Well-Funded Gaming Startup Booyah Confirms Layoffs And New CEO Brian Morrisroe As It Shifts Focus To Tablets

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It looks like some changes are afoot at Booyah, the location-based gaming company best known as the maker of the MyTown franchise. MyTown and MyTown 2 attempted to evolve the location-based check-in model in gaming, allowing users not only check into locations within a city-building sim, but also scan and check into products in the real world.

With the early success of MyTown and, to a lesser degree, its location-based riff on Second Life, InCrowd, Booyah has been able to raise nearly $30 million to date in three rounds, with the most recent being its $20 million Series C from Accel, Kleiner Perkins’ iFund and DAG Ventures — in the summer of 2010.

Since then, however, Booyah hasn’t been able to sustain the early success of MyTown, leading to some big changes this week. First, Booyah is getting a new CEO. Chief Creative Officer and co-founder Brian Morrisroe will be taking the reins this week, replacing Jason Willig, the former EA and Hasbro exec who had been acting as CEO since co-founder Keith Lee stepped down in 2011.

Morrisroe tells us that Willig will be stepping back into an advisory role and will no longer be involved in day-to-day operations, though he will continue to advise the company on game development and strategy.

The management shuffle comes as a result of a broader, more fundamental directional shift for Booyah. The startup likely raised too much money too early and had a difficult time deciding on which platforms to attack, without diluting efficacy or over-extending. Now, having seen the emergence of tablet gaming, the new CEO says, which is defined by longer sessions, takes place at home, and now that connected play is appealing to more traditional core and mid-core gamers, Booyah is “shifting focus to this huge opportunity,” he says.

“We’re going to continue releasing our products on many mobile devices, but focusing efforts on tablets first gives us the best opportunity to deliver exceptional, original experiences to our users,” he continued.

Morrisroe is stepping into the CEO’s chair to lead the company in its new direction, and, although Willig will now only be advising the company, the rest of the leadership will remain intact, including co-founder and CTO Sam Christiansen.

In addition to its change in leadership and direction, Booyah has also made some significant reductions to its staff. We’ve been hearing from sources this week that Booyah had made as much as an 80 percent reduction in its staff as a result of these changes. After some digging, this estimate may be a bit high, but it’s fairly close. While the co-founders would not give specifics, Morrisroe did say that (as of today) the company does have about 20 employees. And as of January of last year, Booyah had about 50 employees, so it’s at least a 60 percent reduction of its staff.

“These moves are always difficult, but it’s about positioning the company for future success,” Morrisroe said via email, “and we believe moving aggressively toward the emerging tablet market provides the biggest opportunity.”

While layoffs, management changes and pivots don’t a success story make, the co-founders did say that they have some new, original games in development that will be tailored to the tablet gameplay experience and continue to push its evolution forward.

As of today, Booyah has a total install base of around 25 million users across its portfolio, which includes the MyTown, Early Bird and No Zombies Allowed franchises. The company also saw strong revenue growth last year, Morrisroe says — about 5x from 2011 to 2012, although he wouldn’t say more.

More on the company’s changes here.

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