US teens send 7.5x more text messages than they make calls September 30, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in mobile, sms, teens, text.
Neilsen Mobile recently reported on US 2008 Q2 mobile phone usage. They find that the number of calls made per month averages 204 across all users but does not vary all that much with age between 13-54:
On the other hand, as stereotypes would suggest, teens drive by far the highest number of text messages per month. Although the average across all users is 357, there is very high variability:
When looking at the ratio of texts to calls, the difference is even more marked. Teens (13-17) text 7.5x more often than they call whereas seniors (65+) call 7x more often than they text:
As an aside, the overall ratio of texts to calls is about 1.75:1 and has been greater than 1:1 since q4 of 2007.
How to take money from children (for your online game or virtual world) September 29, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in games, games 2.0, gaming, mmorpg, payments, prepaid cards, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
Virtual Worlds News noted last week that:
PayByCash announced … that over 50% of its US transactions were coming from its Ultimate Game Card, a prepaid card that supports over 150 virtual worlds and games, like Club Penguin, Nexon America, and IMVU. Previously U.S. consumers favored PayByCash’s direct debit options…
I’d guess one explanation for the transition, and one to watch, is that adults are more likely to set up debit options… Kids and teens, who seem to be driving much of the consumer-oriented virtual worlds growth, simply pick up cards at retail.
It is an important statistic as it really underscores the importance of prepaid cards as a payment mechanism for free to play games. Min Kim of Nexon noted in his presentation at Austin GDC this year that:
“Retailers are taking notice of card sales, and support will grow. Retailers love the regular customer, and coming back for cards is a given. Once you’ve purchased one card, statistics say you’ll probably buy another.”
Target has certainly taken notice, with 26 gamecards available for sale now, including Nexon, Neopets, Gaia, Habbo, Acclaim, gPotato, Stardoll, Zwinky, Big Fish, 3 Rings (Puzzle Pirates) and Wild Tangent. A wider selection is available in their physical stores.
I’ve spoken to several free to play publishers with prepaid cards at retail and they have seen this payment mechanism come to represent from 20-50+% of their virtual goods revenue, which is consistent with the percentage that PayByCash has seen. As Virtual Worlds News speculated, it is the games and virtual worlds that skew towards kids and teens that have the greatest proportion of revenue coming from prepaid cards.
However, publishers tell me that their sales from their own-branded prepaid cards are many multiples of their sales from PayByCash. A Game X player is simply far more likely to buy a Game X card than to buy PayByCash’s Ultimate Game Card. In fact, many publishers tell me that even though they already took the Ultimate Game Card as a payment mechanism, when they launched their own-branded card into retail, they saw a sizeable, immediate, incremental jump in ARPU. Their existing players, who had previously wanted to be able to pay them but didn’t know how, now were able to do so.
Nabeel Hyatt, CEO of Conduit Labs, has previous noted that this could create more of a problem than an opportunity:
In all, there are now over 25 digital content cards being sold at retail. I’ve been tracking this and that’s over double what it was six months ago. That means that at least a dozen online communities, and probably a dozen more in the next six months, are going to be submitting themselves to the vagaries of the retail shelf-space business. That’s a business the online web folks have little to no experience in, and one that a lot of traditional gaming vets were excited to get out of.
I am more optimistic. Retailers love prepaid cards. These cards have no inventory carrying costs and no shrinkage (theft) problems because they are only activated at the checkout. Furthermore, the cards are small and high value, creating high $s/square foot, one of the key metrics at retail. In my local Safeway (picture below), there are 6-700 prepaid giftcards for sale (for everything from Red Lobster to Bed Bath and Beyond) – one indication of how much retailers love this product.
Nabeel is right though – getting retail distribution is not something that is core to the DNA of most online game publishers. Most of the publishers that I’ve spoken with work with one or more of Blackhawk, GMG Entertainment and Incomm to get their cards into retail.
For people interested in learning more about prepaid cards into retail, the Virtual Goods Summit on October 10th looks to be a good event, specifically the 10:30 panel ,”Making Virtual Economies Work — Lessons from the Leaders” where the CEO of Playspan (which owns PayByCash) will be speaking, and the last panel of the day, “Getting Paid – Build a Dominant Payments and Billing Strategy”, where the President of GMG Entertainment will be speaking. If you’re going, use “JEREMYLIEW” for 10% off of General Admission on registration.
Habbo profitable on $38m of revenue in 2008 H1? September 25, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in games, games 2.0, gaming, habbo, virtual worlds.
The Helsinki based virtual goods operator Sulake saw a profitable first half in 2008. According to Kauppalehti, net profits were around 400 000 euros. The revenues rose approximately 20% to 25,6 million euros for the first 6 months of 2008. Majority of the sales came from sale of virtual goods in Habbo Hotels world wide. According to the company, the annual growth for 2008 will be around 30%.
Jussi Laakkonen also notes from the same source:
Sulake’s 22 M€ [of investment from 3i] is [quoted] from Kauppalehti, the leading Finnish business magazine, which calculated the total losses incurred by Sulake from its founding in year 2000 to end of year 2007 using public records. VC money raised is more than this.
Update: Virtual World News pulls in conflicting revenue reports over time for Habbo.
Seven ways to boost your click through rates 25-50% September 25, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in advertising.
Marketing Sherpa notes seven design elements to add to your banner ads to increase click through rates from 25-50%:
MMOG nuggets from Austin GDC September 18, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in business models, freemium, games, games 2.0, gaming, mmorpg, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
Some interesting tidbits about both free to play and subscription MMOGs coming out of the talks at Austin GDC. Min Kim of Nexon says:
Not just a Korean thing:
“South Korea is still a big market for us,” Kim admits, “but the split is now 50/50 with overseas markets,” which includes the Asian and U.S. markets.
On growth in North America:
In 2005, Nexon America’s revenues were around $650,000. In 2006, when they added Paypal as a payment option, sales rose to $8.457 million, based on item sales. In 2007, once Nexon released its Nexon Cash cards to retail stores, revenue jumped to $29.334 million.
On localization of games:
While many of the free to play games currently come from Korea, Kim feels that the market will eventually be dominated by Western titles. “We’ve seen this happen in other places like China,” he posed. “The big games now are from Chinese developers. I think the same thing will happen in the West, with Western-developed titles.”
On how game design interacts with business model design:
Focus on fun, not just on what items you can sell. “Have an idea about what your business model is,” he advises, but don’t go overboard laying out your business plan completely from the beginning. “Don’t have all your items and categories pegged out. Make sure you have a fun game, first.” 9 times out of 10 the ideas you’ll have at the beginning will be wrong. The players will tell you what they want to buy.”
From a panel on evolving business models in MMOs, CCP’s (Eve Online) Petursson notes that subscription MMOs mostly reward time spent playing (which is consistent with the business model):
All subscription-based MMOs are merit economies – those with most time, win. But the only thing you can’t buy is social merit. To be a purely subscription-based game, you should aim for social merit as it’s the only merit economy defensible against outside influences.
On when Free to play works and when it does not (a function of demographics, geography/ cultural norms and genre):
* Robert: The demographics in LOTRO etc are a lot older: 20-35, male. F2P games tend to be younger, more females, casual, less hardcore. 30 year old males are not playing a lot of F2P and have no problem paying monthly subscription. Younger people and kids are playing lots of games and want F2P for that flexibility. However, F2P microtransaction games can pull in more ARPU than subscriptions.
* Helmar – In CHina, it is illegal to have an automatic debit for sub based game – user always has to choose. For game operator it’s important to realize that most biz models will be implemented by user… better to implement them yourself and tune appropriately.
* Min – also based on genre…not many ppl shell out $15/month to play FPS. There are some F2P FPSs now in Asia. Biz model based on genre as well.
Turbine’s Ferrari notes that F2P games need low barriers to play
What we’re seeing is a shift that a lot of the f2p games are so much lighter than traditional MMOs. Heavy MMOs are beautiful, but that puts a barrier to entry based on min spec – younger demographics don’t have these systems. Global expansion doesn’t support those specs either. Our games are above 5gb in size, whereas Maple Story is close to 1gb now.
Nexon’s Min Kim has a contrarian view:
In S Korea, people have no problem downloading big client products as the web is so fast. I often wonder if browser-based gaming is an interim step until web speeds creep up and people can return to client download.
And multiple comments on the importance of letting your customers pay you how they can and want to pay you (including prepaid cards at retail):
* Min: Offering payment methods relevant to your target demographic is important. Over 20 years old, credit cards are viable. In the teen demographic, prepaid cards are still the dominant form of payment. Maybe SMS payments will come, but it is all about accessibility and convenience. In demographics such as Club Penguin’s, credit cards are a big part of their payment methods as parents are paying.
* Nicolay: I think Habbo has 140 different payment methods. The ability to pay has to be the lowest barrier to entry, otherwise you aren’t getting any money.
* Robert: SMS charges surrender so much margin to carrier, but retail cards may be more expensive just to get into channel.
* Hilmar: It’s puzzling why carriers aren’t lowering their surcharges. People would switch to it immediately, resolving credit card issues.
* Min: There is no access for our consumers to use credit cards. In 2006, we did $8.5M in the US in virtual item sales – in 2007 we did $29.3M in virtual items. Virtually all of that growth came from enabling people to pay.
* Robert: Companies like Turbine are looking at the console to expand their playerbase. Potentially we can use an xbox payment system, so we don’t need to do it ourselves. It’s about expanding access for players.
What’s the best display ad size for your website? September 17, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in advertising.
Many websites default to the 728×90 (leaderboard) ad size when designing their site. This is a reasonably good option as it has the second highest click through rate of the various standard ad units. But it is possible to do better. Marketing Sherpa researched clickthrough rates by ad size (from largest ad unit to smallest) recently:
The chart shows that click through rate is not simply a function of the size of the ad. The largest ad unit, the wide skyscraper (160×600) has the second lowest click through rate. For the full range of IAB standard ad units, click here.
What entrepreneurs need to know about Founders’ Stock September 15, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in Entrepreneur, financing, founders, start-up, startup, startups, VC, Venture Capital.
When entrepreneurs start a company, there are four things they need to know about their stock in the company:
• Vesting schedule
• Acceleration of Vesting
• Tax traps
• Potential for future liquidity
The typical vesting schedule for startup employees occurs monthly over 4 years, with the first 25% of such shares not vesting until the employee has remained with the company for at least 12 months (i.e. a one year “cliff”). Vesting stops when an employee leaves the company.
Even Founders’ stock vests. This is to overcome the “free rider” problem. Imagine if you start a company with a co-founder, but your co-founder leaves after six months, and you slog it out over the next four years before the company is sold. Most people would agree that your absentee co-founder should not be equally rewarded since he was not there for much of the hard work. Founder vesting takes care of this issue.
Even if you’re the sole founder, investors will want to see your founder’s stock vest. Your ability and experience is one of the key assets of the company. Therefore, venture capital firms, especially in the early stages of a company’s development and funding process, want to make sure that you are committed to the company long term. If you leave, the VCs also want to know that there is sufficient equity to hire the person or people who will assume your responsibilities.
However, many times vesting of founders’ shares will follow a different schedule to that of typical startup employees. First, most founder vesting is not subject to the one year cliff because founders usually have a history working with each other, and know and trust each other. In addition, most founders will start vesting of their shares from the date they actually started providing services to the company. This is possible even if you started working on the company prior to the issuance of founders’ stock or even prior to the date of incorporation of the company. As a result, at the time of company incorporation, a portion of the shares held by the founders will usually be fully vested.
This vesting is balanced by investors’ desire to keep the founders committed to the company over the long term. In Orrick’s experience, venture capitalists require that at least 75% of founders’ stock remain subject to vesting over the three or four years following the date of a Series A investment.
ACCELERATION OF VESTING
Founders often worry about what happens to the vesting of their stock in two key circumstances:
1. They are fired “without cause” (i.e. they didn’t do anything to deserve it)
2. The company gets bought.
There may be provisions for acceleration of vesting if either of these things occur (single trigger acceleration), or if they both occur (double trigger acceleration).
“Single Trigger” Acceleration is rare. VC’s do not like single trigger acceleration provisions in founders’ stock that are linked to termination of employment. They argue that equity in a startup should be earned, and if a founder’s services are terminated then the founders’ stock should not continue to vest. This is the “free rider” problem again.
In some cases founders can negotiate having a portion of their stock accelerate (usually 6-12 months of vesting) if the founder is involuntarily terminated, or leaves the company for good reason (i.e., the founder is demoted or the company’s headquarters are moved). However, under most agreements, there is no acceleration if the founder voluntarily quits or is terminated for “cause”. A 6-12 month acceleration is also usual in the event of the death or disability of a founder.
VC’s similarly do not like single trigger acceleration on company sale. They argue that it reduces the value of the company to a buyer. Acquirors typically want to retain the founders, and if the founders are already fully vested, it will be harder for them to do that. If founders and VC’s agree upon single trigger acceleration in these cases, it is usually 25-50% of the unvested shares.
“Double Trigger” Acceleration is more common. While single trigger acceleration is often contentious, most VC’s will accept some double trigger acceleration. The reason is that such acceleration does not diminish the value of the enterprise from the acquiring company’s perspective. It is arguably in the acquiring company’s control to retain the founders for a period of at least 12 months post acquisition. Therefore, it is only fair to protect the founders in the event of involuntary termination by the acquiring company. In Orrick’s experience, it is typical to see double trigger acceleration covering 50-100% of the unvested shares.
If things go well for your company, you’ll find that its value increases over time. This would ordinarily be good news. But if you are not careful you may find that you owe taxes on the increase in value as your Founder’s stock vests, and before you have the cash to pay those taxes.
There is a way to avoid this risk by filing an “83(b) election” with the IRS within 30 days of the purchase of your Founder’s shares and paying your tax early on those shares. One of the most common mistakes I’ve encountered with founders is their failure to properly file the 83(b) election. This can have very serious effects for you, including creating future tax obligations and/or delaying a venture financing of the company.
Fortunately, over the years, I’ve developed a number of work-arounds (depending on the circumstances) and we can many times find a solution that puts the founder back in the same position had the 83(b) election been properly filed. Nevertheless, this is one of the first things that your lawyer should check for you.
Of course, you’ll still owe tax at the time of sale of the shares if you make money on the sale. But by then, I’m sure you’ll be able and happy to pay!
POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE LIQUIDITY
Founders’ stock is almost always common stock because VC’s purchase preferred stock with rights and preferences superior to the common stock. However, recently my law firm (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP) has created a new security for founders which we call “Founders’ Preferred” which enables founders to hold some of their shares in the form of preferred stock. This allows them to sell some of their stock prior to an IPO or company sale.
The “Founders’ Preferred” is a special class of stock that founders can convert into any series of preferred stock sold by the company to VC’s in a future round of financing. The founders would only choose to convert these shares when they plan to sell those shares to VC’s or other investors in that round of financing. This special class of stock is convertible into the future series of preferred stock on a share for share basis. Except for this conversion feature, this class of stock is identical to common stock.
The benefit to you is that you are able to sell your shares at the price of the future preferred round. This avoids multiple problems associated with founders attempting to sell common stock to preferred investors at the preferred stock price.
Furthermore, the benefit to the preferred investors is that they can purchase preferred stock from the founder as opposed to common stock.
“Founders’ Preferred” can usually only be implemented at the time of the first issuance of shares to founders. Therefore, it is important to address the advantages and disadvantages of issuing “Founders’ Preferred” at the time of company formation. I normally recommend for founders who want to implement “Founders’ Preferred” that such shares cover between 10-25% of their total holdings, the remainder being in the form of common stock. The issuance of “Founders’ Preferred” remains a new development in company formation structures. Therefore, it’s important to consult legal counsel before putting this special class of stock into effect.
Many VCs do not like to see Founders’ Preferred in a capital structure.
As discussed above, there are a number of issues to address when issuing founders’ stock. In addition to business terms associated with the appropriate vesting schedule and acceleration of vesting provisions, founders need to be navigate important legal and tax considerations. My advice to founders is to make sure to “get it right” the first time. Although here are many companies on the web that specialize in helping founders by offering forms for setting up companies, it is important that founders get the right business and legal advice, and not just use pre-packaged forms.
This advice should begin at the time of company formation. A little bit of advice can go a long way!
Cooley Godward seeing a shift towards a lower proportion of early stage financings September 12, 2008Posted by jeremyliew in VC, Venture Capital.
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Cooley is one of the largest and most respected law firms in Silicon Valley. It recently released its Private Company Financings Report for Q1 2008, based on the 66 completed deals that the firm worked on in that quarter. The report confirms that early stage financings have declined as a percentage of total deals, 59% of all financings, the lowest percentage since Q4 2004. Series D and later financings have increased to 19%, likely taking up some of the slack from the lack of venture backed IPOs that we have seen so far this year.
Other notable facts:
24% of financings were flat or down rounds, about the same proportion as recent quarters
46% of Series A deals have participation* beyond 1x liquidation preference, increasing up to 66% of Series D and later deals.
65% of deals have a drag along feature, continuing the upward trend that is making this more of a standard.
Interesting reading for both investors and entrepreneurs.