Publisher and developer Rumble Entertainment has announced the close of a Series B round of financing totalling $17.5 million. This round was led by free-to-play publisher Nexon, with additional participation from TriplePoint Capital, Google Ventures, and Khosla Ventures. This brings Rumble's total funding to over $35 million.
GamesIndustry International spoke with Rumble founder and CEO Greg Richardson about the company's new investor and how it plans to utilize that funding. We began by asking Richardson what potential he believes Nexon sees in Rumble.
"What they saw in us was a company that was philosophically aligned: at the end of the day, it comes down to building better games," he replied. "For them, that meant games that were more immersive, with 3D, synchronous multiplayer, and fast action. That's not something you see anyone in the West doing. I also think they saw our approach to monetization, built towards long-term retention, instead of quickly extracting as many dollars as possible from player's wallets."
"They realize what makes these things sustainable hits is people playing them for more than a year or two. If you look at their company and where they've been successful - games like Dungeon Fighter and Maple Story - those games have been around forever. Years and years at high player counts."
Rumble currently has three titles in development or open beta: KingsRoad, Ballistic, and Nightmare Guardians. KingsRoad is currently in open beta, while the other two are only accepting beta sign ups. Richardson said the funding allows Rumble to be "thoughtfully patient" with all three titles, instead of rushing them to market.
"Being the pioneers of pushing game quality and fun over the business side of free-to-play games, one of the realizations we had is you have to be patient," he explained. "You need a lot of iteration with your product to get it just right. We are constantly looking for great new content. We do have a publishing platform that supports high-scale synchronous multiplayer on the back-end and a bunch of services from registration, to guilds, and leaderboards, so developers can focus on building great games. We'll put some of the money into finding games as high-quality as Ballistic is."
The company will also be using the funding for market expansion, bringing KingsRoad to tablets in the "early part of 2014" and localizing the game for other regions.
"The thing about KingsRoad is we're in open beta, primarily on Facebook, and we've got around a million people playing the game every month," said Richardson. "Our average user spends an hour a day in the game. We get 90 percent of our installs organically, through word of mouth. With all of our games, we have aspirations to be global, cross-device, and cross-channel. Some of this money will allow us to make sure we're reaching every single gamer out there."
"When we were back in the console world, there were a couple of countries: Japan, North America, Europe, and that's it," he added. "Now we can reach those who could never afford a $300 box or $60 piece of software, but are as every bit as rabid about AAA as the folks in the West are. And frankly, they're in growth economies, where they've got disposable income to spend if they fall in love with a game. That includes Russia, the Middle East, China, and Korea; all of those markets are our potential target. It's a matter of making sure you're out there and have great partners to help you."
For Rumble Entertainment, the relationship with Nexon doesn't just bring funding, it also brings knowledge. Nexon is a global leader in the free-to-play market and Rumble can learn a lot from its new investor.
"The Nexon guys basically invented the notion of free-to-play microtransactions," said Richardson. "They've been at it for more than a decade. They have leverage and wisdom when it comes to the differences between packaged goods and games-as-a-service. They've been so open and so product-driven that they want to have those discussions with our product people. It wasn't a press release that attracted Nexon, it was playing KingsRoad. Our relationship with them is a lot less investor/entrepreneur and a lot more two companies that are focused on great products."
Richardson said that "you never know what the future's going to bring," when asked about the Nexon/Rumble partnership becoming more concrete, but played down the idea that Nexon would ever acquire Rumble.
"We very much like being an independent company and we set out with big ambitions. I think the nature of the relationship will probably continue in the vein that it started"
"They obviously know some of the Asian markets far better than we do. We think we're more focused on innovating around tablets and phones and they've been traditionally strong in the client world. So I think there's some synergy there," he added. "We very much like being an independent company and we set out with big ambitions. I think the nature of the relationship will probably continue in the vein that it started."
Rumble is also a publisher, with one of its titles, Ballistic, coming from Brazilian developer Aquiris Game Studios. The road to self-publishing is far easier for independent developers in the mobile market, but Richardson said that Rumble still has more to offer, including development capital.
"The kinds of games that we believe are going to be the pillars of this business over the next three years, they require a lot of money," he said. "Second, the vast majority of people that create AAA games are brand-new to the free-to-play world. They haven't thought of games-as-a-service. They haven't thought about high-scale concurrent users, synchronous multiplayer, and all of the different pieces that come into play in order to operate these things 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We've built that platform."
"Doesn't matter if it's Unity, Flash, or Unreal; we're agnostic on the client, but we'll output to all the different channels and devices. We'll provide you with all the scaling back-end, payments, customer support, and even things like marketing and user acquisition. Game developers can focus on creating the best possible moment-to-moment experience for their players. We can help them everywhere else."
The Rumble team is comprised of veterans from console and PC developers like Activision, Bioware, Blizzard, and Electronic Arts. Richardson said that it's been a hard shift developing robust games for social and mobile platforms with high iteration. He likened the packaged good method to "building motion pictures," with a large number of people toiling for years and then releasing a final product. Instead, Rumble wants to make games that improve and become a day-to-day part of a player's life. Richardson said he wants Rumble's games to be like softball for players: with games, discussion over beers, trophies, and a sense of family.
"That changes the way you have to think about your game design and it changes the way you have to think about monetizing," he explained. "For the big packaged goods guys that have made and will continue to make billions of dollars off of $60 retail items... they're in for a very rude awakening as they make that transition. It's a very difficult one to make even if you're a smaller company focused on it exclusively."
"When you think about the next consoles and who's going to be successful in the console war, I think the winner is clearly tablets"
Rumble's mobile push comes at a time when tablets are becoming increasingly powerful and the same internals are being used to power cheap microconsoles which could end up in living rooms everywhere. Richardson is excited about the possibilities created by the growing mobile device market.
"The increasing power and flexibility of all these mobile devices is incredible," he said. "When you think about the next consoles and who's going to be successful in the console war, I think the winner is clearly tablets. The graphic fidelity, the ability to play with anybody on Android or iOS, the ability to carry these things with you wherever you are, and the fundamental use case which allows users to spend a half-hour to an hour playing at a time... all that is really a great match for the kinds of products we're building."
"It's not just the underlying power of the chipsets that's driving this. The increasing flexibility, where we're seeing these things output to television screens with connected game controllers? That's really cool stuff. The games we're making leverage those experiences to the fullest."