Kabam’s IPO Plans Are Kaput

Summary

  • Kabam is a mobile game startup with IPO aspirations and a reportedly $1 billion-plus valuation.
  • In early December, the CEO delayed IPO plans, blaming generally unfavorable conditions for a mobile game company IPO.
  • We show that the real reason for the delay was the disastrous performance of two of three new releases based on hit movie IP.
  • Kabam’s failures raise questions as to the sustainability of its headcount, its ability to produce hits based on movie IP and whether any mobile game company should do an IPO.

We are just a couple days into the New Year and already we have our first scratch – Kabam – from lists of technology companies most likely to do a 2015 IPO.

Kabam is a San Francisco-based mobile gaming company that had a track record of licensing movie IP (intellectual property) and producing top 25 revenue-ranking mobile games. But two new, highly-anticipated games based on The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings movie IP have had disastrous releases as evidenced by sub-200 App Annie revenue rankings.

As a result, Kabam’s plans for an IPO are kaput for now.

Kabam CEO Kevin Chou confirmed this day in a December 10, 2014 interview with the NYT. But, he blamed the delay on a generally poor environment for mobile game company IPOs created by the Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) and King (NYSE:KING) post-IPO debacles.

In this article, we present App Annie revenue ranking charts of recent releases from Kabam showing terrible gamer response to two of its three most recent releases. In our opinion, this is the real reason for Kabam’s IPO postponement.

We wish to state at the outset that our definition of “plans to do an IPO” aredirect quotes from CEO Chou stating Kabam has plans to do an IPO. This is in contrast to a strict definition — filing an S-1, which Kabam has never done, as has been point out to us by the company.

We feel that of SA followers, and the investing world in general, are comfortable with the first definition and not the second. There are plenty of articles on SA talking about companies with “plans for an IPO” where a S-1 has never been filed. Uber and Airbnb are the most prominent.

If you are uncomfortable with our definition, please read no further.

So first, we want to present URLs where there is a direct quote from CEO Chou of IPO plans.

We start with a Bloomberg video interview way back in October 15 2013. Pay attention to segment 2:11 – 2:45

Interviewer: Are you thinking about an IPO”

Kevin Chou: “We are.”

Next a Wall Street Journal interview on February 17, 2014

“WSJ: You have said previously that you are considering an initial public offering. Any updates?

Chou: We had another very serious discussion about an IPO in our board meeting in January. Our revenue is growing rapidly and we have been profitable since 2012. We have over $70 million of cash in our bank account. We are at the scale, where we can actively consider an IPO. But we also want to do it when the time is right, and we don’t have a definitive timeframe yet.”

Finally, a Newslook video interview given around the time of the Alibaba investment in August 2014. Pay attention to segment 3:30-3:53

Chou: ” You know it could be as early as 2015″

In early 2014 interviews, CEO Chou was justified in saying that the an plans for a Kabam IPO would be unwise due to Zynga and King’s performance.

But even then, part of the blame was attributable to a 2014 revenue fade of its most successful game The Hobbit: Kingdom of Middle-earth, based on an IP license from Warner Bros. (a division of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)).

Below is an App Annie revenue ranking chart of The Hobbit game, showing the game’s Top 10 revenue ranking in 2013 and the fade throughout 2014 to a Top 30 position today.

(click to enlarge)

The relation between revenue dollars and revenue rank is a severe power function. We have estimated that a #10 ranking game is associated with an annualized revenue run rate of around $250M worldwide where as #25 rank is associated with an annualized run rate of around $90M worldwide.

The power function ratchets up at #5. We estimate that the top 5 revenue ranking games worldwide today have an annualized run rate of between $800M and $1,500M – Clash of Clans (Supercell), Candy Crush Saga, Puzzles and Dragons (GungHo Online), Game of War-Fire Age (Machine Zone), andMonster Strike (Mixi).

In mid-2014, Kabam announced a series of IP licensing deals with Warner Bros., Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF) and Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Division.

The company reportedly built up its headcount to 850 employees worldwide with 400 in San Francisco, 350 developers in its Beijing studio headed by co-founder Mike Li, and 85 developers in its Vancouver studio.

It accepted a $120M strategic investment from Alibaba that reportedly valued the company at more than $1B. This was on top of $125M in venture capital money raised previously from the likes of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Ventures, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Capital, Warner Bros., MGM and a number of other venture capital companies.

The company even purchased for $18M, spread out over 15 years, for the rights to place “KABAM” on the football field of The University of California at Berkeley, the CEO’s alma mater. (A startup kiss of death?).

In May 2014, Kabam announced a deal with Lions Gate to make a game based on The Hunger Games movie franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence.

This game would be developed by its 300-person Beijing studio, headed by co-founder Michael Li. It was this studio that developed Kingdom of Camelot, Kabam’s first big hit, released in March 2012.

The Hunger Games game was released on November 5, 2014 and the results have been disastrous despite the fact that the movie has been a hit.

(click to enlarge)

In June 2014, Kabam announced a licensing deal with Warner Bros. to make another game based on The Lord of the Rings IP.

This game was released on October 15, 2014 and again the results have been disastrous despite the fact that movie has been a huge hit:

(click to enlarge)

Finally, In July 2014, Kabam announced that its Vancouver studio was at work on a game based on licensed IP from Disney’s Marvel Entertainment Division. On December 10, 2014, the Marvel-based game was released.

Only the Marvel game has performed decently with a current App Annie revenue rank of #33:

(click to enlarge)

Kabam still might recover in 2015 with scheduled releases of another Marvel-based game and a game based on Mad Max IP licensed from Warner Bros.

But, Kabam’s recent failures raise several questions for us pertaining to Kabam specifically and to the mobile game industry generally:

  1. Can Kabam afford to maintain its 850 headcount, especially the 300 headcount at its Beijing studio responsible for the poorly-received The Hunger Games game?
  2. Are the recent the poor results the specific fault of Kabam or the fact that basing games on hit movie IP is no longer a valid strategy?
  3. Given the dual difficulty of producing and sustaining a Top 10 revenue-ranking mobile game, might there be a better alternative for financing and providing investor liquidity than IPOs?

Machine Zone: IPO or What?

Machine Zone [MZ] is a Palo Alto-based, mobile gaming start-up with a massively popular Top 3 app store hit called “Game of War: Fire Age.” [GoW]

MZ describes Game of War: Fire Age as

“.. a real-time mobile massively-multiplayer online game and parallel chat-speak translation application that translates over 40 languages for its players in real-time, connecting game players around the globe at the same time in a single virtual universe.”

What makes this building simulation and war strategy game so innovative is the real-time play among the massive number of players (100,000+) online around the globe at the same time.

The other innovative feature is its messaging system featuring a 40+ language real-time translator, including a crowd-sourced library of game jargon. It’s like real-time SnapChat run through Google Translate finely tuned by an incentivized, crowd-sourced library of gamer jargon.

From a NYT review of GoW,

“The game’s most impressive feature is an instantaneous translation of text-based online chat. If someone writes “MDR” in French (for “mort de rire,” or “dying of laughter”), an English-speaking player sees it as “LOL.””

The game is also very social and hard to put down. Once a player joins a GoW “alliance” – similar to a “clan” in Clash of Clans — there is considerable peer pressure to continue playing for sake of the alliance. MZ’s early estimates were that players averaged 2 hours a day 7 days a week playing the game.

We estimate that the GoW’s current revenue run rate is $831M. The company is very profitable, with  a reported head-count of only 150.

Compare this with Zynga who manages a score of mobile and browser games none of which have cracked the Top 10, a headcount of 2,000 (but falling), and a similar revenue run rate (but falling).

Yet, MZ’s prospects for a 2014 IPO are dim because it is viewed as a “one hit wonder”.

This is in contrast to Kabam, the other US mobile gaming start-up most likely to do an IPO in the next year.  Kabam’s interviews with press are peppered with the quotes about how diversified they are with 3 hit games with lifetime revenue over $100M and three more potential hits on the way based on the blockbuster movies The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and Mad Max.

There is also investor wariness of mobile gaming IPOs due to the post-IPO stock performances of Zynga (ZNGA) and King Digital (KING). However, as we write this, King has climbed back finally to its opening price three months after its IPO, so the bad feelings about King have diminished.

MZ is not a “one hit wonder”. We believe CEO Gabe Leydon’s claim that MZ has developed a “game engine” that can be “re-skinned” to create other genres of games with the same underlying play and communications innovations.

MZ, along with with Kabam and the mobile division of Electronic Arts [EA], are in the running  to become the preeminent US-based mobile gaming company – “The Pixar of Mobile Gaming”.

MZ just needs diversification that will come with a second hit, preferably in a different genre, that boosts its revenue run rate over $1,500M.

It would be a shame for MZ to sell out now as it has enough cash for working capital and new development teams. Their total venture capital to date is reportedly only $16M so there is no urgency on the part of VC’s to cash out.

This is in contrast to Kabam with over $125M in VC money and higher cash burn rate from a reported headcount now of 800.  No wonder it is Kabam, and not MZ, who is always talking to the press about IPO plans and the damage caused by the Zynga and King IPO debacle.

But, MZ could use additional investment in 2014 to pay a dividend or to buy some of the shares of existing employees as shareholders. This would take the edge off the IPO wait.

King did something similar by paying out $504M in dividends over the two quarters before it went public. However, the taxation of dividend income might be quite a bit less in the UK than in the US.

What follows is an estimate of MZ’s current revenue run rate and valuation. We are doing this to quantify the outstanding financial performance of this company and to place it along side the elite companies in the mobile gaming world.

We use the same methodology to value MZ as we have employed in previous papers to value King, Zynga, and the start-up Kabam. We have used it also to make prescient buy recommendations of two undervalued Japanese mobile game companies – Mixi and Klab.

There are two pieces of data used in our analysis: (1) app store download and revenue ranking charts provided by data analytics company App Annie; (2) a mapping of App Annie revenue rankings to current revenue run rates.

Launched in July 2013 on iOS Apple store, GoW took only one month to become a Top 20 revenue ranking game on the App Annie charts. By September 2013, it cracked the Top 10 and remained there for the rest of 2013. In 2014, GoW has remained a Top 3 game on the App Annie charts.

Launched 9 months later on Google Play in May 2014, GoW shot up quickly to #6 on the revenue ranking charts and has remained there since.

Game of War Fire Age all time

(Source: App Annie)

Game of War Fire Age Jan 1 ios

(Source: App Annie)

Game of War Fire Age google play since may

(Source: Appie Annie)

GoW seems destined to join the elite “Billionaire Game Club” along with Supercell’s Clash of Clans, King’s Candy Crush Saga and GungHo’s Puzzle and Dragons. The first two games have remained a #1 or #2 revenue ranking game in the US now for a 1 ½ years and counting. However, Candy Crush’s downloads have been in decline for a year even though its revenue rank remains at #2.

The next step in valuing MZ is a mapping of app store revenue rank to revenue dollar run rate. GoW is a free to play game with in-app purchases. Downloads and purchases are primarily made via iOS Apple store and Google Play.

VC firm Andreessen-Horowitz’s mobile guru, Benedict Evans, has estimated that the current global ratio of monthly active users (MAU) of Android to Apple iOS is 1,000M to 470M or 2:1.

The reverse is the case for app store purchases. Evans has estimated that the trailing 12 month Apple iOS to Google Play app store revenue, which excludes presumably Apple’s and Google’s 30% cut, is $10B to $5B, or 2:1

According to App Annie, 75% of app store revenue is mobile games or $11.3B. So, roughly the trailing 12 month revenue for mobile game app store revenue is $7.5B for iOS and $3.8B for Android.

Combine this with MAU numbers results in an average iOS to Android yearly spend per MAU of $15.96 to $3.80 or 4:1.

However, this is an average of “whales” and “zeroes” who spend nothing. According to a Swrve report, “zeroes” make up 98.5% of mobile game users. Disaggregating the weighted average of 1.5% “whales” and 98.5% “zeroes”, yields an average of $1,333 mobile game spend per MAU on iOS for those who spend at all.

Obviously, the Swvre number is based on all users not MAUs. Assuming MAUs are only 10% of Swrve’s number still yields an iOS average of $133 yearly mobile game spend per MAU who spends at all. Wow!

Getting back to valuation of MZ, we use the macro numbers above to scale up a “power function” relation developed by Think Gaming, Inc. between revenue and revenue rank for iOS Apple Store in the US.

We then test the relationship for reasonableness by comparing points on the curve with game-specific revenue disclosures by King for its three Top 15 hits.

Below is our latest effort at mapping Global app store revenue rank to estimated 2014 revenue run rate in $ Millions.

mapping update

Spreadsheet update

When we plot the log of both numbers, the relation is not linear, but kinked up at #3. Hence, it is not a pure power function. Mobile game revenue is very concentrated at the top and the long tail is very thin after game ranked 10,000.

This is in contrast to the original “long tail” work using bookstore data which came to the conclusion that excluding the book “long tail” from a store – books with revenue rank >10,000 — meant excluding 30%+ of sales.

For mobile games, it might turn out that excluding the mobile game “long tail” – mobile games with revenue rank >10,000 — might mean excluding only 5% of sales. By removing these games, mostly IP rip-offs, you lose only 5% of revenue but improve app discovery. Take note of that Apple and Google.

Because of a “power function” relation between revenue and revenue rank, a GoW at #3 is not really knocking on the door of the “Billionaire Game Club” but is still hundreds of millions of dollars away from #2.

The one well known example of a power function is the half-life relation. Another less well known example is the Zipf function named after a 1930’s linguist who mapped out word count in literature as a function of rank.

I like to characterize the top three global ranking games – Clash of Clans, Puzzle and Dragons, and Candy Crush Saga –as the “the-of-and” of mobile game revenue ranking. BTW, the last phrase is meta-Zipfian.

The final step in valuing MZ is to pick an appropriate price/sales (P/S) ratio. Below is a spreadsheet of the pre-IPO and current P/S ratio of King and Zynga.

trailing PS

Given the disappointing post-IPO stock performance of these two companies, we believe that investors in mobile gaming companies would never again pay the pre-IPO P/S ratio of King at 3.76 or Zynga at 6.82. We believe that the current P/S ratio of King today at 2.46 is an appropriate number to use in valuing a US mobile game company today.

Valuing MZ at a P/S ratio of 2.46 and a run rate of $831M produces a current valuation of $2.04B.

A year from now with the launch of a second hit and a run rate of $1.5B, we would up the P/S ratio to 3.0 and value MZ at $4.5B. An investment now in MZ has the potential to double in a year.

We estimate that MZ must be sitting on between $200M and $300M in cash, given its run rate and relatively small headcount, and the fact that mobile gaming companies have little cash tied up in receivables and inventory.

And MZ’s venture capitalists have no immediate need to recover its investments as total venture capital in MZ is reportedly around $16M with Y Combinator as seed investor, Anthos and Baseline in the Series A, and Menlo in the Series B.

The only need for MZ to seek outside investment in the neighborhood of, say $200M, would be to take the edge off the IPO wait of employees/shareholders by paying them a dividend or by buying some of their shares.

The best option would be to finance this through a Series C venture capital round.

A less preferred source would be a minority stake from a strategic partner like Softbank or TenCent who could open doors in the Asian market. But, Softbank is the majority owner now of both GungHo Online and Softcell, both of whom compete with MZ for gamers. A majority investment by Softcell could raise all sorts of conflict of interests.

The least preferred would be an outright acquisition by another publicly held gaming company.  Zynga is drowning since the tepid response to “FarmVille 2: Country Escape”. CEO Don Mattrick has admitted that Supercell’s similar  farming game Hay Day has “eaten our lunch”.

There is a single intriguing buy-out candidate in Electronic Arts [EA], with its mobile division on the rise. It now has “The Simpson: Tapped Out” at #7 and  “The Sims: Free Play” at #18. GoW would double that division’s revenue and boost mobile’s share of EA revenue to between 20% and 30%.

There could be some really interesting synergies between these two companies with MZ’s strength is massively global real-time play and communication and EA’s yet untapped ability to “put petal to the metal” .

That is, EA should be the early leader in porting graphics intensive games via its Frostbite 3D engine to the soon to be released iOS 8 featuring a new graphics API called Metal that taps directly into “metal”  — the 64-bit A7 CPU — achieving a reportedly 10-fold speed increase in 3D graphics rendering over the previous iOS graphics API called OpenGL.

 


Glu Mobile Will Beat Guidance Based on App Store Data

First quarter 2014 has just closed as I write this article about GLU Mobile (GLUU), a pure play mobile gaming company. With access to daily app store revenue rankings for the past 3 months, I believe that GLU’s revenue will exceed guidance a full month ahead of its 10-Q release and conference call scheduled for April 28, 2014. However, it won’t be a blowout like last quarter.

Freely available app store data represents a new step up in the democratization of investor data. It builds on the strides made by internet access to real time stock prices, live conference calls (albeit with scripted questioning by Wall Street analysts), and live blogging of major new tech releases. It is part of the same trend toward equal access to investor data that famed Fidelity fund manager Peter Lynch wrote about after realizing that any shopper could see the disruptiveness of L’eggs hosiery sold through grocery stores in the early 1970s.

Had I been following app store data 3 months ago, I could have made a killing buying GLU before it announced 4Q 2013 results on February 6, 2014. On that day, the company disclosed a 60% Q/Q revenue explosion due to the successful release of Deer Hunter 2014. The share price shot up from $3.87 to $4.94 for a one day gain of 28%.

I know, “shoulda, woulda, coulda.” But let me walk you through the charts of GLU ex post to pique your interest before proceeding on to an ex anteanalysis of the chart of GLU’s franchise game, Deer Hunter 2014 (DH14), plus the charts of FIVE new releases: Eternity Warrior 3, RoboCop ™, Motocross Meltdown, Front Line Commando 2, and Pirates of Everseas.

I present first a spreadsheet of trailing 4 quarters of revenue for 3 of the most followed publicly held pure play mobile gaming stocks listed on US stock exchanges.

Glue Sales Trend

New mobile game releases can create a 50% or move Q/Q revenue pop like Deer Hunter 2014 for GLU and the Saga series for King Digital Entertainment (KING). But, my reading of data derived from app stores suggests that even mega-hits like Candy Crush Saga plateau and fade after 3 quarters. You will get killed playing these stocks if you rely only on 10-Qs or interim sale data released by Wall Street analysts at their convenience.

Fortunately, there are several data analytics companies that track daily app store downloads and in-app purchases of mobile gaming companies. We have a limited access, free account at App Annie. (Disclosure: I have not received any remuneration from App Annie.) Another sources is Distimo.

With a free account, you cannot download any data. But you can take screenshots of graphs of daily rankings (1-1000) of mobile games by revenue, where revenue is the sum of download revenue + in-app purchases. These graphs can be filtered by app store – Apple Store, Google Play, and Amazon – by mobile game type, and by country. App store data does not include revenue from advertising. But most mobile games these days are free-to-play with monetization via in-app purchases.

Below is a graph of GLU’s stock price, showing the 28% pop on February 6, 2014 based on a 60% Q/Q revenue growth for 4Q 2013.

GLU Stock
Source: Reuters

The chart above was foreshadowed by App Annie data. On September 18, 2013, GLU released Dear Hunter 2014 (DH14). It immediately shot up to an App Annie Top 10 revenue ranking and remained there during October and November. During December, the game slowly slipped down to a Top 15 ranking.

Deer Hunter 4Q

A more granular view of the above:

deer hunter Oct-Dec 2013

As a space saver, we show only App Annie data derived from the U.S. Apple Store, believing that this sample is reflective for GLU games as a whole. For other games with a significant following in Asia, data derived from Google Play store should be included, as Android is the primary smartphone OS there.

In hindsight, I know now that a Top 15 game was unprecedented for GLU. Based on recent disclosures by KING and GLU, I now have a rough map of App Annie revenue ranking to quarterly $ revenue.

Map of Q Final

The long-tail of this graph will come into play when analyzing GLU game revenue ranking charts for 1Q2014. In sum, the data above signaled a month before GLU’s 10-Q release in February 2014 that DH14 was a hit and that GLU would blow through guidance.

Now we turn to an ex ante analysis of whether GLU will beat revenue guidance for 1Q. Here is the guidance from an SA transcript of GLU’s 4Q conference call on February 5, 2014:

“Turning to the first quarter of 2014, we currently expect our total non-GAAP revenues to be in the range of $38 million to $40 million, an increase of 54% to 62% compared to the first quarter of last year and slightly down compared to Q4. This guidance assumes Deer Hunter 2014 to contribute approximately one-third of total non-GAAP revenues during the quarter. We are also seeing solid initial traction from EW3, RoboCop and Motocross Meltdown, which will lead to broader revenue diversity in Q1 as compared to Q4.”

In sum, GLU’s guidance is for a slight down Q/Q. Based on the charts below, I believe that GLU will have an up Q/Q in the 10% range, enough to push the stock up from its current depressed level. But, none of the new releases came close to the Top 15 hit of DH14.

GLU Launch Dates

First, we present the revenue ranking chart of DH14 for 1Q. The “half empty” view is that DH14’s revenue continued to slide from a Top 15 game to a nadir ranking of 31 on January 31st. The “half full” view was that GLU made two important release updates that reversed the slide and DH14 ended the quarter at 13.

Deer Hunter 1Q

On January 31st, version 1.2.2 was released boosting revenue ranking from 31 to 14 in a day. On March 18th, version 2.0.0 was released again boosting revenue ranking from 40 to 13 in a day. I don’t see this reversal pattern in charts of games put out by other companies. The usual game revenue pattern is up, plateau, then steady decline. I believe the above chart is a reflection of GLU’s ability to manage a game post-release and to make frequent updates that boost in-app revenue.

Also, not too much should be made in revenue ranking swings of games ranked below 15. There is a long tail relation between revenue ranking and $ revenue – see the graph above again. Ten point ranking swings below 15 are associated with modest $ revenue swings.

We are still in the very early stages – with only 4 actual data points – of fleshing this relation out, but roughly, we estimate that a 5 point drop in DH14’s ranking over the course of 1Q resulted in a quarterly revenue drop in the $5M range. The science of mapping app store rankings to $ revenue is evolving rapidly. We have found another attempt made by Think Gaming based on estimates of daily active users multiplied by estimates of average revenue per user.

Based on comments of an earlier article of mine on SA, I want clarify what I mean by a Top 10 or Top 15 rank on “the charts.” My rankings come from App Annie, not directly from Apple Store charts. There have been a number ofarticles published lately warning about “gaming” the Apple Store charts by using bots to create download spikes. There is even a report of a developer spending thousands of dollars to spike in-app revenue of his game. In response, Apple (AAPL) has altered its chart algorithm to reduce fraud.

So with these caveats in mind, the question becomes, can the release of FIVE new GLU games in 1Q overcome DH14’s decline? Here are the charts and insight a full month before the 10-Q comes out. First up was Eternity Warrior 3 released on December 31, 2013. The game barely cracked the top 100 initially and has faded since then.

EW3

Next up was RoboCop™ released on January 7th. It got as high as 89 on January 16th, but has faded. While affixing a hit movie name to a game generates downloads, it is quality that generates revenue. The RoboCop™ chart is a warning to GLU as it moves forward with releases of other branded games.

RoboCop

Next up was Motocross Meltdown released on January 21th. It never cracked the Top 100.

MC meltdown

Next was Front Line Commando 2 released on March 5th. This was probably GLU’s biggest hope for a hit as it is a franchise game with some name recognition. The game was the best of the 1Q lot, but never cracked the Top 50. An update is warranted here.

FLC2

Last was Pirates of Everseas released just two weeks ago on March 18th. It never cracked the Top 200.

PE

While there are no new releases that have come close to DH14’s success, GLU has demonstrated clearly that it can deliver a number of new games on time. We believe that the sum total revenue from five new releases was sufficient to offset a decline from DH14. GLU will beat its 1Q revenue guidance, but not by much.
Obviously, there is room for improvement here. The positive take-away from 1Q is that GLU has proven that it can deliver a slew of new games on or before the date promised. Not many gaming companies have proven that. With its engagement management platform, GluOn, now in place, it has the capability of boosting revenue of games post-release.


“Flappy Bird” Investing Requires Daily App Store Tracking

By Larry Abrams, published by Seeking Alpha 3/24/13

http://seekingalpha.com/article/2106973-flappy-bird-investing-requires-daily-app-store-data

Investing in publicly-held mobile gaming companies like KING, ZNGA, GLUU, and a host of other companies around the world, is the purest play ever on the hit-making business. It is momentum investing on steroids. Investors, 99% of which have never played a mobile game in their life, have been drawn to the industry lately by press reports of the success of “Flappy Bird” and of “Candy Crush Saga.”

The magnitude of success of “Flappy Bird” first came to light in a month ago in an interview in The Verge. Dong Nguyen, the game’s sole creator, revealed that, while the free-to-play game was earning an average of $50,000 a day from advertising. It was truly amazing that a single person could produce a piece of software, upload it to an app store, and receive 50 million downloads within months of release solely on the basis of social media chat.

Another example comes from a Wall Street Journal article on the upcoming IPO of King Digital Entertainment (KING), the creator of the smash hit “Candy Crush Saga”,

“In its filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, the game developer said it saw a more thantenfold revenue increase in 2013, as sales skyrocketed to $1.88 billion from $164 million in 2012… King said its net profit last year was $568 million, up from $7.8 million.

The speed of success of mobile games suggests that you can’t wait for quarterly 10-Qs and conference calls to give you buy and sell indicators. Revenue streams can explode in a matter in days not months. But, it is no sure thing that a quick rise to the top of an app store bestseller list is sustainable. Again, you need to follow sales weekly at least.

And even if a game is so addicting that players keep paying for add-in purchases for months, it’s not heroin. Game addiction eventually wears off. And you will get killed if you wait for some CEO in a conference call to give you the bad news.

To invest with success here, you need something equivalent to weekend box office figures followed closely by investors in pure play movie studios like Lions Gate (LGF) during the release of movies with blockbuster potential.

Fortunately, there are several data analytics companies that we are aware of which track daily app store downloads and in-app purchases of mobile gaming companies. We have a limited access, free account at App Annie. (Disclosure: I have not, or will not ever, receive monetary remuneration from App Annie.)

With a free account, you cannot download any data. But, you can take screenshots of graphs of daily rankings (1-1000) of mobile games by revenue where revenue is the sum of download revenue + in-app purchases. These graphs can be filtered by app store – Apple Store, Google Play, and Amazon – by mobile game type, and by country.

App store data does not include revenue from advertising. But, mobile gaming companies, led by the Japanese, seem to be headed toward a free-to-play business model with monetization via in-app purchases of addicted players.

What follows is a sample pairing of time series app store data alongside daily stock prices of a “franchise game” of a pure play mobile game company over a period of months. It will give you an ex-post view of how daily app store data might have been used to signal a buy or sell ahead of the next 10-Q.

The example is COLOPL’s franchise game, “Quiz RPG: The World of Mystic Wiz.” COLOPL went public in December 2012 and the stock languished until Quiz RPG was launched in late April of 2013. Upon release, the game quickly rose to #5 on the Apple Store-Japan revenue list and has stayed in the Top 20 since. At launch, COLOPL’s stock was at 479¥/share. The stock peaked on January 20th at 4,110¥/share, a 9-bagger in 9 months.

Rather than wait until a July or August conference call when the CEO mentions the potential of Quiz RPG, you could have tracked the game’s app store data enough to convince you go all at around 1,000¥/ share in June.

This is daily sales data that you can get firsthand. You are not dependent on when some Wall Street analyst chooses to release interim sales data – good or bad — from a polling of customers.

colopl

 

 

stock colopl


Price-Sales Ratios of Mobile Gaming Companies

Published by Seeking Alpha 3-20-14

http://seekingalpha.com/article/2100903-price-sales-ratios-of-mobile-gaming-companies

Investing in publicly-held mobile gaming companies is the purest play ever on the hit-making business. It is momentum investing on steroids. To paraphrase the Sean Parker character played by Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network, “A doubling of sales isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A tenfold increase is cool.”

As an example of the new cool, consider the following numbers from a Wall Street Journal article on the upcoming IPO of King Digital Entertainment (KING), the creator of the smash hit “Candy Crush Saga”,

“In its filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, the game developer said it saw a more than tenfold revenue increase in 2013, as sales skyrocketed to $1.88 billion from $164 million in 2012… King said its net profit last year was $568 million, up from $7.8 million.

Jim Cramer thinks KING is cool, saying it is a better value now that Zynga (ZNGA), given the IPO’s price-earnings (P/E) ratio of 13 and a trailing twelve month price-sales (P/S) ratio of 3.7, both of which are better than ZNGA.

But, when it comes to momentum investing, trailing P/E and P/S ratios fail to capture growth potential and value. With traditional momentum investing, forward ratios are developed by projecting metrics forward, often linearly, from results of the past 3 to 8 quarters. But, coming up with a good forward ratio is problematic for mobile gaming companies where growth is hyperbolic, but can stop on a dime.

PriceSales vs Growth

Investing in publicly-held mobile gaming companies is the purest play ever on the hit-making business. It is momentum investing on steroids.

Ignoring the possibility of stagnation, Pamela Peerce-Landers published an article in SA last week which did project out KING’s financials a few years based on the full 2013 results. The result was that Pierce-Landers values KING between $128 and $142 a share.

Multi-year projections like this based on full year results might be fine for momentum companies with moats like IP, network effects, brands, etc. But is this kind of projections valid for mobile gaming companies?  In her article, Pierce-Landers makes the argument that KING has a “formula” or “platform” that can replicate hits.  We shall see.

What follows is an analysis representing a middle ground between trailing ratios and forward ratios based on full year results.  Basically, we are saying that with mobile gaming companies, you can only look at one quarter back and one quarter forward.

What follows in an analysis of P/S ratios of 6 publicly-held mobile gaming companies plus pre-IPO KING. We also calculate
the latest quarterly sequential sales growth rate and map this against trailing P/S as a reasonable projector for companies whose growth can, and have, stopped on a dime

Several things are notable for us: (1) the sudden stagnation of KING in the latest quarter after 2 previous quarters of 50% plus sequential growth; (2) the breakout of GLUU in its latest quarter after 2 previous quarters of stagnation; (3) the lack of visibility still for a ZNGA turnaround; and (4) last, but not least, the amazing, unabated growth of the Colopl which makes KING’s growth seem pedestrian by comparison.

Next we calculate the P/S ratios for these 7 companies and plot P/S ratios against last quarter’s sequential growth rates.

The analysis suggests a positive correlation between P/S ratios and the latest quarter’s sequential growth rate.
PriceSales vs Growth

Graph

You cannot say that a company is overvalued or undervalued based solely on its trailing P/S ratio. You must look at both P/S ratios and recent sales growth figures. You cannot say that companies like DeNA or GREE are undervalued just because their P/S ratios are less than 2 because their sales are in decline.

Similarly, you cannot say that Colopl is overvalued with a P/S ratio of 13 because its sales have been growing at 50% plus sequentially for not one quarter, but three quarters. Indeed, even with a P/S of 13, we think that Colopl is undervalued.

In the case of KING vs ZNGA, our analysis supports Jim Cramer’s assessment that KING is a better play than ZNGA. But, GLUU bests both as it has about the same P/S ratio, but sports a breakout quarter of 60% sequential sales growth rate.