King Digital Entertainment Plc., the maker of popular smartphone games including “Candy Crush Saga” and “Pet Rescue Saga,” is beginning an adventure of its own on a path to becoming a public company.
King, whose owners include Apax Partners LLP and venture capital firm Index Ventures, today filed to raise $500 million in an initial public offering in the U.S. -- a figure that’s a placeholder used to calculate fees and may change. Dublin-based King, which plans to use the funds for working capital and acquisitions, applied to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol KING.
The company’s most popular game is “Candy Crush Saga,” which made up 78 percent of cash spent by players at King last year, according to a prospectus disclosed today. Demand for the puzzle game, which features different colored candies, drove an elevenfold surge in revenue in 2013 to $1.9 billion. While King says it intends to diversify its games, the reliance on few titles for revenue is listed as a risk factor in the prospectus.
“It’s obviously an amazing company but still a one-hit wonder,” Lou Kerner, manager of the Social Internet Fund, which invests in social-media companies, said by phone from New York. “You’re betting that ‘Candy Crush’ will either have a very long life or King will be able to have other hits.”
$7 Billion Valuation
King is expected to receive an initial valuation of as much as $7 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
The company generates revenue when users purchase virtual items, such as extra lives or additional game content, for about $1 apiece, according to the filing. The applications operate on smartphone devices of Apple Inc.’s iOS, Google Inc.’s Android and Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle and on Facebook Inc. In the fourth quarter, 73 percent of cash spent by users came from mobile, the filing showed.
Apax Partners, a London private equity firm, holds a 48.2 percent stake in King, while Index Ventures owns 8.3 percent, the filing showed. The gamemaker’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Riccardo Zacconi owns 10.4 percent, and John Sebastian Knutsson, co-founder and chief creative officer, holds
King has paid $504 million in dividends to its owners in the last four months, according to the filing. A dividend of $287 million was paid on Oct. 24 followed by another $217 million payment on Feb. 6.
Co-founder Zacconi, 46, has been CEO since 2003 and previously served as an executive at uDate.com Ltd., an online dating service. He also held positions at Benchmark Capital Partners LP, a venture capital firm, and Boston Consulting Group Inc.
While it was incorporated as Midasplayer.com Ltd in the U.K. in September 2002, King will become the holding company prior to the offering, in accordance to laws in Ireland.
JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse Group AG and Bank of America Corp. are managing the stock sale. King previously made a confidential filing for an IPO, a person familiar with the matter said in October.
Another digital game maker, Zynga Inc., sold shares to the public in December 2011. The stock has declined about 50 percent since then as the maker of “Farmville” saw users defect to King’s “Candy Crush.”
Max Wolff, chief economist and strategist at ZT Wealth, said that King is different from San Francisco-based Zynga in having better management, less dependence on Facebook and a quicker pivot to mobile.
“King needs to be evaluated as King, not just people’s disappointments around Zynga,” said Wolff, who builds social-media insight platforms for institutional investors, “But it’s still a pop star with a fickle fan base.”