This is the inaugural IR blog publication by Mail.Ru Group. With these releases we will aim to keep you informed of all the latest developments around our verticals, as well as our domestic Internet market as a whole. We hope you will find these blogs useful and welcome feedback on how we can further improve our disclosure.
Our first blog post is focused on gaming, following the recent issuance of App Annie’s annual report on mobile trends, where it also provided its 2019 forecasts. Below are a few highlights specifically around gaming:
Vladimir Nikolsky, Chief Operating Officer of Mail.Ru Group:
"There are more than 2.3bn gamers globally - with $135bn spent on games in 2018 - meaning that every third person on the planet is a gamer. As this market has been growing at ~14% CAGR in 2015-18E, and with major global Internet companies now willing to invest in gaming, we remain very excited about the prospects of our gaming business, and the industry as a whole. Over the last 2 years, Mail.Ru Group's gaming division has more than doubled in revenues, with FY 2018 revenue growth of 34% Y-o-Y to RUR 23,290mn. Growth of 2018, was driven by a broad base with ongoing success in both established and recently released titles.
Mobile was a $63.2bn market in 2018 (47% of industry revenues), growing at 14% vs 11% growth for the industry, with ~50% of Mail.Ru Group’s gaming revenues coming from mobile.
We continue to invest in our gaming portfolio, which is more diverse than it has ever been, with over 50 titles currently in the pipeline, being developed internally or licensed from 3rd parties.
We are very pleased with our titles like Hustle Castle, which has >30mn downloads, only a year since its launch, and is now our most successful in-house developed gaming project. On Google Play, the game has around 950,000 reviews, with an average score of 4.7/5, whilst in the AppStore it has a rating of 4.6/5. There are further updates to the game expected in 2019 and hope that Hustle Castle will be a larger revenue generator through its lifespan, than War Robots.
War Robots has 120mn downloads after being released 5 years ago. It had another successful period in 2018, where it continues to see solid growth and remains our second largest game. In 2019, there will be a series of further updates including new robots, modules and an updated monetization system to be released in summer 2019.
The Warface franchise continues to perform well and remains our number three revenue generating game. In late Q3, the franchise was expanded to consoles, with versions launched on both PS4 and Xbox One. Since this expansion, Warface accrued over 6.5mn registrations, with 95% of these registrations coming from international players. In January 2019, Warface became #3 free-to-play game on PS4 in the United States, in terms of downloads. We expect to see further growth of the Warface game franchise through the release of the Warface mobile game in 2019, as well as effective continued support for the console versions of the game. As such, we continue to see Warface as a key ongoing franchise.
We have a full and exciting pipeline of releases for 2019. We have already launched Space Justice, a mobile game based on the proved Hawk game mechanic and the monetization model from ITT Studio, and are releasing, among others, two licensed MMORPG titles; the Conqueror’s Blade and the Lost Ark. We believe that our games portfolio, both existing and new releases, are well positioned.
We fully recognize that players are becoming more demanding in terms of quality, with even casual games becoming more “deep”. Furthermore, consumers seek smooth cross-device servicing, which we also account for in our strategic planning. We also see trends like subscriptions, as well as a rising appetite for social components through clans or neighborhoods, leagues within games, personal rankings, concerts and other events. We also believe that mixed genres will become a rising trend too. Currently, Mail.Ru Group is primarily focused on shooter and RPG genres but we are of course always focused on broadening our user offering.
Also, recent developments like the planned near-term ‘Stadia’, a streaming platform launched by Google, could be transformational for the market if it is able to take away gaming budget from consoles. According to NewZoo, Console games accounted for 28% of gaming spend in 2018. Launches like Stadia could make high-quality games affordable to a much broader audience, which in turn could further unlock the potential of the Russian gaming market, among others. We see plenty of opportunities domestically, with Russia presently accounting for ~$1.7bn gaming turnover (<1.5% of global turnover). With ~65mn players, NewZoo ranks the Russian market at #11 in the world, which suggests that there is vast potential for growth.
At the same time, we continue to see gaming as a global opportunity, with the share of our international gaming revenues rising to 63% as of Q4 2018 versus 50% in 2017. USA, Germany and Japan continue to be our largest non-Russian markets. We recognize that there are specifics around local mentality, with gaming tastes varying by region and therefore, we always seek to localize our games. Chinese players have recently been introduced to Western titles, which could present a major opportunity for us, as the Asian lifetime of games tends to be longer, across genres.
Overall, ensuring that gaming experiences are as diverse and engaging as ever is imperative. As we mentioned during the last set of results, the focus for 2019 for us, as it was in 2018, will be on the continued expansion of our international user base and continuing to build a sustainable gaming business model. As ever, the margin of our gaming business is a mix between different platforms and timing of marketing spend for new titles. FY 2018 games margins were 17%. The focus for 2019, as it was in 2018, will be on continued expansion of our international user base, allowing the building of a sustainable model with a target of low to mid 20’s sustainable EBITDA margin through the cycle and EBITDA doubling over the next 4 years, with more than twice as many users.
Whilst E-sports is still a very new segment, it already had 454mn viewers in the last year alone. According to NewZoo, Russia was 3rd largest global e-sports audience in 2018, with 22.3mn viewers and Russian language was the 2nd most popular on Twitch (~15% of all streams were in Russian versus 63.3% in English). Among the latest exciting examples, FIFA showed in its 2015-18 report, 114% revenue growth from e-sports, up to $600mn, with 206% growth in 2018 alone to $185mn. We can benefit from such trends through our ESForce business, which offers access to e-sports teams (Virtus Pro), tournaments, broadcasting, analytics (through Ruhub), video production, and e-sports tournament venue (Yota) where tournaments are hosted through our Epicenter business. Having closed the transaction to buy 100% of ESforce in late March 2018, we have seen the business make considerable progress. In Q4 2018, we hosted a number of successful tournaments including the Dota 2 Winter Clash in December. EPICENTER XL held by ESforce was the sixth most viewed esports tournament and the second most viewed Dota 2 tournament worldwide in 2018.
Our main asset is our people and the technology-driven culture which they create, with future success of Mail.Ru Group dependent on our ability to attract, retain and motivate the best talent. Currently, our gaming division consists of 9 own gaming studios and is run from 5 regional offices, with over 1,500 members of staff. In order to educate the market about the gaming industry and seek cooperation with potential new engineers and gaming studios, we and our partners organize major events like the recent, The Big Deal Conference , which marked the biggest ever gaming forum hosted in Russia with Epic Games, Blizzard, Tencent, Ubisoft, Riot Games, Google, iDearmSky, App Annie etc among presenters and more than 900 gaming industry professionals among attendees. Our idea is to make such events into a leading local platform for an exchange of views on best practices in gaming development and publishing, with access to real-life case studies on product development, design, optimization, analytics, and investment, discussion and debate around gaming market trends and outlook, as well as on the specifics of various gaming markets, with an ultimate goal of broader market understanding and cooperation.
In 2017, we have also established the MRGV gaming investment fund with up to $100mn budgetary allocation for targeted acquisitions and other investments in the development of our games vertical in the coming years.
Given that Russia produces the most engineering talent globally, we continue to see many exciting opportunities and talent to support our gaming business across all its verticals and as such approach the gaming segment future with a high degree of optimism and confidence."
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