As developers jump ship from jobs as game designers, producers, and developers at large game and film companies to start their own gaming startups, the competition for funding, partnerships and publishing deals are fierce. Accelerators, such as YetiZen’s Get-In-The-Game Competition are one way for developers to get their foot in the door.
Having five minutes to pitch their concept (followed by four minutes of Q&A), this year’s winning startup was determined by a team of four judges. Joining Sana Choudary, YetiZen’s CEO, at the judging table was Michael Chang, the current Senior Director of Corporate Development at Electronic Arts; Suleman Ali, the cofounder of TinyCo; and Harry Liu, the current head of three incredibly successful games at Kabam – The Godfather: Five Families, EdgeWorld, and Final Eden.
The five competitors were Press Start Studios, Stomp, Popover, RunWilder, and Strange Loop. Each of five finalist startups were judged on the innovation, the clarity of their business model, their businesses exit plans, and the potential for success (such as current revenues, installs, or industry acclaim).
Scalable gaming startups
An important aspect that all the judges were looking for is what Choudary describes as “scalable gaming startups rather than lifestyle gaming businesses.”
The reason for this is that, as Choudary illuminates, a “lifestyle gaming business would be a team that wants to keep making games perpetually. They just love making games, they want to keep making games forever and ever as a cash flow and revenue business, without any interest in ever exiting for a higher than revenue multiple through being bought out by another larger company or in some cases an IPO. Lifestyle gaming businesses are not the ones investors or YetiZen Accelerator works with as there is no opportunity a return on the investment.”
Though all of the competitors presented carefully planned and executed startups, RunWilder was the winner of the third Get-in-the-Game Competition.
Characters Born on Mobile
With the conceptual foundation of RunWilder’s company being “Characters Born on Mobile,” it was committed to establishing a franchise that would not only do well on casual gaming platforms, but could also easily expand to other forms of media. Additionally, due to RunWilder already having found success with a beer-drinking and burger-eating character named Ozgood, Choudary observed that RunWilder had established “a character-driven IP, a lovable gaming character that you interact with as he goes about his world. Ozgood easily lends himself to many fascinating and interesting story narratives and is different from anything else we’ve seen out there.”
“Ozgood easily lends himself to many fascinating and interesting story narratives and is different from anything else we’ve seen out there.”
Choudary notes that despite the judges not seeing all of RunWilder’s ideas as potentially viable, it was obvious that the “the team itself was very committed and sharp” and had definitely thought about “building a social mobile brand rather than just a stand-alone game.”
In addition to having solid business plans for their games, they had a clearly distinct visual style that could easily draw and keep an audience’s attention. As Choudary stated, “when you look at [RunWilder’s] artwork and design, they actually have [a] very high level of motion graphics integration that intertwines illusion and reality seamlessly, so when you give Ozgood beer and he starts going crazy, he looks very lifelike and hilarious at the same time.”
RunWilder’s victory in this year’s competition is a significant step forward, but it is important to highlight that in the competitive field of casual gaming, there is always more work to do. As Choudary made clear, “RunWilder was chosen as they have the most unique IP from all the finalists and applicants. The animations and story line are unparalleled to those of avatar-based startup IPs we have seen.”
Winning Is Just The Beginning
However, this opportunity does not mean they’ve won the lottery, they still have a little bit of a way to go. As Choudary explains, Runwilder has entered “YetiZen’s due diligence process and are being assessed for their business and strategy viability. If they pass our due diligence phase they will be admitted into the March 2013 round. Do wish them luck!”
For RunWilder, this “due diligence process” means that they will be more closely examined on multiple areas such as team, overall execution and progress post to gauge the company’s future prospects. If YetiZen’s previous success stories are any indication, it seems that they have a great future ahead of them if they pass YetiZen’s due diligence and are accepted in the March 2013 round.
About Yetizen’s Get-in-the-Game Competition
The Get-in-the-Game Competition is a life-changing opportunity for gaming entrepreneurs because it gives up-and-coming game creators the chance to present their ideas to notable game industry CEOs and investors to help fundraising and business development efforts.
The only games-focused accelerator in existence, YetiZen focuses on helping post-product and traction gaming startups strengthen their marketing, distribution, monetization and overall company strategy while connecting them with the largest network early stage investors, Venture Capitalists and strategic investors and acquirers committed to games.
Designed around a four-pillar system, this system has already produced a significant number of successful startups—examples include Bleacher League, a play by play sports betting app that has an exclusive partnership with Comcast Sports; Spyra Games, a mobile gaming studio that achieved top 10 in US strategy games; and Frenzoo, creator specializing in creating 3D lifestyle and fashion games for women whose last game Style Me girl had 1M downloads in 10 days after launch and reached #1 RPG in the US and over 20 countries on iOS, as well as #1 overall game on Kindle Fire.
This year, Casual Connect Seattle had the opportunity to host YetiZen’s third Get-in-the-Game Competition, and Casual Connect followed up about this year’s competition with YetiZen’s CEO, Sana Choudary.
According to Choudary, YetiZen has always enjoyed Casual Connect for the content as well as the opportunity to connect with the best developers in the industry. YetiZen had been looking for an opportunity to work with the Casual Gaming Association and observed that a competition at Casual Connect Seattle would be a great opportunity for YetiZen to streamline its efforts to look for the best gaming startups at Casual Connect. In addition to wanting to gain a better understanding of causal gamers, YetiZen also used this opportunity to have their Get-in-the-Game event at this year’s convention in Seattle.