Candy Crush: Will Wall Street buy the addictive game?

March 24, 2014

The “Candy Crush Saga” game is displayed on a tablet. The game was developed by British King Digital Entertainment. The maker of the addictive mobile game Candy Crush said March 12, 2014 it hopes to raise as much as $532.8 million in a New York IPO that would value the company at up to $7.6 billion. King Digital Entertainment, the British developer behind the hit game, filed new documents on its much-awaited initial public offering that showed plans to sell 22.2 million shares at between $21 and $24 a share. That would give the company a market capitalization of between $6.6 billion and $7.6 billion (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Why is the game Candy Crush Saga so addictive? People play it over a billion times a day, usually the same people.

There’s no firm answer, despite the studies (seriously) of theoretical physicists, mathematicians and psychologists. It’s not the usual guy thing; it appeals to women in their 20s more than anyone, according to data.

But the question probably doesn’t matter compared to the one that will be debated this week.

King Digital, the company that makes the game, is slated to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, with a likely price between $21 and $24 a share, “which would give the whole of the company a market value of up to $7.6 billion, roughly the same as Hasbro, maker of traditional games like Monopoly and Scrabble,” reports Forbes’ Mark McSherry.

The real question now is: is it a one-game wonder, a mobile version Beanie Baby?

Or can the company make it last, or branch into other games that will? It’s an argument that has raged around almost all of the recent mobile phone game offerings, in part because no one is really sure how long they can last, and when one craze will be superceded by the next. It doesn’t cost a lot to make and sell a game.

Here’s the basic point of it, as described by King on its website:

“Mix and match sweets in a combination of three or more to gain points and other bonuses as you progress! When three or more candies of the same color are switched next to each other they will burst and you will win points. The aim is to gain as many points as possible….Boosters can help you progress through the game. Boosters come with a number of charges. Once you use the booster, one charge is consumed. Boosters can be quite helpful if you find yourself in a pickle or if you are stuck on a challenging level.”

What’s the appeal? They really are studying it.

Some say it’s the reward that comes from the word popping up on the screen saying, “Sweet” or “Delicious.”

“Positive rewards are the main reason people become addicted to things,” Dr. Kimberly Young, told Time Magazine.  “When you play the game, you feel better about yourself.”

Others say it’s the sheer difficulty.

According to New Scientist: Physics and Math:

“Part of its addictiveness may be that Candy Crush is a computationally hard puzzle to solve.” Toby Walsh at the University of New South Wales and the computing research center NICTA – both in Sydney, Australia – analyzed the game and discovered that it belongs to a class of mathematical problems called NP-hard, meaning it can be very difficult to find a solution.”

Buying game stocks can be addictive too. The company’s disclosure statement at the  SEC  explains the risks:

It notes that the single game accounts for nearly 80 percent of its sales and that since the game is a free download, revenues hinge on players buying extras.

“We derived nearly all of our revenue from the sale of virtual items in our games during the year ended December 31, 2013. Our games are available to players for free, and we generally generate revenue from them only if they purchase in-game virtual items, such as “boosters” that enhance their skills to help players progress, “extra lives” or “level unlocks” to progress further in the game.

Two popular financial writers, Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance and James Surowiecki in the New Yorker have debated it recently. Pressman thinks it’s priced right. Surowiecki thinks its potentially a one-game wonder that’s seriously overpriced.

Writes Pressman:

“Candy Crush Saga may be the company’s one hit, but it’s a biggie. And though it may be fading somewhat, it’s not dropping off the face of the earth. In its latest filing, King said that, in total, people played its games 1.4 billion times a day in February, up from 1 billion times a day in December.

Surowiecki is in the Beanie Baby school:

“When you buy shares in a public company, you’re buying a share of future profits, and the future of any company that’s reliant on a single faddish product for so much of its revenue is inherently uncertain — too uncertain for investors to confidently accept a seven-billion-dollar valuation. I have no doubt that investors will snap this offering up: the market is willing to value Zynga, which has lost six hundred million dollars over the past three years, at five billion dollars. King looks like a bargain by comparison. But this is a pure gamble.

The last word-as of this morning-came from Pressman:

“I’m still right. King is already demonstrating its prowess at sustaining its Candy Crush revenue stream and developing new ones. It’s not remotely a Beanie Baby situation, an analogy Surowiecki doesn’t choose to defend.”

For more, see Bloomberg’s “King Digital Offers Investors a Piece of Candy”, Fox Business’ “Candy Crush Maker Eyes Sweet IPO”.

Or try CNN’s “Candy Crush mania coming to Wall Street.”

Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
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