Netherlands-based startup Gramble World, which operates a mobile social gaming and entertainment network which lets gamers nominate charities to receive a cut of their in-game payments and ad views, has closed another $2 million in seed funding, the third and final tranche, closing out its seed at $5 million.
It said it plans to invest the funds in continuing to build out its technology, and for sales, marketing and user/developer retention.
Gramble’s “foundation investor” is private charity donor and charity-focused European Postcode Lotteries operator Novamedia — which it describes as a “key strategic partner”. Also backing the startup is Singapore-based Angaros Group, plus six high-net-worth business angels whose names aren’t being disclosed at this time.
Gramble, which was founded in May 2012, is aiming to be a sort of ‘social good’ glue by keeping gamers hooked on playing the games in its app network because of the warm feeling they get knowing they’re helping their favourite charities, not just killing time. That gives game developers an incentive to get involved being as players using Gramble World games have an incentive to keep playing — rather than wander off in search of the next gaming fad. Or that’s the theory.
The startup launched its network in closed beta back in December, followed in April by an open beta and a second version of its HTML5 web app. A hybrid native-web Android app arrived in July (it says an iOS app is due next month).
Since launch Gramble has accrued more than 22 million unique users — and says it’s currently seeing more than four million monthly active users across its network. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s getting four million monthly active gamers. The figure refers to people accessing the Gramble network, which also includes social features like messaging — hence it describing itself as a “mobile social entertainment network”.
Gramble says its main competitors are the likes of “GREE, PlayPhone, HeyZap, (the late OpenFeint) Openkit, Scoreloop and Papaya”. It also — to my eye — looks like there’s some overlap with mobile messaging/social/entertainment platforms like Line and KakaoTalk — which also often combine messaging and gaming. Albeit, Gramble obviously puts more emphasis on charity-giving to differentiate its offering.
CEO and co-founder Adam Palmer says Gramble’s focus is “much more on building communities” in and around gaming, rather than on one-to-one and group messaging.
“The focus is not just on charity giving, sure for our charities yes but when in games it’s more around player actions that trigger a discussion for example: You just hit number 1 on the leaderboard can trigger a discussion for players in the game and network to see, we also show a screen grab of the win if necessary that also starts a discussion with gamers,” he tells TechCrunch.
“Other differences are players can start a post/discussion in the game if they are stuck on a level of they just want to shout out and say hi. If they decide to follow each other then they can of course have a 1 on 1 chat, bringing a mild similarity to the likes of Line, KakoTalk, WeChat etc.”
“In the future, sure there could be some similarities as we grow and add more functionality but for now, it is all about making it open and connecting an entire gaming community in game/app together. We’ve had lots of input from our developer community and built something that they want and need,” he adds.
Another aspect of the Gramble World Palmer points to as a differentiating feature is that any in-game activity (such as discussions) is flagged up on an activity feed attached to each game — which he says gives gamers a way to figure out if they might want to play a particular game before starting, and thereby helps to foster a sense of community around gaming.
Gramble’s catalogue currently has more than 2,000 games signed up to integrate its SDK — it offers “simple SDKs” for Android and Adobe AIR, with Unity and iOS SDKs in the pipeline, which include tools for making games “more engagingly social”. The 2,000 figure breaks down to around 650/700 “active apps” on its network and a further 1,200 games signed up to use “parts or all of our software”, says Palmer. “We’re also seeing between 10,000 and 15,000 downloads per week coming from the current network as well,” he adds.
Its list of charity partners is far less extensive — with 13 “carefully selected” partners, including the likes of Send a Cow, Chernobyl Children International and Soles 4 Souls. Each of the charities in the network has a number of causes listed, so players can see exactly what their donations are going to fund, according to Palmer.
For now, he says it’s focused on acquiring and retaining developers and users, rather than monetisation — but Gramble is also generating revenue. And has generated “in the region of €20,000″ in charitable donations, even though Palmer stresses its charity-focused feature is “only in its very early stages”.
“We’re currently testing many features and tools to increase our charitable donation and have forecasted this to expand rapidly with the release of our new tech later this year,” he adds. “We will be working closely on as many trigger based actions that can create revenue for charity. But first we must ship quality technology to all our developers before we can focus on hitting our goal of improving lives.”
Gramble currently employs around 30 staff. It’s planning to open its first office outside the Netherlands in San Francisco in September.