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The birds are angry in Rovio Entertainment’s flagship computer game. That is nothing to how many investors now feel. On the evidence of the first set of results, the computer group is not ready — or right — for life as a public company. The shares dropped a fifth after the company announced a loss for the third quarter, largely due to a big increase in marketing spend.
Ironically, before Rovio Entertainment sold shares to the public in September, the knock against the Finnish group behind the Angry Birds franchise was it waited far too long to do so. One of the first gaming smash hits born of Apple’s app store, critics said it could have listed when sales growth was smoother.
The going is now heavy. User acquisition costs rose to €22m, more than 4 times the spend in the same period during 2016. Of a matching €22m increase in gaming revenues, €17m went on marketing.
The metrics raise a question that applies to all mobile gaming companies: the amount of advertising required to sustain growth. App stores are crowded, customers fickle, and the freemium business model means games are given away in hopes some users will make in-app payments. Pick their pockets too deeply or frequently and they (or their parents) stop paying.
Rovio says its marketing spend is an investment, while keeping key metrics to itself. It expects the spending to be recouped in eight to nine months.
On a call, executives were cagey rather than angry. They declined to elaborate on the typical lifespan of a customer. Asked about churn, they cited a one-time disclosure in the prospectus, which some investors may now wish they had read more closely. They preferred not to say whether churn was rising, falling or flat, nor whether sales were growing for all five of the group’s top-selling games.
Perhaps Rovio did spend too long in the comfort of private ownership. It is valued at 3 times sales and perhaps 40 times profits. On this showing, it is only likely to get cheaper.
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