Even back in 2011 when Walter Driver co-founded Scopely, along with Ankur Bulsara, a former lead software developer at MySpace, and Eytan Elbaz, a Google veteran, it was clear that hit-based game-design studios didn't have the most stable financial footing. Yet those that hyper-specialized in a genre or focused developers on a thriving line of games were most successful.
Driver and his co-founders imagined building something of a cooperative--a publishing platform that would allow many game-design studios, which each had developed specialties--to come together to tap publishing and marketing expertise, and also diversify. "We can build a network of durable revenue streams," Driver says, was the founding premise. Scopely was born.
Today it has 200 employees based in a sprawling Culver City, California, headquarters. Another 300 employees of gaming-studios around the globe--which have created such hits as The Walking Dead: Road to Survival and a popular Yahtzee game--are funded by Scopely. And while Scopely is tight-lipped about profits, Driver says its revenue has grown by a factor of six over the past 18 months. He spoke with Inc. recently about the company's fresh $55 million in funding, operating a fast-growing company across 12 time zones, and the future of mobile content.
Your revenue is really growing--and you are profitable. Why raise the money?
Our Series A was large--but it wasn't a great deal [of money on which] to build a company on this scale. We wanted to have a stronger balance sheet so we can be more strategic about how we build the company for the future. When we started getting a lot of interest after the success of Yahtzee With Buddies and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival. They look like multi-hundred-million dollar businesses each on their own.
You're in L.A., and took some inspiration from the way Hollywood studios work--but you're not at all like a studio in some regards.
Most game companies start strictly as game studios. That means the only way to grow is to hire more people when they want to make more games. Scopely saw that you needed to focus deeply on specific genres of product. And we saw that the business was going to mature really quickly--so the scale of the balance sheet you were going to need was rapidly changing.
There was an opportunity to build from the publishing side first. To operate free games, and work with the game-design studios that have that genre expertise and bring them to the platform. We marry their expertise with our ability to scale and monetize their product, and give them world-class analytics.
And where are all these studios? Are most local?
We have two studios in Los Angeles, and then there's Vancouver, Dublin, London, Brazil, one in Bucharest, one in Montreal, and we have folks in India, too.
How do you work productively across so many time zones?
On every project we have sort of a SWAT team of dedicated project managers, producers, data scientists, who are working with the game teams on each product. Sometimes they are even living very close to the studio. They are deeply intertwined relationships.
How do you determine when a game is worth devoting that kind of talent to?
We try to pinpoint games that are going to be five-to-10 year businesses on their own. We use focus groups, our private beta network, and generally debut to a test market in South Africa or Ireland. By the time it's launched globally it's been through nine gates, a dozen test-launches of the product, and six months of beta.
So if it fails a test, it's just out?
What's really interesting about the future of interactive entertainment vs. linear storytelling is that the product can change and evolve. Warner Brothers puts a movie out there opening weekend. They don't get a chance to change it. We do. We only have to release a game when we know it's working. And we can create personalized business models for every user. [Editor's note: he's referencing in-app purchase capabilities, which Scopely uses rather than charging for an app's initial download.] Unlike the movie business, where opening weekend is the biggest part of the revenue they will ever make, we continue to see these products grow in popularity and revenue over their lifetimes.
So you actually like being compared to Hollywood studios in that regard?
When we launched Walking Dead, the top box office launch was Straight Outta Compton. More than twice as many people downloaded Walking Dead than saw Straight Outta Compton. The revenue associated with it are not just new installs, it's deep engagement. This is not a hits-driven business.
What do you think you can now predict about the future of consuming media? And what does that mean for Scopely?
We didn't start this as a mobile gaming company. We started this with the thesis that mobile experiences are growing--it's not linear entertainment, and this is going to take more of a slice of mobile every year.
Scopely was to be a platform for interactive entertainment. So, in the future, who knows, but it could easily work on VR or AR experience--or an experience in the living room. It's a way to understand the uses of software as entertainment. It's not content. It's software as entertainment.
What's your work culture like at the Scopely HQ?
We don't have hours or tell people how to work or track their vacations days. But we expect a lot.
Do you ever get a break?
I don't get a lot of down time. But I'm loving what I'm doing. It's hard for me to stay away. It feels like the company is really having a moment that is the result of years of hard work.