Many congrat to Chris (much better than the exchange model when we first met briefly back in 2010!)
It makes sense as the betable product should address the high acquisition cost of typical gaming/gambling operators, however it still does not address the limited target audience issue (as it seems to me it focuses on converting "free to play" players into "pay to play" mainly), whilst the biggest opportunity lies elsewhere as explained in one of my rare long blog post : http://garethwong.org/GamingFuture2013/ it might give you or others some ideas /options!?
Exciting all the while and the the gaming market definitely need much more new innovations (not another "same old" platform providers please!) and different way of doing business in a responsible way.. are you up for a challenge!?
Might make sense to distinguish two things, "valuation of a company" is the measurement of market sentiments/expectation of how the company is doing and will perform.. this sadly most of the time DOES NOT equal to "viability of the company" as a going concern. Case in point is the big drop of share price of Apple when it has billions of cash (when other zombie firms which are highly leveraged and could fail as actually don't have enough cash to pay staffs.. but their share price might be doing well, as you actually don't know they have problems until too late..)
yes; financial structuring and wizardly has so far been mostly trying to fit the company into how the "market wants it", especially for publicly listed firms. It also try to fit all firms into the accepted norm of the capital market, niche verticals, highly specialised, "not too much cash" and ideally highly leveraged and high top line growth, all these are the perfect ingredients to make a "hot" or "great stock" with high multiples...
It centres on the idea of "efficient use of capital" is DEBT rather than Cash...
Must read blog response from Prof @AswathDamodaran Musings on Markets: Hundred dollar bills are hard to come by! http://bit.ly/12l8yVi
Tim should become the leader like Steve & focus on the business, and service what the business need in medium to long term and do not follow suit of likes of GEC Marconi where equally under pressure by market & shareholders really squandered the cash and broken up the firm.
or Indeed use the cash and bring Apple back to private and focus on the job itself but hey, not as glamorous & won't pave way for another job.
World economy is in a dire situation now: part of the reason maybe we forget the "value creating" goals of the capital market... where as Jack Bogle pointed out in his seminal book "The Clash of Culture", most of the capital market is speculative rather than value adding investing (his example of USD250Bn value adding equity investing vs whole of market of USD33Trillion) and if genius financial engineering minds like Mr. Einhorn could force company to do "the right thing" and if "the right thing" is from the capital market's perspective and if Jack Bogle is correct that it focus on the "rent seekers" needs... then it is indeed very likely many great companies like Apple (guess you cannot find any companies greater than that now!?) will not survive...
I would therefore make another two predictions: 1) Tim will not survive 5years if he does not follow the market wants, namely paying out more dividends and/or share buy backs... 2) Apple will decline in 5years if indeed Tim or his successor succumb to needs of the capital markets Therefore, 3) Apple will thrive as & when it finds another true visionary to keep it at the very top and focus on needs of Apple and most importantly its users
(Declaring that I am only an observer and not an apple user, nor stock holder; I bought a top of the range iPod 40G player which was never used, especially I bought it in NYC and the battery of it was and still is rubbish!)
The pure fact that Zynga is not doing anything different to other gaming gambling operators, I put their chance of success as 30%... my reasoning set out in my blog post (might be a bit long & may even need grammatical help, happy to take any corrections/suggestions): http://garethwong.org/GamingFuture2013/
In short however, Mark and Team need to focus on their strength and not to emulate others and create new products and services (that people need but not sure they want yet) rather than doing stupid simple product extensions which everyone else is doing and have been doing for years!!
Also look at new business model, distribution channels also, as they are now moving into a grown up and VERY competitive market.. some has 10+ year start to the game!
For years, there has been much talk of new dawn of
gaming/gambling: how mobile, bingo and social gaming might change the face of
it all, and for everyone...
I would agree with this statement but not given the
present portfolio of products/services, business models and (lack of!) customised formats .. We are getting there but success is still very far away... Let me explain
why, the likely catalysts for this top happen, and what the future holds before we arrive at nirvana (not
the band) or shangri-la (not the hotel).
Casino Gaming, gambling/betting [GG] is the considered
mostly as glamorous, maybe at times shady, but I think it is mostly
mis-understood. There has been much this
is a “goldmine” mentality for business people or startup that look at the
sector, especially those that are new to this world.
I hope to debunk a few myths and highlight what the
real opportunities truly are..
In short, out side of the façade of the glamour
(especially the offline world), gaming gambling sector is in fact rather
boring, my best analogy is like running a somewhat considered to be shady Tesco (not cornershop as its big business!) except this time it is regulated. Worst, the business is even regulated down to what margin
a product line can take (quite often also limited in how such products/services are promoted & communicated to the customers, and certain jurisdictions some media channels are even banned)!!
Some of you who have met me also have heard my other analogy: GG operator is like a bank except don’t need to
justify their fees … (to read my other infrequent blog posts re
finance/banking sector pls see http://gw.cxopvip.org
). In fact, the legendary Jack Bogle
(who founded first Index fund) wrote an op-ed in new York times back in 1999
named “The Wall
Street Casino”! But to be fair, there
are NO CDOs/CDSs nor Derivatives in the GG world. Choice is very important, we should be glad that most casino players only
play with the money they can afford to loose, they can choose whom they play with. Sadly, same cannot be said for the Limited partners and pension funds, who are supposedly long investors but sadly due to market structural and systemic faults, they have no choice but invest in the same pool... it will take years if ever all governments decide to work on a viable solution! But I digress, lets focus back in the GG market.
The "gold mine" perception is too attractive (vs lack of growth in most economies) for most to ignore and it is driving a lot of
companies to take the plunge (like moths to the light); as a lot of non GG industries are keep
looking at the sector for incremental growth by leveraging their assets. They come from everywhere, from finance (Cantor Fitzgerald) to worldwide brand royalty (Virgin
group) and even media conglomerates like Fremantle (Britain got talents, XFactors), Endlemol (Deal or no Deal, Big Brother), ITV and even
Marvel Comics… have join in the fray (see free Gambit event
report on licensing in 2009) …They try various ways of monetising their assets (brand value to loyal viewers/readers) from creating new formats, monetizing
profitable brands/formats, to stupid simple licensing deals… Just to compare,
global gambling industry is US$390.5bn in 2012 (H2 Capital) vs capital market
(Just North America, traded market US$33trillion+) vs media AdSpend US$538bn (eMarketeer)
vs media & entertainment US$1.69tri
in 2012 (PwC)
However, if you take a straw poll and look back to your
personal lives (especially if you are not in GG industries), have you noticed
that more of your friends are going “gambling” in the last year or so (excluding
one off tourist visit to Vegas/Macau/Singapore )??? More likely than not, the answer is no (unless I am wrong & have only been
meeting very boring but successful people worldwide)…! Truth is, most brand owners (from media to brand royalities like Virgin) are reluctant to really "push" gaming gambling products/services due to the perceived shadiness & likely backlash and affect their core business. Hence most would just "dabble" or "partner" and rely on their "best in class" partners, and even after that would not promote it as a career preservation move. This is in fact a sensible and safe strategy but sadly part of the reason why we do not and will not see much innovation nor measured risk taking nor investment for the new category of product/services to bridge the supply & demand gap.
This is somewhat understandable: as you can see it in the numbers (PwC global gaming
projections to 2015, year on year growth is only between 8 to 10%!), the market
size of the GG world does not grow exponentially. Some might argue that is part
of the reason why in 2007 Macau surpassed Las Vegas as the biggest gaming city
in the world (as the money just shifted to Macau then Singapore). But GG is very profitable if you are the successful operators (with exception like the well known Trump casino bankrupted four times but of course worked for Trump, on Forbes), e.g. most hear of the phenomenal story of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.that recouped its entire $265 million investment in just 12
months after opening the Macau Sands.
Seeing great news as such might in fact the main reason
why so many industries consider gaming gambling as a “gold mining”
opportunity. However, do not forget that competition for clients in GG is a
lot harder as there is only limited supply of good GG players… there is also the complexity of regulations:
For a licensed gaming/gambling
operator, players should:
2)Game of chance (or
chance and skill like poker) (the action, enjoyment, passing the time with game or with friends)
3)Get money prizes
(well in Japan’s Pachinko
you need to change the prize into money in the short distance away)
4)Generally must be
18+years for most casino games in most jurisdictions (most lottery games are
5)Keep playing as
everytime they pay to play, the house win some more (not unlike brokers
encouraging people to trade..!?)
If such gaming operations run within well regulated
jurisdictions on or offshore (not a scam or illegal operation) this increase further
costs of management time, cross jurisdictional compliance, thus operational cost
would be high! Do not forget CRM (from promotion/acquisition
to cross selling, re-activate/loyalty etc.)… and it is a Cash and
a “managing risk” business.. Therefore there is mostly a mis-match for listed firms when they are treated as "Technology stock" like Betfair...
Still fun and game; easy peesy!?? we need to delve a little deeper before we can look at the likely catalyst of growth or what might bring about real success.
For those wanting to move into GG market, it is paramount for the brands, media or
entertainment owners (potential investors) to understand the key issues of
running a “pay to play” operation beforehand … as not only would one need to
ensure they are “of age”, but also one would need to “convince them” to play with
YOUR brand… Lets face it, can you tell the difference between Joy Luck Club
casino vs OffYourHeadBingo? Answer is resounding no. (there was some innovation like 3D poker of PKR, 3D casino vanished sadly) Logic dictates that most consumers
would probably trust the brand they are most familiar with; for UK audiences
they would trust the bookies brands like Ladbrokes, WilliamHill or PaddyPower
etc.. However, have you visited any of these sites!?? All invariably are one stop shops and can
provide everything. So how do players choose!?? Well, they generally choose by the offers
available, hence the life time of players are very short, and cost to acquire
them very high… but CPA (Cost per acquisition) in GG market is around half the cost for acquiring each
depositor for High Net Worth wealth management industry… one is ultra short
term, another much longer term and it is supposedly wealth preservation.. Both
however are faced with similar challenge of how to bridge the “Trust &
Confidence” gap.. These are for firms already "taking people's money"... how about social gaming!?
The talks of companies like Zynga moving
into hard core gambling from free to play to compete with "gambing tricks" Jedi
like partybwin/888 might be a good battle for us to watch.. Despite Zynga being already great at using social (mostly Facebook) to attract & (use gambling mechanics maintain and) keep the users
keep coming back (as
reported by Forbes), it just does not have the wider appeal for the joe blogg
on the street to start “paying to play” yet, especially given the fact that facebook
is keeping them at arm’s length now… Sadly Mark Pincus did not see the email I sent him a couple of years back. His opportunity is now almost lost, I would say his
success rate in being a full fledged gaming gambling conglomerate would be 30% (but to increase his chance, he need to delist the company yesterday!) (they are charting new ground here and his challenges is sadly not easily solved by buying best in class platform or sacking/re-tooling/hiring more developers, outsourcing would not work either, key is to know what needs to be done to be more than gaming gambling!!)
Despite all of these comments however, I am very bullish! IMHO, gaming gambling could
be the engine for growth for other industries that have a trusted brand with great followings, audience that would willingly want to engage by opening their wallets … be it social gaming, as from
newspaper like guardian to TV channels (ITV tried with ITV Play channel to “Red
or Black” with Simon Cowell)…
One of the biggest challenge for media/TV/social companies is that so far they do not do KYC and getting them to age-qualify their client is a mountainous step as their KPI so far is very different!
Social gaming is one of the key opportunity and pose the biggest hidden danger, as not much study has been done regarding likely effects on young people's mind if they are exposed to gambling type games!?? See the key slide
from Prof.Jon Grant below at the last annual GamCare conference:
So, what might work? What are the key trends? Does your
company have what it takes? If answer
to all the followings are YES, then you have the good fundamentals for a seat at the likely
A.Do you have a
trusted brand? or trusted staffs? or trusted sales network?
quantifiable trusts? Do consumers buy your products, product extensions as blind followers? Or do they deposit and keep on depositing more?
your brand’s products and services to new clients? (do you also own the channels? on and offline!?)
D.Do you already collect
and analyse life time value of your users and understand and maximize your business
processes’ efficiency? or do you outsource this!? E. Do you devise products and services in house by understanding your customers preferences and usage patterns!?
F. Do you have any experience in house money management skills (payment processes, fraud monitoring, anti-money laundering processes etc.)
G.Do you have minimum tens of millions of marketing budget!?? (per month, or year?) Can you have sustained promotion of new for ideally at least a year if not two!??
Once you have a seat on the table, you would need to be able to do something different, but not just by buying firms as its rather meaningless, its a numbers game, as after M&A, most likely the clients have tried or are trying someone else already, the real opportunity lies in the intersection of new customers demand, and particularly those that have NOT YET gambled or played any of your games yet... a good example is the likes of Gamesys (JackpotJoy, SunBingo, Caesars Casino etc.), who after CashCade’s success (with their
TV spot promotion and creation of Foxy Bingo brand) are now pushing their own
brand Jotpotjoy… and even just managed to buy Virgin games for an undisclosed sum! Must read
article written by
on VentureBeat. One thing he missed
was the key question I asked during the Q and A (reconfirmed my comments above) i.e. limited addressable market for gaming gambling consumers and very fierce competition for the players.
My key question to him was: "whether the expansion to TV and trying out new TV audience engagement and online interactive format is the future for gaming gambling world?" He answered after working as a partner of the “Red or Black” game on
ITV with Simon Cowell (but did not comment specifically on this project as under NDA). They have learnt a lot and trying new formats on TV
would be a great opportunity to try again in the future…
IMHO, if you have answered YES to the questions A-G above
and still want to get involved in the gaming gambling market, then you need to
make sure your board supports you and ideally you are not publicly listed (if
you are, then delist it first). Key Catalyst for growth:
II.)New games that are customized for the pervasive
devices (not the boring product extensions now! not another mobile roulette or mobile poker please!)
III.)New type of
contents which players can engage with via multi-touch points (something different!)
model(s) multiplayer is a given but doing what!?
V.)Invest in research on/about likely effects on young minds and preventing likely gaming gambling addictions
You may have noticed technology or channel/platform is not
mentioned, (as that is a prerequisite) Following my suggestions above, with some hard work, elbow grease and some inventiveness, we might be able to create a real catalyst for growth and in turn bring some great enjoyment to all and make some decent but equitable money meanwhile.