London start-up fanciers will doubtless be aware of the fable of Melvyn Morris, and not least because it is a heart-warming tale of a humble, hard working techie founder making a fortune, then another, and another, each one exponentially larger than the last.
A young Morris founded a dating site called uDate.com, where worked alongside Riccardo Zacconi and Toby Rowland. After selling the site for $150m dollars in 2003, the three joined forces with a team from Sweden, Sebastian Knuttsson, Thomas Hartwig, Lars Markgren and Patrik Stymne to found King, a games company, originally headquartered in Sweden.
Morris joined as an Angel investor at first, memorably declaring that he fancied a punt at the games industry.
Good decision. After nearly going bankrupt, King raised $43m in 2005 from VC firm Index Ventures amongst others, and has never looked back. It has been profitable in every year since, and boy – what profits!
By Q1 2012, King had 30 million users, and thanks to Candy Crush, its flagship game, and now a household name, the addictive mobile game where you match rows of sweeties was responsible for 50% of the company’s $2.6 billion annual sales.
Incredibly, these revenues came from just 3% of the players of Candy Crush, with everybody else electing to play without paying for the extra bonuses and accesses.
In 2014, the company IPO’d at $22.50 per share on the New York Stock Exchange, at a value of just over $7bn. When Mel Morris resigned from the firm, as its largest shareholder, later that year due to “personal reasons” with the share price flagging, he left with a fortune estimated at more than £530m.
Not bad for a punt.
So now the big question is – can King do it again. Can the firm, now a part of Activision Blizzard, the gaming giant, who acquired King for $5.9bn in February this year, deliver another Candy Crush sized blockbuster.
Well the good news for London’s gaming industry is their latest attempt to recreate the magic is set in London, during the “roaring twenties”, and it combines two of the most popular features of the internet. Cats, and interactive gaming that pits real people’s wits against each other.
Shuffle Cats, says King’s PR team, “introduces players to a gang of crafty and competitive street cats, vying to win their way to the best Card Clubs in town, and progress along ‘lucky lane'”.
So far so promising / kitsch – why change a winning formula? Players at the Card Clubs compete at the game of Rummy, a traditional card game played with seven cards. The player who creates the most “melds” (winning hands) and reaches a total of 10 points first will win “Gems”, the key currency of the game that enables players to progress further into the game.
There’s a cast of cute characters too, from Montie the mentor, to Walter, the “mini-game master and lucky charm maker.”
“Launching Shuffle Cats is an exciting move for us, especially as it’s our first live multiplayer card game”, says Carolin Krenzer, Head of Studio at King London, near Piccadilly Circus.
“We’re always looking to broaden and diversify our portfolio and create new, engaging games – Shuffle Cats serves as a perfect example of this”.
Indeed, and Krenzer is also right to point out that users and players will no doubt glorify in the extra competitive edge provided by the fact that they are taking on real life opposition, from all corners of the globe. All you need is a smartphone, and there are 4.1 billion of them in existence today, so you’re unlikely to miss out.
And yet, of course, the irony is, no matter how professional, how carefully planned, and beautifully executed a game is, no matter how strategically perfectly it is pitched and PR’ed and adapted to fulfil our every gaming need, to mimic the success of a phenomenon like Candy Crush, what’s needed more than anything is a gigantic slice of luck.
Despite what those nebulously titled “social influencers” tell us, there is no magic wand that can be waved to make a gaming concept “go viral”, and still no scientific formula that guarantees the zeitgeist will be well and truly tapped into.
So whilst Shuffle Cats would seem to have all of the ingredients for a global blockbuster, we won’t know until some 6 months after launch whether this London luck story is a Jurassic Park, or a Waterworld. A Diet Coke, or a Tab Clear. A Model T Ford, or a Cadillac Catera. Therein, some would say, lies the beauty.
And meanwhile, King aren’t the only mobile game-sters in town – look out for our upcoming profile on Dig That Gold, the mining rush mobile game from gaming start-up Project M, that Londoners are taking to heart – and not just because you can win real bars of gold!
Even Mr. Melvyn Morris must miss the cut and thrust of the gaming, erm, “game”, although he’ll doubtless be telling himself he got out at the right time. You just never know where Lady Luck will show up next.