The market doesn't seem to like it, but the first-quarter earnings results from Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) provided solid indications that the company's turnaround is for real. After a little over two years of large declines in most metrics, the social game developer is finally showing some signs of live.
The company hired Don Mattrick away from Microsoft to be the CEO nearly 10 months ago. With this release, former CEO Mark Pincus is now stepping away from his position leading the product development group to only focus on the Chairman position. This is another sign that Pincus is letting go of the past and allowing the highly respected Mattrick to run the company.
Zynga probably has the best set of franchises in the mobile and social gaming world with Zynga Poker, Words With Friends, and Farmville along with the potential additions of CSR Racing and Clumsy Ninja obtained from NaturalMotion. The company saw most of the important metrics turn around, though its reliance on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is likely still a huge concern to investors.
The impressive turnaround at Zynga is taking place without any new hit games. The company is tweaking existing franchises and generated strong bookings and revenue per user prior to some substantial new releases.
For the quarter, the company saw the first sequential growth in most key metrics in over two years. Zynga delivered sequential growth in bookings, adjusted EBITDA, audience, and mobile bookings mix, and saw a 10% growth in mobile audience. Even more impressive, all these gains took place while the company slashed another 15% of its workforce and cut technology spending, especially in regard to data center costs.
A couple of key metrics saw important improvements. Maybe the biggest turn was in the bookings metric that had seen a continuous plunge quarter-over-quarter. The $161 million of bookings generated in the first quarter was a huge improvement over the plunge during 2013 from $230 million during the first quarter to only $147 million in the fourth quarter.
Maybe the most impressive metric since the arrival of Don Mattrick as CEO is the consistent rise of the average daily booking per average daily users, or ABPU, that soared 28% over the same period last year. The slide from the earnings presentation below highlights the consistent gains over the last year.
Zynga is making a big push into finally producing mobile first products instead of focusing on Facebook's social platform. Some of the disappointment in the quarter might relate to the large reliance on social that still exists.
For the first quarter, Zynga generated 52% of bookings from Facebook and only saw mobile increase to 36% of bookings. The company recently launched Farmville 2: Country Escape on mobile platforms and expects new releases for the Zynga Poker and Words With Friends franchises in the near term.
Facebook probably provides the best example of the need for a focus on mobile. The company quickly went from a failed IPO in early 2012 to a major success due to its quick transition to mobile. In the first quarter of 2014, mobile revenue accounted for nearly 60% of advertising revenue.
The turnaround at Zynga appears very real and should gain momentum with the release of new mobile-focused games during the second quarter. Investors should keep an eye on the metrics for these new mobile games to track the progress of the game maker. Making the shift to mobile could boost Zynga's stock similar to what happened for Facebook last year.
Mark Holder and Stone Fox Capital clients own shares of ZYNGA INC. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.