“Everyone is mid-core crazy because we have burned out casual,” Tim Chang pointed out during a panel at Casual Connect USA. “Gaming is becoming more segmented.”
Long-Running Games Investors
Tim Chang is one of four Managing Directors at Mayfield Fund, one of Silicon Valley’s longest running VC firms. He leads investments in Consumer Internet and Mobile, Gaming and Gamification, Quantified Self and Health 2.0, Digital Media, eCommerce, and Adtech. His particular bent is the application of Social Science to business and technology, and hacking inner space.
When Tim has free time, he performs with two bands. BlackMahal is an original Punjab hip-hop funk band that has played the Vancouver Olympics, SxSW, and the Montreal Jazz Fest. Coverflow is a band made up of prominent tech execs and founders, including Kristin Segerstrale of Playfish. Tim also enjoys body-hacking, collecting graphic novels, and gamifying real life (Spouseville, Foodville, Moneyville, etc.); and, of course, listening to his favorite music, post-dubstep, electronica-infused, melodic metal.
One of the critical happenings in the games industry, according to Tim, was the collapse of virality on the Facebook platform. At Mayfield, they responded by shifting their focus from Growth Hacking toward Engagement Hacking.
Tim tells us some of the greatest moments in his career occurred when he got two of the big four gaming exits, ngmoco and Playdom. But even better was seeing Lumosity grow from a tiny series A investment to where it is now. He says, “This could turn out to be my most successful gaming-related investment yet.”
The greatest challenge for Tim has been watching the rapid “Hollywoodization” of Silicon Valley, where name-dropping, slapping together party seed-rounds, and comparing headline valuations matter more than quality of teams or business models. “Everybody thinks they’re entitled to be a founder and CEO before even working anywhere else, and the availability of easy seed funding bolsters this sentiment. As a result, we get thousands of seed-stage companies thinly staffed by mostly mediocre talent and ‘want-repreneurs,’ as opposed to hundreds of startups comprised of leveled-up, proven killers. Reminds me of what happens when a fish population is overfished: the remaining specimens decline in size and health on average.” Although he is still seeking the best way to respond to this challenge, he focuses on a few core themes that are leading edge, disruptive, and potentially new movements even though he admits, “Who knows if they’ll pan out to be fruitful areas? But it’s a lot more fun to try to hone a forward-looking thesis than it is to work on iterative or momentum-chasing ‘X for Y’ companies (Snapchat for Video, Pinterest for Pets, etc.)” The lesson he takes from this: “You can’t always control the outcome of what you work on, but you can at least choose and create the sandbox you will play in; you may as well do something different, new and unique. It’s very likely that you’ll fail, but you may have fun along the way and develop your own “super powers” in the process.”
Tim offers this advice on making a better product: “Never underestimate the value of social science, behavioral economics, user psychology and the potential to leverage ‘7 Deadly Sins’ as a design framework for user acquisition, engagement, retention and conversion to payment! Don’t just think about where the button on the app should go or how beautiful you make the chrome or UI animations – dive one level deeper and try to engineer for the emotional state that you want the user to feel as they go through your app. What are the specific elements of gratification they’re looking for along the way, and how might those change as the user evolves from 1st time newbie to power user?”
He identifies a number of themes which will emerge as important trends in the games industry over the next few years. These include:
~Device-as-a-service: consumer hardware 2.0, where mobile and cloud connectivity enable whole new software and service models for otherwise mundane and stand-alone devices. Interesting example startups: Basis, Ouya, Dropcam, Nest, Pebble.
~The Quantified Life: hybrid services combining self-tracking technologies and human coaching. While quantified-self devices and apps are all the rage right now, but the resulting data + insights alone can’t truly drive sustainable behavior change unless the system is adaptive, actionable, and — better yet – feeding back into human-based coaching, support and accountability. Examples: Basis, Retrofit, WellnessFX, Fitmob, Gympact, DietBet.
~The Future of Personal Development and Self-Help 2.0, or what Tim calls “Hacking Inner Space” — why the next wave of tech and business innovation will come from the realms of neuroscience, behavioral economics, game design theory, social science, psychology, as well as mindfulness, meditation, and spirituality. Examples: Lumos Labs, Happify, Focus@Will, bLife.
~The Maker Movement and the return of ‘Made in America’ — redefining the Future of Play, as enthusiasts and hobbyists can pursue “serious side projects” through crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and off the shelf commerce solutions. Examples: Maker Media, DoubleFine, Quirky, Etsy, PCH International.
~The Future of Work – expanded by mobile-first service marketplaces, the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. Examples: Zirtual, Lyft, Airbnb, UrbanSitter, DogVacay.
~The Rise of Vertical Social Networks in the post-Facebook age — driven by the “6Cs” of C)ontent, C)uration, C)ommunity (especially meeting *new* people with shared interests), C)ommerce, C)rowdsourcing, C)rowdfunding. These truly community-led businesses and marketplaces may even require a new sets of metrics to capture user personas and “net goodwill contribution,” and Tim has been thinking about what “KPIs for Love and Belonging” might look like. Examples: Poshmark, Goodreads, HealthTap.
Getting Great at Android
At Casual Connect USA, Tim announced that Ouya is looking for great Android titles and developers/studios who would like to get additional distribution into the living room. Also, Mayfield Fund’s portfolio companies across enterprise, consumer, mobile and health/quantified self are all seeking top notch developers, PMs and analytics people. They are interested in people with gaming backgrounds who would like to explore careers in other fields.