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EGD News #92 — M&A experiences

EGD News #92 — M&A experiences

Sent on July 23rd 2021.

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It’s Joakim here. Greetings from Helsinki!

I published 54 new article pieces on the Elite Game Developers blog during the first half of 2021, and I wanted to share the top three articles that I posted during the first half, based on how many times they were read.

Without any order, here are the top three articles.

Scenarios for Soft launch was published on February 28, 2021.

When a team spends months working on a game, and the soft launch is happening soon, the team should understand how they will react to different outcomes of the soft launch test.

You can apply the scenarios model that I’m talking about here to all sorts of results. You are running UA tests to a creative; what do you do in the different outcome situations?

Scenarios are a great way to develop rules on how you deal with situations and what all the stakeholders, including investors, can expect if you reach specific numbers.

Read the full article by going here.

Joining Play Ventures as Venture Partner was published on February 1, 2021.

In this article from early February, I wrote about my new role as Venture Partner at Play Ventures. In the last five months, I’ve been involved as Board Observer for five of their portfolio companies, all mobile game studios.

In the near future, I hope to share more about my work as a Venture Partner and how I’ve been evolving my format of investor and helper/coach/mentor/board observer to the founders.

Read the full article by going here.

Daily Events in Free-to-play Games was published on May 12, 2021.

In this article from May, I talk about the daily event system that exists in Marvel: Contest of Champions. I’ve been playing that game for over six years now, and it still feels like the most brilliant example of how you can utilize daily events for retaining players forever.

I write about how you can apply the learnings from MCOC into other games, to Merge games, to a Battle Royale game, and a sports game. It only requires a few ingredients to start working:

  • A. some variability virtual good that the player wants
  • B. that good has scarcity, and you can’t attain it from outside the events

Read the full article by going here.

I’ll return to some more highlights from the first half of 2021 in the following newsletters.

🎙 Cordel Robbin-Coker, Carry1st

In this week’s podcast episode, I’m talking with Cordel Robbin-Coker, who is the co-founder and CEO of Carry1st, a mobile games publisher that is focusing on the content of Africa. Africa is the last frontier for basically anything. Mobile gaming is no exception. For a continent that is home to more than 1 billion millennials and Gen Zers, mobile gaming has never really picked up, despite the continent witnessing rapid economic growth and smartphone adoption.

Carry1st is changing that with it’s new approach for distribution and payments, custom made for Africa. In this episode, we talk about mobile gaming in Africa and about Cordel’s entrepreneur journey.

Here are my highlights from the discussion.

How do you make CAC to LTV work in Africa?

We think that having local payments will allow you to multiply LTV. If 9 out of 10 people who want to pay for content can’t, and we can convert a third of those through our ecosystem, you’re now quadrupling your LTV of a cohort of users in a particular game.

The biggest challenge is finding intuitive ways to link alternative payments with mobile-first content. [Like with the] Epic and Apple case, Apple says that if you want to use another payment method to top-up your account, you can do it, but you can’t tell anyone about it in the app. You can’t educate your users on it in this interface.

On the UA side of things we localize the ad creatives. Having messaging that really resonates with our users, leveraging local slang, local influencers, and using that to drive down cost of acquisition and drive up IPMs. We’ve seen a 50% increase in IPMs.

What are the hard lessons you’ve learned from being a founder?

Some lessons here:

Being a founder is incredibly difficult. It is easily the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life. It’s a grind. As you are trying to create something that’s never existed before, putting all your you know, social and political capital on it, living and dying, sometimes by a single meeting, or conference call, or customer or app release… How do you how do you sort of navigate that successfully without like losing your mind?

Number one job of a founder is to manage yourself, and particularly to manage your own psyche. I’ve done a lot of intensive work on myself, I’ve like gotten a coach, I like read a bunch of books. And it’s really all about like, how do you maintain a certain level of like, inner peace and like mental clarity in the middle of a storm.

Get help. Founders often fall into a fallacy, which is that their idea is special. They want to keep it to themselves, or they want to keep it in a small group of people. But your ideas are not special. Go out there, talk to people who’ve worked in the industry, get a co-founder or two ideally. Make sure that you have people with complimentary skills, who care deeply about you and about what you’re doing. That you’re not like on an “island.”

It’s about grit and perseverance. Keep going. Some days are awful, but just go to sleep early, and then come back tomorrow. Don’t quit. There’s often a light at the end of the tunnel.

Listen to the full episode by going here.

🎙 Lou Fasulo on M&A experiences

Lou Fasulo is the former CEO of Z2, which was acquired by King in 2015 and shut down in 2019. In many ways, the acquisition of Z2 represents the more common way acquisitions tend to play out. After a bloomy dating period comes the honeymoon, which is followed by the challenges of functioning effectively as a part of a larger corp. As the challenges mount, the result is often the dismantling of the acquired entity.

Here are the main takeaways that I took from the episode.

What was the road like which lead to the acquisition? Why did you go with King?

We were approached initially by a consultant that was asking, do you want to talk to King? Initially, I didn’t believe that we would be an interesting match with King. Candy Crush was being played by a huge number of Clash of Clans players based on their research, and that their reach was just amazing. It wasn’t a very narrow demographic that was playing the game. That was [King’s] pitch. Everybody is playing Candy Crush. That started the [M&A] conversation.

[Also] learning about how they thought about development. We spent a lot of time talking about product development. They were pretty transparent about a project that was getting canceled at King. Getting to see that [discussion] happen before even signing a term sheet and learning about how they work internally in a transparent and humble way was eye-opening.

Whenever you’re having a conversation with an acquirer, it’s all a sales pitch in some regard. And so, seeing that happen and learning about their perspective, and the actions they took internally, or how they worked through it, made me feel comfortable. That was the right place for our team to land.

How did the acquisition go down in practice?

First, they made a verbal offer to us. I remember on the call, basically being severely disappointed. Price negotiations are always a crazy thing because it’s complicated. They weren’t paying for the revenue of our current games. [They didn’t] care about that at all. They were excited about the team and the products that we created. And they felt like they could take them to the moon.

I felt convinced that when my team became shareholders in King, we could play a significant role in increasing King’s value for everybody.

Life post-acquisition: How did King influence Z2 both as a place to work and how you were making games?

We retained our brand initially. Soon after we became part of King, the discussions with Activision started. [Acquisition talks are] a considerable time and attention suck for the leadership team. [King’s] team was spending a lot of time in LA. I think that was a big distraction for them. And ultimately, it led to a lacking integration, which happened very piecemeal, without a clear strategy. It could have been done better by both sides ultimately.

We eventually became King Seattle. I think that was ultimately kind of the right outcome. I think the idea of a studio owning its product decisions and how they execute makes a lot of sense. And you don’t need to be in the city-state model to fundamentally agree to that principle.

What would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

I don’t know that I would do anything differently. [At the time, King] was very focused on building new things. There are a lot of teams trying new ideas. Yeah, a lot of those projects didn’t work out. But there was a real celebration of the learnings. [Post-Activision acquisition,] there was less interest in celebrating those learnings. There was a little less patience for that.

And now we get to do new things. A lot of folks from Z2 have started new studios. [My new company,] Starform. And you’ve mentioned Lightfox Games, which are great friends of mine. I think all of these things come out of those lessons.

You can listen to the full episode by going here.

📃 Articles worth reading

KPIs for a successful hyper-casual game — “To evaluate the demand, publishers run an ad and measure a range of metrics. There are certain values that developers and publishers desire to see. These tests are typically run on a US audience only and will vary for other countries. All metrics are interconnected and quite simple to understand.”

Don’t Kill Time — “Time is scarce, life is short, and as the grains of sand slip through the hourglass, so does the precious gift of time. Once gone, it disappears forever. We all know these things. And yet, at work and at home, we’re so lost in a trance of distraction that killing time has become a chronic disease.”

Time Shifts — “After 15 months away, I’ve started going into the office again. Not everyday, but most days. It’s both great but also is going to take some real getting used to in ways that perhaps I wasn’t expecting. This isn’t at all about COVID protocols, but rather time.”

💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about

“Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” — Tim Ferriss

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I hope you have a great weekend!