Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Amir Goldberg, Debra Schifrin. The Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille (referred as “Farmville Game” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Strategy & Execution. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Leadership, Social platforms.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille Case Study

In June 2009, the online gaming company Zynga launched the free social game Farmville on Facebook, which set a new record by reaching one million Daily Active Users four days after launch, skyrocketing to 30 million in six months. The case takes an inside look at how Zynga created FarmVille in just six weeks, including the important strategic and technical decisions Zynga made, the sometimes tense team dynamics, and the challenges Zynga's founder and CEO Mark Pincus faced within Zynga. The company's experienced game developers had strongly resisted his idea to develop a farm game because farm games performed poorly on traditional game consoles and were considered an inferior gaming category. But Pincus believed they afforded access to new audiences and wanted to seize the strategic opportunity offered by the convergence of advances in technology and the meteoric rise of Facebook. These combined well with Zynga's advanced data analytics capabilities, which allowed the company to aggressively advance a new business model "Games as a Service," in which developers continuously added features to make a social game consistently compelling. Post launch, FarmVille was continually evolving and adding new features. But after a few months, the quality of the code and the ideas for new features were getting worse, more bugs and quality assurance problems arose, and users were complaining that new features were late and the game was getting rote. This case is set in late December 2009 as user numbers started to drop, and Pincus and the FarmVille team tried to figure out how to turn this trend around. Zynga's leadership team had to figure out how to reinvigorate FarmVille so that it would continue to be the goose that laid the golden eggs. The case also details the video game industry's recent history, trends and technology advances. It covers video game development and introduces concepts such as game mechanics and core loops, which are applicable to other gamification contexts.

Case Authors : Amir Goldberg, Debra Schifrin

Topic : Strategy & Execution

Related Areas : Leadership, Social platforms

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10027136) -10027136 - -
Year 1 3443697 -6583439 3443697 0.9434 3248771
Year 2 3978371 -2605068 7422068 0.89 3540736
Year 3 3947522 1342454 11369590 0.8396 3314416
Year 4 3251887 4594341 14621477 0.7921 2575799
TOTAL 14621477 12679721

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2652585

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Profitability Index
2. Internal Rate of Return
3. Net Present Value
4. Payback Period

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Farmville Game shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Farmville Game have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Strategy & Execution Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Farmville Game often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Farmville Game needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10027136) -10027136 - -
Year 1 3443697 -6583439 3443697 0.8696 2994519
Year 2 3978371 -2605068 7422068 0.7561 3008220
Year 3 3947522 1342454 11369590 0.6575 2595560
Year 4 3251887 4594341 14621477 0.5718 1859277
TOTAL 10457576

The Net NPV after 4 years is 430440

(10457576 - 10027136 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10027136) -10027136 - -
Year 1 3443697 -6583439 3443697 0.8333 2869748
Year 2 3978371 -2605068 7422068 0.6944 2762758
Year 3 3947522 1342454 11369590 0.5787 2284446
Year 4 3251887 4594341 14621477 0.4823 1568233
TOTAL 9485183

The Net NPV after 4 years is -541953

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9485183 - 10027136 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Farmville Game to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Farmville Game has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Farmville Game can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Farmville Game, then the stock price of the Farmville Game should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Farmville Game should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Amir Goldberg, Debra Schifrin (2018), "Zynga and the Launch of FarmVille Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.