Heard of Battle Bears? It’s a mobile game out of Omaha that’s amassed an 18 million-strong following and, as of today, an investment from an impressive group of investors: Lightbank has led a round of undisclosed size in the firm’s first ever gaming deal. Nextview Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Michael Chang (former CEO of Greystripe), and the Nebraska Angels participated.
The round isn’t large: Battle Bears’s parent company SkyVu Entertainment doesn’t need it on account of raking in over a million dollars in revenue per year. That’s because its users pay for various in-game upgrades like weapons and customizations to the tune of three times the industry average per player. It’s enough to make the 22-person company profitable.
SkyVu is making plans to open an office in San Francisco but will keep the bulk of its production in Omaha, which is “a very affordable place to produce games,” CEO Ben Vu says.
Lightbank Partner Paul Lee, who will join the company’s board, believes the company will follow more of an Angry Birds model than a Zynga one. Where Zynga replicates IP and pulls users from Facebook, Battle Bears and Angry Birds have acquired users organically. Further, Zynga hasn’t excelled at tablet gaming in the way that the latter two have. Battle Bears was built specifically for mobile and tablet.
Lastly, Battle Bears has the potential to turn into a franchise for SkyVu in the way that Angry Birds has for Rovio. The Battle Bears games are pretty wonderfully animated. Vu, who previously worked as an animator at Pixar, says it’s been called “Care Bears meets Call of Duty,” and after taking a look, I’d say that’s a spot-on assessment. Shoot a bear’s head off and rainbows fly out where you’d expect blood. Watch out or you’ll be hugged to death. The characters are both cuddly and deadly — as violent as PG-13 gets.
Perhaps more importantly from a business perspective, the characters live on through each update of the game, which gets users attached and willing to spend more money for upgrades, Vu says. And then there is potential for all the licensing and media deals that Rovio’s Angry Birds has enjoyed, should Battle Bears grow to that level of cultural penetration. Even if it stays niche, the existing fans are loyal: Battle Bears users spend an impressive average of 15.5 minutes per session.
SkyVu is Lightbank’s first gaming deal after looking at 50 to 60 deals, Lee says. “Angry Birds and Rovio set the path in terms of transference of IP across multiple platforms.” Battle Bears and SkuVu will follow it.