Zynga COO David Ko Emphasizes “Discipline” For Future Acquisitions

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A year ago, fresh off raising $1 billion from an IPO and the $180 million acquisition of red-hot gaming company OMGPOP, Zynga’s Mark Pincus did an interview with talk of doing “a few” OMGPOP-sized deals in the next few years.

But after a tough transition year and a more than 75 percent decline in the company’s share price, Zynga is speaking much more conservatively about its approach to acquisitions. Zynga had $1.65 billion in cash, short-term and long-term investments at the end of last year, representing one of the larger warchests in the gaming industry for acquisitions.

“We’re going to be very disciplined in our approach and in making the right decisions,” said COO David Ko in an interview yesterday.

He pointed out three pieces of criteria Zynga is looking at with respect to potential deals:

  1. Would an acquisition help to accelerate the company’s existing franchises?
  2. Would it help increase profitability?
  3. Will it support Zynga’s network of players?

“All of these things have to come together,” he said. “If they don’t fit in with this criteria, then we’re not likely to move on them. That’s part of the discipline that helped us cross Q4. We were projected to cut between $15 million to $20 million, but we exceeded that and came in at $25 million. We want to make sure that we continue that discipline.”

Zynga hasn’t done anything of a size that’s comparable to the OMGPOP deal in the last year. It acquired November Software and A Bit Lucky for mid-core developer talent, but these were much smaller deals.

But Ko said that the company’s corporate development team had been active in talking to different developers. It’s common for the bigger gaming companies to have on-and-off conversations with potential targets for years.

Ko previously oversaw Zynga’s mobile efforts as “chief mobile officer” before he “leveled up” to the chief operating officer position after EA veteran John Schappert abruptly left. (Yes, CEO Mark Pincus actually used that “leveling up” language on the earnings call yesterday.)

On that front, Zynga now sees about a quarter of its players come from mobile platforms. Twenty-one percent of its bookings now come from mobile devices, up from 8 percent the year before. He declined to say how revenue per user on Android and iOS compares to Facebook, though.

Zynga’s most popular mobile game, Words With Friends, which is probably the most actively used smartphone game in the U.S., is more advertising-dependent than many of the other top-grossing titles on iOS. So Zynga’s average revenue per user (or ARPU) for mobile users may not compare favorably (at least on paper) with higher ARPU games like Supercell’s Clash of Clans or DeNA Mobage’s Rage of Bahamut.

That said, Zynga is improving its mobile advertising revenues like Facebook. Three quarters ago, Pincus said it was still early for mobile advertising, and that rates would eventually improve.

But yesterday Ko said that a “large part” of increases in advertising revenue was because of mobile ads. In fact, most of Zynga’s ad impressions are on mobile devices. The company reported that ad revenue was up 35 percent year-over-year and 19 percent quarter-over-quarter.