Monday, August 30, 2010

Ain't Price Erosion A Bitch?

Angry Birds is the current reigning champion of iOS Paid Apps. The simple, addictive game from Chillingo & Rovio has sold over 6.5mil copies in 8 months. This eclipses former App Store phenoms like Lima Sky's Doodle Jump, which hit 5mil in June, the Tap Tap franchise from Disney's Tapulous, that was allegedly pulling down between $500k and $1mil a month in late 2009, and Firemint's Flight Control, which realized 2mil downloads within 11 months of launch. No doubt, all amazing feats from great, small companies. Moreover, the impact these companies have had in terms of introducing mobile gaming (and apps in general) to a broad audience, and in perpetuating the cult of iPhone, cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, the economics of the very ecosystem they edify are conspiring to keep them small.

As PocketGamer reported yesterday, the average price of an iPhone game is now $1.24. We can all see that the Top Paid Apps chart is now dominated by 99¢ titles. Increasingly user reviews bash titles that are priced any higher, and perhaps to appease these consumers, publishers now run frequent, often endless price promotions. Let's face it, 99¢ is the price the user community has come to expect for most games. Apple, of course, fosters this scenario, as part of their reverse razorblade model in which they provide budget priced entertainment for their premium priced hardware.

Ironically, back in the much maligned carrier deck era, the economics were actually better for top-tier games. Circa 2006/2007 the average blended global wholesale price (after carrier) for a triple-A Java/BREW title, including monthly re-ups, was about $2.25. That's more than 3X the 70¢ Chillingo, Lima Sky et al are seeing from each of their downloads post Apple. And it's not like hit games weren't doing boffo download numbers back then... in fact less competition, recurring subscriptions (in the US) and some politics conspired to create mega-blockbusters on a scale (considering the addressable user base) we may never see again. Of course, the all time king is Tetris, which has allegedly been sold over 100mil times in its various mobile incarnations... yielding at least $200mil for EA Mobile and its predecessor companies. On the lower end of the Java-era hit spectrum was the Fast & Furious franchise, which I-play openly claimed had sold 13 million units by the dawn of the iPhone era... which meant something like $30mil for the publisher if my math is correct. Then there are franchises like Namco's Pac-Man and PopCap's Bejeweled that sat between these two... closer to the Tetris end. At today's App Store prices, Chillingo would have to sell 40mil copies of Angry Birds to be in the league with these Java/BREW era revenue stars, and over 300mil to be the new Tetris. Even considering the the cost savings afforded by slicker development environments and not having to port, I'm confident that today's hit titles are far less profitable than those of the pre-iPhone era.

So, the consequence of current smartphone platforms being more democratic, and their owners being price agnostic, is that publishers not only have a significantly more difficult time manufacturing hits (in the fog of 10s of thousands of titles), but thanks to price erosion, those hits are less meaningful to their bottom lines. These dynamics, along with the added complexity of the freemium model, will further escalate a frenzied state of competition without price differentiation amongst publishers... virtually ensuring that none will amass enough wealth to aggressively scale their businesses, and that many will be forced to exit altogether. Meanwhile, it's better news for consumers, who continue to get more for less, and the hardware and network guys, who are laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Beginning of Think Different

Thanks to Pekka Parnanen for pointing me to this great video from the beginning of Steve Jobs' reinvention of Apple, soon after regaining control in 1997. I'm not an Apple fanboy (and don't use an iPhone), but I have no end of respect for this company, its products and its market savvy... and I think most of it is attributable to the singular vision of Mr. Jobs. I would go on to propose that Apple has emerged as the most important force in terms "consumerizing" the mobile entertainment products many of us worked on, in relative obscurity, for years (I expect some arguments) and that the mobile revolution they've spawned is a corollary of Think Different. BTW - the ad Jobs introduces in this video still gives me goosebumps.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Top 10 Mobile Games Publishers WW August 2010

All numbers are for the most recent 4 quarters for which I have data, at today's exchange rates.

In terms of non-public, guesstimated data, I've moved Chillingo onto this list... due to their boffo performance in the AppStore (see related post)... I'll move them up or down based on community feedback. I've also let Namco slip a bit as the PacMan franchise seems to cooling a bit in the new retail channels. I still have D'Choc hanging on by a thread. Granted, they've rolled a lot of iOS titles, but none appear to be rockstars and their new emphasis on Facebook games is a bit of a tell, right? Do you guys think ngmoco should be on this list? Please, please let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Are Mobile Game Publishers Doing With Facebook Apps?

Dev Rank = developer's rank in terms of MAU across all Facebook apps. MAU = monthly active users. DAU = daily active users.

In light of all the insanity about Zynga and lots of rhetoric from mobile games publishers about diversifying into social gaming online (er... Facebook games), I decided to take a look at what the mobile guys were actually doing on Facebook. First, let me tell y'all that after spending far too long digging through titles, it's abundantly clear that that platform is jam-packed with even more cr'apps than Android Market. Fortunately, consumers clearly ignore most of this junk... but I'm sure it's damaged overall perception of the product on offer. Many of these are blatant infringements on other folks' IP... which makes me wonder if corporate grown-ups at content owners/creators are really paying enough attention. Also, I've gotta mention that the two sources of Facebook application information, AppData & Facebakers are pretty shoddy (but free). The former seems to have better data, but a super-clunky interface (e.g. search is useless), while the latter is slicker, but with more questionable data. The data here comes from AppData.

So what did I learn? Well, Zynga is still the undisputed king of gaming on this platform, with 49.5mil daily active users of its titles and 217.5mil monthly active users... and despite all the blah-blah not much is happening with the mobile games guys. The only once pure-play mobile publisher that appears to be creating a meaningful presence on Facebook is Digital Chocolate. EA, GameHouse (RealNetworks), PopCap & I-play are probably running these initiatives more as a function of their established online casual businesses, than what they do in mobile. Glu Mobile, which launched its first Facebook title, Atom Blast, last Fall has now apparently bailed entirely from the platform. Meanwhile Hands-On is leveraging its last piece of premium IP, under a pseudonym no less, to try make of a go of it. Is anyone aware of anything else going on out there with the mobile publishers?... let me know. The next question, of course is how much money D'Choc et al are making from this platform... any thoughts? I'm sure it's billions :-P

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

US Carrier Metrics Compared Q2 2010

The Big 4 carriers represent over 92% of US wireless subscriber connections.

I've highlighted the top performer in each category. Note Sprint's Data ARPU number is in italics because it's from last quarter... for some reason they chose not to break out Data ARPU for Q2 2010 (hmmm).

For fun, take a look at how these numbers compare with Q4 2008.

Monday, August 16, 2010

DeNA's Path To Ascendancy

Revenue by calendar quarters, $mils, $/¥=85.26
Japanese powerhouse DeNA reported fiscal Q1/calendar Q2 2010 operating results earlier this month. This company is on a revenue rocket ride... fueled by the home market popularity of its Moba-ge-town mobile social gaming platform. The only mobile entertainment company in the world who purports to be in the same league as DeNA, in terms of revenue, is the private Spanish personalization publisher Zed... who bragged to the press that they'd realized $870mil in turnover during 2008. I must say I was typically skeptical at the time, and Zed has been dead silent on the earnings front for more than a year. I'm confident, based on their current trajectory, that DeNA will have a significantly bigger business than Zed by the end of this year, if they don't already.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Updated: Apple Still The Big Story In Gameloft's Earnings... But Not As Big As It Initially Appears

Gameloft issued a release last Wednesday outlining their top-line Q2 2010 performance. Revenue was up 14.7% over Q2 2009 to €33.60mil ($44.44mil), and for the first half of the year it was up 11%. That puts their revenues for the last 4 quarters at $169.95mil, at current exchange rates. North America held steady at 34% of revenue or $15mil, while Europe lost some ground to developing markets. Overall this looks like a solid result pending the release of comprehensive financials at the end of August.

The most amazing claim in the release is actually one made in error. The release states that "Gameloft has positioned itself as a leading game publisher on Apple's iPhone and iPad and has seen its sales on the AppStore grow by 113% during the second quarter of 2010." That initially led me (and others) to believe that their iOS revenue had spiked from €6.93mil in Q1 to €14.76mil in Q2... which would represent a whopping 44% of revenue. However, after contacting investor relations it turns out what they meant to say is that their iOS revenue has grown 113% since Q2 2009 and that the figure associated with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch is actually €7mil, or 21% of revenue... which is the same percentage they reported for Q1 2010.

Now that that's straightened out I'd be interested to hear what their revenue looks like on other smartphone platforms. Despite all the hype about Android, publishers keep telling me that paid app sales in that channel are still insignificant (attributable to Google Checkout, poor management of Android Market & OS fragmentation), and that the other smartphone platforms are barely worth mentioning. Meanwhile the carriers, at least in North America & Europe, are becoming less important with each passing quarter. For games publishers, this has got to be troubling... it's never a good thing when one distribution channel dominates the agenda of an industry. Unfortunately, for Gameloft et al, it appears that they're gonna have to be comfortable with a dependency on Apple, and the dangers inherent in that type of relationship, for the foreseeable future.