‘Guitar Hero’ Fails to Boost Activision

The economy is so bad that even the company behind Guitar Hero, the hottest videogame franchise in the world, couldn’t muster a profit in the holiday quarter.

Activision Blizzard on Wednesday posted a $72 million net loss in the fourth quarter, compared with an $86 million profit the year prior. It was the first full quarter for the company since its merger with Vivendi’s game unit, so the comparison isn’t exact.

Excluding deferred revenue and some charges, the company would have earned $429 million on net revenue of $1.64 billion. Those numbers beat Wall Street forecasts, but Activision Blizzard offered gloomy 2009 guidance. The company predicted revenue this year of $4.7 billion, about $500 million shy of what analysts were estimating.

The U.S. recession, though, could provide acquisition opportunities in the near future, executives said on a conference call with analysts Wednesday. Videogame stocks have been pummeled along with the rest of the market in the past six months: The biggest, Electronic Arts, is down 65 percent, and THQ is off 81 percent.

Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick noted that in 2008 “we had four of the top 10 best-selling games worldwide.”

With Guitar Hero, the company spawned the music genre for videogames, which accounts for about 11 percent of the industry’s software sales.

Last year, Guitar Hero was the world’s biggest-selling franchise, and Guitar Hero World Tour was the best-selling videogame globally over the Christmas holiday.

The company’s underwhelming guidance appeared to catch some experts by surprise.

Guitar Hero Metallica will hit shelves this quarter, as will Monsters vs. Aliens, based on the 3-D movie from DreamWorks Animation.

Metallica has sold 100 million records worldwide and the group is set to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame next month. The new game features music from Metallica and 20 other bands.