Thursday, May 12, 2022

Pearl Abyss Q1 2022 Earnings Call

Some view the world like the glass is half-full. When looking at the results of Pearl Abyss' first quarter 2022 earnings call, an optimistic person might say the South Korean game maker did better than expected. Two analysts wrote their expectations for the call on BusinessKorea last week:

Pearl Abyss is expected to have posted sales of KRW88.8bn (-12.0% YoY,-24.7% QoQ) and operating loss of KRW1bn (negative swing YoY and QoQ, operating margin of -1.1%) for 1Q22. The company should have swung to a loss owing to sales drop and labor cost hikes from new hires, despite declines in marketing spend and other expenses. Sales likely fell QoQ due to high base effect created by Pearl Abyss Capital’s one-off investment gains booked in 4Q21.

Pearl Abyss didn't do quite that poorly, as the slide below shows.

Okay, Pearl Abyss brought in ₩91.4 billion ($75.5 million), beating expectations by 3%. But after the one-time revenue claim from Pearl Abyss Capital at the end of 2021, revenue was expected to plummet from the last quarter of 2021. And while drops in operating profit and net profit fell off a cliff, at least PA had profits to claim.

Gaming revenue rose in the first quarter, up 4.3% from the Q4 2021 total of ₩85.4 billion ($72.7 million) to ₩89.1 billion ($73.6 million). Before continuing, I need to explain why the U.S. dollar total only went up 0.1% instead of 4.3%. The South Korean won is weakening against currencies like the dollar, British pound, and Chinese yuan. In the rest of the article, the won to dollar valuation is calculated using the exchange rate on the last working day of the quarter as found on Xe. So as we can see, the dropping value of the won is boosting Pearl Abyss' profits.

We can do the same with Black Desert IP revenue. Year-over-year, Black Desert revenue dropped from ₩82.9 billion ($73.2 million) in Q1 2021 down to ₩70.9 billion ($58.6 million) in Q1 2022, a 14.5% decline in revenue. The Black Desert IP did post a quarter-over-quarter gain of 5.8%, from ₩67 billion ($56.3 million) up to ₩70.9 billion ($58.6 million).

The EVE IP revenue looked very steady over the last year, with revenue rising 3.4% from Q1 2021's total of ₩17.6 billion ($16.2 million) up to last quarter's ₩18.2 billion ($15 million). Oh, oh. Now we can really see the effects of the weakening won. If converted to U.S. dollars, the 3.4% year-over-year gain turns into a 7.4% revenue decline. 

Continuing on, EVE revenue remained "steady" from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022, only falling 1.1%. Even doing the won to dollar conversion doesn't show a big drop, as EVE brought in ₩18.4 billion ($15.5 million) in the final quarter of 2021.

At this point the pessimist takes over. With revenues inflated by the steadily weakening won, what are Pearl Abyss' plans to increase revenue? The April launch of Black Desert Mobile in China was disappointing not only to the analysts on the call, but to Pearl Abyss as well. From the tone of the call, the real possibility exists that Pearl Abyss will launch no games in 2022.

The analysts tried to get the Pearl Abyss leadership to let them know if Crimson Desert would launch in 2022. The answer was basically, "You'll find out when we tell the public." Listeners on the call were also told that the studio was concentrating on Crimson Desert, which means DokeV most likely will launch after the Black Desert spin-off. One analyst even asked about the upcoming Black Clover mobile game mentioned on the February earnings call. Despite telling analysts three months ago the game would launch in the second half of 2022, the analyst could not get Pearl Abyss to confirm if the timing still held.

About the only big news that might happen in 2022 is Pearl Abyss self-publishing Black Desert Online in South America. The move would mean the South Korean studio would now self-publish around the globe. Perhaps more importantly, every time Pearl Abyss self-publishes BDO in a region, its revenues increase for a time.

New Pearl Abyss CEO Jin-young Heo did answer a question about the future of Pearl Abyss. Below is a transcription of the translated answer.

You also asked us about the direction of our new business going forward. And we are planning many things. For example, we have DokeV that uses the metaverse platform as well as others that use the web 3 platform so we are seeing the market trends. And to successfully launch Crimson Desert in line with the Western biggest market, the console market, and also to make DokeV into a metaverse platform and to showcase this to the market. And to have a new project which I have before mentioned, using the current market trends of blockchain and web 3.0 using the EVE IP. So we believe as a game development studio we are going to focus more on these and that will be our task going forward. 

I would love to get a transcription of the Korean language portion, as I believe subtle but important differences exist. For example, in the passage above, the translator used the term "EVE IP", while the CEO used the actual term "EVE Online." Korean and English speakers may walk away from the call with two impressions of what Pearl Abyss plans for the future. 

In today's trading, Pearl Abyss stock declined 6%, finishing the day at ₩57,500. So far in 2022, Pearl Abyss stock has declined 57.1% in value.

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