The gaming ecosystem has flourished in recent years with many independent developers starting their studios and developing exciting titles. Yet as the big players are getting bigger, competition intensifies and the time to develop grows, raising venture capital has become one of the popular routes to fund the company.
At Aventis, we looked at 100+ deals over 2020-2021 and analyzed what makes or breaks a successful capital raise. While having all three of the elements described makes it much easier to get multiple term sheets from a variety of investors, a company needs to have at least one to stand out in the crowd and successfully raise financing.
The single most important factor is the founders’ prior track record in the gaming industry. The industry requires specialized experience, so a strong combination of game development, design, and business expertise is crucial. Investors are much more comfortable betting on the teams that have already learned the ropes at another company: shipping a successful title, preferably at a major game developer (Zynga, Rovio, Playtika, etc. for Mobile; Ubisoft, EA, Activision for PC).
A good example of the importance of experience over tangible products is a recent $55M seed round by Spyke Games – despite having no product; the team of ex-C-level managers from Peak Games was able to convince Griffin Gaming Partners to lead the whole round.
A major success can create a larger ecosystem. Turkish casual games success story – Peak Games – invited a whole new wave of companies started by ex-Peak employees and drove the recent funding spree in the country. Dream Games, Loop Games, Spyke Games, Ace Games and Bigger Games share not only the tradition of company names ending in ‘Games’ but also at least one Peak Games veteran on board.
A good addition to a track record from a major game developer is past business experience, and especially – successful exits. Serial entrepreneurs have much less trouble raising money having proven they can manage and scale businesses quickly. A successful exit gives VCs comfort that the founders can deliver a great exit for a new company as well.
A good example is Israel-based Spring Games which raised $7M in early 2022 – the two founders successfully combined the gaming experience of an ex-Playtika veteran with a business experience of starting 3 cybersecurity companies and selling one for $95M.
A good substitute for gaming or business track record would be a quick success at a current company. Many of the gaming companies first bootstrapped to develop their first game and raised funding only after the first couple of successful titles. This is especially true for hyper-casual games, where the risk-reward profile can be too steep even for the VC investors.
A successful title does not only prove the team can develop the next ones with investors’ money but also provides a fall-back for the fund in case the newly developed games are not hits. With lower risks for investors and positive cash flows, the valuations are also higher (e.g. Dream Games 10x+ revenue valuation in the recent Series B)
Typically, a mega-hit game can more than cover costs for a small bootstrapped studio, so the decision to take external financing is rather a strategic one at this point. The investment could go to investment in the user acquisition or expanding the team, yet it dilutes the founders’ ownership.
Despite investors increasingly looking for safer bets by funding the experienced teams with performing products, a good idea on its own can still be important. Here, we uncovered two possible groups.
First, a new look at the existing business models: good examples are two recent fundraisings by Tamatem and Carry1st – both companies are publishers focusing on the Middle East and Africa respectively. Taking the existing business model to the new geography allowed them to raise capital in an otherwise competitive segment.
Second, riding a hype wave and trying to build the next unicorn in a blue ocean market. At the moment in gaming those include:
Play-to-earn, blockchain and metaverse-focused games. In 2022, such funding accelerated rapidly, with several metaverse-focused funds raised by venture capitalists
Developers for emerging gaming ecosystems, such as Roblox: for example, Supersocial, Voldex, Dubit.
With the abundance of gaming-focused funds, record VC capital raising and application of emerging themes to the gaming industry, the funding of the gaming industry is set to continue.
Whether metaverse will indeed transform the reality or be just a fad is still not certain – yet the investment in gaming will continue across the space – starting from user-generated content in Roblox to major AAA titles at Activision.
And founders with innovative ideas and a strong track record are now in a great position to raise money for their gaming ventures.