Mojiworks, the U.K. startup building games for messaging apps, has raised £2.1 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Balderton Capital, with participation from previous backers Lifeline Ventures and Sunstone Capital, and will be used by the company to increase headcount as it double-downs on developing multiple titles for Facebook Messenger.
Founded late last year by Matthew Wiggins and Alan Harding, who previously founded Wonderland Software (sold to Zynga in 2011), Mojiworks is on a mission to develop (and become known) for what Wiggins called “platform-defining” games. Specifically, the company is busy trying to figure out how to create and take advantage of the kind of unique experiences and gameplay possible when a game resides in a messaging app and is played in collaboration with your contacts.
The first titles, MojiQuest and Moji Bowling, which Wiggins dubs as “experiments,” were built for iOS and iMessenger and have garnered 1.5m downloads. The startup has since taken what it learned from those first two efforts and created a more ambitious game for Facebook Messenger, the platform it wants to focus on going forward. The debut title is a collaborative adventure game called QuestFriends that is set to launch later this year. It will see players undertake quests “in an original fantasy world, working together to tackle challenges and sharing in the rewards of their adventure”.
Wiggins reckons the market for Facebook Messenger games is huge, noting that Facebook Messenger has 1.36 billion monthly users, but says that most games are simply existing experiences or titles being ported over. That leads to little or no differentiation to what gamers can find elsewhere and, he says, misses the point and huge opportunity of a new platform.
Instead, Mojiworks wants to figure out what unique gaming experiences — and ones that lead to high retention — can be created on Facebook Messenger and messaging apps in general that you won’t find elsewhere. Wiggins also makes the argument that an entire new gaming platform with significant scale doesn’t come around often and that the companies that can establish a lead early have the potential to lock out late-comer competition.
This, he argues, is the current state of the mobile app stores where it is incredibly hard to launch brand new and independent IP within such a saturated market and one dominated by a handful of large games developers. In contrast, virtual reality platforms are, for the time being at least, far too niche to create a meaningful business, even if they are wide open to newcomers.
At this window in time, Facebook Messenger doesn’t suffer from either problem, something Mojiworks is poised to take advantage of — a point that Balderton’s Rob Moffat makes in a blog post on the VC firm’s investment, its first in gaming in eight years.
“The history of games is that every new platform, if it can reach mass market distribution, allows startups to grow to massive scale,” he writes. “A new platform offers opportunity to grow very fast at low cost, through organic and viral growth and by using new marketing channels. In these moments of change as a new platform emerges, startups are quicker to see the opportunity and by focussing on it 100%, can build great games that are optimized for the features and constraints of the new platform”.
To that end, Mojiworks says the new funding will enable the team to launch multiple new game projects and expand the startup’s Guildford, U.K. headquarters from 10 to 25 staff in the next twelve months.
Wiggins tells me this will enable 4-5 separate game title teams to be created, with each owning the product they are working on. Messaging-based games have relatively low development overheads compared to other gaming platforms and he believes smaller teams are more creative and in general perform better, citing Supercell’s headcount and organisational discipline as inspiration.