Russian-born Igor and Dmitry Bukhman are seeking growth to challenge Tencent and Activision.
Almost two decades ago, in a remote Russian city best known for its butter and linen, two brothers shared a bedroom and a Pentium 100-powered computer they used to code their first game.
Wall Street wants a piece of what they’ve built since.
Playrix has met with some of the biggest banks “and visited their skyscrapers,” said Dmitry Bukhman, 34, citing meetings with dealmakers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp. For now, though, “we are focused on growing the business.”
He and Igor Bukhman, 37, are the brains behind Playrix Holding Ltd., the creator of popular games similar to Candy Crush, including Fishdom and Gardenscapes, with more than 30 million daily users from China to the U.S. and annual sales of $1.2 billion, according to Newzoo. That makes the company one of the top 10 iOS and Google Play app developers by revenue, data from researcher AppAnnie show, putting Playrix in the same league as Tencent Holdings Ltd., NetEase Inc. and Activision Blizzard Inc.
Today, each brother is worth about $1.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. They haven’t previously appeared in a global wealth ranking.
Their road to riches started in 2001 in the city of Vologda, almost 300 miles (483 kilometers) north of Moscow, where Igor learned from a university professor that he could sell software online. He decided to try with Dmitry, who was still in high school at the time.
“We had no experience, no business understanding whatsoever—everything we could imagine was writing games,” Igor said.
The U.S. is Playrix’s biggest market, followed by China and Japan, the brothers said in a recent interview in Tel Aviv, where they spend some of their time. The two remotely manage about 1,100 employees, including personnel at its Ireland headquarters and developers in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
“For $3 billion we won’t sell”
The brothers’ first product was a game akin to Xonix in which players must use a cursor to open pieces of a hidden picture before being struck by flying balls. They wrote it during a summer break and generated $60 in the first month and later $100 a month, about half of the average salary in Vologda.
“We thought, ‘If one game makes $100, we can write several dozen of them and make a lot of money,”’ Igor said.
Their second game, featuring an animated character designed by an outsourced artist, brought in $200 a month. Their copycat of Tetris brought in $700 a month, but the brothers shut that down after learning that the game was protected by a license. In 2004, when the business reached $10,000 of monthly revenue, they registered a legal entity, rented space for an office in the basement of a book warehouse and hired other staff to accelerate production.
In the early years, they sold casual games through sites such as majorgeeks.com or download.com, before moving to bigger platforms like Yahoo! and AOL. Then, within the past decade, games started moving first to Facebook and then smartphones. Many of them were available for free, with users paying only for certain in-game features.
Playrix makes most of its money from in-app purchases and the brothers mostly shun advertising, which detracts from the user experience. Ads generate less than 3 percent of revenue, Dmitry said.
“It was a major challenge for us to switch to developing free-to-play games—that’s totally different DNA,” Dmitry said. “Free-to-play games aren’t games that you develop, release and move on to making another one. They are services that need to be supported constantly as users are waiting for regular updates.”
Playrix succeeded in this transition, achieving worldwide recognition over the past three years with Gardenscapes and its sequel, Homescapes, a new variety of match-3 puzzle in which a player completes rows of at least three elements to pass levels and progress through an animated storyline—in this case, helping a butler named Austin renovate a house with a garden.
“Austin engages in dialog with you, you help him to select ways to decorate the mansion, you dive into the history of this character and become related with him,” Dmitry said. “This genre variety we introduced—match-3 with meta game—became very successful, and other companies started copying us.”
“Playrix is certainly responsible for the first major innovation in the match-3 genre since King Digital Entertainment Plc seemingly had the market locked down with Candy Crush,” said Newzoo analyst Tom Wijman. “Playrix managed to add a layer of complexity and ‘meta game’ to the match-3 genre without driving away casual mobile players.”
The company employs several full-time script writers who work on Austin’s dialog, and it’s always improving the games, Dmitry said.
“It’s like apps, like Spotify—people can use them for years,” he said. “More and more people are getting accustomed that it’s perfectly normal. Why not pay $5 to get pleasure from playing a game on a smartphone rather than watching videos or listening to music?”
While Playrix hasn’t introduced a new title since 2017, the company recently acquired several gaming studios to expand into new genres, Igor said, declining to disclose which studios until it releases games developed by them later this year.
Successful titles attract whales. Activision Blizzard acquired King Digital in 2015 for $5.9 billion, and a year later Tencent led investors in an $8.6 billion deal to acquire a majority stake in “Clash of Clans” maker Supercell Oy.
Could Playrix be next? In February, the Information reported that it could be sold for $3 billion, citing Chinese firms iDreamSky Technology Holdings and FunPlus Game Co. as potential suitors.
The brothers dismissed the report.
“For $3 billion we won’t sell,” Dmitry said with a smile, while acknowledging that Playrix had been discussing strategic options as recently as last year, noting its meetings with Wall Street banks.
Their goal, for now, is to become a “top-tier gaming company,” that rivals Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts in the West, and NetEase Inc. and Tencent in China, Igor said.
“We want to grow as big as they are, using developer talent from our region—the former USSR and Eastern Europe,” he said.
There’s no magic number that would compel the Bukhmans to sell the company, because they say money is secondary to doing what they love.
“Some may think that when you have a lot of money, everything becomes different and more interesting, you start doing different things,” Dmitry said. “But no. We just keep working.”
Notable devices for an effective smart home
The smart home industry is booming, and everyone is hopping aboard the bandwagon. This trend that was once derided as a gimmick is being vindicated as more and more users realize how useful smart devices can be.
There are a lot of smart devices and gadgets on the market right now, with more coming out every month. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so don’t feel too bad if that’s you right now.
According to www.makeuseof.com, the key is to start slow and small. Pick one device that looks interesting, then master it before adding another device to your home. It is a process, and there is no need to rush. You can even think of it as a hobby, if that helps. Stretch your smart home acquisitions out over many years and upgrade as needed.
Smart hubs and assistants
If every smart device is like an organ in the human body, then a smart hub is like the brain. It doesn’t do anything special on its own, but acts as a central operator that controls what everything else does.
A smart assistant is like a smart hub on steroids. It can do all kinds of stuff on its own, like recording notes or shopping online, in addition to controlling other devices in the network. If you know about Amazon Echo or one of its variants, then you know what a smart assistant can do.
In order for a hub or assistant to control another device, the controller and receiver need to support the same protocol. You can think of a protocol as a kind of language that smart devices use to communicate. Some devices only support one protocol, some support several, but none support all protocols.
Notable modern protocols include:
- Clear Connect
As of this writing, no protocol is the industry standard. However, Z-Wave and ZigBee are the two most common, so stick with those two if you want as much versatility as possible. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support are good to have as well.
But with the growing popularity of smart assistants, smart hubs may become obsolete over the next few years. As such, a safer bet would be to opt for either the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Both devices are currently quite popular with bright futures ahead of them.
To be clear, you don’t need a smart hub or assistant for a smart home. Only a handful of devices require one — many smart devices operate just fine on their own. A hub or assistant simply grants more control, flexibility, and automation, especially if you plan on using multiple devices in tandem.
Anticipated cost: Between $80 and $125 for a smart hub, between $100 and $180 for a smart assistant. You will only need one, and it isn’t mandatory at all.
Smart lighting allows you to control the lights in your home using your smartphone. When choosing smart lighting devices, there are three main types to consider:
- Smart plugs, which are like outlet middlemen: the smart plug connects to an outlet, and another device plugs into the smart plug. You can control the on/off state of the smart plug from your smartphone, thus controlling its connected device.
- Pros: Can be used with other devices, not just lamps.
- Cons: Few devices are simple enough to work with just an on/off state.
- Smart bulbs, which are like regular light bulbs that can be controlled individually by smartphone, and these bulbs are designed to be one-to-one replacements for incandescent, CFL, and LED bulbs.
- Pros: Easy to install. Can be creative with color-changing bulbs.
- Cons: Extremely expensive on a per-bulb basis. Limited bulb varieties.
- Smart switches, which are like regular light switches that can be controlled individually by smartphone. They are directly wired into your home’s electrical lines, which requires a bit more skill and caution than plugs and bulbs.
- Pros: Works with any bulb type. Dimmer switches are available.
- Cons: Hands-on installation is a pain. Not very cost-effective.
As for smart plugs, we recommend staying away. Spend your money on an actual smart device instead. Smart plugs were interesting when they first came out, but have since lost their novelty and don’t offer any unique benefits.
Anticipated cost: Between $15 and $35 for a smart plug, between $10 to $60 per smart bulb, and between $40 and $80 for a smart switch.
Smart entertainment comes in many forms, but the most common is media streaming. With the right smart entertainment setup, you won’t need cable TV anymore — just stream your favourite shows and movies off the Internet on demand.
The three most popular options are Chromecast, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
Smart thermostats are one of the few smart devices that can actually save you money. You’ll pay somewhere between $100 and $300 up front, but potentially shave hundreds of dollars off your energy bill every year. A smart thermostat will easily pay for itself.
Most people don’t know the most energy-efficient way to use the thermostat — and many who do know are too busy or lazy to keep it up all year long. A smart thermostat controls heating, cooling, and fan units to optimise comfort while minimising energy waste.
Some features you will find in smart thermostats:
- Control remotely using a smartphone app.
- Control by voice using a smart hub or assistant like Alexa.
- Automatically turns down when nobody is home.
- Automatically adjust based on weather and personal preferences.
- Automatically adjust based on IFTTT events and triggers.
- Energy monitor shows how much you’re saving.
You will need a bit of basic electrical knowledge to install the device. There is risk of injury if you aren’t careful! Not comfortable dealing with wires? Ask a friend or pay for expert installation.
A smart sensor is a device that detects changes in the environment, then alerts you with a notification (by email, text message, or push notification). Common sensor types include motion sensors, smoke/gas sensors, open/closed sensors, moisture sensors, and even air quality sensors.
While these may sound mundane, they could end up being one of the best smart devices you ever buy, especially if you own a home. Are they worth the cost? Absolutely.
Motion sensors in particular are extremely versatile: if you’re clever about it, motion sensors can greatly improve your life. Open/closed sensors can track when windows are opened (e.g. when your teenager sneaks out at night) or when doors aren’t properly closed.
Moisture sensors can spot leaks long before they cause water damage to property, while air quality sensors can help with allergies, asthma, and other health issues. And most importantly, smart detectors can save your life.
A smart surveillance system is just a fancy way to say “hidden cameras that you can view and control using your smartphone.” Whether you’re at a friend’s house, a restaurant, or taking a road trip, you can pop in on your home at any time from anywhere.
Other useful features that may come with a smart surveillance device include footage recording, cloud storage, facial recognition, motion-based alerts, and night vision.
One more crucial note: Do not use Internet-connected baby monitors! You’d be surprised how easy it is for someone to hack into one of these and spy on your newborn. It’s also a reason to avoid smart assistants around your children. However, other baby-related smart gadgets can be useful, as can digital video monitors that use a dedicated signal instead of Wi-Fi.
Anticipated cost: Between $60 to $180 per camera.
7 Must-Have Gadgets For Men Who Love Tech
Father’s Day is just around the corner, but there’s also never anything wrong with a thoughtful gift for a special man in your life, regardless of the occasion. If you have a father, brother, significant other or friend who’s always obsessed with the latest and great technology, check out or roundup of must-have gadgets for some timely gift-giving inspiration.
Amazon Echo Show
Amazon Echo Show AMAZON
Amazon’s Echo Show is a necessity for anyone who wants to control their smart home with a handy device. It comes with a big color screen for watching videos and checking out lyrics while you listen to music. You can also rely on it to control your smart home by leveraging its Amazon Alexa virtual personal assistant and barking out voice commands to turn the lights down, change your thermostat settings and much more.
Microsoft Xbox One X
Xbox One X MICROSOFT
Microsoft’s Xbox One X is a popular option among serious gamers. It works with all Xbox One games launched over the last several years, and comes with a compelling design that won’t detract from your living room. The Xbox One X is a 4K console, which means you can watch Blu-ray movies and enjoy 4K games from the device, too, and it supports HDR for high-quality visuals.
Apple TV 4K
Apple TV 4K APPLE
If the man in your life is considering ditching his cable subscription and cutting the cord for good, consider gifting him the Apple TV 4K. The device is a set-top box that links your TV to an endless parade of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. You can also use it to play music and play video games, and since it’s a 4K device, its visual quality is guaranteed to impress.
Apple Watch Series 4
Apple Watch Series 4 APPLE
Smartwatches have become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks in large part to the Apple Watch. And the latest model, the Apple Watch Series 4, might be the best yet. The device comes with a streamlined design and faster processor to allow you to access apps with ease. It also offers cellular connectivity, so you can use it like a phone when you don’t have an iPhone with you on walks. And thanks to an EKG feature, you can even use it to track your heart health.
Apple AirPods 2 APPLE
Apple recently released the second generation of its AirPods wireless earbuds. And although the design didn’t change, it didn’t need to — AirPods are already one of the best options on the market. The new AirPods come with improved battery life (about three hours of talk time) and have a wireless charging case for quickly boosting their power. And although they’re small, they shouldn’t fall out of your ears too easily. Best of all, if you’re an iPhone user, they’ll pair to your handset with ease. If you’re not, AirPods also work with Android devices.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
DJI Mavic Pro 2 DJI
If the man in your life would love to explore the world from far above, check out the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. The drone is a small device that can take flight and capture 4K video or 20-megapixel photos from the sky, and keeps it on 8 GB of internal storage or a microSD card with 128 GB in additional storage. The Mavic 2 Pro also has safety features that limit its chances of it hitting obstacles or crashing to the ground, and it’ll even keep you out of a no fly zone.
BrewArt BeerDroid Brewing System
BrewArt BeerDroid Brewing System BEERDROID
If you want a nice, cold freshly brewed beer right at home, BrewArt’s BeerDroid Brewing System is a handy gadget that will help you do just that. It holds up to 2.6 gallons of beer and lets you make your own craft beer in house, a progress trackable with the digital display on the device itself. Check up on the BeerDroid’s progress via a mobile app and serve a foaming mug straight from the device.
Opinion: Can Microsoft and Google keep up with Amazon in the battle of cloud computing?
Buzzwords and hype are common in the technology sector, where everyone is looking for the next way to play the “disruption” of one thing or another.
Certainly, if you catch a trend at the right time, you can make a lot of money relatively quickly.
Remember 3-D printing that was all the rage in 2013? Leader 3D SystemsDDD, +0.93% ran up about 170% on the year compared with 30% gains or so for the S&P 500 SPX, -0.16% . Now the current bitcoin craze just caused one unsung U.K. stock to surge 400% in a single day simply because it added the word “blockchain” to its name.
Of course, 3D Systems is now down about 90% from its peak. On Tuesday, shares plunged after earnings missed expectations and full-year guidance was withdrawn. And tons of respected analysts from Robert Shiller to Ray Dalio say bitcoin’s bubble is about to burst.
As tech investors, then, it’s important to look through the volatility and fancy lingo to find durable trends that deliver lasting returns.
The next such game-changing trend for investors is cloud computing. Some of these gains have already happened, as a bunch of cloud computing stocks have rallied in recent years. And heck, there are even fashionable ETFs like the First Trust Cloud Computing ETF SKYY, +0.19% dedicated to the trend.
But keep in mind that the fact that 21st-century tech sector is brutally selfish. From Amazon.com AMZN, -0.82% ruling e-commerce to Apple AAPL, -0.71% dominating U.S. smartphone sales, it’s clear that technology companies don’t like to share high-growth markets.
And that’s exactly what we have in the cloud. Gartner estimates that worldwide cloud services tallied $209 billion last year and could grow to $383 billion by 2020 — an amazing 83% jump in an already large market across just four years.
So who are the players now winning this cloud computing war, and who is best positioned to profit from the rise of cloud infrastructure and the pervasiveness of this new tech trend?
Likely winner: Amazon
There’s a reason that Amazon.com is the go-to investment for those looking to play cloud computing — and it’s not just because of the phenomenal track record of this stock. Amazon Web Services is now pacing a $20 billion annual business, posting $4.58 billion in revenue last quarter and commanded as much as 30% market share, according to one analyst.
Even more important is that the 42% year-over-year expansion in the most recent quarter is on par with the same growth rate reported last quarter. That suggests that while growth may be plateauing, AWS is still expanding at a very healthy clip. The icing on the cake is that Jeff Bezos & Co. have shown a brutal habit of dominating markets they enter even at razor-thin margins. With Amazon Web Services already a big profit center, you can be sure they will put the screws to all who try to compete in this market.
Likely winner: Microsoft
Of course, while Amazon is the leader, Microsoft MSFT, -0.76% is no slouch. Under CEO Satya Nadella, the firm has pushed whole hog into cloud computing over the last three years — and it has paid off. Microsoft recently landed some big customers like advertising giant Publicis PUBGY, -0.41% PUB, -1.49% and retailer Costco COST, +0.69% for its Azure cloud-computing interface.
Microsoft’s most recent earnings report saw its Azure unit — a direct competitor of AWS — post 90% growth over a year earlier after growing a stunning 97% in the prior quarter. Its “commercial cloud” unit is now seeing a $20 billion annual run rate on par with Amazon (though admittedly some of that total is just old Office software licenses classified in a new category). It’s clear Microsoft has a sense of urgency and is intent on being one of the few left standing in the war for cloud computing revenue.
Possible winner: Google
Google parent Alphabet GOOGL, -0.75% GOOG, -0.71% has a lot of positive mojo associated with its brand, and continues to talk up its presence in the cloud-computing ecosystem. But while Microsoft and Amazon provide some numbers for investors, it’s difficult for investors to get visibility into this unit; the word “cloud” doesn’t appear once in the Alphabet news release about last week’s earnings, and its Google Cloud offerings are rolled into its “Other Bets” revenue that includes everything from Chromecast hardware to in-app purchase on Android smartphones. And still, that entire business segment only recorded $300 million in total revenue last quarter — a far cry from the scale of the cloud businesses at Amazon and Microsoft.
This summer, Google claimed it was scoring many more big deals with clientsand growing nicely, but without more details and without more scale, it’s hard to gauge whether Google will be a player or just another also-ran.
Likely loser: IBM
International Business Machines IBM, -1.54% has been trying mightily to restructure its business for the age of cloud computing, but it is very likely too little and too late for this one-time king of tech. Sure, its cloud business was up nicely in the most recent quarter and represents 20% of total revenue and an annual run rate of $9.4 billion thanks to big clients including the U.S. Army and Honeywell HON, +0.30% But Big Blue has struggled as an organization, suffering 22 straight quarters of declining revenue even as it crosses its fingers and bets on everything from the cloud to cybersecurity to its Watson artificial intelligence applications.
It’s always possible that IBM could continue to see enough growth and success to play with the big boys, but the broader headwinds against the business make it difficult to imagine IBM becomes a leader… and if you’re not a leader in tech these days, you’re a loser.
Likely loser: VMware
While the price of VMware Inc. VMW, +1.30% shares has been on a tear since early 2016 and recently hit levels not seen since its 2007 IPO, I’m not optimistic about its staying power. The company’s core server virtualization business faces an existential threat from the likes of AWS and Azure, and that threat isn’t going away. A partnership with Amazon announced in late 2016 was cheered by VMware investors as a match made in heaven, but such a move seems self-defeating since it will only encourage firms that already use VMware for virtualization to move their datacenters wholly off-site via AWS. Integrating the two may be a short-term boon for VMware as a way to keep current clients happy, but it’s hard to imagine it will counter the long-term threat.
Non-factors: Oracle, Salesforce, SAP and every other SaaS name
When Priceline.com was founded 20 years ago, it was thought of as a tech stock simply because it was a dot-com name. But come on – it’s a consumer travel company. Just as retailers have had to adapt to the realities of e-commerce, so have enterprise software names had to adjust to the new normal of cloud computing. That doesn’t make them core plays on this trend, however, and investors shouldn’t think of them as such.
Instead, the question for investors is whether the actual software and value-add gives a company like Oracle or Salesforce a true edge or a wide enough moat over competitors to be worth it.
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