Midway through the Investor’s Conference Call yesterday, I sent Bashiok a message that he might as well prepare for forumageddon, now that D3 had been ruled out for 2011. He replied that that was not the case and after he read my post he disagreed with my interpretation of Tom Tippl’s remarks about what Bliz was or wasnt planning for 2011. Bashiok said his, “if not 2011 than 2 in 2012” remark was not a prediction, much less a confirmation of release dates. We traded a few more IMs debating just how many “if” and “however” type words Tippl had included in his comment, and what exactly Mike Morhaime had meant in his clarification during the Q&A.
Once the chat was over,the archived recording and helpfully provided exact quotes from the two controversial moments. I put those into the initial post, and from reading them… it’s still not real clear. I could see Bashiok’s point, that Tippl’s comment was not meant as a prediction, but a listener had to parse the wording pretty carefully not to take a “no games in 2011” from his words. (Admittedly, careful parsing of words is the inherent purpose of corporate earnings projections.)
Even at the time, it felt like a silly debate. After all, Bashiok *knew* their internal schedule. And a much more recent version of it than the leaked one. It didn’t really matter what Tippl had said during the conference call; he might have misspoken, and had probably been misinterpreted. What was the point in splitting those verbal hairs when a concrete, definitive, written statement could be released to clarify the whole matter? Happily, Bashiok did just that last night, in a B.net forum thread.
This has been misreported/misinterpreted as an announced release schedule for 2011 and 2012, which it is not. While we?re pleased with the progress of Diablo III, we have not announced a release date for it or for any other upcoming Blizzard game. We?re currently contacting a number of outlets to request that they make the appropriate corrections in order to avoid any further confusion.
Clear enough? Basically a long “no comment” on release dates, the way I read it. Click through for the exact quotes from Tippl and Morhaime that spurred this controversy in the first place.
Conference Call Quotes
The biggest news came from Thomas Tippl about 20 minutes in, when he said:
This is a sort of business legalese disclosure statement, as the word “outlook” indicates. ATVI and all other corporations are legally required to provide their investors with information about their business plans and future outlook.
As I understand it (and any investment banker is welcome to add more explanation in comments), Activision/Blizzard are legally required to give realistic projections, and barred from making wild lies to hype the company’s stock value. If Tippl said, “D3 is nearly done and we should release it and another WoW expansion and maybe even our secret next-gen MMO by June!” that would actually be illegal, since it would be false information meant to drive up the company’s value. Hence he’s saying that they can’t guarantee that any game will be released this year, but if not, they’ll certainly have two ready next year. Which, in retrospect, I take to mean that they hope to release a title in late 2011, but that it might slip to 2012, but surely not any later than that.
Also note that Mike Morhaime said that he hoped to share more info about Diablo III and the upcoming beta test during the next conference call, which will take place sometime in early May. It’s possible he might announce that the beta is starting in May or June, which would give Diablo III a very good shot at being released by the end of the year.
The other quote of import came during the Q&A session at the end of the chat. Here’s the transcript:
Jeetil Patel from Deutsche Bank: Hey guys, couple questions. Your 2011 guidance for the year, you have a comment in there in that it does not yet include a Blizzard title. I guess, what is the qualifier to get a Blizzard title out this year? I guess – it seems – like the commentary seems awfully interesting in that it’s ? are you waiting for some sort of percentage completion? Competitive slate? Can you just maybe elaborate more on why there isn?t a Blizzard title this year?
Thomas Tipple, COO and CFO of Activision-Blizzard: ? with regards to the commentary around the Blizzard title. As you know, and as we said before, we think that in the long run, Blizzard is good for one major release a year. But of course, we?ll always rule the quality of the game has to be there. And that?s why, for example, we didn?t have a release in 2009, but we had two releases in 2010. And as you can see, the results speak for themselves. So I think that has played out well for our shareholders.
With regards to Diablo, we don?t have a date yet. So we felt it was prudent not to bake it in. Because, again, we don?t want to find ourselves in a situation where we either disappoint or would have to make any compromises on the game quality ? which we would never do. If the title ships, you know, obviously, that would prevent material ops side (?) to the outlook we have provided.
Jeetil: Yeah, that?s helpful. I guess, going back to the Diablo question. Can you talk about how far along it is in terms of percentage of completion?
Mike Morhaime: So, I don?t have a percentage of completion rating for you today other than to say that the game is coming along very well. We?re very happy with the development progress that the team is making. But, until we get to beta and we have the community help us test the game, we aren?t going to lock in a release date. And, so, I just want to clarify that we?re not setting a date ? I?m not saying that it?s going to be 2012. I?m just saying that there isn?t a date yet. And so, given that we haven?t locked into a date, we fully support the decision not to include it in the guidance.