Will Zynga Sink or Sing?

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Here we go again: Yet another new-media darling is gearing up for an IPO.

We're talking about online gaming guru Zynga, which filed its S-1 prospectus last Friday. The maker of popular games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville wants to raise about $1 billion on the open market, though The New York Times says that the final offering could end up about twice that size.

In any case, Zynga plans to keep most of its shares close to the vest, selling only about 10% of available shares. CEO Mark Pincus will essentially run the show by virtue of his multiple-vote Class C shares, particularly when Zynga's underwriters unload their privileged Class B shares in the form of regular, single-vote Class A shares on the open market. Buying Zynga stock with dreams of influencing the company's direction is probably a fruitless exercise, even for deep-pocketed hedge funds.

No, this stock is all about the money. Not that Zynga is in desperate need of any, as it already generates positive cash flows and sits on a billion-dollar bank account. But Zynga might as well get some market-based capital while the getting is good.

And the getting is indeed good. The Zynga IPO is seen as a precursor to a long-awaited Facebook blockbuster of a public offering and fits neatly in a pantheon of upcoming or recent offerings. LinkedIn (Nasdaq: LNKD  ) and Pandora Media (NYSE: P  ) recently debuted to raucous speculation, huge drops, and then strong recovery climbs. Chinese social network Renren (Nasdaq: RENN  ) has followed a similar pattern, except with a longer decline not entirely repaired by more recent jumps. Groupon and LivingSocial are also setting up to milk investors for some much-needed cash.

If there ever was a time to capitalize on a red-hot Internet market, it would be right now. The whole boom brings echoes of the online boom-and-bust cycle of 10 years ago, and rightly so; I don't see how LinkedIn and Groupon expect to last unless they find new ways to monetize their traffic.

Zynga is a different story, being solidly profitable and simply dipping into the market to collect some bonus cash. If the stock reaches a $20 billion market value, that's about the same as the caps of traditional gaming giants Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) and Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) -- combined.

Frothy indeed, but perhaps worth it in the long run. Social gaming is the new little black dress, perfect for any occasion.

Would a $20 billion Zynga fit into your own portfolio, dear Fool? Or is it just another precursor of a bubble about to pop? Personally, I think Zynga will be one of the survivors from this era. Feel free to discuss the matter in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and creating a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2011, at 4:08 PM, noggaholic wrote:

    It should be interesting to see what an actually profitable company that is going to keep doing what it does best does in the open market.

    Even though they're retaining a large amount of control (which based on company history is good) I imagine seeing a wild ride when it actually hits the market.

    Long term, they're the powerhouse of social gaming and they consistently make profitable hits; I'd ride this one out through hype, panic crash, and let it brew nicely in your portfolio as they continue to make solid money and still grow.

  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2011, at 11:25 PM, Estrogen wrote:

    Never played Farmville, but everytime I move with "words with friends" and "Chess with Friends" I find myself looking and canceling out of an advertisement.

    BTW, these are 2 games I encourage my teenage daughters to play with me (and their friends).

    It is actually the reason I'm not so hot on my ATVI stock right now. might be something here?

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2011, at 2:47 PM, CluckChicken wrote:

    I think it will find a place someplace between ATVI and EA as the hype wears off. They have a broader target group but also one that will spend far less on games.

    One minus I see is that some of their most popular games are very similiar to each other and given the lack of complexity in the games the burn-out rate could high and unforgiving.

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