When a mobile game pivots: Y Combinator-backed MinoMonsters, a Pokémon-inspired game from two of the incubator’s youngest founders made a bold move earlier this summer when they released version 2.0 of the iOS game. This wasn’t a minor feature release – they significantly changed the gameplay. Instead of exploring worlds and performing quests with battles in between, the game’s focus shifted to become entirely about the battles. That strategy, it seems, is working. MinoMonsters has now passed 1.5 million players, and nearly every other metric has improved as well. The team has even taken in an extra bit of funding.
According to co-founder Josh Buckley, the company isn’t disclosing the size of the additional round because it wasn’t extremely notable. But he did say that it’s partly an insider round and partly some strategic money. The funding is being classed as an extension of MinoMonsters’ prior round, and the company will wait to make a larger announcement at the time of its Series A. The team had previously raised $1 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz, SV Angel, Y Combinator, Yuri Milner, General Catalyst, Ignition Partners, Raymond Tonsing, and Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
It was a risky move to do what MinoMonsters did. The game already had a fairly devoted user base and fan base on Facebook, many of whom enjoyed the current gameplay which involving hopping from pad to pad around a world, completing tasks, battling, and collecting monsters along the way. Changing the gameplay to have MinoMonsters become something else entirely – just battles – could have been a disaster. ”Many developers worry about ‘making players mad’ with big changes,” says Buckley. “We saw the exact opposite. Players retain twice as well 2-4 weeks out than version 1.0. Our app store rating went from 4.5 stars to 5 stars,” he adds. “And players are coming back more than ever.”
In addition to the increased number of players, now 1.5 million up from 600,000 raw downloads in June, Buckley says they’re now seeing increased play times and actives as well. In version 1, players were returning one or two times per day. Now they play 5 times per day on average, he says. And while they’re not disclosing exact figures on actives, he will say that they’ve finally cracked six-figure daily actives and maintain high six-figure monthly actives.
The team is now working on a big release that will include “legendary monsters,” says Buckley, which he expects will have a major effect on the brand and the engagement. The company has always put a major emphasis on the characters in the game, making sure they had unique qualities and personalities – more so than Pokémon characters ever did. That may at least partially explain why players have stuck with MinoMonsters through such a big shift. Players identified with the little creatures they collected, and had invested time (and sometimes money) into the game, building and improving upon their collection. No word on exactly how much money players are spending (Buckley says that the game is now profitable on a 7-figure run rate), but so far MinoMonsters has been doing a good job of making in-app purchases tempting, without requiring them to continue gameplay, which some more greedy developers have done recently.
Going forward, the team is not only working on more game features, but is also working towards extending the brand into licensing. Leading up to that effort will be a big, cinematic trailer built by the in-house animation team. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can grab the game here on iTunes.