The largest video game company, Electronic Arts (ERTS), reported quarterly earnings after the bell today. Reduced losses juiced investors who sent shares up roughly a five percent over the course of the day and into the aftermarket (shares were still moving around after the bell, but retreated slightly on the announcement).

The company reported a first-quarter loss of two cents a share ($6 million) based on revenue of $816 million. In the same quarter last year, EA barfed up a stomach-churning loss of 42 cents a share ($135 million) on much diminished revenue of $609 million. Today's numbers were a significant beat on Wall Street analysts consensus. A Thomson Reuters analyst survey had forecast EA losing 13 cents per share on $729.5 million in revenues.

Whether the revenue gains are sustainable is hard to tell. The second quarter is traditionally among the weakest for video game companies but EA launched several prominent titles during the period including "The Sims 3", "EA Sports Active" and "Fight Night Round 4." The launches likely goosed revenues nicely. EA is unlikely to unleash any new launches until the fall, when video game buyers tend to return from super dormancy.

The strong results, however, are perhaps another sign that the Great Recession is on the wane. Once considered a bullet-proof part of the consumptive economy, like gambling, video games took a hit over the last year as gamers reduced their buying. This was likely particularly true for middle-aged gamers, who now make up a significant percentage of the gamer population. Even the wildly popular Nintendo Wii started to flag in the past two quarters.

How much of a recovery the game industry will enjoy overall, however, is extremely hard to predict. Console makers are still selling machines that are now relatively long of tooth, such as the Microsoft (MSFT) XBox 360, the PS3 and the Wii. New console purchases tend to drive significant video game sales. On the other hand, this far out in the cycle, gamers are often very willing to purchase new titles at an equally snappy clip as when consoles come out. All told, it's a total toss up for what the immediate future looks like for game companies but EA's earnings would seem to indicate that the thrill is back in these favorite cyclical stocks.

Highlights of the quarter included (with comparisons to the same quarter last year):

  • EA was the #1 publisher in North America and Europe in the June quarter. EA had four of the top-ten games in North America and Europe.
  • EA launched five titles in the quarter that received a Metacritic rating of 80 or above, including: Fight Night Round 4, BOOM BLOX(TM) Bash Party, The Sims 3, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR(R) 10 and EA SPORTS Active. Calendar year-to-date, EA has nine titles rated at 80 or above.
  • Four titles won Best of E3 awards: Mass Effect(TM) 2 won Best RPG; Fight Night Round 4 won Best Sports Game; Star Wars(R): The Old Republic(TM) won Best PC Game; Left 4 Dead 2 won Best Online Multiplayer.
  • The Sims 3 was the #1 selling title at retail in Europe and North America combined for the quarter.
  • EA SPORTS Active sold over 1.8 million copies in the quarter - making it EA's best-selling Wii title ever.
  • EA's Wii share hit a record 21 percent in North America and was 13 percent in Europe - driven by EA SPORTS Active, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 10, EA SPORTS Grand Slam(R) Tennis and Rock Band(R) 2 in partnership with MTV Games.
  • EA Digital non-GAAP revenue $124 million - up 38 percent year-over-year.
  • EA Mobile(TM), the world's leading publisher of games for phones, delivered $50 million of non-GAAP revenue in the quarter - up 14 percent year-over-year.
  • EA acquired J2Play, a leading social gaming company.

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