GamesBeat

King’s stock price picks up as underwriters attempt to crush investor concerns

Papa Pear Saga is one of King's smaller but still successful mobile and social games. It plays a lot like PopCap's hit, Peggle.

Above: Papa Pear Saga is one of King's smaller but still successful mobile and social games. It plays a lot like PopCap's hit, Peggle.

Image Credit: King

The saga of King since its March initial public offering is one of doubt and declining share value — but the developer had a bit of a training montage today as it prepares to continue fighting for the rest of the year.

The Candy Crush Saga company’s training montage comes in the form of number of upgrades from industry analysts today. The 40-day silent period following the IPO has ended, which prompted a number of analysts to issue their assessments of the social-game developer. Those statements were nearly all positive and helped lift King’s share price 8.5 percent from $17.56 to $19.05 at the end of trading today. The company is one of the leaders in the $16 billion mobile-gaming industry, and it’s attempting to prove that it has a sustainable business model despite only having one massive hit in Candy Crush Saga, which accounts for 78 percent of its revenue. King’s IPO debuted on March 26 at $22.50 and a $7 billion market capitalization. In trading that day, it immediately lost $1 billion of that value, and it now sits at a $6 billion market cap.

JPMorgan, the lead underwriter for King’s IPO, is bullish on the social-game developer, targeting its share price at $30. Credit Suisse, another underwriter of the IPO, gave it an “outperform” rating and a price target of $29. Cowen & Company, yet another King IPO underwriter, also rated it outperform and gave it a target of $31. Now, it’s up to King to follow through and convince every-day investors that it’s not just a one-hit wonder if it wants to follow-up today’s montage with a victory.

“King is a global leader in mobile games and is poised to benefit from key trends, including continued growth in social, increased smartphone and tablet penetration, the rapidly growing app economy and the secular shift toward free-to-play games,” JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth wrote in a statement to investors today.

Of course, JPMorgan, Cowen, and Credit Suisse all have a stake in King. We reached out to Eilers Research for a less-biased perspective, and the company’s analysts Adam Krejcik was significantly less enthused about King’s prospects. He rated the developer as neutral with a price target of $19, which it hit today.

“King’s dependence upon Candy Crush Saga will inevitably lead to significant earnings volatility at some point, and our checks indicate this game is already showing ominous signs,” wrote Krejcik. “Few companies have shown the ability to successfully iterate (especially on mobile) and while King has the capacity to outspend almost all of its competitors, this is not a sustainable long-term strategy.”

Sterne Agee also came in with a neutral rating and a $19.03 target, with analyst Arvind Bhatia citing Candy Crush Saga’s revenue concentration as his “No. 1 concern.”

While King made revenue of $601.7 million in its fourth quarter, which was up 764 percent year-over-year, investors are concerned that it relies to heavily on one game: Candy Crush Saga. The social puzzler that has players matching up candies to score points was the top-grossing mobile game last year worldwide, but mobile gamers are fickle, and that revenue could dry up if they move onto the next new thing. That’s what happened to Zynga with its social games on Facebook, and investors remember that. The FarmVille company held its IPO in January 2012, and its share price once reached $14.69 before tumbling as its number of monthly active users disintegrated over the last year and more.

But Cowen & Company analyst Doug Creutz thinks those concerns mischaracterize King’s strategy.

“While Candy Crush Saga is far and away the company’s biggest hit, we note that both Pet Rescue Saga and Farm Heroes Saga are both multiple-hundred million dollar games that by themselves are larger than most competing mobile gaming companies,” he said. “In general, the company has amassed an enviable track record on mobile with three major hits and two minor hits out of five launches. Additionally, all of the company’s games have sustained monetization very well over time compared to competitor titles.”

In addition to Candy Crush Saga, King has Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue Saga. Those three releases are all on the top-10 highest-grossing charts for Facebook, iPhone, iPad, and Google Play. The two minor hits are Bubble Witch Saga and Papa Pear Saga.

While Candy Crush Saga does make up the most of King’s revenues and MAUs, games like Farm Heroes Saga have racked up impressive numbers. Creutz thinks that’s because King is the “anti-Zynga.”

“Zynga was a content imitator, with an adversarial culture that did not necessarily treat stakeholders — including customers — well,” he said. King is a leader in creating original fun, engaging content, with what appears to be a collaborative culture, and which is engaged in building a lasting business through cultivating positive customer relationships.”

Of course, that “original fun” that Creutz is referencing has a lot more to do with the social elements of King’s games, as the core mechanics are very familiar to most longtime gamers. Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes Saga both play like the classic puzzle game Bejeweled. Bubble Witch Saga is just like the arcade puzzler Bust-A-Move, which is nearly identical to King’s game. Papa Pear Saga plays very similarly to developer PopCap’s Peggle — although it introduces some new features.

Regardless of those similarities, King is finding original ways to make money from those mechanics, and its IPO underwriters think it will continue to do so in 2014.

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