What Does Life After IPO Look Like For Zynga?

With shares dipping 5%, Zynga’s $1 billion initial public offering Friday shows that there’s still a long way to go for the company that legitimized free-to-play social games in Western markets.

Following South Korea’s Nexon, Zynga is the second initial public offering from a gaming company in the last week that has seen its shares dip below the initial price. Unlike coupon site Groupon, which is still trading above its offer price, both Zynga and Nexon have comparable publicly-traded companies like video game publishers Activision, EA, and Ubisoft, against which revenue and profit multiples can be benchmarked. (Nevermind the fact that Zynga is profitable and Groupon is not.) Given that those companies have struggled to maintain investor in the last three years as confidence as mortar-and-brick retail sales dip, it’s easier to understand how Zynga is facing skepticism over more than just its free-to-play model. On top of that, uncertainty about the stability of the European Union has rattled investors in broader equity markets.

The consolation from Zynga’s day-one performance may be that the developer and its underwriters priced the offering effectively enough that the company didn’t leave money on the table for investors to pocket by immediately turning around and selling shares.

The real question is, where to next? The key to life after IPO for Zynga will be growth — on mobile, in international markets, and on alternative social game platforms outside of Facebook.

Mobile: Will There Be a Zynga of iOS or Android?

The most promising opportunity for independence from Facebook lies on iOS and Android, where Google and Apple have built attractive, fast-growing ecosystems for the same kind of games that are the heart of Zynga’s original business. Zynga started the year as an underdog with Storm8’s Farm Story and Playforge’s Zombie Farm beating the companion to its blowout hit FarmVille and a group of Siberian developers running circles around their poker app.

But with gradual optimization, a savvy and cheap acquisition of Words With Friends-maker Newtoy, and a promising launch in Dream Zoo have helped Zynga come around. It has 13 million daily actives on Android and iOS — a number that is sure to grow with the fracas around Alec Baldwin’s addiction to Words With Friends. Although there is no data to know for sure, Zynga probably has more daily active users on mobile devices than any other developer except for Rovio Mobile, which says it has 30 million daily actives across all platforms.

In 2012, we’ll find out if that becomes a big enough business to help the company diversify outside of Facebook in a meaningful way.

Ballpark figures have us putting high-grossing iOS games at between $1 and 3 million a month and there are several publicly traded mobile gaming companies that pulled in between $7 and 19 million in the quarter ending in September. That gives us a handful of privately-held companies with similarly-ranked games that are likely bringing in between $50 and 100 million in annualized revenue.

At this point with six titles in the iOS top grossing 100 in the U.S., Zynga is probably one of those. Then you have to consider that Android and iOS may be poised to have a larger combined footprint than Facebook in the next 12 months. The two platforms have 450 million cumulative device activations or sales behind them. (That number doesn’t deduplicate consumers who have replacement devices.)

One drawback, however, with mobile platforms is that neither Android or iOS seems structured to produce a winner-take-all environment in the way that Facebook has been. Apple certainly isn’t going to sign a five-year agreement guaranteeing Zynga the same kinds of advantages and growth targets that Facebook has. Plus, a variety of games can flourish on the iPhone from casual, resource management games to console-quality RPGs and first-person shooters.

Read the rest on our sister site, Inside Social Games.

Recommended articles