Mobile Game Maker TinyCo Raises $20M From Pinnacle Ventures, Andreessen

TinyCo, an early iOS and Android game developer out of Silicon Valley, picked up an additional $20 million in financing from Pinnacle Ventures with existing investor Andreessen Horowitz participating.

Part of this investment was a debt — not an equity — investment. The company’s not clarifying exactly how this deal was structured.

TinyCo had an early lead about two years ago when casual sim titles dominated the top of the charts. They had hits like Tiny Monsters, which held onto a top-grossing spot in the top 100 U.S. iPhone games for more than six months last year, and Tiny Castle. They also had a CEO, Suleman Ali, who had built up years of experience in developing social games for the Facebook platform. They parlayed early initial success with titles like Tap Resort Party into an $18 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from some of the Valley’s big angels like Ron Conway and Keith Rabois.

But the gaming landscape has changed substantially in the last two years, with European game makers like King and Supercell taking a decisive lead over their Silicon Valley counterparts. Supercell was valued at more than $3 billion in a deal that sold an $1.53 billion equity stake to Softbank and GungHo recently while King is rumored to top-line revenues of more than $1 billion a year. Longtime Facebook developers like Kabam also successfully crossed over onto iOS and Android with their repertoire of midcore titles.

All of that has left earlier movers like TinyCo in a more difficult position, with their top titles being the #351-ranked Tiny Monsters and #432-ranked VIP Poker on the iOS grossing charts in the U.S., according to App Annie. They recently laid off 27 employees.

Now it looks like they’ll be moving in an entirely new direction with this funding round — with a strategy that emphasizes deeper game play and higher budget titles.

Mike O’Brien, a gaming industry veteran who had a hand in building Blizzard’s most successful franchises like “Warcraft,” “Starcraft,” and “Diablo,” co-founded ArenaNet and was executive producer of the “Guild Wars” franchise, is joining TinyCo’s board.

So it seems like they could be moving in more a mid- or hardcore direction, in line with what many other game developers MachineZone have done.

They also picked up new executive talent including Chelsea Howe, a former game designer from Zynga, Will Luton, who authored “Free-to-Play: Making Money From Games You Give Away” and was a former creative director at Mobile Pie and Brett Levin, a former senior game designer at LucasArts.