Last we heard from Game Closure, the young startup had just turned down offers from Zynga and Facebook on its way to a $12 million raise from Highland Capital, Greylock, Benchmark, General Catalyst, and more. Even in spite of $100 million-plus offers, Game Closure CEO Michael Carter tells us that the startup is not eager to sell — not now, and not in the future. Yet, stealing high-placed executives at the big gaming companies? Not a problem.
Today, Game Closure, which is building a game development environment and SDK that makes it easy for developers to create, host, and deploy HTML5, cross-platform, multiplayer games, is announcing that it has poached Laurent Desegur away from Zynga, making the engineer and executive VP of Mobile Engineering. Until recently, Desegur had been CTO of Zynga Mobile, on top of being a veteran of Netflix, Big Fish Games, Amazon, Apple, and EA — to name a few.
For those unfamiliar, Desegur brings over 20 years of technical leadership to the young gaming startup, where he will be the most senior executive on a rapidly growing team that’s added 26 employees in the last year.
At Zynga, Desegur was involved not only in leading engineering, but also in mobile tech strategy on the whole, including mergers and acquisitions. During his two years at Zynga, he helped lead the acquisitions of Newtoy, Wonderland, and Five Mobile. Prior to Zynga, the executive worked at Netflix, where he led the development of search solutions for Netflix.com and the company’s mobile apps. Before joining Netflix, he was the CTO of Big Fish Games.
As to what convinced Desegur to move to Game Closure from Zynga?
I vote with my feet. After first-hand experience with the Game Closure SDK and the people behind it, I knew that I had be involved in the growth and refinement of the team and technology. Game Closure is building technology that radically enhances the quality, development speed, and availability of games on mobile. I believe these tools are essential to build beautiful, frictionless social games which can compete in today’s market.
What’s more, beyond Game Closure’s high-price acquisition offers and its big raise from notable investors, it’s also been finding early interest among developers. Within 48 hours of announcing its private beta, Carter says, Game Closure received applications from more than 5,000 studios worldwide, and has seen the daily user data produced by partner games grow 1,000x in the past six months — across millions of downloads.
There’s also another potential reason for the timing of the move. As a result of Zynga’s IPO last year, employees have been restricted from selling their stock in the company. Until today. The end of the lockout hasn’t been good to Zynga’s stock, as shares were down eight percent in midday trading, and it may not be long before we see other Zynga employees capitalize on their ability to sell an estimated 325 million shares and perhaps jump ship to other up-and-coming gaming startups.
This also provides some interesting commentary on the lifecycle of Silicon Valley companies, especially gaming companies. Generally speaking, at the outset, they move quickly and try to find their product-market fit as they grow. In the face of opportunity, anyone who joins the startup is thrust into a role of significant responsibility — it comes with the territory. As a company ages and goes public, many of its initial builders, both product and engineering, may have already contributed what they do best to the company’s growth. Being vested, when the lockout expires, they head out for the next startup.
Companies can stem this flow by continuing the rapid growth post-IPO, although that’s often easier said than done. While it’s a natural part of Zynga’s lifecycle on the one hand, it’s going to be up to the company to learn how to operate even if it can’t depend on quarter-over-quarter hypergrowth to attract and retain talent. It also has its reliance on Facebook for mobile strategy to worry about. Luckily, there are plenty of examples in the gaming market to learn from (on the whole), both positive and negative.
As to Game Closure: With mobile and social gaming growing like gangbusters, millions of new gamers are coming to the platform for the first time, which represents a huge untapped market opportunity. Of course, with this growth comes the requisite degree of fragmentation, which Carter and Desegur believe is only increasing the demand for cross-platform functionality. Obviously, the key, however, is attracting game developers, evident in Zynga and EA rushing to offer direct-to-consumer services and increase the rate at which they pump out viable, original games.
At present, the startup is working with game studios to optimize their HTML5 and mobile gaming experiences, and the company just finished up a private and international releases last week. It’s also added analytics and multi-language translation into its game development, and now integrates directly with Google Play and the App Store. While it’s been focused on HTLM5 and mobile gaming experiences, it may not be long before the startup goes after a broader focus.
Game Closure is a graduate of StartX, Stanford University’s student startup accelerator. The company has its demo day upcoming — on Thursday — check out the accelerator at home to learn more.