Digital games company Roblox Corp., transformed into a cultural icon during the coronavirus pandemic, made its public debut Wednesday with its shares rising 7.8% from its opening price.
Roblox is one of the few companies that have gone public through a direct listing, an alternative to an initial public offering in which the shares begin trading without the company issuing new stock.
The company’s shares, which opened trading at $64.50 apiece, closed at $69.50 in New York, giving Roblox a market value of more than $38 billion. The company’s fully diluted valuation, including restricted stock units and employee options, is about $45 billion, making it one of the most valuable companies to go public during the pandemic.
The handful of companies that have done direct listings includes Peter Thiel’s Palantir Technologies Inc. and software company Asana Inc. in September. Music streaming service Spotify Technology SA went public through a direct listing in 2018 and Slack Technologies Inc. followed in 2019.
Roblox, based in San Mateo, California, has seen its valuation as well as its revenue and user base grow as the pandemic kept students home and in search of entertainment.
The company was valued at $4.15 billion after a $150 million funding round in February 2020 that was led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. By the time the company raised $520 million in January in a round led by Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group, its valuation had rocketed to $29.5 billion.
“It’s really a once in a decade type company,” said Neil Rimer, partner at Roblox investor Index Ventures who has been a board observer at the game maker.
While Roblox benefited from students being stuck at home during Covid-19 lockdowns, “great companies continue to grow in value,” Rimer said. “The growth was there before and the growth will be there after.”
Roblox had filed in November for a traditional IPO but dropped that plan after seeing the staggering first-day gains in listings by Doordash Inc. and Airbnb Inc. in December.
Two-thirds of U.S. children ages 9 to 12 use the platform. During the pandemic, the company’s website began hosting virtual birthday parties, concerts and even graduations for kids who couldn’t gather in person. As a result, daily active users grew 85% last year.
For the nine months ended Sept. 30, Roblox had a consolidated net loss of $197 million on revenue of $614 million.
Roblox plans to expand into more international markets, as well as chase older demographics, with an eye toward becoming a platform for virtual corporate events and meetings. Chief executive officer David Baszucki said Roblox may consider acquisitions.
“We’re looking two years out,” Baszucki said in an interview. “We’re focused on building the platform, the technology, building an amazingly civil society.”
Roblox already has warned investors that its growth run won’t last. The total hours that users spend engaged with the gaming platform could drop by as much as 11% in the second quarter, the company said last week.
With students headed back to in-person schooling, Roblox is focused on broadening beyond its base of tween children. That has included efforts to make the platform more appealing to office workers, with the company pitching it as a place to hold meetings.
The New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday assigned a reference price of $45 a share for Roblox. Setting a reference price is needed in a direct listing for the stock to begin trading, but shares don’t actually trade hands based on that price.
While banks don’t underwrite shares as they do in an IPO, they do advise the company on the listing. Roblox is working with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley. Roblox shares are trading on the NYSE under the symbol “RBLX.”