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mark zuckerberg

The negative impact on social gaming providers from Faceboo’s changes in notifications and requests imposed in March finally seemed to have slowed in June, with total monthly active users (MAUs) of the top 10 game developers dropping by a little over 1% from May levels to 415mm in June month-to-date, after falling 9% in May.

We were very interested to read Mark Zuckerberg’s thoughts on the changes in a recent interview on Inside Facebook where he said that:

“There are two ways that apps get usage that really define the character of the application. One way is viral distribution – spreading to new people. The other is re-engagement. Early on, the viral strength was so much, but there were really no channels for re-engagement. So people were using viral channels to reengage people, and you basically had apps that were growing very quickly, and their best way to get a good user count was to get new users and churn through them. That really optimizes for apps that are very viral instead of apps that are high quality and that people want to reengage. So we intentionally weakened the viral channels recently, and intentionally strengthened re-engagement with emails, so that there will be better apps. It’s going to be a long process, but I think it’s going reasonably well.

One of the things we did recently was re-balance around games. A lot of users like playing games, but a lot of users just hate games, and that made it a big challenge, because people who like playing games wanted to post updates about their farm or frontier or whatever to their stream. They want all their friends to see their updates, and they want to get all their friends’ updates, but people who don’t care about games want no updates. So we did some re-balancing so that if you aren’t a game player you’re getting less updates.”

As a result of this “re-balancing,” since reaching their peak in mid-April, as the Facebook changes were being implemented, total MAUs have fallen over 11%, with virtually every developer seeing a significant fall off:

This large drop off comes amid the emergence of several new hits for the social gaming providers.  Most notable, Zynga’s Treasure Island was the fastest growing game in the history of Facebook, reaching over 20 million MAUs in just three weeks.  However, the entire life cycle of games appears to be compressing, as Treasure Isle peaked just seven weeks after its introduction, and over the subsequent six weeks, Treasure Island has lost over 20% of its MAUs, including a 2mm MAU loss just last week.

Treasure Island hasn’t been Zynga’s only new hit.  More recent, Zynga introduced Frontierville, which has already surpassed 11 million MAUs after just three weeks, but these new hits haven’t come close to offsetting the losses among all the other Zynga games:

It’s interesting to note that the game with the best staying power is Texas Hold’ Em, a classic poker game that was likely the easiest for Zynga to build, and is the most basic of all of Zynga’s games.

The social gaming providers are hopefully finally at the point where things will level off from the Facebook changes, such that growth can begin anew.  We’ll keep you posted.

Lou Kerner owns 50% of this social media site, SecondShares.com, and owns shares of Facebook (private company) and is employed by Wedbush Securities (www.wedbush.com). Wedbush Securities is a registered broker-dealer and member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC. Wedbush Securities makes a market in the publicly-traded securities mentioned herein and its Equity Research Department provides research coverage of Electronic Arts. The information is neither intended to be a complete record or analysis nor a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security mentioned herein. This information is obtained from internal and external sources, which is believed to be reliable; however, no guarantee of its accuracy can be made. Additional information is available upon request.

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We had the opportunity to sit down with David Kirkpatrick, the author of “The Facebook Effect” for a 35 minute interview a few weeks ago.  The book’s subtitle, “The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World,” is about Facebook’ss history and massive global impact. David’s been writing about technology and the Internet since 1991, and the book is much anticipated  around the world.

The interview is about 35 minutes long, and all worth listening to. But if you want to search for a particular topic, below the video is a brief Table of Contents:

David Kirpatrick Interview – Author of “The Facebook Effect” from SecondShares on Vimeo.

Minutes 0 – 3 : David’s background and the impetus for writing the book
Minutes 4 – 10 : Who David talked with including his interaction with Mark Zuckerberg, VCs, competitors and predecessors
Minutes 11- 15 : The book, how Facebook has evolved, how the company will make money and transform the world
Minute 16 : Social gaming and Zynga
Minute 17 : Yuri Milner, the Russian who has spent more money ($500mm) than anyone else on Facebook shares
Minutes 18 – 22 : The privacy issue
Minutes 23-25 : Search, Google and the social graph
Minutes 26-28 : How much is Facebook worth and when will it go public
Minutes 29-31 : Particulars on the book
Minutes 31 -33 : Who bailed to early, who comes off bad in the book
Minutes 34 – 36 : Final thoughts

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SocialBeat’s Dean Takahashi reports that Digital Sky Technologies (DST) has agreed to pay AOL $187.5 million for ICQ, the largest instant messaging service in Russia, and a number of other markets.  According to Time Warner, ICQ has over 100 million accounts registered, and more than 32 million unique visitors per month, which was started in 1996 by Israeli firm Mirabilis, which AOL acquired for $407 million back in 1998.

While DST for a long time has been an owner in Eastern block countries of significant social media assets, more recently they have become known as a secondary investor in companies like Facebook, Zynga, Groupon and Tencent.  Yuri Milner, CEO of DST, said “the acquisition of ICQ is a strategic enhancement of our business in Russia and Eastern Europe.”

So does this acquisition of ICQ position them as a competitor, or better yet – frenemy, to their existing or future social media investments?  Although DST has been an owner operator largely in the Eastern block countries, and it now appears they have more global aspirations, so it will be interesting to see how the market reacts to DST in future investment opportunities.

In a BusinessWeek interview in February 2010, Yuri Milner says “I am making big investments… You just have to be personally involved.”  He goes on to say, “I’d like to see DST as a significant global investment company in the Internet arena.”

As we understand it, DST hasn’t taken board seats in their late stage deals at companies such as Facebook and Zynga, but its hard to believe that their hundreds of millions of dollars of investment hasn’t yielded them with a wealth of confidential information that Facebook, Zynga and others wouldn’t want their competitor to get a hold of.  And now DST could just be that competitor?

Sure, Facebook and others probably aren’t worried about ICQ as a competitor, but DST has certainly proven that they have access to nearly unlimited capital and they’re willing to pay a premium or above, so what’s next on their acquisition horizon and how much are they willing to pay?  Were they paying premiums in these companies for a strategic reason we didn’t quite see at the time?  Is this something their current or future portfolio companies should be worried about?  Did Mark Zuckerberg miss the writing on the wall?  Tell us what you think.

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Check out David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect“, in a video interview by Kara Swisher of All Things Digital, describing Mark Zuckerberg’s vision from the start of Facebook, “which is to become infrastructure for identity on the Internet.”  He goes on to explain that “Google is the consummately brilliant data centric Internet company that couldn’t be better than it is at that.  Facebook views the world through a different lens, which is sociality, which is the interaction between people and what can technology do to make that more effective, enjoyful, etc.”

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