Tag Archives: Ji Ham

Ji Ham Speaks about Enad Global 7

I am finally catching up on things that happened a month ago at this point.  In this case there was a change at Enad Global 7 that saw Ji Ham, who was heading up Daybreak, become the acting CEO of the company, displacing the well liked Robin Flodin.

Enad Global 7

This led to an interview with Ji Ham, posted to YouTube, where most of us not only saw him for the first time, but heard his voice for the first time as well… which is a bit odd for somebody who has been CEO of a video game company for six years, but hardly the most unusual thing about the Daybreak era.

So I finally sat down and watched the video.

I haven’t seen much written about the video, and that which I did see dismissed it as a whole lot of nothing.

And, I will attest, if you were expecting some detailed information about the company, its operations, or its games, there wasn’t much to chew on.

That said, the 27 minute video was not completely devoid of information.

Ji Ham’s ascension to the CEO role, which was again stressed as an acting position and that he will not be moving to Stockholm, was attributed to the change in the business model that EG7 is now pursuing.  Having grown through acquisition, the company now has a number of live products generating substantial revenue, meaning a different outlook may have been needed in the leadership position.

There was no mention of Robin Flodin’s interview gaffe, so the party line is apparently this was planned and completely normal.

But, while live games are now part of the mix, the company is still seeking more acquisitions to fill what it sees as holes in its offerings or that would fit well within their portfolio.

I have mentioned in the past that growth through acquisitions is a popular choice for publicly held companies as any asset they buy is always assumed to be worth what they paid for it so there is no hit against margins; writing your own code costs, buying somebody else’s’ code is a wash.

No acquisition targets were mentioned, but I suspect that if you looked at what is missing from their current ecosystem that keeps them from being self-contained you might at least come up with some potential segments.

Which isn’t to say that they are giving up on developing their own titles.  Once again a triple-A title was mentioned, but no specifics were given.  However, I think some of us just assume it is going to be a Marvel version of DC Universe Online.  We shall see.

Long time followers of Daybreak will no doubt be amused that Ji Ham said both that communication from the company had been lacking and that titles in their portfolio had not seen much in the way of investment during the Daybreak era, something EG7 would like to rectify.  Whose fault might that be?

I guess at least he didn’t blame it on Smed.

Acknowledging that the Daybreak portfolio was old… most of the titles are over a decade old, with H1Z1 being the young one in the bunch, having only passed the six year mark back in February… one wonders where they might throw some resources.

He did mention two titles specifically when it came to targets for investment, DC Universe Online and Lord of the Rings Online.

DCUO is the most popular title in the Daybreak lineup, claiming more than 400K monthly active users last year and bringing in more total revenue than any of its siblings according to last December’s reveal. (Though EverQuest still beat it for net earnings.)

DCUO has a lot of players on consoles, and was at one time the top earning free to play title on PlayStation, so worth keeping up to date.  One of the investments it needs is to get it onto the latest generation XBox and PlayStation 5 hardware.   Also, it would totally make sense to invest in it if you were going to make a Marvel version of the game.

As for LOTRO, it was singled out because, in his words, it is the only Tolkien online world currently available.  True enough, that statement.  The problem is that I am not sure EG7 has the resources available to make LOTRO into a viable, competitive title fourteen years down the road.  While the world is beautiful in game, character models, responsiveness, and the general interface was poor relative to the standards of the industry in 2007.  While there have been a few graphical upgrades over the years, the UI and the character models are still garbage and all the more so on any monitor over 1920×1080 in resolution.  And that leaves aside the layers of monetization piled onto the game, where every dialog wants to sell you a short cut to get around whatever effort game play asks of you.

There is no financially viable road forward that fixes all of its fundamental issues… and I am not even going to go into garbage mechanics like legendary items, which they’re kind of hand waving a fix for because they can’t get rid of it as the grind is so horrible that it likely leads more players to the cash shop than anything else… when it made maybe $15 million tops last year.

I know, that sounds like a lot of money.  But Tolkien Enterprises gets their cut right off the top I bet, then there are the servers and infrastructure to maintain and keep up to date, and the staff needed to keep things going as they are, and then the amount needed to keep Jason Epstein and Ji Ham in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed.  And now the whole thing is owned by a public company, so the pressure to earn is even higher.  The time to invest and fix things is when you’re private and can get away with a few quarters of loss without the market calling for your head.

I’ve spent a lot of time with LOTRO and cherish those memories, but the wide appeal of its theme is held back by the raggedly old mechanics of the title.  Such is life.

Not mentioned, much to my surprise, was H1Z1.  Robin Floodin used to bring up H1Z1 every time he spoke about the titles that EG7 held, promising its player base that they were looking to revive the title.  I guess it is the newest title in the bunch and, for a brief stretch, was the flagship battle royale title, a position in managed to squander and is unlikely ever to recover. (NerdSlayer has a new Death of a Game video about H1Z1 that covers all the main fumbles.)

But perhaps Ji Ham, who was the CEO when H1Z1 flailed, flamed out, and ceased to be a force in the market, knows better than most what its value now is.

Anyway, those are the bits that stuck out for me.  There was more in the interview, including a caution on earnings, but I was mostly interested in the product related side of things.  The YouTube page has bookmarks in the description that divide up the whole thing into the various topics discussed.

The next thing we hear from EG7 is likely to be Q3 earning in about a month.

Enad Global 7 Q2 2021 Financials and Concerning News

I keep having to remind myself that Daybreak’s parent is a public company once again, and a small enough one that Daybreak’s products aren’t hidden in the numbers but are big enough in the company to get highlighted at every report.  EverQuest is a big name at Enad Global 7.

Enad Global 7

Fortunately I have a Google alert setup for Enad Global 7 which, unlike some of my other alerts, has proven effective at catching updates about the company.  So early this week I got the nod that their Q2 2021 preliminary financials had been announced.  The statement was short and sweet:

During the second quarter, we delivered a net revenue growth of 179%, EBITDA growth of 360% and meanwhile having successfully integrated the acquisitions we closed in the first quarter of 2021. With our rapid acquisition growth, we have digested, integrated and built up the necessary processes to continue our strategic focus. I am delighted to announce that the relaunch of MechWarrior 5 was profitable already after a couple of weeks. It was a testament of the collaboration power between the subsidiaries of the group.

There was also a slide deck investor presentation to go with the announcement. (The income statement covers much of the same ground.) Quite a bit of the deck was information previously shared.  They did note that Daybreak’s seven titles account for 50% of the company’s revenue.

Daybreak, owner of 7 IP’s that are live and account for 50% of the revenue, mainly PC and Console.  Distributed mainly through our own platform.

Elsewhere in the presentation they say that live games make up 50% of the revenue for 2020, which includes My Singing Monsters as the 8th title, so I am not sure how that breaks out.

And, as always, the like to talk about the strong IPs and long running titles that came with Daybreak.

This slide from March was re-run, featuring 6 Daybreak titles in the highlights plus My Singing Monsters

Compared to that 16% of the revenue comes in via Innova’s 4Game platform which hosts titles licensed from other companies for distribution in the EU and CIS including Lineage II, Aion, and Ragnarok Online.

The presentation wasn’t big on news.  The previously announced plan to migrate all their titles onto the 4Game platform was reconfirmed.

We’ll all play on 4Game

Not a big news day for EG7 really.  A good financial report, some rah rah, and back to work.

As I was tracking down the financials I found that the same day a bomb dropped at EG7.  Robin Flodin, the chipper, young, and enthusiastic CEO of EG7 that gave us all such good feels when the Daybreak acquisition was announced, was being given the boot, with Ji Ham of Daybreak stepping in to fill the role as acting CEO.

The Board of Enad Global 7 AB (publ) and Robin Flodin have agreed that effective immediately Robin will transition away from his current role as CEO of EG7 and will be replaced by the current CEO of Daybreak Game Company, EG7’s largest subsidiary, Ji Ham. During this transition Robin will stay on for six months to assist Ji as he assumes his new role within the EG7 family of companies. Ji will be appointed acting CEO of EG7 as a search for a permanent CEO has been initiated. Ji has an extensive background in both gaming and finance and has for the last six years been the CEO of Daybreak. During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company.

Of course, this made hearts sink, and not just because some of us had crushes on Robin.

Ji Ham should have an entry on the IMDB given his ongoing acting roles.  After Smed got the heave-ho from Daybreak, long time SOE exec Russel Shanks took over for a bit.  But that did not last long and Daybreak quietly updated its information to indicate that Ji Ham had stepped in as acting president of Daybreak.

Nobody outside of the company was quite sure who he was.  His profile over at Bloomberg, which has since been scrubbed from the site (classic Daybreak move), indicated that he was with Columbus Nova’s renewable fuels group, working closing with the Russian Renova Group, which owned Columbus Nova.

The profile probably disappeared during the 2018 panic when Daybreak tried to gaslight everybody , though “gaslighting” implies some subtlety and skill that was not present in the act, into believing that the company had never had anything to do with Renova, Columbus Nova, or any other Russians that might be facing sanctions from the US government.  And that is what the Daybreak era reminds many people of, a regime of obvious lies.

So why is Ji Ham in and Robin Flodin out?

I suspect we’ll never know the real dynamics of the situation, but looking at the slide deck from the quarterly numbers, Robin didn’t own a lot of the company.  The combined management and board of directors own 49% of the company, broken out like this:

EG7 board and management ownership stakes

I have pasted in the total ownership stake in the company for each individual (you might need to click on the image to view it full size to make those numbers readable) and in that mix that represents 49% of the company, Robin holds just 3.504%  That is a lot of shares, but not enough to maintain any sort of control

Meanwhile our old Columbus Nova friends, Jason Epstein and Ji Ham, own more than 9% of the company.  Add in the fact that Daybreak is responsible for 50% of EG7’s revenue and it probably isn’t a huge mystery as to how Jason Epstein and his partner Ji Ham got themselves in the driver’s seat again.

As for what it means… well, I am skeptical.  The press release says this about Ji Ham:

During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company

That seems to be, from the outside, counter factual.

From the outside Ji Ham’s tenure was one of cancelling new titles, shutting down old titles, laying off staff, and tarnishing the reputation of the company with outrageous historical revisionism.  The company may have seen profits, but it wasn’t due to growth.  Growth didn’t enter into it.  Profits came by cutting costs and not investing in anything new, it came from maintaining the status quo at the cheapest possible rate.

Is that the future now holds for EG7?  Have they finished with their growth through acquisition phase and moved to consolidation and profit seeking?  Is Ji Ham being put on the throne to do to EG7 what he did to Daybreak?

Yes, I know he is “acting” CEO, but he was “acting” President and CEO at Daybreak too, and he had a long run in that role. He has recast his LinkedIn profile in the Daybreak tradition to indicate that he was CEO of the company since the date of Smed’s departure.  There was no Russell Shanks, only Ji Ham.  He did a modest attempt at downplaying the fact that he was deep in Columbus Nova, that company that never had nothing to do with Daybreak ever.

CN? What is CN?

I suspect he hopes people think he worked for Canadian Northern Railway and not a Russian oligarch investment front.

I might be borrowing trouble here, taking the dimmest possible view of events, but back in December, when EG7 announced their acquisition of Daybreak with a vision of growth and investment, a lot of optimism bubbled up for the future of the company and its titles.  That optimism came from the grim times that the Daybreak era represented, so bringing back the same actors to run the new show can hardly be expected to be received with enthusiastic applause.

Of course, some of that December optimism was likely misplaced, especially on the LOTRO front.  Making a console silk purse, as the initial announcements hinted at, out of the sow’s ear that is LOTRO now… and that, honestly, LOTRO has always been… would require an investment in funds that would likely never see a return.

And who knows, maybe EG7 is still looking to expand and grow.  Maybe Ji Ham will be given resources and instructions by the board to go in directions he could not when he was at the helm of Daybreak.  Hey, maybe the “acting CEO” bit isn’t a lie, maybe the company is really looking for a new CEO and Ji Ham will be just a caretaker… though why he needs a six month transition from Robin Flodin raises some questions on that front, though likely it means Robin gets paid as CEO for another six months while not having anything to do after a week or two.

But it is concerning.  It smacks of a return to the habits of Daybreak writ larger as they now apply to even more studios.  As I said with the initial burst of optimism about EG7 I will now say about this dark turn; we will have to wait and see.

Addendum: As pointed out here in the comments, Robin Flodin apparently had problems during an interview he was giving on Swedish television where he couldn’t explain the difference between sales and revenue.

That Tweet, which I also linked in the comments, points to an article about the interview.  Google translates the headline as, “Robin Flodin is forced to leave the position of CEO of EG7 after a high-profile interview.”

So the ascension of Ji Ham was perhaps not premeditated, though we have yet to see what it will mean in the long term.

Related:

A New Broom at Daybreak?

This past weekend I started the process of building up the usual end of year posts.  Those are less like the random creative writing assignments I churn out daily as they require some data collection.  The easiest of the lot is the review of my annual predictions.  You can find the 2016 batch here.

I was going down the list zeroing out the ones that were clearly wrong… start with the easy stuff… which included the fifth entry on the list.

5 – Daybreak will get a new head honcho who will be selected from another company and will have little or no experience with the fantasy MMORPG genre that has kept the team in San Diego funded for most of its existence.  Expect this person’s past experience to be the hammer and any Daybreak problem to be a nail.  They’ll be just like that VP we once hired from Oracle, for whom every solution required a database.  So if, for example, they have a history with first person shooters on the XBox, you’ll know what to expect.

I marked that as a miss.  I hadn’t seen any news pop up to indicate that long time SOE/Daybreak guy Russell Shanks wasn’t still running the show.  I mean, when Smed “left” there were stories everywhere.  No change meant no points for that prediction.  Daybreak abides.

It follows you as you move about the room!

The angry eye of Daybreak Game Company

A bit later I was looking for something else and hit the Wikipedia page for Daybreak and noticed that the summary side bar did not list Mr. Shanks as a key person.  So I ran down the article and found this buried in the lower text:

In October 2016, Russell Shanks left Daybreak. Ji Ham is the current acting president.

Oh ho, there was a change!  Maybe I was right in that prediction after all?

It also seemed I didn’t miss any headline articles about it in the gaming press as the supporting attribution for this was Russell Shank’s profile on LinkedIn.  You can go find it if you like, but this is the key item.

Long time COO of SOE and Daybreak

Long time COO of SOE and Daybreak

So Mr. Shanks was out in October, which leads us to the next question; who the hell is Ji Ham and where did he come from?  Well, I was already on LinkedIn for the first bit, might as well continue there.

As it turns out, Ji Ham is a Columbus Nova Prime operative and his profile lists him as being “Co-President” of Daybreak since the date of Smed’s departure.  From his profile.

Principal and Co-President

Principal and Co-President

Odd that we haven’t heard of him before.  Did I miss that somewhere along the line?  Has he been actively involved with Daybreak up to this point or has he been more behind the scenes?

And, of course, the bigger question is, what does it mean now that Russell Shanks is out and Ji Ham is in?  The Wikipedia article says he is the “current acting president,” which sounds temporary, but the article also has no source to back that up.  And given that Ji Ham is listed as having been Co-President since July 2015, it would not be a stretch to assume he has simply taken over the role rather than keeping the seat warm for some new hire.

So what does it mean to have Ji Ham in charge?  Googling him puts him with the Special Opportunities fund at Columbus Nova.  His Bloomberg profile says that he was head of Columbus Nova’s renewable fuels group at one point, which seems to connect into the Russian Renova Group.  Is Columbus Nova Prime now poised to frack Daybreak hard?

Or is Ji Ham just the watcher for Columbus Nova Prime, the on site enforcer, there to keep an eye on whoever they put in charge?  And, if so, can we expect a new leader with video game industry experience?

And, finally, how do I score my prediction?  Russell Shanks is out, so I don’t feel this is a complete miss, but is Ji Ham really a new head honcho?  He is certainly from a company different that Daybreak.  I’m allowed partial credit, so what should it be?  8 points?  2 points?

You can probably expect the prediction scoring post next week.

Addendum: And naturally the edits over a Wikipedia that I saw were done by Feldon of EQ2Wire.  It is a small world.

Addendum: Daybreak confirmed the essential elements of this post without adding any additional details.