What makes Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) year-to-date stock price run so impressive -- it's up over 36% in 2014 -- is that it's based on strong fundamentals. Revenues continue to grow, both sequentially and compared to the year-ago quarter, monthly average users, or MAUs, are climbing, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's laser-focus on growing its mobile usage and mobile ad revenues has been an unmitigated success.
Past results have been stellar, across the board, but the fun for investors really begins when you consider Facebook's future. Virtually all of Facebook's properties are growing by leaps and bounds, including WhatsApp, which now boasts over 700 million users, Messenger has grown to over 500 million users, and the same rapid growth curve applies to Instagram: and all are just waiting to be monetized, which will more than likely boost Facebook revenues through the roof. As if all those potential revenue drivers weren't enough, investors can add one more potential game-changer to Facebook's future: mobile gaming.
How big is big?
It's no secret that when it comes to app downloads, a majority of which are games, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) rule the roost. Last year, Google's Android OS devices accounted for about 75% of all downloads, easily outdistancing Apple's iOS, though Apple takes the top spot in revenue generation by a wide margin: $10 billion in 2013 compared to Google's estimated $1.1 billion. However, through the third quarter of this year, the revenue gap between the two app behemoths is closing rapidly, thanks to gamers.
According to a recent report, mobile gaming in particular is continuing its rapid growth, and will actually outpace "old-school" game console revenue in 2015. This year, mobile game sales will reach $25 billion, and jump to over $30 billion next year. Certainly, Google and Apple will reap the benefits, but both would be wise to keep an eye on Facebook, too.
It was spring of this year when Facebook hosted its first F8 dev conference since 2011. The purpose of F8 was three-fold: show developers its upgraded platform, provide a suite of tools to facilitate growth, and perhaps most importantly, demonstrate that Facebook apps can generate significant paydays for developers.
One of the reasons Apple's app store is so successful from a revenue perspective is it's easy for developers to upload their creations, and it pays well, both key areas of focus at Facebook's F8 conference. While catching Apple and Google in the world of mobile apps isn't going to happen overnight, don't count Facebook out just yet -- it has a few things going for it that could make it a serious contender sooner, as opposed to later.
The arrows in Facebook's mobile gaming quiver
Facebook hosted its first conference for Oculus developers in September to jump-start the roll-out of its Rift virtual reality, or VR, headset. Already, Rift is considered the industry standard VR device by gamers. With Zuckerberg's plans for a mobile world, not surprisingly Facebook is working on a version of Rift for gamers on the go, much like Samsung's (OTC:SSNLF) recently released Gear VR -- a device built in conjunction with the Oculus dev team.
Facebook's user base of 1.35 billion users gives it unprecedented scale that is sure to attract developers. Not to mention, as Zuckerberg said during Facebook's Q3 earnings announcement, plans are to grow WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, video, and even Oculus, to over a billion users each, and eventually meld all Facebook properties into one, seamless user experience. In other words, a mobile app developer's dream.
Another ace up Facebook's mobile gaming app sleeve is its unmatched ability to utilize reams of user data to successfully target ads. That will prove to be a key in growing Facebook mobile gaming app revenues because, as Google knows, there's a lot of revenues to be had from in-app ads. In fact, of Google's app downloads, the vast majority of which are games, 98% of them are "free," but still generate revenues via built-in ads.
The mobile gaming app stars are aligning, and with an estimated $30.3 billion in revenues next year, and nearly $41 billion by 2017, there's a lot at stake. Facebook's late to the gaming app party, and butting heads with Apple and Google on their turf will be a challenge, but with its strong mobile presence, Oculus, and sheer scale, bringing more developers into the fold -- and the revenues that come with them -- is a natural fit.