Games People Play
Video games entrepreneurs are some of the smartest people on the planet. And that’s official; when we invested from one of our pre-Draper funds in Demis Hassabis’s (the founder of Deepmind) first games company, Elixir, back in the early 2000’s he had won the Global Mindsport Olympiad’s Pentamind competition multiple times in a row.
And when almost 2 years ago, Roland Manger of our partner VC firm Earlybird introduced me to Sidar Sahin and the team at Peak Games in Istanbul, we also recognised another group of true geniuses. (As an aside I highly recommend the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam should you ever visit).
Earlybird of course had recognised this almost 10 years ago and had led the series A and B rounds in Peak, and stayed with the company as it developed multiple games including the leading global top ten mobile games, Toyblast and Toonblast. There are hundreds of games launched every week and breaking into the charts is incredibly difficult; the fact that Peak has done this several times and continuously maintained places high up in the global charts for 2+ years is truly astounding and world class.
Seeing what Peak had achieved on a global scale with a small team and also their future potential, we decided to take a stake through our strategic secondary fund partnership with Earlybird in late 2018.
Today, the announcement of the proposed $1.8 billion tie-up between Peak Games and Zynga is the obvious next step for Sidar and the Peak team. Well done to all the team and to Earlybird for what is a truly amazing outcome in a tough, post Covid-19 world and further testament to what European and Turkish entrepreneurs can achieve. Draper Esprit is excited to remain as shareholders as Zynga is the perfect partner for them and the video games market continues to grow.
Of course, I have a special love of video games as I started my career in the games industry, working at Elite in the late 1980’s on titles such as Buggyboy, and then developing my own games at Manchester University. I never had a huge hit and was never on the level of the true leaders of this industry (and was turned down by Bullfrog — Peter Molyneux’s company where Demis started out); I ended up as a VC instead — a different kind of hits business.
(I have to say though the graphics from my game Cartoon Capers in 1990 below have a little passing resemblance to Toonblast 30 years later lol.)
Cartoon Capers screenshot from 1990 above and Toonblast 2020 below.
At Draper Esprit, we will continue to invest in the video games industry as it continues to grow and evolve. Europe has always been a leading global player in video games and we have many clusters of excellence from Istanbul to Helsinki to Cambridge and Guildford. Our ability to create playable tight code and amazing game play I like to think goes back to the small computers such as the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 we learned to code on in the 1980’s and had to try to get the most out of, putting us well placed for the rise of mobile games.
As ever, it’s a hits driven business, like venture capital, and we have had a number of hits and misses and ones that got away; we bid several times on Midasplayer (which became King.com and Candy Crush) but we’re preempted by the super smart people at Apax and Index. We also came close to helping Giant Games launch Lego Star Wars, before they merged and became TT Games, we loved Playfish and Kristian Segerstrale and the team there having known them at the profitable Macrospace, and we missed Supercell, one of Europe’s greatest successes. The list of near hits goes on, as an indicator of how much potential this market has.
We believe there will be many new successes yet and the European video games industry will continue to attract the smartest entrepreneurs in the world, and we look forward to meeting them and backing them with the right amount of capital for the long term, in any kind of transaction as necessary.
Founding partner, Draper Esprit