gaming market into such small pieces that they’re difficult to serve effectively and profitably.
Bottom Line for EA Stock
The good news? This too shall pass.
Video game publishers lose sight of the fundamentals like any other company in any other business can. Small startups that are crowding the market will eventually fall away and won’t be replaced. Next-generation consoles are in the works.
Electronic Arts is getting better again too. Its future includes more marketable products, and better sensitivities to how they’re sold. And where they’re played. EA isn’t where it wants to be today, but 2018 has served as a something of a wakeup call.
In that light, the big beatdown EA stock has been through this year is actually a buying opportunity, as it’s a portfolio addition that can be made on a new upswing of a couple of different cycles — better games and better consoles — at the same time Electronic Arts has beefed up the way it markets its portfolio.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.