A new Istanbul-based puzzle game studio, Agave Games, has raised a $7m round led by Balderton Capital. It’s the London-based VC’s second bet on Turkish gaming.
What does Agave Games do?
Agave Games will use the money to develop casual puzzle games. This genre tends to be mostly played on mobile, with titles like Candy Crush and Angry Birds among the biggest success stories in the category. The studio was founded by four former school friends — Alper Öner, Burak Kar, Ali Baran Terzioğlu and Oğuzhan Merdivenli — who between them have previously worked on highly successful casual games like Wonder Blast and Words of Wonders.
Who’s invested in Agave Games?
- Balderton Capital — London-based firm, now on its eighth fund. Has backed unicorn Dream Games, valued at $2.75bn when it raised a Series C earlier this year.
- Felix Capital — London-based firm with a focus on consumer-facing startups and scaleups.
- 500 Global — A San Francisco-based VC fund with offices in Istanbul
The state of the casual gaming market
The whole video games industry enjoyed a pandemic-fuelled growth spurt in the last two years, as people sought ways to while away the hours spent inside. Recent research from Newzoo found that mobile games generated $93.2bn in 2021 (a 7.3% increase year-on-year), with 2.8bn people playing on the platform.
Casual games built for mobile have always been particularly attractive to investors because of the massive potential audience: anyone with a phone can play, rather than being limited to those who can cough up for a dedicated console. The genre is also easily monetiseable with addictive in-app purchases and short feedback loops in gameplay.
That said, succeeding in mobile games is difficult, with vast numbers of available titles making it hard to stand out from the noise.
Ilia Tumenko, CEO of Cypriot casual gaming publisher 10k Riders, recently described the mobile games industry as being “in choppy waters”. He told Sifted that, while the market is growing, only around 1% of games that reach the user acquisition testing stage — where customers are invited to try the game to gauge their interest — find any kind of success.
That said, Turkish game developers are proving their ability to stand out from the crowd. The country has become one of Europe’s leading players in the sector, with revenue from mobile games totalling $160m in the first quarter of 2022 — a 37% increase on the same period last year, according to research from Sensor Tower.
That makes the country the fifth largest mobile games market in Europe in terms of revenue, behind Germany, the UK, France and Russia. And the country has already seen many mobile gaming successes. Zynga acquired Gram Games for $250m in 2018, Peak Games in 2020 for $1.8bn and 80% of Rollic for $168m the same year.
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While casual mobile games might be a tough market to compete in, the genre isn't going anywhere and studios that score a hit still have a huge market to reach. Agave Games says that the whole studio will be working on one game at a time, in pursuit of reaching market dominance with a single title. Focusing on quality seems like a smart tactic given the huge number of low-quality games available on mobile app stores today. The founding team’s track record for working on high-impact casual games also make it easy to see why big investors decided to bet on the new studio.