Socialspiel, the Austrian social games startup founded by ex-Rockstar Games employees, has announced a small additional funding round, and with it a change of guard at the top of the company. The new funding — €200,000 — is led by German angel fund FLOOR13, with participation from games industry “veterans” Clemens Beer and Mike Borras. It brings the total raised by the 2010-founded company to a little under €500,000.
Of more significance, however, is that Borras has been recruited as CEO, taking over from co-founder Helmut Hutterer who transitions to the role of COO. Prior to his new role heading up Socialspiel, Borras was co-founder of local search startup Tupalo and, unsurprisingly, before that he was at Rockstar Games. The Rockstar Games legacy doesn’t end there, either. New investor Beer was previously a lead developer at Rockstar, and is also currently CEO of Tupalo.
Both Borras and Beer will join the board of Socialspiel, while the new funding will be used to grow the company’s development teams — headcount is expected to reach 15-20 employees by Spring of 2014, up from the current 11 — and to support Socialspiel’s hybrid business model of developing its own IP/games, and working with third-party IP/brands to help them jump on the social/mobile gaming bandwagon. I also understand that the startup became cash flow positive in 2012, and is on track to make a profit in 2013.
Socialspiel’s two-pronged approach of social games co-development, in addition to self-publishing, makes a lot of sense for a relatively small player and in light of the fickle nature of casual gaming and the plight of the Zingas of this world. By working with established brands/IP, who traditionally fund the upfront cost of development, the risks are somewhat mitigated in what can be a very hits-driven market. Brand/marketing-led titles are also arguably a better fit for the free-to-play social, mobile/tablet gaming market.
It’s thus partnered with major IP owners/rights-holders such as Deutsche Telekom, Les Editions Albert René, Sproing, and SEE Games, etc., in addition to major brands and advertising agencies including Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and Chupa Chups. “This is a more long-term partnership better suited to these style of games, compared to the short-term nature of the traditional ‘work for hire’ model in the PC/Console games industry,” new Socialspiel CEO Borras tells TechCrunch.
Under this arrangement, Socialspiel fulfils the role of a full-stack production studio. “From pre-production to production to live game, we design, develop, maintain the games, and we also live analyze and tune economy/player metrics,” says Borras. Meanwhile the companies/brands it partners with manage the IP, licensing, merchandising, publishing, distribution, marketing, and player acquisition.
In addition, Socialspiel also self-publishes its own titles. “We develop our own technology and IP in the form of free to play social web, mobile, or tablet games,” adds Borras. “We primarily self-publish these titles, though we have taken our own IP and brought those into our co-development partnerships in the past. Tight Lines Fishing is a perfect example of this, which we’re planning on re-launching with a major co-development partner later in 2014.”
Socialspiel’s competitors include Spooky Cool Labs, the 40-person team recently acquired by Zynga that has developed games around the Wizard of Oz IP.
“For a small startup like ours partnering with major brands who have rich IP catalogs allows us to focus on what we truly do best, which is design and develop award-winning free to play social games, while having a strong partner with massive marketing reach and brand-recognition,” says Borras. “Together we can launch and scale instantly recognizable games in North America and Europe which are both engaging and profitable.”
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