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I searched long and hard thru the Game Dev community here and I didn't manage to find a good enough answer for a situation that I need help with.

Here is the deal - I've spent about a year to single-handedly develop a mobile game which is a mix between MMORPG and idle battle games. Wouldn't like to go into too much depth as to which game we are talking about and who is trying to buy it but, a company I have worked for before reached out to me with a proposal to buy the game from me so they can reap the profit from it and develop it further since they are a professional game dev company while I am a single person and I can't really reach the game's full potential as far as growth and player base goes. Now the game is pretty beneficial for me since I live in a region with a very low-income standard so the money I get from the game might not be much for many other people but for me, they are equal to about 1.5 ~ 2 monthly salaries (we are talking average salary for this country). That is about 600 Euros of pure profit after I pay for all the expenses. Of course, this number fluctuates depending on different events and sales I release and general user activity. It is a free-to-play-game so the income is mostly from microtransactions for in-game rare currency and special event item packs purchases.

Now the issue I have is that I am not sure how to set a price for the acquisition. What feels right for me would be to calculate the potential average income from the game in the next 12 months and add to this the average salary per month for a game dev of my qualifications multiplied by the number of months it took me to develop it to its released state. That would round up to about 15k euros.

When I think about it 15k euro isn't a small price to pay, but the game will pay that off in the next 1-2 years, and it might even grow much faster after they make investments for advertising and release new features and so on and so on. This means that after the second year they should be on a clean juicy profit from that deal, and that sounds good to me as well since 15k euros for me is a decent sum of money considering that the game has been running for about 14 months. And lets not forget that it has been beneficial for me for the last few months so it hasn't been always uphill.

What I need really is an advice as to is this price of around 15k Euro justified and is it a good deal for both sides, since I don't want to shoot way high and blow the acquisition, but I don't want to give the game away for a low price since it really holds a lot of potential, and it is my first fully released game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if this community is best equipped to answer a question like that. At the end of the day the correct answer is "As much money as that company is willing to pay". We don't know what the game looks like or what its worth, and we don't know what's in that company's mind, how big they are etc. The question is, if you sell it for 15k, will that money be enough for you to start a new project and earn a living? \$\endgroup\$ – TomTsagk Feb 12 at 12:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and congratulations. Not sure if missed it but you should also consider the time invested initially and value your software not only for its current revenue but for its potential revenue. I'll say probable double or triple your current estimate. \$\endgroup\$ – Ph0b0x Feb 12 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is your account here recognizable to this company? If so you may be hurting your ability to negotiate by posting what it is currently worth to you... \$\endgroup\$ – Mr.Mindor Feb 12 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the company also operating in a low-income region? If not, you might try estimating based on the salary they'd have to pay a developer for a year. For what it's worth, I think you should probably start the bidding substantially higher than 15K. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell Borogove Feb 12 at 18:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I concur with @TomTsagk. This question is not well suited for this community. It may be better suited for the Personal Finance Community, the Economics Community, or Reddit's Startup subreddit. \$\endgroup\$ – KareemElashmawy Feb 12 at 21:52
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A Primer on Valuing Intangible Products

What I need really is an advice as to is this price of around 15k Euro justified

It is not justified at all. You're attempting to determine the market value of an intangible product (the mobile game) based purely upon its cost of production. This does not represent the true value of the product. The true value of the product is how much "the market" is willing to pay for the product. What the market is willing to pay for your product is largely dependent on why and how they value your product. Since your product is an intangible (software), this carries enormous implications contradictory to the implications of valuing a tangible (your computer, cellphone, food, furniture, etc).

The reality for intangible products is that their value is largely predicated upon the perceived value of their use or utility. In this instance, for mobile gaming that means the its ROI. The ROI for mobile games however, may be forecasted in one of 4 ways:

  1. The expected ROI from selling the game: the company sells 100K units at €5 with a marketing cost of €1 euro per unit (€400K revenue: 25.6x ROI).
  2. The expected ROI from microtransactions: the company implements microtransactions and receives average earnings of $10 per month from 10K regular users for a year (€400K revenue: 5.6x ROI)
  3. The expected ROI from reselling the game to a larger firm: the company purchases your game for 15K, dumps 100K of development making it more robust, then resells it for 500K. (25.6x ROI)
  4. The expected ROI from an IPO: the company performs an IPO and this game is popular, how will the perceived value of the game affect the value of the IPO?

Notice that for all of this, the cost of producing the intangible is small relative to the earnings. This is extremely important for intangibles because a large amount of the capital cost is usually paid upfront, either through purchase of the intangible or through the initial development of the intangible. Once the intangible is ready to ship, its packaged and distributed. Being software, the cost of distribution is incredibly small compared to the distribution cost of tangible products (compare the cost of distributing a mobile app to that of IKEA furniture). For a mobile game, you're looking at hosting costs, which are proportional to the number of active users, which in turn also drives revenue. Consequently this usually guarantees hosting costs are always a fraction of revenue. Maintenance & support costs may also be analyzed too; but, that introduces the value added of improvements to the intangible.

Considering you are already making €7200 (€600/mo x 12mo) profit annually you clearly already have a reliable user base on the order of hundreds to thousands depending on your actual pricing of microtransactions or the game itself. Furthermore, I cherry picked random numbers off the top of my head. Since you have been running this game and used to work for that company you know much better what numbers would be more realistic.

The Market Value of Your Mobile Game

You described the following:

a company I have worked for before reached out to me with a proposal to buy the game from me so they can reap the profit from it and develop it further since they are a professional game dev company while I am a single person and I can't really reach the game's full potential as far as growth and player base goes.

This sounds like a description of what you understand from what the firm described to you. This informs me of a few potential issues:

  1. They are proposing to purchase all legal rights to the mobile game.
  2. Their purchase is predicated upon the false assumption that you cannot reach the game's full potential in growth and player base on your own.

Combined, this suggests to me that they are intentionally trying to devalue your work and get the game for a low price. Why do I think this?

  1. The predicate that you cannot reach the game's full potential on your own is blatantly false.

You can attempt to start your own game studio with initial investment coming from any of the following sources: startup incubator, Venture Capital funds, Angel Investment Funds, Private Equity investments, or business loans.

You already have a proven product with 14 months of growth and earnings to show for it. What you really need is a sound business plan and capital to action the business plan.

Alternatively you may also continue to grow it at the current rate and improve growth or start up a studio as profits allow for it.

  1. They are suggesting to purchase full rights to the game. Considering you have many other options that would have you earn capital whilst retaining ownership and direction of the game, this is a red flag. If the company purchases full rights to the game, then they are empowered to cut you off immediately. This implies they have no intention to consult or work with you to determine the future of the game and are seeking full ownership of the game before ever seeing the code (which is a risky move).

Furthermore considering the nature of your question, it's obvious that they did not make an initial offer and are seeking for you to provide the initial offer. With respect to businesses purchasing software rights from an individual this reeks of abuse and deception because it forces you to start at a disadvantage (not knowing anything about how to price an acquisition for starters) and allows them to negotiate from a position of incredible strength.

Question 2

is it a good deal for both sides

No it is not. You are short selling yourself and the value of your game.

Talk to a lawyer and make sure you are making a sound decision for the game and your business. Selling off all rights to the game is dangerous.

Talk to a business analyst to determine the true market value of your game.

Finally consider how much the company would be willing to pay for your game if they had to compete with another firm also trying to purchase rights to the game?

That said you are attempting to value the acquisition purely upon its cost. This is erroneous. The value of an acquisition is the price at which competitors will demand the acquisition, which is dependent on their perceived value of the acquisition.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Boy oh boy you really went overboard! Thank you for taking the time to explain some of these things to me. Honestly speaking we are still filling up the blanks and we havent really had a direct discussion about the acquisition, the arrangement is still in progress, but they didnt say i cant reach the games full potential. I mentioned it as additional details of my point of view over the whole situation. I will look for professional advice on these topics but you have been really helpful with your answer. Keep in mind that i have accepted it as the official answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ivan Ishterov Feb 12 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Since your product is an intangible (software), this carries enormous implications contradictory to the implications of valuing a tangible (your computer, cellphone, food, furniture, etc)." Actually, it's not contradictory at all. Even tangibles are valued based on the value they deliver to the buyer, not on production costs. Consider paintings that sell for millions of dollars. The difference with mass produced items, though, is that there's a much larger supply, meaning it's easier to find cheaper alternatives or sellers willing to sell close to production costs. \$\endgroup\$ – jpmc26 Feb 13 at 2:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @vsz this is often part of acquisitions deals. It is more often the case when acquiring (smaller) companies since there you usually need the management to support the acquisition and continue working with the company for some time so the payment is done in tranches that are predicated on future earnings or other milestones the acquired company must meet. \$\endgroup\$ – DRF Feb 13 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jpmc26 Most importantly, margins and item prices aren't everything. You're trying to maximize profit, not margins. There's a reason why people still make bread, despite its ridiculously low price. When firms expand (well), it's usually a boost to profits and a drop of margins. The problem with unique items is that you only produce them once, so margins generally need to be very high to make them profitable. If you look at their market value, the price of a successful product also accounts for the risks - so if it's 20 times likely to fail than succeed, you better have at least 20x over costs. \$\endgroup\$ – Luaan Feb 13 at 10:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jpmc26: Another big difference between tangible and intangible products is that cost of production can be much more variable for intangibles. If you’re selling, say, bread or USB sticks, then (assuming you’re using typical techniques/equipment) your direct competitors probably have roughly comparable production costs. If you’re developing a mobile game independently, then other developers of similar games might easily have spent either ten times as much or a tenth as much time as you have, for comparable results. \$\endgroup\$ – PLL Feb 14 at 15:24
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First of all, congratulations to releasing your game. Few people can claim to have created a commercially successful game all by themselves in just a year. You can be proud of that accomplishment.

Now what's that accomplishment worth?

It might help you to take a look at this from the other perspective: Imagine you had some money and you want to invest it into something which generates you revenue. You wouldn't care what it once cost to make. You only care about what return of investment it is going to generate for you in the future. The past development cost for that thing isn't really that relevant. It's sunken cost.

So when you want to know what your game is worth in the long-run, estimate the profits it will generate in the future and subtract the cost it will take to maintain it. That's what the game is really worth for another person. If you think that the game could generate more profit if someone would invest some marketing and/or further development into the game, then you could also do an estimation based on the income you think it could generate, but you need to deduct the costs this would entail.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for taking the time to answer. That is what i wanted to do initially but i have no idea how far the game could grow and will it be able to maintain a good DAU index. I will try to estimate that by looking at similar games and how far they have reached. \$\endgroup\$ – Ivan Ishterov Feb 12 at 23:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IvanIshterov Yeah, don't be too intimidated - most of these estimates are observing similar products and educated guesses. Your estimate might be off by orders of magnitude and it wouldn't be exceptionally bad :) The main thing is even to try - any estimate is better than no estimate, and as Philipp noted, the production costs are entirely unrelated (other than you wanting to make at least the costs back) - look at your expected profits. I've worked with so many people who sold their software for ridiculously low prices because they didn't quite understand the market... \$\endgroup\$ – Luaan Feb 13 at 10:47
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You may want to look into the concept of annuities. The idea is that if you know what the expected income stream of an asset is, and you know what the cost of money will be, you can compute the present value of the asset.

For instance, if you expected the cost of borrowing/loaning money during that period to average, say, 6%, and if an asset were to generate a net income of 7400 euros a year for the next five years (that's approximately 600/month at 6% interest), then one can look up the present value factor in an annuity table -- which happens to be 4.212 in this example -- multiply 7400 by 4.212, and find out that the present value of this hypothetical object would be 31,253 euros.

I've made the above calculation based on a five-year lifetime for your game, though I really haven't any idea of what the profitable lifetime of a mobile game might be. If the lifetime is only two years, it's worth more around 13,500. If the lifetime is 10 years, closer to 54,500.

This should give you an idea of where to start. Of course, you need to take in not only what the asset is worth to you but also what you think the asset is worth to the company considering buying it. The former is the lowest number you should accept for the game; the latter is the highest that the company might pay for it. But at least this analysis should give you somewhere to start.

Edit: Adopting the model for growth.

One commenter pointed out that we may wish to take into account any projected growth or decay in your income stream. Clearly, if you thought the game were going to grow to produce millions euros of income in the next few years, neglecting this potential growth and projecting forward only its present revenue stream would be a serious mistake.

The good news is, this growth is very easy to model. The bad news is, it's very hard to predict.

To model a growth rate \$g\$ given a cost of money \$r\$, one simply calculates a combined rate \$r^* = (1 + r) / (1 + g) - 1 \$. To continue the example from earlier, if you had an r of 6% and expected annual growth of, say, 2%, you would calculate \$r^* = (1 + .06) / (1 + .02) - 1 = .0392 = 3.92\%\$. For small values of r and g, you can simply subtract them for a rough estimate: 6% - 2% = 4%, which agrees well with the value we just computed.

The slight wrinkle with this method is that the assumption of constant (positive) growth is somewhat at odds with the assumption of a finite lifetime of your game. You can get around this by assuming constant growth of some amount -- say, 2% -- for a period of time followed by a decline of some other amount -- say 10% -- for the remaining expected lifetime, and the math is not terribly difficult.

The problem, though, is that predicting what the value of g should be is quite difficult. Professional stock market analysts struggle to make exactly this determination on a regular basis, and they get it wrong just as often as they get it right. But if you have a good sense of the rate at which income from your game will grow or decline over the next few years, it may be worth incorporating that knowledge into your model as well -- especially if the growth rate is likely to be significant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good explanation! Thank you for answering. That is a very good idea you have given me, i will look up similar games and how long have they been released for, so i can get an idea of the potential lifetime of the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Ivan Ishterov Feb 12 at 23:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Galendo, this isn't really my area, and I might missunderstand something, but shouldn't one consider in such an acquisition aswell, the increase in revenue over its lifetime? Assuming that a user base trend might be growing especially if properly advertised? If I understand you correct, you totally leave out that aspect, don't you? \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Feb 15 at 12:19
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I was in a similar situation a number of years ago when I sold some of my software assets. There a lot of good answers here about income and ROI, but I'd like to approach the question from another angle: what do you enjoy doing?

Some of the answers talk about how you could realize your potential by coming up with a business plan and getting investors. But what happens after that? Do you have skills in sales and marketing? Do you know how to advertise and use social media effectively? If so, then that's great. Or would you want to hire a marketing person? You could use investor's money to pay them, but now you'd become a manager to make sure they did their job effectively.

Or are you like me and you're a developer and you have no interest in sales and marketing or management? And there's nothing wrong with that. :)

In this case, it might be better to sell your game for a price both you and the buyer are happy with. Then you can either continue developing the game for them (if they want to hire you) or you can work on a new game. And since you have the skills to make a game that another company wants to buy, you can repeat the process: make a game, sell it, make another game, sell that one, and so on.

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You're selling a business, not a game

For starters, this is an economics question - the specifics of the business don't matter that much. Business valuation is tricky, but the general framework to think about consists of two numbers - one is the "pure profit after I pay for all the expenses" that you showed, and the other is a multiplier (i.e. "how many years/months of profit should this cost) which is determined mostly by (a) the risks/uncertainty of that future income and (b) the expected longevity of that future income - either growth prospects (a key thing for startup valuation) or the time until the cash cow dies (a key thing for particular products, which often decline until obsolete).

You can, with some effort, look for "standard multipliers" in your domain - the shared consensus understanding of approximately how much months of profit a mobile game is worth. It seems that they're offering to buy the game for approximately 2 years of profit. IMHO for a semi-stable online business (and one that's expected to decline in the long run! game businesses do die out as new ones come out) that's somewhat reasonable. Perhaps you could argue with them (if you're still seeing growth that you can show in solid metrics) that you'd need 2.5 or 3 years of current profit; a lot is simply determined by particular wants of the parties, random factors and negotiation, but certainly the offer isn't outrageous - it would seem unreasonable to sell such a business with a multiplier of 1 year or 6 years of profits, but something within 1.5-3 (depending on specifics) seems appropriate.

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There's some really good answers here already, but here are a few additional points to consider that I don't think have been mentioned already:

  • Have a figure in mind, but ask them to "make you an offer". You then have some idea of their potential starting point, and it may be considerably higher than yours. If you start the negotiation with a low figure, they have no reason to subsequently raise it.

  • Consider retaining partial ownership or forming a partnership with them as part of the deal. For example a % of future profits. It may well be in their interests to retain your input as a consultant too. You're the creator of this business, and if the game was to keep growing and generating large sums of money, would you feel happy about being bought off with a relatively small sum?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for proposing a percentage of profits instead of a simple sale. Another possibility would be to accept both a payment and some stock or ownership in the purchasing company, which would indicate a desire to see the company profit from the deal. \$\endgroup\$ – barbecue Feb 16 at 16:28

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