The Risk of Acquiring a Hit Game

microsoft-minecraft-acquisition

microsoft-minecraft-acquisition

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine hit the nail on the head yesterday: acquiring a hit game is stupid. Commenting on the announcement that Microsoft is acquiring Mojang, makers of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion, he had this to say:

Buying a game company is like buying an aging baseball player. You’ll need a miracle to get another hit. And while they might have plenty of fans, they probably aren’t making a lot of new ones…There’s no guarantee it will produce another blockbuster; players will eventually move on from Minecraft, and I doubt anyone is going to buy a dopey Windows Phone just to play a slightly different version of the pixelated sandbox game.

Have we learned nothing from Zynga, Rovio, King and Dong?

Valuing a game on a user-base, as fickle as most gamers are, is asking for disaster. Case in point, Zynga and King both did their IPOs on the heels of their success with FarmVille and Candy Crush Saga. Both have tanked since as their users moved on to the next flavor of the year. This is especially true on mobile where brand loyalty is almost non-existent.

Rovio has long tried to run counter this by establishing themselves, not as a game company but as a brand. Rovio’s spokesman, Peter Vesterbacka, can be heard repeating this mantra at game conferences around the globe. They have their hands in toys, amusement parks, snacks, and even perfumes. But as Constine points out:

there are only so many pigeons you can chuck at pigs, and now its CEO is out after profits sank 52 percent in 2013. If someone had acquired Rovio at the height of its success, they’d be kicking themselves with steel-toed boots right now.

There is an argument to be made that Minecraft does have some unique characteristics that might make it a more valuable proposition. As Keith Noonan at the Motley Fool noted:

The notion of paying more than $2 billion to acquire a company that is primarily known for one game is sure to raise some eyebrows; but Mojang and Minecraft may be a special case. Very few titles in the history of gaming have shown evidence of comparable staying power, and few have a similar potential to aid Microsoft’s aim of bringing its existing gaming resources together with its mobile and cloud focus. If Mojang can engineer successful follow-ups to its megahit, inside the series and beyond it, the company would justify its asking price and be a significant asset for Microsoft.

Even Constine sees there may be hidden potential, noting the game has potential to become a digital platform for creativity much like Legos. However, we’ve never seen a game company with a single title turn into a lasting legacy worth $2.5 billion. The argument is summed up well in his final note:

And I’m sorry, Microsoft, but no one is going to ditch all their other apps and Androids or iPhones for a laughable Windows Phone just to play some special version of Minecraft. If you’re telling yourself that’s why the deal makes sense, your blood-Kool Aid content has surpassed legal levels. Stop drinking it. Kids don’t want Windows Phones. They’re not cool.

You know what is cool? Minecraft. You know what’s an easy way to change that? Have one of the lamest, old-man corporations buy  

Trends in Korea

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Big buyouts are nothing new to the Asian gaming market. SoftBank and GungHo’s $1.53 billion purchase of 51 percent of Supercell based off its success with Clash of Clans is perhaps one of the more notable.  But in Korea massive IPOs from game companies with a single title have been few and far between. SundayToz launched its IPO off the back of Anipang, one of the first titles to hit the KakaoGame platform. The company is currently worth approximately $160 million and its share price rocketed during the first quarter of 2014 on the heels of its IPO.

Other notable companies include DevSisters, the company behind the hit “Cookie Run”, who are gearing up for a an IPO valued at $132 million. PATI Games saw a $20 million injection from Tencent in exchange for a 20% stake in the company earlier this month. Famous for the popular game I Love Coffee, the company is estimated to be worth $100 million. Finally, the flavor of the year 4:33 studios with their game Blade, received $9 million from LB Investments and Korea Investment Partners in May this year, valuing the company at approximately $40-$50 million.

The trend in Korea so far has been far more conservative than the staggering valuations we have seen out of Western companies, and even China and Japan comparatively.

Are these trends a bad omen?

So far, we’ve seen a lot of these IPOs and grandiose valuations cause problems in the industry. As a result, studios have been bought and sold, with people losing their jobs in the wake of poor decisions. But we want to know your thoughts:

Is this type of M&A activity the engine that is going to drive the growth of the game industry, or are we seeing feverish excitement that will ultimately collapse and level off? Is it an overall positive or negative for game developers at the bottom rung of the industry? Leave your comments below!

 

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