Over 90 million people play Candy Crush Saga every day. Say whatever you like about London- based social game developer King, but its headline game is an unquestionable success. Like many games (most games, perhaps) it iterates upon previously existing formulae rather than being a breakthrough, unseen innovation. Like many games, the real DNA of its success can only be analysed honestly if we first admit that one of the dominant genes involved was luck. Still; 90 million players. About 1.3 per cent of the entire population of the planet try to clear candies and jellies at least once a day. Whether you consider that to be a depressing reflection of the state of humanity or not is entirely subjective; whether you consider it to be a remarkable business success is not. King’s got a touch of magic in its sweet jar.
Now King wants to convert that magic into cold, hard cash, so it’s going to float on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s proposing an initial public offering valued at $500 million, but given that its net income last year was $568 million (on revenues of $1.9 billion), everyone involved will clearly be hoping to make a killing off an early spike in share value.
When any company announces an IPO, it’s reasonable to ask why it’s happening. There are two ways for an entrepreneur to “exit”, cashing in his or her chips on the company that’s been built. One is by being acquired by a bigger firm (like the recent purchase of a major stake in Supercell by Puzzle & Dragons publisher GungHo). The other is an IPO. In both cases, there are two clear reasons for cashing in – the first one, which everyone always claims to be pursuing, is to raise more money to facilitate further growth and make your company bigger and better. The second is shadier but not uncommon. You reckon you’ve taken the business as far as you can – organic growth is looking rocky from here, maybe you sense a change in the market or an oncoming headwind, and you want to grab as much cash as you can while the going is good, before your valuation starts to heavily decline.
“Take the money and run” isn’t an uncommon reason for a sale or an IPO, although none of the parties involved would ever be so gauche as to admit to such a thing. Still, the logic underwriting such a thing is cold and undeniable. If you can sense that your company is facing rocky ground and its valuation has likely peaked, you want to make sure you get as much of a return on your holdings as possible before they become devalued. Laws and rules force lots of disclosure of financial data, of course, so you can’t hide a decline that’s already started – but if your instinct says next year won’t be as good as last year, now’s the right time to sell, and “instinct” doesn’t appear on SEC-mandated documents.
Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are. I think this IPO is actually a little late – it’s going to occur just as King is on a downslope – but it’s far better timed than the easiest comparison, Zynga. Zynga launched on the stock exchange far too late, after it had already become obvious that the company was completely hobbled by the rapid transition from Facebook to smartphones in social gaming. Its IPO was a flop from an investor’s perspective, although plenty of people still made a lot of money from it – it certainly made more money than it would have if they’d waited around until the depths of the company’s troubles became apparent. On its current timeline, King will be IPOing while it’s still within touching distance of Candy Crush Saga’s peak.
“Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are”
I foresee two problems, both of which ought to ring huge alarm bells for investors interested in the company. The first is that Candy Crush Saga’s peak is just that – a monolithic, dramatic peak climbing up out of a landscape of foothills and gentle valleys. There are no other peaks in sight. King’s other games do “okay”, but nearly 80% of its revenue comes from Candy Crush Saga, whose 90 million daily users figure is six times greater than the daily users figure for the firm’s second-place game, Pet Rescue Saga. There is nothing on the horizon which might replace Candy Crush Saga; once you start descending from that peak, the danger is that you end up back in the foothills with no more peaks to ascend. There’s simply no evidence, let alone proof, that King is capable of recreating the lightning-strike success of Candy Crush Saga. Bluntly, I don’t think King believes it can manage that either – because if the firm and its investors genuinely believed that they could repeat the success of Candy Crush, they would IPO after doing so, knowing that a company with a proven ability to turn out enormous hits is vastly, vastly more valuable than a company with one lucky strike and a string of also-rans to its name.
The second problem is Zynga itself. The stock market has already had one market-leading social game company perform absolutely dismally after flotation. Investors now know that this sector, while it’s exciting and interesting and extremely profitable, is also insanely volatile, completely hit- driven and largely subject to the rapidly changing whims of technology. On the surface, the F2P model is far more investor-friendly than the old-fashioned boxed game model, since you actually get a steady revenue stream from your products rather than a single burst of revenue after a couple of years of expensive development. In practice, though, you still need to keep turning out hit titles in order to ensure revenue growth (which is all the stock market gives a damn about). Few studios have shown any capacity for doing that – there are laudable exceptions like Supercell and Nimblebit, but most mobile gaming studios are still dining out on single successes. King has Candy Crush Saga; Rovio has Angry Birds; GungHo has Puzzle & Dragons. None of these companies have managed to create another game as popular as the one that made them famous – lacking a track record, each of them can fairly be considered a one-hit wonder until proven otherwise.
What about recent controversies around King? The company’s aggressive approach to trademarks, its reputed cloning of games and so on have done nothing to endear it to the gaming world and cultivated an atmosphere of negativity around the company. I would caution against reading too much into the likely impact of such stories on an IPO, though. Investors, bluntly, don’t really care if a company stands accused of not being terribly innovative, as long as the results are good. They certainly couldn’t care less about trademark spats with independent developers, I fear. Such issues are important and relevant to those directly involved, but of no consequence to the IPO prospects of a company like King.
What they do, however, is set mood music around the firm. Being seen as a bit ruthless is no bad thing, but I suspect that investors burned by Zynga will be quick to note the parallels between the sort of behaviour of which King stands accused, and the sort of behaviour in which Zynga engaged. The two companies are, in my mind, very similar both in culture and in approach. Neither was founded out of any attachment to games as a medium, a culture or an artform; both are simply entrepreneurial vehicles to exploit a potential market, and as such, it’s to be expected that both would struggle to adapt and succeed at points where they encounter obstacles that can only be surmounted by creativity rather than by management bullet points or business model refinement.
That’s not entirely a criticism, by the way; in a capitalist economy, there’s no sin to creating a business just to exploit a gap in the market. If the market in question happens to be a creative medium, one has to expect significant blowback to this approach. Moreover, there’s a limited lifespan to such a strategy – a company in a creative sector which is not founded on creative principles cannot expect to significantly outlive the market conditions it was originally designed to exploit.
In summary, I find it hard to view King’s IPO as anything more than Zynga 2.0. It is better-timed, certainly, but the companies involved are similar enterprises facing similar challenges – and thus far, demonstrating a similar lack of capacity to overcome them. Zynga is much, much further down the slope from its peak than King, so of course there remains a reasonable possibility that King can surprise us all with a second title on the scale of Candy Crush – and by doing so, establish itself as a genuine leading light of this new market. For all the negativity poured upon the company of late, I honestly hope King can make lightning strike twice for itself. I don’t like Candy Crush Saga personally, but that’s a subjective view – objectively, I cannot find a trace of the supposed immorality, grasping and nastiness of which the game regularly stands accused, and can’t help but recall all the awful stuff of which Flappy Bird also stood wrongly accused when it dared to be a break-out mobile gaming success. King faces problems down the line and I question whether it represents a good investment opportunity for anyone – but should it overcome those issues and prove itself capable of the creativity required to replicate its Candy Crush success, it would be churlish to call that anything other than a fresh triumph for UK game development. Fingers crossed that it happens.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co and six other financial institutions have agreed to join a new instant messaging network from Markit and Thomson Reuters Corp to connect disparate messaging systems.
The network, called Markit Collaboration Services, launched on Monday and allows members to chat with one another regardless of the proprietary messaging technology that each firm uses.
This open platform differs Bloomberg LP’s messaging system, which is a closed network only for users of Bloomberg terminals.
Bloomberg messaging is the most popular form of chat on Wall Street, and often cited as one of the reasons banks are willing to pay around $20,000 a year for a subscription to a Bloomberg terminal.
Markit and Thomson Reuters said they hoped their open messaging network will attract banks that want to chat with their clients or other financial institutions but cannot currently do so because they are on different messaging systems.
The other banks that have joined the new network are Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, according to a statement from Markit.
The banks collectively employ more than 1 million people worldwide, though it was not immediately clear how many individuals will use the new Markit service.
David Craig, president of Thomson Reuters’ Financial & Risk division, said one of the challenges facing banks is that their messaging systems do not always talk to one another. “That creates costs and complexity,” he said.
Markit and Thomson Reuters said the messages on the new network are encrypted, and the system does not store them.
Representatives from Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were not immediately available to comment on the new messaging system. Representatives from Barclays, Citi, Credit Suisse and JPMorgan also declined to comment.
King.com Ltd, the British mobile gaming firm best known for its popular puzzle game ‘Candy Crush Saga’, has filed confidentially for an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States, a person familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
Online technology companies are rushing to the stock market on the backs of Twitter Inc’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to go public in the most eagerly anticipated IPO since last year’s flotation ofFacebook Inc.
Emerging growth companies such as King can use a secretive IPO registration process in the U.S. thanks to the Jumpstart Our BusinessStartups (JOBS) Act, which loosened a number of federal securities regulations in hopes of boosting capital raising and thereby increasing job growth.
King has hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch Corp, Credit Suisse Group AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co to lead the offering, said the person, confirming an earlier report by the Daily Telegraph and asking not to be identified because the information is confidential.
Representatives for King and the banks either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
King offers 150 games in 14 languages through mobile phones, Facebook and its website. It boasts more than 1 billion gameplays per day from its users.
The company’s games appeal to a growing trend for players to play puzzles with their friends in short bursts, especially as games are increasingly played on the move on phones or tablets to kill spare minutes.
Rival Zynga Inc went public two years ago in a high-profile IPO that raised $1 billion. Since then, Zynga has suffered from sagging morale during several quarters of worsening performance and repeated waves of layoffs.
Founded in 2003, King has been profitable since 2005 and has not had a funding round since September of that year, when it raised 34 million euros ($46.04 million) from investment firms Apax Partners and Index Ventures.
An international gang of cyber crooks is plotting a major campaign to siphon money from the online accounts of thousands of consumers at 30 or more major U.S. financial institutions, security firm RSA warned.
In an advisory last week, RSA said it has information suggesting the gang plans to unleash a little-known Trojan program to infiltrate computers belonging to U.S. banking customers and to use the hijacked machines to initiate fraudulent wire transfers from their accounts.
If successful, the effort could turn out to be one of the largest organized banking-Trojan operations to date, Mor Ahuvia, cybercrime communications specialist with RSA’s FraudAction team, said today. The gang is now recruiting about 100 botmasters, each of whom would be responsible for carrying out Trojan attacks against U.S. banking customers in return for a share of the loot, she said.
Each botmaster will be backed by an “investor” who will provide money to buy the hardware and software needed for the attacks, Ahuvia said.
“This is the first time we are seeing a financially motivated cyber crime operation being orchestrated at this scale,” Ahivia said. “We have seen DDoS attacks and hacking before. But we have never seen it being organized at this scale.”
RSA’s warning comes at a time when U.S. banks are already on high alert. Over the past two weeks, the online operations of several major banks, including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo were disrupted by what appeared to be coordinated denial-of-service attacks.
The Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) has prompted U.S. banks to go on high alert against cyberattackers seeking to steal employee network login credentials to conduct extensive wire transfer fraud.
The alert warns banks towatch out for hackers using spam, phishing emails, Remote Access Trojans and keystroke loggers to try and pry loose bank employee usernames and passwords.
The FBI has noticed a new trend where cyber criminals use stolen employee credentials to wire transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars from U.S. customer accounts to overseas banks, the FS-ISAC noted.
“The wire transfer amounts have varied between $400,000 and $900,000, and, in at least one case, the actor(s) raised the wire transfer limit on the customer’s account to allow for a larger transfer,” the alert said. The FS-ISAC noted that it has moved it cyberthreat level from ‘elevated’ to ‘high’ as a result of the activity.
A majority of recent victims have been small and medium-sized businesses, small banks and credit unions, the FS-ISAC said. However, a few large banks have also been hit by fraudsters.
The FS-IACS’s warning comes the same week that two large U.S. banks — Bank of America (BofA)and J.P. Morgan Chase –suffered unexplained network disruptions.
A group, calling itself the “Cyber fighters of Izz ad-din Al qassam ” on Tuesday warned of an attack against BofA and the New York Stock Exchange. In a PasteBin message, the hitherto unknown group said it was targeting the two organizations in retaliation for a controversial anti-Islam movie that has roiled much of the Middle East for the past several days.
Both Chase and BofA acknowledged the network problems earlier this week but neither spelled out what caused it.
U.S. banks, small businesses and credit unions have been dealing with online wire fraud for several years. In recent years, overseas-based cyber attackers have siphoned out tens of millions of dollars from small businesses, school districts and local governments.
American Express has just debuted a digital payment and commerce service that makes it possible to use Android-based devices and Apple iPhones for person-to-person online payments. Visa announced a similar personal payment product in the U.S. on March 16.
Analysts say the moves by Visa and American Express are clearly aimed at challenging PayPal in the personal payments business.
The new Amex service, named Serve, allows consumers and small businesses to make purchases and person-to-person payments on iOS- and Android-based devices. Serve accounts are also accessible on personal computers through Facebook and at Serve.com.
Serve also allows users to create and manage sub-accounts for friends and family members.
The new service is based on technology that Amex obtained through its $300 million acquisition last year of Revolution Money.
Visa on March 16 said that it will rely on internal network enhancements and agreements with CashEdge and Fiserv to bring its personal payment system to the U.S. by the end of June. CashEdge and Fiserv will access VisaNet, which is Visa’s global payments processing network.
Separately, Visa officials at the International CTIA Wireless show last week said they are in the midst of four pilot programs in New York and San Francisco to test Near Field Communications (NFC) technology on smartphones, to assess the feasibility of using smartphones to make purchases at NFC-ready terminals. Those trials are being conducted with Bank of America, US Bank, Chase and Wells Fargo. No rollout date for the service is being announced, said Elvira Swanson, a Visa spokeswoman.
Amex also plans to waive one consumer fee for the next six months during the ramp-up, he said. Putting money into a Serve account will normally carry a fee of 2.9% plus 30 cents per load-in, but during the first six months that fee will be waived for cash, debit and Automated Clearing House payments. Otherwise, the fee for ATM cash withdrawals will be $2 — though there will be no fee for the first one each month.
The Serve program calls for consumers to set up online accounts through a smartphone app or at Serve.com. Once a user establishes an account, he can transfer funds to it directly from bank accounts or other Serve accounts or via debit or credit cards.
Customers can use Serve accounts to send money to friends, to receive money from friends, to pay bills or to make purchases online. In addition to having the ability to make payments using smartphones, customers will issued reloadable prepaid Serve cards linked to their Serve accounts that can be used at any retail outlet or ATM that accepts Amex cards.