Zynga's IPO: Virtual Goods, a Billion Dollars, and an SEC Problem

The social gaming company is opening itself up to scrutiny with it's massive IPO

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Zynga filed for their long-awaited initial public offering in Friday. The number of zeroes after the amount they hope to raise--there are nine zeroes in $1 billion--as well as the heavy-hitting banks helping to broker the deal--Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to name a couple--ranks the social gaming company's IPO up there with Google.

We noted earlier this week--when the news leaked that Zynga was finalizing paperwork--that this massive entrance to the market would serve as Facebook's opening act. Zynga, in a way, is a company built almost entirely on the shoulder's of Mark Zuckerberg's vision of an app-centric future for the internet. With runaway successes like Texas Hold'em Poker and FarmVille, Zynga created a culture of Facebook-based games and built a business model on selling virtual goods within these games. As Tricia Duryee details on All Things D, Zynga is "first major U.S. company supported primarily by the sale of virtual goods" to go public, and things could get complicated with the SEC:

The Securities and Exchange Commission and other governing bodies have not yet come up with a legally prescribed method for taking into account the sale of virtual goods. That leaves companies to come up with their own best guesses. 

“There are no rules about this stuff,” said Bob Komin, the CFO and COO at Linden Lab, which operates Second Life, the four-year-old online virtual world. “I haven’t heard anything about a standard, but it’s probably the number one thing we talk about before we get audited every year.”

The lack of regulation, Duryee says, won't keep companies who deal in virtual goods from filing for an IPO, but the revenue numbers they cite when doing so don't necessarily provide an accurate picture of the company's earnings. Zynga claimed $597.5 million in revenue in 2010, and in the first quarter of 2011, $235.4 million. If these numbers are inflated, however, Wall Street's public scrutiny should quickly figure it out, and other tech companies will be watching. "Zynga may be the first out of the gate," Duryee says, "But many others are waiting in the wings--Facebook being the most prominent."

We can be sure the SEC is scurrying to figure out this question of virtual goods. The world is already working on figuring out what the heck to do with the virtual currency Bitcoin.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.