supercell

End Game, the startup behind Zombs Royale, raises $3M

Posted by | End Game Interactive, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, makers fund, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups, supercell | No Comments

End Game Interactive CEO Yang C. Liu has a refreshingly straightforward description of what he and his co-founder Luke Zbihlyj are up to: “We’re just building games. And to be honest, we don’t know what we’re doing.”

Despite this self-proclaimed ignorance, End Game has just raised $3 million in seed funding from an impressive group of investors: The round was led by the game-focused firm Makers Fund, with participation from Clash of Clans developer Supercell, Unity CEO David Helgason, Twitch COO Kevin Lin, Twitch VP Hubert Thieblot, Danny Epstien and Alexandre Cohen of Main Street Advisors and music executive Scooter Braun.

Liu told me that he and Zbihlyj got their start by building websites tied to existing games, such as PokéVision, a site for finding Pokémon in Pokémon GO. However, they were inspired by the success of simple, browser-based multiplayer games like Slither.io to create games of their own — first Zombs.io, then Spinz.io, then Zombs Royale.

Altogether, End Game says its titles have attracted more than 160 million players, with 1 million people playing in a single day. Zombs Royale, in particular, seems to have been a hit — the battle royale game (where a single map can pit up to 100 players against each other) was one of 2018’s most Googled games in the United States.

Liu said the team’s success convinced them to focus their efforts on game development: “Do we want to make products that people simply use, or games that people think about out when they’re going to school, or going to work, or dream about?”

End Game founders

Zombs Royale was supposedly built in less than four weeks, but Liu said that after its launch in early 2018, the team spent most of the year maintaining and scaling the game. Then 2019 was all about building a team and creating the next game, Fate Arena, a title in the new Auto Chess genre that’s supposed to launch on PC, mobile and other platforms soon.

Liu noted that unlike End Game’s previous work, which featured simple 2D art (“On Zombs Royale and Spinz, I did the art, and it’s terrible”), Fate Arena will feature a “3D, high-fidelity art style.”

But even as the company’s games start looking a little less primitive, the goal is still to develop and iterate quickly. Liu said he hopes to fund “many tries” at building other cross-platform, multiplayer games with this seed round.

“We pride ourselves on rapid experimentation,” he said, adding that the key is “not biting off more than we can chew. We design [our games] to scale from the beginning. We don’t necessarily need to be World of Warcraft, where you need to make 100 quests as the baseline. We’re focused on games with a small starting point that can scale into something much bigger.”

Supercell Developer Relations Lead Jaakko Harlas made a similar point in a statement included in the funding announcement:

Many companies are quick to point out how fast-moving they are. Then you come across a team like this and realize what being lean and moving fast really means. Yang, Luke and the team have already shown that they can ship accessible games that showcase a real flair for fun, and we look forward to supporting them in their quest for the next big hit game.

 

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Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

Posted by | Apps, ceo, Companies, Europe, finland, Funcom, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Israel, Microsoft, miniclip, Nintendo, online games, Oslo, Riot Games, smartphone, Software, Sony, supercell, Tencent, ubisoft, WeChat | No Comments

Tencent, one of the world’s biggest video and online gaming companies by revenue, today made another move to help cement that position. The Chinese firm has made an offer to fully acquire Funcom, the games developer behind Conan Exiles (and others in the Conan franchise), Dune and some 28 other titles. The deal, when approved, would value the Oslo-based company at $148 million (NOK 1.33 billion) and give the company a much-needed cash injection to follow through on its longer-term strategy around its next generation of games.

Funcom is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended the offer, which is being made at NOK 17 per share, or around 27% higher than its closing share price the day before (Tuesday).

The news is being made with some interesting timing. Today, Tencent competes against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in terms of mass-market, gaming revenues. But just earlier this week, it was reported that ByteDance — the publisher behind breakout social media app TikTok — was readying its own foray into the world of gaming.

If it goes ahead, that would set up another level of rivalry between the two companies. Tencent also has a massive interest in the social media space, specifically by way of its messaging app WeChat . While many consumers will have multiple apps, when it comes down to it, spending money in one represents a constraint on spending money in another. ByteDance currently profits from having content on its social apps related to Tencent gameplay, so building its own content could be one way of moving away from that. The two have (naturally) also been battling it out in court in China over unfair competition claims, in part related to that gaming content.

Today, Tencent is one of the world’s biggest video game companies: in its last reported quarter (Q3 in November), Tencent said that it make RMB28.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in online gaming revenue, with smartphone games accounting for RMB24.3 billion of that.

Acquisitions and controlling stakes form a key part of the company’s growth strategy in gaming. Among its very biggest deals, Tencent paid $8.6 billion for a majority stake in Finland’s Supercell back in 2016. It also has a range of controlling stakes in Riot Games, Epic, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip. These companies, in turn, also are making deals: just earlier this month it was reported (and sources have also told us) that Miniclip acquired Israel’s Ilyon Games (of Bubble Shooter fame) for $100 million.

Turning back to Funcom, Tencent was already an investor in the company: it took a 29% stake in it in September 2019 in a secondary deal, buying out KGJ Capital (which had previously been the biggest shareholder).

“Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games,” said Funcom CEO Rui Casais at the time. “The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

In retrospect, this was laying the groundwork and relationships for a bigger deal just months down the line. 

“We have a great relationship with Tencent as our largest shareholder and we are very excited to be part of the Tencent team,” Casais said in a statement today. “We will continue to develop great games that people all over the world will play, and believe that the support of Tencent will take Funcom to the next level. Tencent will provide Funcom with operational leverage and insights from its vast knowledge as the leading company in the game space.”

The rationale for Funcom is that the company had already determined that it needed further investment in order to follow through on its longer-term strategy.

According to a statement issued before it recommended the offer, the company is continuing to build out the “Open World Survival segment” using the Games-as-a-Service business model (where you pay to fuel up with more credits); and is building an ambitious Dune project set to launch in two years.

“Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game, initially scheduled for release during 2020 that has been impacted by scope changes due to external/market pressures with increasingly strong competition and internal delays,” the board writes, and if it goes ahead with its strategy, “It is likely that the Company will need additional financing to supplement the revenue generated from current operations.”

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Tencent to take 29% stake in multiplayer games maker Funcom

Posted by | Asia, China, dune, Europe, Funcom, Gaming, online games, Oslo, supercell, Tencent, video gaming | No Comments

Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent is taking a 29% stake to become the largest shareholder in Oslo-based Funcom.

The indie games developer is responsible for multiple adaptations involving the “Conan the Barbarian” franchise, such as “Age of Conan” and “Conan Exiles,” as well as a number of other multiplayer titles — including a forthcoming open world sandbox game that will be set in the “Dune” sci-fi universe.

The news that Tencent has entered into a share purchase agreement to acquire almost a third of the company was announced in a press release today. The Chinese giant has agreed to acquire all the shares belonging to the Norway-based KGJ Capital AS, which is currently the largest shareholder in Funcom.

Commenting in a statement, Funcom CEO Rui Casais said: “Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games. The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

Tencent, which has a substantial games operation of its own, also holds stakes in a number of other major games makers — including Riot Games, Epic, Supercell, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip.

A prolonged games licensing freeze in China dented Tencent’s profits last year. And earlier this year, while it reported record profits in its Q1, it also recorded its slowest revenue growth since going public.

Regulatory risk at home is one reason for Tencent to expand its stakes in overseas games developers and tap into a global audience to stoke growth.

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Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

Posted by | apple music, applovin, Blackstone, Column, communications apps, computing, Electronic Arts, epic games, France, Gaming, Germany, Glu Mobile, ketchapp, KKR, Mobile, mobile devices, mobile game, niantic, pokemon, Riot Games, RSS, Seismic, Seismic Games, social media, Spotify, supercell, Sweden, TC, Tencent, ubisoft, United Kingdom, United States, voodoo, washington DC, White House, Zynga | No Comments
Omer Kaplan
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Omer Kaplan is CMO and co-founder at ironSource.
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By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the eight previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games, and who in the market is responding to this — and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world — that’s almost one-third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music, and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the U.S., time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television — with users spending eight more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to more than 30 minutes. Apps are the new prime time, and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games that are quick to download, easy to play and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50 — a far cry from the traditional stereotype of a “gamer.”

With these demographic, geographic and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90 million in Pocket Gems and$126 million in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5 million in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M million from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2 million from several investors — one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokémon GO has generated $2.3 billion in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250 million players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, which are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming — not just of gaming studios, but all those who have a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400 million minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later, Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750 million. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55 billion in revenue, so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon GO game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses — providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology and employees locally — as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game.” They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options — for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France,” in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The U.K. Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund — calling the U.K. “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The U.K. Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the U.K. to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program, saying that the U.K. gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced.” But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling, the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over in Germany, and the government has allocated €50 million of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

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Northzone’s Paul Murphy goes deep on the next era of gaming

Posted by | Amazon, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Electronic Arts, esports, Gaming, Google, King, league of legends, Media, mobile gaming, Netflix, Nintendo Switch, Paul Murphy, Rovio, Sports, stadia, Startups, Steam, supercell, Talent, TC, Tencent, unity-technologies, Venture Capital, Virtual reality | No Comments

As the gaming market continues to boom, billions of dollars are being invested in new games and new streaming platforms vying to own a piece of the action. Most of the value is accruing to the large incumbents in a space, however, and the entrance of Google and other big tech companies makes it difficult to identify where there are compelling opportunities for entrepreneurs to build new empires.

TechCrunch media analyst Eric Peckham recently sat down with Paul Murphy, Partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss Paul’s view of the market and where he is focusing his dollars. Below is the transcript of the conversation (edited for length and clarity):


Eric Peckham: You co-founded the hit mobile game Dots before moving to London and joining Northzone last year. Are you still bullish on investment opportunities in mobile gaming or do you think the market has changed?

Paul Murphy: I’m bullish on mobile gaming–the market is bigger than it has ever been. There’s a whole generation of people that have been trained to play games on mobile phones. So those are things that are very positive.

The challenge is you don’t really have a rising tide moment anymore. The winners have won. And so it’s very, very difficult for someone to enter with new content and build a business that’s as big as Supercell or King, regardless of how good their content is. So while the prize for winning in mobile gaming content big, the likelihood is smaller.

Where I’m spending most of my time is not on content, it’s on components within mobile gaming. We’re looking at infrastructure: different platforms that enable mobile gaming, like Bunch which we invested in.

Their product allows you to do live video and audio on top of mobile games. So we don’t have to take any content risk. We’re betting that this great product will fit into a large inventory ecosystem.

Peckham: New mobile game studios that are launching all seem to fall under the sphere of influence of these bigger companies. They get a strategic investment from Supercell or another company. To your point, it’s tough for a small startup to compete entirely on its own.

Murphy: It’s possible in mobile gaming still but it’s really, really hard now. At the same time, what you’ve seen is the odds of winning are lower. It is hard to reach the same scale when it costs you $5.00 to acquire a user today, whereas when Candy Crush launched, it was $0.05 per user. So it’s almost impossible to achieve King-like scale today.

Therefore, you’re looking at similar content risk with reduced upside, which makes that equation less attractive for venture capital. But it might be perfectly fine for an established company because they don’t need to do the marketing, they have the audience already.

The big gaming companies all struggle with the challenge of how to create the next hit IP. They have this machine that can bring any great game to market efficiently, with a large audience they can cross promote from and capital they can invest to build a big brand quickly. For them, the biggest challenge is getting the best content.

So it’s natural to me that the pendulum has swung towards strategic investors in mobile gaming content. Epic has a fund that they set up with Improbable, Supercell is making direct investments, Tencent has been making investments for years. Even from a content perspective, you’re probably going to see Apple, Google, and Amazon making more content investments in mobile gaming.

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Peckham: Does this same market dynamic apply to PC games and console games? Do you see a certain area within gaming where there’s still opportunity for independent startups to create the game itself and find success at a venture scale?

Murphy: The reason we made our investment in Klang Games, which is building an MMO called Seed that people will primarily play through PC, is that while there is content risk–you’re never going to get rid of the possibility that the IP doesn’t fly–if it works, it will be massive…an Earth-shattering level of success. If their vision comes to life, it will be very, very big.

So that one has all the risks that you’d have in any other game studio but the upside is exponentially larger, so the bet makes sense to us. And it so happens that it’s going to be on PC first, where there’s certainly a lot of competition but it’s not as saturated and the monetization methods are healthier than in mobile gaming. In PC, you don’t have to do free-to-play tactics that interfere with the gameplay.

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Tencent left out as China approves the release of 80 new video games

Posted by | Activision, Asia, China, Entertainment, Gaming, riot, supercell, TC, Tencent, Tencent Holdings, WeChat | No Comments

Chinese internet giant Tencent has been excluded from the first batch of video game license approvals issued by the state-run government since March.

China regulators approved Saturday the released of 80 online video games after a months-long freeze, Reuters first reported. None of the approved titles listed on the approval list were from Tencent Holdings, the world’s largest gaming company.

Licenses are usually granted on a first come, first serve basis in order of when studios file their applications, several game developers told TechCrunch. There are at least 7,000 titles in the waiting list, among which only 3,000 may receive the official licenses in 2019, China’s 21st Century Business Herald reported citing experts. Given the small chance of making it to the first batch, it’s unsurprising the country’s two largest game publishers Tencent and NetEase were absent.

The controlled and gradual unfreezing process is in line with a senior official’s announcement on December 21. While the Chinese gaming regulator is trying its best to greenlight titles as soon as possible, there is a huge number of applications in the pipeline, the official said. Without licenses, studios cannot legally monetize their titles in China. The hiatus in approval has slashed earnings in the world’s largest gaming market, which posted a 5.4 percent year-over-year growth in the first half of 2018, the slowest rate in the last ten years according to a report by Beijing-based research firm GPC and China’s official gaming association CNG.

Tencent is best known as the company behind WeChat, a popular messaging platform in China. But much of its revenue comes from gaming. Even with a recent decline in gaming revenue, the company has a thriving business that is majority owner of several companies including Activision, Grinding Gears Games, Riot and Supercell. In 2012, the company took a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, maker of Fortnite. Tencent also has alliances or publishing deals with other video gaming companies such as Square Enix, makers of Tomb Raider. 

The ban on new video game titles in China has affected Tencent’s bottom line. The company reported revenue from gaming fell 4 percent in the third quarter due to the prolonged freeze on licenses. At the time, Tencent claimed it had 15 games with monetization approval in its pipeline. To combat pressure in its consumer-facing gaming business, the Chinese giant launched a major reorganization in October to focus more on enterprise-related initiatives such as cloud services and maps. Founder and CEO Pony Ma said at the time the strategic repositioning would prepare Tencent for the next 20 years of operation.

“In the second stage, we aspire to enable our partners in different industries to better connect with consumers via an expanding, open and connected ecosystem,” stated Ma.

China tightened restrictions in 2018 to combat games that are deemed illegal, immoral, low-quality or have a negative social impact such as those that make children addicted or near-sighted. This means studios, regardless of size, need to weigh new guidelines in their production and user interaction. Tencent placed its own restrictions on gaming in what appeared to be an attempt to assuage regulators. The company has expanded its age verification system, an effort aimed at curbing use of young players, and placed limits on daily play.

Update (December 30, 10:00 am, GMT+8): Adds context on China’s gaming industry and Tencent.

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Supercell acquires 62% of London’s Space Ape Games for $55.8M

Posted by | Apps, Europe, Gaming, mobile games, social games, Space Ape Games, supercell, TC | No Comments

 Some consolidation is afoot in the world of gaming. Today, Space Ape Games — a London social and mobile games studio founded by alums from Playfish, Mind Candy and EA — announced that Supercell has acquired 62 percent of the company for $55.8 million, as part of a long-term strategic partnership. The deal gives Space Ape a total equity valuation of $90 million. Space… Read More

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Tencent reportedly eyes majority stake in Supercell, plans tie-ups with Publicis, LVMH

Posted by | advertising, Advertising Tech, Asia, Europe, Gaming, lvmh, Mobile, mobile games, Publicis, Social, Softbank, supercell, TC, Tencent | No Comments

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 12.24.48 PM China’s Internet giant Tencent has been expanding its international reach in areas like games and advertising, and as part of that, the company is picking up its dealmaking in Europe. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the owner of the popular WeChat messaging platform is in early talks to buy a majority stake in Supercell — the mobile gaming phenomenon based out of… Read More

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SoftBank Ups Its Stake In Supercell To 73% As Accel Cashes Out Of The Mobile Gaming Giant

Posted by | Apps, Asia, clash of clans, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, hay day, Mobile, mobile gaming, Softbank, supercell, TC, Venture Capital | No Comments

clash of clans Some ownership changes afoot at Supercell, the mobile gaming giant out of Finland behind blockbuster titles like Clash of Clans and Hay Day. Japan’s SoftBank has upped its stake in the startup to 73.2 percent, after buying an additional 22.7 percent of shares from existing external investors, with VC Accel exiting the company completely in the process. SoftBank says that Supercell… Read More

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