Gaming investments are infamously fickle. Creating something that appeals to enough people to build a business, especially on social networks or mobile devices, is never a sure thing. Then that original game has to be followed with additional games — as soon as attention and dollars start to wane, a company can lose everything it had without ever being able to redeem itself.
But, according to Bijan Sabet — talking tonight on stage at PandoMonthly — that hasn’t prevented Spark Capital from making a new investment in an undisclosed gaming company. This despite the fact that the firm’s only experience in the space comes from OMGPOP, the game startup that found success with the flash-in-the-pan hit “Draw Something” and sold to Zynga before having its games destroyed and its website deleted just a year after the $200 million buyout.
“The team is someone we’ve known before, they’re serial entrepreneurs, they have a taste for it” Sabet said. “It’s not a prerequisite for most categories, but the game space is so challenging and this was a pre-product investment and very much a bet on the team.” (Sabet didn’t offer further details on the investment, which hasn’t yet been announced and is in an unknown gaming startup.)
Sabet acknowledges the unlikeliness of OMGPOP’s sale to Zynga. The startup is said to have created 24 games before creating “Draw Something,” and even that title was popular for a few months before it faded into obsolescence like so many other gaming wunderkinds before it. I mean, are you still playing “Dots” or “FarmVille” or “WordsWithFriends” or other minor hits?
Despite those problems, Spark Capital stuck with OMGPOP through the end. “We believed Those founders stayed. Dan [Porter, CEO of OMGPOP] stayed through thick and thin,” Sabet said. “It was hard as hell, but I feel like as long as the team is committed, I’m committed. If the team had bailed I probably would’ve bailed.” Thus the focus on team in this new investment.
Now there are two questions: will this new gaming company manage to make lightning strike in the same place over and over again to continue operating in a difficult market? And if it does, will Spark Capital be able to perform a similar feat by continuing to invest in similar companies? The firm is betting that a good team might make that happen. but in this market, where companies like Zynga and Rovio and King have a hard time proving themselves despite their early success, it’s become even harder for startups to prove that they have what it takes.
[photo by Brandon Bakus for Pando]