Opinion: The ten next best acquisitions in mobile gaming
Taking a shotgun approach to the situation, here are ten mobile gaming companies I think are valuable in the current climate, together with some back of the envelope attempts at valuations.
1. Backflip Studios
This Colarado studio is one of the most consistently performing games companies in 2010. With almost 50 million downloads of its mainly free iOS games, it has demonstrated it can generate revenue either using in-app advertising (iAd and AdMob), or by cross promoting its paid games via its free games.
The result is that each of its free releases such as Strike Knight or Graffiti Ball have been downloaded over four million times. More importantly, Backflip has over two million daily active users across its iOS portfolio, it's just started releasing games for Android, and it's small, well run and highly profitable. Valuation: circa $50 million
Consistently the most active publisher on iOS since 2008, UK based Chillingo continues to release a lot of games. More significantly, the quality of these games is getting better, both in terms of gameplay, as well as the licences it and its developers are getting hold of. Recent examples of the latter include Billabong Surf Trip and CBS' TV show Numb3rs.
Unlike other publishers, it's never released any figures concerning its total number of downloads but its headline release Angry Birds, from Finnish developer Rovio, is likely to hit 10 million paid iOS sales in 2010.
Further sweetening the deal - and raising valuation - is Chillingo's Crystal social gaming platform, which although the last of the big four to launch, makes up for its lack of supported titles, with a solid framework, great UI and a new focus on freemium games.
The only potential downside could be potential break causes in the contracts it has with developers should it be bought, as well as the minutiae of exactly who owns what IP in terms of the games it publishes, and Chillingo's ancillary rights to non iOS releases. Valuation: circa $100 million
Unlike rivals such as OpenFeint and Plus+, the German social networking company has taken more of a business to business approach with its eponymous technology.
It was the first to support Android, and has since expanded out, supporting MySpace, Samsung's bada platform, and also has plans for tablets and internet connected TVs, as well as linking up directly with mobile carriers.
In terms of its consumer face, the opportunity for developers and Scoreloop itself is the company's in-platform virtual currency Coins.
Players can gamble (win and lose) these in challenges, using real cash to buy more as and when they run out. As yet, it seems unlikely anyone is generating much revenue via this method, but it is a volume play, and one that should work well especially in otherwise hard to monetise situations such as Android and/or emerging markets. Valuation: circa $50 million
4. Rovio Mobile
The Finnish developer of Angry Birds has a long history of making games for mobile devices and other platforms but it's been the number one iPhone game that has made it a household name, even if the game's 99c price hasn't made it rich beyond its board's wildest dreams.
Still, $6+ million of effective profit from a single game over 12 months isn't bad going. Yet for Rovio to be worth a lot of money, it will need to release Angry Birds on as many other platforms, and premium priced as quickly as possible before another game has the opportunity to take its crown, as indeed it did to previous iOS top seller Doodle Jump.
Getting versions released for Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam etc is also important, although the longterm worth of the oft mentioned film seems marginal. Valuation: circa $25 million
Distribution is perhaps the biggest issue for the non iOS world, with a multitude of app stores springing up to potentially confuse content providers and consumers alike. GetJar, which by volume is the second biggest app store globally after Apple's App Store, solves that problem very easily - everything is available to be downloaded for free.
Of course, that doesn't mean there's no money to be made: GetJar has various models that publishers can use to promote their apps and games, ranging from product placement to per install charges.
Indeed, in many parts of the world - the majority of the world in fact - free distribution is the only way games and apps can be distributed. Paid, even at the lowest price, is not a option, although - of course - in-app advertising, or even micro transactions - whether micro cents, rupees, rupiah, yuan et al - can add up to real revenue if you have enough hundreds of millions of customers. Valuation: circa $200 million
6. Free App A Day
If distribution is the biggest issue for content creators, discovery runs it a close second. Free App A Day - the website, app and community platform for the promotion of paid games that have gone free for a limited period - has proved itself to be the answer to that problem, at least on Apple's App Store.
With over a million active daily users interacting with its various points of contact, FAAD now has the power to push up to five games and apps into the global free top 10 on a daily basis.
As with GetJar, giving stuff away for free - in this case on a time limited basis - provides a sufficient business model for developers and publishers once those apps revert to paid status. FAAD takes its cut of that revenue for a period.
The viral ripples from their time free encourages new players to buy, while freemium games can also be plugged into the promotion model, which is backed by daily push notifications and other activity.
Extending the model to iPad, Android and other platforms - as is now happening - seems likely to provide additional success. Valuation: circa $50 million
7. Unity Technologies
Danish/US games technology company Unity isn't a pure mobile play. Its Unity engine had its first success as a browser-based development and deployment system, adding consoles and iPhone and finally Android down the line from that initial success.
Nevertheless, it plays particularly strongly in the mobile space, powering hundreds of iOS and Android games, and providing cross platform capabilities that are likely to cover emerging platforms such as Windows Phone 7, as well as tablets and TVs, not to mention uniplay online games.
And aside for this, it's being used by large game publishers such as EA, Ubisoft and LEGO as well as corporates such as Coca-Cola and NASA. Over 200,000 registered developers have downloaded the SDK. Valuation: circa $150 million
Not that well known, even among the development community, Sweden studio Polarbit has quietly been one of the strongest performers in 2010 in terms of releasing a lot of high quality games on a lot of platforms: something that has surely been the year's trend.
In large part, it's a situation that's been helped by its internal FUSE development technology, which allows it - and licensees - to develop for iOS, Android, Symbian, bada, DS, Wii, Antix Game Player, Brew, Java, Linux, webOS and even the Zeebo console for emerging markets.
It can also handle multiplayer gaming, while the quality, particularly of racing games such as the Raging Thunder series, as well as work for hire for publishers such as EA Mobile, Konami, Bulkypix and Fabrication demonstrates a commercial mix that combines cashflow, technology and owned IP. Valuation: circa $15 million
9. Glu Mobile
Okay, so it's tautological to value a publicly traded company that by its very definition has a daily market capitalisation attached to it, but Glu Mobile remains a fascinating case.
When CEO Niccolo de Masi took control of the hot seat in January 2010, many expected the company to pancake quickly as he tried to balance falling Java and Brew game sales with new investment in smartphone games.
But buoyed by better than expected sales on both sides of the business, de Masi has managed to nurse the transition without a collapse in confidence. Indeed, the recent $13.5 million refinancing from new and existing investors has enabled a radical new approach based around the same freemium games model that must have added zeroes to the ngmoco deal.
On that basis at least, the stock looks cheap. Valuation: $30.8 million (12 October 2010)
10. Pocket Gamer
Oh, you must be having a laugh, you're probably thinking. Well, yes, a bit, of course, but don't forget it wasn't so long ago that News Corp bought IGN for $650 million.
Media plays its part and cuts across many parts of the mobile ecosystem - from consumer discovery and affiliate sales to business analysis, developer relations, strategic reports, consultancy, marketing materials and syndication.
At least, I can say Pocket Gamer does all these, as well as building out wider initiatives such as the iPhone Alliance, which is an aggregated advertising service covering over a dozen European and US websites, and a review averaging site, the iPhone Quality Index too. Oh, and we're profitable. Valuation: circa TBA