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Call of Duty, FIFA makers likely lockdown winners

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(Reuters) - Analysts are largely wary of amping up estimates for U.S. gaming companies set to report this week due to the economic uncertainty ahead, even as Electronic Arts Inc and Activision Blizzard Inc look among the most obvious stock market winners from the COVID-19 crisis.

Six weeks of lockdowns across the world has seen a 62% surge in the volume of gaming and a 35% jump in hardware and software sales, adding up to a buoyant March and pointing to rosier returns as the lockdowns stretch into May.

Globally, the total amount of playtime hit a peak of over 90 million hours in the last ten days of March, according to industry site GameAnalytics, enough to binge watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy 10 million times over.

Netflix Inc last month shattered customer addition projections when it reported results, as quarantined audiences soared.

"Eventually the quarantines will end and engagement will taper off to some extent, but if these companies can convert a percentage of these new players to regular players this will be a very nice boost for the ecosystem," said Jeff Cohen from brokerage Stephens.

Activision is likely to be a big beneficiary, having launched Call of Duty: Warzone on March 10, just as the lockdowns were beginning to spread across Europe.

The game has already garnered about 50 million players, comparing favourably with Activision's record monthly average users of about 55 million, according to Credit Suisse.

Activision is expected to report a 5% rise in revenue to $1.32 billion for the first quarter, according to Refinitiv data.

Rival EA, home to FIFA, Battlefield and Apex Legends, is expected to report revenue of $1.19 billion for the fourth quarter, above its own forecast of $1.15 billion but weighed down by the delayed launch of its basketball title "NBA Live".

Still, the companies themselves, combined worth more than $80 billion, have a history of guiding conservatively and upgrading steadily as the year wears on, and most analysts expect them to stick with that approach.

"Whatever the positive impact has been over the last month, there is very little certainty around the sustainability of any benefit," Cowen analysts said in a note to clients.

"Management teams are likely to have a very cautious view on the potential impact of a recession on demand."

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Neha Malara in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Bernard Orr)

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