EA hikes annual sales outlook as lockdown boost for videogames continues

An Electronic Arts office is shown in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - Electronic Arts Inc on Tuesday raised its annual sales outlook, betting on strong sales of its sports titles including "FIFA 21" and "Madden NFL 21" as more people turn to videogames to keep themselves entertained during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Shares of the company, however, fell 5% in extended trading after EA's 98 cents adjusted profit forecast for the current quarter missed analysts' average estimate by 2 cents.

Videogame sales in the United States hit a record $56.9 billion last year, according to research firm NPD, as demand for virtual entertainment soared after major public events were canceled to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

EA said new players on its battle royale game "Apex Legends" jumped 30% year-over-year. The soft launch of its mobile version is expected in the next three to six months, Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgenson told Reuters.

The company also extended its multi-year licensing agreement with UEFA for exclusive club competition rights for its "FIFA" franchise, adding that the latest soccer title would launch on Google's cloud gaming service, Stadia, on March 17.

EA is doubling down on its sports division, a major money-spinner for the publisher, by striking an exclusive partnership to develop simulation college football videogames set to release in the coming years, the company announced earlier on Tuesday.

The launch of new installments in "Battlefield" and "Need For Speed" franchises and the integration of recently-acquired UK-based Codemasters is expected boost growth in fiscal 2022, the company said.

EA raised its full-year adjusted sales forecast to $6.08 billion from $5.95 billion, edging past analysts' estimates of $6.01 billion, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

The company's adjusted revenue for the holiday-quarter, ended Dec. 31, was $2.4 billion, narrowly beating analysts' average estimate of $2.39 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Tiyashi Datta and Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

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