History hasn't been kind to social game maker Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA). However, the real victims here are Zynga's shareholders. Since the company went public in 2011, the stock plummeted from its IPO price of $10 per share to a 52-week low just north of $2 per share. Today, though, the stock trades at about $3.67 a pop. This has left many investors wondering whether the worst is now behind Zynga.
Taking a gamble
Yet, not everyone is fully confident in Zynga's ability to turn around its fortunes. And who can blame them given the company's upsetting track record? However, a new management team and growing franchises, including its casino games and real-money poker in the U.K., could be the impetus Zynga needs to finally take off.
No longer dependent on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) for gamers, Zynga finally has a real runway for growth in the years ahead. In the past, Facebook had accounted for more than 90% of Zynga's bookings and revenue. But Zynga has since changed that formula and is now engaging with players on its own sites and various mobile apps. The company launched its Hit It Rich! slots game worldwide on Google Play this week, as Zynga continues to build out its casino franchise.
This game has been a runaway success, with players sending more than 250,000 gifts to their friends in the game each day. Users are now spending a collective 70,000 hours playing Hit It Rich! each day, according to Zynga. This is important because Zynga's free-to-play games make money through the sale of virtual goods. Therefore, the more frequently users are playing its games and sending virtual goods and gifts to fellow players, the better for Zynga's bottom line.
Zynga's new CEO, Don Mattrick, said he expects 2014 to be a growth year for the company. And with a new all-star team of top executives, he may be right. Alex Garden stands out as a particularly smart hire as the new president of Zynga Studios. He should be an asset to Zynga's technology division because of his past experience working with Microsoft's Xbox Live gaming network. While at Microsoft, he helped expand Xbox to 41 countries and tens of millions of subscribers .. "I joined Zynga because it has a unique opportunity to push the boundaries in mobile gaming and fundamentally shift the way consumers are entertained," said Garden in a company press release.
Mobile is key to unlocking Zynga's future, and it seems the game maker is finally well positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. The company delivered double-digit mobile audience growth in its latest quarter, with Zynga Poker growing its mobile audience by 19%. Mobile games are four times more profitable than all other mobile app types, according to Digi-Capital. Mattrick expanded on this market opportunity, saying: "In the next few years, more than 1.3 billion people will be gaming on their mobile devices. By 2017, one-third the world's population will be using smartphones and the tablet installed base will cross 1 billion."
This creates a clear growth opportunity for Zynga's mobile gaming platform. Moreover, by 2017 Zynga expects mobile gaming to become a $24 billion market. While this number may prove a bit optimistic, there's no doubting the growing demand for mobile games.
Risk vs. reward balance
There's still plenty to dislike about Zynga's valuation today, particularly as it relates to profitability. The company's return on equity is negative 5.4%, which means Zynga is more of a cash consumer than an asset creator at this point. Return on equity is a good measure of a company's profitability because it demonstrates how much profit is returned to shareholders with the money those people have invested. Additionally, Zynga's net profit margin of negative 36% remains significantly below the industry average today.
Despite these challenges, Zynga is showing signs of a recovery in its business lately, particularly in key growth areas like mobile and user engagement. This coupled with a fresh management team could be a recipe for success for Zynga going forward. The stock has been beaten down in years past and Wall Street's expectations are low enough that patient investors could be generously rewarded if Zynga's bookings and mobile users pick up in the quarters ahead.
Tamara Rutter owns 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.