QuizUp founder Thor Fridriksson is at it again. The Icelandic serial entrepreneur is two-for-two in creating viral mobile games, but has thus far struck out in turning those into viable businesses.
Today, he’s (kind of) coming out of stealth to announce his third attempt: Rocky Road.
Rocky Road, named for Fridriksson’s entrepreneurial journey, is a casual open world mobile game. Yes, a casual MMO for mobile.
Fridriksson isn’t getting into the weeds on the details of the game — launch is still about a year away — but one thing we do know is that it’s based on real-world map data.
The general premise is that players enter the game and travel around in the real world, rather than the fantasy worlds most MMOs are based on, and play mini games on their own, with others, or with friends within that world.
The key is balance: Rocky Road aims to ensure that the games-within-the-game are casual enough for mobile but that the progression within the overall world is compelling enough to have staying power.
It’s an ambitious project, but not the first of its kind. It’s an interesting blend of already popular mobile games like Pokémon GO and Genshin Impact, with a goal to eventually hit 1 billion players.
Fridriksson has been on quite the entrepreneurial journey over the last 10+ years. He founded QuizUp, which was a viral sensation that nearly franchised itself into an NBC show before the whole thing fell through. The game itself was a hit, and at one point was the fastest growing iPhone game in history.
But monetization was an issue. Fridriksson didn’t believe in pumping the product full of ugly interstitial ads, and was rather more intrigued by native ads where brands could launch their own quizzes on QuizUp. It worked a bit — the team did partnerships with Coca-Cola and Google Maps. But it wasn’t at all scalable.
When the NBC deal fell through, the only option was an acquisition offer from Glu Mobile for $7.5 million. It was a disappointing fate for a game with tens of millions of users that had raised around $40 million from investors.
TeaTime went through a similar, albeit shorter, journey. The platform itself was meant to let people play mobile games together. And by together, I mean with a video chat component built right in. It came with Snap-style overlays so that players could “dress up” as different characters, interacting and showing emotion, without having to show their actual faces to strangers.
Fridriksson and co. launched Trivia Royale on the TeaTime platform in June of 2020, and within a few weeks it saw 2.5 million downloads. The guy knows how to make a popular game!
However, after stalled acquisition talks with a “big tech” company, TeaTime ran out of runway when the deal never went through. Bringing us to today.
It would be no surprise if Rocky Road became another viral hit. Fridriksson has become a master at understanding the landscape of mobile gaming and iterating on or combining its finest elements into a product that is delightful enough to mention to a friend. He’s also stayed close enough to the ground to understand the marketing landscape in mobile games and use it to his advantage — Trivia Royale, for example, made a big bet on TikTok and it paid off.
However, it remains to be seen if Fridriksson can find a way to monetize this next venture.
His strategy right now is to focus on cosmetics and aesthetic upgrades, which makes sense, considering how important those types of virtual goods are in MMOs.
He added that the landscape has changed in mobile gaming.
“When we were doing this with QuizUp, putting [in-app purchases] and subscriptions in games was a very hard affair, whereas the norm now with younger generations coming up is that it’s easier to monetize through in app purchases, subscriptions and so forth,” he said.
Rocky Road raised $2.5 million in seed led by Crowberry Capital and Sisu Game Ventures, with participation from Bragiel Brothers.