Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 17, 2012
I liked the game so little, I sold the company

Showing my age here, most of you probably don't remember the "I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company" ads from the early 80's. So today we get the reverse story: Former Funcom CEO Trond Arne Aas is under investigation for insider trading. He not only left Funcom shortly before The Secret World was released, but also sold the 600,000 shares he held in the company. Which was a good deal for him, because after launch the share price fell from $17 to around $2.

My guess is that he'll get away with it. He says he didn't have access to sales data after he left the company, and that might well be correct. And for insider trading you need hard data, not just a gut feeling that the company is heading downwards. It is probably not illegal to have seen the TSW sales projections and thought "no way is this game outselling Age of Conan", it only proves the man has some common sense. I mean what else other than leaving the company and selling its shares was he supposed to do when he didn't believe in his company's latest product?

IMO, the precipitous decline of the company's stock has more to do with Aas trying to unload that much stock and getting caught doing so than the quality of the company and its products.
Note that he also did the exact same thing when Age of Conan launched.
"Note that he also did the exact same thing when Age of Conan launched."

He must not have cleaned out his portfolio of Funcom stock if he still had 1.2 million shares left to sell.
There was some joke about "buy on the rumor, sell on the news."

That's what he's doing. First, he creates the rumor - 1 million beta testers, 15 million in monthly revenue projected, etc. Then he sells all his vested stock right before launch.
Yeah, I guess the question is why were Funcom's expectations for sales on TSW so high? Did he encourage the marketing people to be unrealistic because he planned to make some money out of the share price changes?
I don't think it is unrealistic of a company making a new product which isn't totally dissimilar to a previous product to expect it to sell as good as the previous version or better. We all like to think we learned something from previous mistakes and "would do better next time".

And trying to hype your product before release isn't unique to Funcom either. It is just that Funcom being a rather small company, a single game can move its share price a lot more than the share price of EA moved in a similar hype cycle (WAR, SWTOR).

I don't think the sale of the CEO's shares itself caused the price drop, he didn't own enough of the company to single-handedly cause that. But of course anybody who sees the CEO selling might get the message, and the secondary effect is probably larger. The big drop came when the disappointing sales number, revenue, and profit were released.

Whether that has anything to do with the quality of the product depends on whether you believe that sales numbers, revenue, and profit have anything to do with the quality of the product. Economic history suggests it does.
Either way I've resubbed to TSW, think I'll see if I can play at least one character to the game's end (or whatever passes for it) over thenext two or three months before Funcom either goes belly up or does something stupid with it (like the pricey cash shop in AoC).

I am inclined to think riftsalker hit it on the nail. But of course its hard to say whether he bailed because intuition told him he was on a sinking ship, or if he was clever enough to hype the game to insure a turnaround, and quick enough to bail before hard, cold reality set in.
History also suggests that quality is but one of many factors that determine sales and success.
I dunno, who would even believe Funcom's numbers at this point? I mean, they've been bombing in the MMO market for 11 years.

You'd have to be a sucker to buy Funcom stock because they told you their Lovecraftian horror mmo was going to do better than Age of Conan.
He's still with funcom, he's just not CEO anymore. He's Chief Strategic Officer or something.
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