The dog days of Zynga may be over--which means there's ample room for new gaming start-ups to emerge. The market is ripe, too. By 2016, online and mobile gaming will rise to a $48 billion market, becoming 55 percent of the overall $83 billion video-game market, according to a report by Digi-Capital, a research firm that tracks the gaming industry. Investors are actively look to fund game companies, too. In 2012, venture capitalists poured $853 million into gaming companies.
This year, South By Southwest is embracing the gamer spirit with the SXSW Gaming Expo, a three-day affair taking place from March 8 through 10 at the Palmer Events Center in Austin, Texas, with more than 50 exhibitors. Here are a few companies worth checking out.
1. Corona Labs, empowering game developers all over the world
Corona Labs doesn't want to produce the next Angry Birds--it wants you to. The start-up, founded in 2008 in Palo Alto, California, has created perhaps the world's most popular gaming and app development platform, the Corona SDK. More than 200,000 developers have used the platform to create apps, and some have gone on to major success, including the developers behind Bubble Ball, Blast Monkeys, Dabble, The Lost City, The Secret of Grisly Manor, and Cannon Cat. Created by Walter Luh, a serial entrepreneur and formerly the lead architect of the Adobe Flash Lite engineering team, Corona Labs has raised $2.5 million in seed investment, mostly from Merus Capital.
2. Kixeye, a powerhouse game-development studio
If you haven't heard of Kixeye--you should put this company directly in your sights. The independent game developer, founded in 2007, is known for mega-popular hits such as Backyard Monsters, which has more than 20 million activations. The online game company has also rolled out several other hits, including Desktop Defender, Battle Pirates and War Commander, which have shot down the competition. Since its launch six years ago, the company has raised over $19 million, primarily from Lightspeed Venture Partners, a Menlo Park-based VC firm. Kixeye will be hosting a happy hour on March 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
3. Green Throttle, smartphone gaming
The co-founder of Guitar Hero, Charles Huang, is turning the smartphone into a gaming console. With Green Throttle, Huang's newest start-up will let users connect their iPhone or Android to any screen in the room. It's also created a dedicated, X-Box-esque controller so that multiplayer players can join in. The controller connects to the phone's bluetooth, so there's no need for any additional wires. To take the game on-the-go as a single player, a user can simply detach their phone from the TV, and play the game directly on the phone's screem. The company is developing games itself, but also opening up the SDK to game developers, as well. The comapny is based in Santa Clara, California, and has raised a $6 million from Trinity Ventures and DCM.
4. Playhaven, for making your games make you money
For game developers, attracting new players to download a game--and keeping them playing--is a tough business. Playhaven gives game developers the tools to promote and tweak marketing promotions seamlessly across one platform. The start-up offers developers a suite of services, from internal cross-promotion, to game rewards, to interstitial ads, all with the intent of improving the value (and increasing revenue) of a game. The start-up, which has raised about $8 million, was founded in May 2010 and originated as a social network for gamers. It pivoted to its current model in September 2011.
5. Tista Games, a scrappy games start-up takes a novel approach
Compared to a gaming company such as Kixeye, Tista Games is fairly scrappy--but its appraoch to gaming is unique. "What we think is a more interesting model is the idea of a TV-show style game platform," founder Aunim Hossain told The Washington Post. "We will deliver an evolving story line of new-game content every week, hopefully to users waiting with bated breath. With our model, we can validate 'hit' games at 20 percent of the upfront cost of regular game developers because we can continuously test and improve." In other words, Tista Games wants to become the HBO of gaming. Launched by Hossain, a Harvard Business School-trained banker-turned-entrepreneur, in June 2011, the comapny is based in Washington, D.C. Catch them at the SXSW Accelerator demo on March 11 at 5 p.m.