If investors are as enthusiastic about buying King Digital Entertainment as players are about its blockbuster hit, the puzzle game “Candy Crush Saga,” the game maker could grab a lofty valuation.
King disclosed Wednesday that it hopes to raise as much as $532.8 million in its forthcoming initial public offering, attaining a value of nearly $7.6 billion. The company hopes to price its shares at $21-$24 apiece, it said in an updated prospectus.
If King sells its shares at the top of its expected range, then investors would value King roughly 54 percent more than they do Zynga, the last mobile game giant to go public. And its market value would be only $2 billion less than that of Electronic Arts, one of the biggest video-game makers around.
That would be a testament to the meteoric success of “Candy Crush Saga,” which draws an average of 97 million users every day trying to line up three or more pieces of matching virtual confections. The title’s success has suddenly made King, which has development studios in London, Sweden and San Francisco, into one of the biggest upstarts that the gaming world has seen in years.
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The worldwide popularity of “Candy Crush” has also enriched King’s investors, including Apax Partners and Index Ventures, and the developer’s management team. Even at the low point of the proposed offering range, Riccardo Zacconi, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, would be worth more than $640 million.
King’s startling growth in recent years is further proof of how thoroughly so-called freemium games have upended the conventional business model of the games industry. In that approach, games are free for anyone to play, but players may buy virtual items — a costume to decorate a character, say — or opportunities to accelerate their progress in games.
The vast majority of players in most freemium games never bother to buy anything. The small percentage who do, though, often spend with abandon.
The freemium approach to games first took off in Asia more than a decade ago, where high rates of software piracy forced game publishers, like Nexon, to come up with innovative methods of profiting from their creations. Zynga was among the first wave of U.S. companies to successfully import the business model to the U.S. with Facebook games like “FarmVille.”
While Zynga has struggled to repeat its early success with Facebook in the mobile market, others, like Supercell of Finland, have thrived by focusing exclusively on the devices. In October, Supercell was valued at about $3 billion after SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications company, purchased slightly more than half the company for $1.5 billion.
But King’s disclosures have led many analysts to question whether the game-maker can continue to thrive as a public company once its biggest hit fades in popularity. Its second most-popular hit, “Farm Heroes Saga,” counts an average of 20 million active users a day.
It is difficult to overstate how much “Candy Crush” has contributed to the rise of the 11-year-old King. The company reported nearly $1.9 billion in revenue last year, up from just $164 million in 2012.
Nearly 80 percent of those sales come from “Candy Crush.”