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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 28, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Big Fish going mobile, reels in $266 million

Casual game giant Big Fish games reeled in more than $266 million last year, the company announced today.

That marked the 11th consecutive year of double-digit growth for the Seattle company but the bigger milestone came in the changing mix of games where it made money.

For the first time, more than half the company’s annual sales came from “free to play” mobile games, a relatively new category for the company that’s been creating and distributing PC and online games since 2002.

The company entered the category a few years ago and now has eight “free to play” games including megahits “Big Fish Casino” and “Fairway Solitaire.”

Founder and Chief Executive Paul Thelen said the company has 20 more titles in the category scheduled for launch this year, during which he expects the sales growth to continue.

“We do expect another double-digit year – we always do,” he said.

So is the company winding down its PC games business as mobile takes off?

“Absolutely not – it’s still half our revenue and very profitable,” he said.

Thelen said the PC games business has flattened out but its steady profits are what enabled Big Fish to invest in the “hypergrowth” free-to-play business.

“We’re using a lot of those profits to be very aggressive in free-to-play,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that cash flow from our premium (PC) business, we wouldn’t be nearly as competitive as we are today.”

For example, the cash flow enabled Thelen to place a bet in 2012 on a small Oakland, Calif., game developer with a mobile casino game. That acquisition led to “Big Fish Casino,” which last year was one of the top grossing apps on Apple’s iOS platform.

Big Fish now employs 570, including 499 in Seattle, six in Luxembourg and 65 in Oakland.

There’s no immediate plan to sell the company but Thelen’s not ruling out the possibility.

“We always keep that option open but you can’t predict things like that,” he said.

Comments | Topics: big fish, casual games, games

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