Now that the number of tablet and smartphone gamers outnumber console players, there’s a race to see who will establish the big franchises and gaming companies of the mobile generation.
In the early years of the iOS platform, makers of basic simulation games experimented with making their apps free, giving rise to several nine-figure-a-year businesses. But other genres like first-person shooters have stayed with the paid app strategy. Brands like Gameloft’s Modern Combat and Activision’s Call of Duty have remained in the $5 to 10 range, although the freemium model has taken off for many other kinds of games.
A Beijing-based company called Cmune is betting that first-person shooters can be a nine-figure-a-year business too, and they’re taking another slug of funding from DCM’s Android fund to prove it. They’re not disclosing the amount, however.
“Every other platform has multi-billion-dollar, first-person shooter franchises, and there hasn’t been one yet on tablets,” said Benjamin Joffe, a founding partner at the company.
Cmune is the maker of UberStrike, a game that’s passed 10 million registered users on multiple platforms, including Facebook and the Mac App Store. They have a paid version of the app now, but they’ll soon make it free once they iron out kinks in the game play. Joffe says that while Facebook is known for your stereotypical city-builder or farm game, UberStrike is the largest first-person shooter game on the social network.
The company will face a number of formidable competitors, including Battlefield-maker Electronic Arts and of course, Gameloft and Activision. Ben Cousins, an EA, Dice and Ngmoco veteran, has been showing off a free-to-play first-person shooter called The Drowning in recent weeks as well. Zynga has also recently been dabbling in first-person shooters after they published a multiplayer mobile game last December called The Respawnables.
Joffe said UberStrike’s tablet app will stand out because of multi-player mode. They’ve taken care to match players against players on similar platforms, so that desktop-based gamers don’t have an unfair advantage over mobile ones.
The Beijing-based startup was founded back in 2007 by Shaun Lelacheur Sales and Ludovic Bodin, who had no prior history in gaming.
They stumbled into gaming after some early experiments with communication apps. They were thinking about building some kind of 3D version of Skype, after Sales had published a reference book on the 3D engine Virtools.
“It was almost an accident that one of their prototypes was a shooter game,” Joffe said. “But if you think about it, a shooter is basically a virtual world with guns.”
It found an audience as a browser-based game and then on Facebook. Joffe says the game’s monetization mirrors what you’d see with a midcore game, which earns more per user than what a casual game maker like Zynga might see.
He said the company decided to take funding from DCM because their Android fund has a number of strategically important investors like Tencent, NHN and GREE, which would help with the game’s marketing in China, South Korea and Japan.