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The game industry has a lot more unicorns — or startups valued at more than $1 billion — than it ever did before, according to game industry advisory firm Games One. Those unicorns are now worth more than $192.2 billion.
Games One founder Evan Van Zelfden said in an interview with GamesBeat that the list of private game companies that have reached unicorn status show that there is a good pipeline of game companies headed toward initial public offerings (IPOs) or acquisitions.
But they’re still relatively rare animals in the world of technology. The average gaming unicorn is 13.2 years in the making. There are fewer than thirty in the wild today, Van Zelfden said.
“There are a wide variety of gaming unicorns, some that were bootstrapped, and some that are venture backed,” Van Zelfden said. “It’s not easy to find the valuations.”
Still, these companies capture the public imagination, the attention of capital markets, and the tech press at large. And given the acceleration in funding and investor attention, there are more game companies that will eventually reach this stage of growth — if someone doesn’t acquire them first.
“Everybody’s had this idea of what it means for a startup to succeed with a value of about $1 billion,” Van Zelfden said. “Maybe at the time they were described as being the term was used because they were rare and beautiful. And maybe we can say today that they aren’t neither. But if I look at the list here, it’s hard to say what the first game unicorn was.”
It’s worth noting that pre-IPO valuations may be lower than after-market worth. Unity’s last private valuation was $6 billion; today the public market cap is $24.69 billion. Roblox’s last private valuation was $29.5 billion; today the public market cap is $42.86 billion. I would note that some valuations don’t make sense, such as Bungie being worth less than other fresh mobile game companies. But that’s the nature of valuations. You’re only valuable based on your most recent transaction, and no one has invested in Bungie lately.
Van Zelfden estimated that a couple of game-related companies have lost their unicorn status as their valuations fell during hard times. Magic Leap laid off a bunch of people, and its valuation reportedly dropped from $6.2 billion to a much lower number, while Improbable also saw its value fall over time.
Meanwhile, Van Zelden noted there are about 290 publicly traded game companies worth about $2.1 trillion. That includes companies that are larger platform companies where a percentage of their net value comes from gaming.
Games One said Lilith Games is a unicorn based on revenues alone, though no value seems to be published in the west. VSPN, Hypergryph, and Papergames are also candidates for the list but access to detailed information is limited.
“There are some there are at least four Chinese unicorns that don’t really have a current localized valuation, but they’ll still fit the category,” Van Zelfden said.
In footnotes for his list, Van Zelfden noted that despite a recent billion dollar valuation, Animoca Brands, may not qualify for this index—having had a previous IPO event, and subsequent de-listing from that exchange.
And he said that ByteDance gets most of its revenue from the TikTok social media network, but 25% reportedly comes from gaming, according to GameLook. Based on that, Van Zelfden estimated the valuation for gaming is $62.5 billion, or a quarter of ByteDance’s overall value.
Also on the list is Valve. In March 2019, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter valued Valve at $10 billion, and Bloomberg pegged the company estimate to performance of the Russell U.S. indexes subsection for electronic entertainment, for the purposes of estimating the founder’s wealth in real-time. And $17.8 billion is the current Pachter-Russell number. Games One neither agrees nor disagrees with that valuation, and presents it un-altered for context.
Also on the list is IronSource, which handles mobile game monetization. The company, as a whole, has an $11.1 billion valuation, and the $9.43 billion figure is adjusted to recognize the 85% of company revenue from gaming.
At the end of 2020, communications firm Discord had a post-money valuation of $7 billion. In March of 2021, we reported that Discord was in talks to be acquired for more than $10 billion, but Microsoft and Discord called off the deal. Instead, Sony announced an investment without announcing terms.
In 2019, Polish market research firm PMR valued Techland, the maker of games such as Dying Light, at $2.5 billion. PMR’s sector analyst maintains an approximate valuation of $2.4 billion for the company today.
How valuable should these companies be?
For Wargaming, in February 2016, Bloomberg profiled the founder, putting the company worth at $1.5 billion, less than three times annual revenues. The valuation has not been revisited since.
And Destiny maker Bungie has no public valuation, despite a $100 million investment from NetEase in June 2018. Without knowing the fundamentals, Games One can reasonably say that, if Bungie were listed on a public stock exchange today, the share price multiplied by number of shares outstanding could reach $1 billion in total value.
Some surprises on the list were Wildlife, valued at $3 billion, as it isn’t as well known as a mobile game publisher. The same goes for Nexters and Moon Active. If you look back in the early years of games, Ubisoft had a market capitalization of $250 million around 2000. So it never achieved unicorn status as a private company before hitting the billion-dollar valuation as a public company, Van Zelfden said.
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