If you’re trying to build a mobile game for the hardcore crowd, you’re going to want things like at least moderately elaborate graphics… you’ll probably choose to build on iOS first. But if you’re trying to build a casual-style game that anyone can play easily, that reaches as many people as possible, Android is looking better and better.
That’s at least the thesis behind Bionic Panda, the Android-focused gaming company from veteran entrepreneur Charles Hudson. The company is today announcing some growth numbers and a founding round — in other words, its strategy seems to be working out so far.
Its first game, Aqua Pets, will be familiar to anyone who has played the many popular aquarium care titles on Facebook over the years. You feed fish, buy pretty new ones, clean your aquarium, etc. Since launching early last year, the title has managed to get 3 million downloads on Android, and is one of the platform’s top 100 grossing apps. The company, meanwhile, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Norwest Venture Partners, Google Ventures, 500 Startups, and angels Craig Sherman and Kal Vepuri, as well as from SoftTech VC, where Hudson is a Venture Partner.
“We’re not doing the Kabam/Kixeye thing,” Hudson explains, contrasting Bionic Panda’s approach to building social games with the action and violence-themed RPGs and simulations those developers build for hardcore gamers on Facebook. Instead, he says, “we’re focused on casual. The nice thing is that these games tend to have big mass market hits — which gives you the ability to benefit from volume and scale on the Android platform.”
What he means is that the Android operating system now has the most market share of any OS in the US, with the same trend happening around the world. Even if it offers fewer development possibilities, it offers potentially bigger market opportunities.
A big existing issue, of course, is payments. Similar to other free-to-play social games, Aqua Pets relies on users getting hooked (har) on the free play, then deciding on their own to buy fish and accessories. Hudson tells me the company is a believer in Google’s payment product, Wallet (which now includes Checkout), even with the relatively lower monetization rates per user versus similar iOS games, because Google is working hard to improve it, and because he’s seeing it catch up.
The current problem is that Wallet has far fewer credit cards on file than iOS. As of last year, Apple said it had some 200 million credit card-connected iTunes accounts, which it has been accumulating over the past decade, largely through digital music sales. While any of these users can make one-click purchases, Android users who want to pay via Wallet most likely don’t have an account yet, so they’ll have to deal with the friction of setting one up.
Hudson, who is also a social gaming industry expert — he’s the co-author of the Inside Virtual Goods reports — notes that many developers report two to four times higher revenues per user on iOS versus Android. But this problem, as he said, is allayed by the company’s casual focus, by Android’s increasingly large market size, and by the gains in its payments systems.
But it’s not only focused on the Google world. Hudson is openly interested in Amazon’s Kindle implementation of Android, and given his company’s overall goal of reaching as many users as possible, he’s not opposed to moving on to iOS at some point. Next up are two more games from the company (presumably for Android first): Poker Farm Pets and Angry Zombies.
Charles Hudson is a Partner with SoftTech VC, one of the most active seed stage investors in Web 2.0 startups. He is focusing on mobile and gaming investments, and supporting SoftTech portfolio companies on business/corporate development matters. He was also the Co-Founder and CEO of Bionic Panda Games, a mobile games startup based in San Francisco, CA. Prior to joining SoftTech VC and co-founding Bionic Panda Games, Charles Hudson was the VP of Business Development for Serious Business until the...