Virtual worlds & social games investments defy downturn in October 2008, peak in July 2008

Note: this is part 2 of  blog post on VC investments into “Online games and Related Entertainment” segment. See also part 1.

The $1,7 billion top-line figure for “online game-like entertainment” VC investments in years 2007-2008 is a stupendous figure, and more analysis is needed to make sense of it and to see trends within the huge aggregate sum. The analysis on this post focuses almost solely on the Virtual worlds, Casual MMO, social games and casual games sector, as this is the sector in which my company Everyplay operates. My earlier post on this sector was titled “$350 million invested this year“, and with latest data that figure needs to be upped to $481 million.

The doom & gloom of the past month sure to get to any entrepreneur. Luckily, there is one sector that at least can claim to be counter-cyclical (see e.g. Lazard Capital’s and John Doerr’s comments, and NPD reporting 17% year-on-year increase in video game sales in October). There is further proof as this sector attracted ten VC investments in October to the tune of $53 million. Naturally these deals have been set in motion already before the financial crisis, but it’s very encouraging to see these deals close in the face of “R.I.P Good Times“.


Key findings

July 2008 was the biggest “organic” month so far for venture capital investments into virtual worlds, casual MMOs and casual & social games to date. Altogether 11 deals were announced in July totaling $71 million. The month’s investments were led by Zynga’s $29 million and Gaia’s $11 million funding rounds. July was the biggest “organic” month in terms of deals concluded as well as the total size of deals so far. There have been months dominated by huge deals (e.g. $100 million into 9You and $83 million into Big Fish Games), but those are one-offs and need to be excluded when looking at the bigger picture.

The investments in this sector have averaged around $20 million per month for 2007-2008. The investments into the sector continued strongly in October, which was led by $20 million funding for Oberon and $17 million funding for Playfish. The big question is what happens now. The first half of November has been very quiet on VC funding deals. It is likely that July 2008 will keep its peak month status for at least next 12-18 months, but we’ll eventually see larger months because the sector is young. New entrants will continue to flow in and the best growth companies will need further funding to reach their goals.

In the years 2007-2008 most of the VC money flowed into Virtual Worlds (39 deals, $171 million), followed quite closely by casual games and social games/apps. The average deal size at Series A is around $3-4 million, which matches the common wisdom for Series A.

The VCs investing into this sector read like the VC all star list (Benchmark, Accel, Kleiner Perkins, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Balderton, Sequoia). Accel Partners is the top dog when considering both the number of deals and the size of deals participated in.

Investment rate

The Virtual worlds, Casual MMO and Casual & Social games sector that I’ve analysed in more detail in this post has been very attractive to VCs. The sector investments total an amazing $625 million in years 2007 and 2008 as shown in the diagram:


The $100 million 9You and $83 million Big Fish Games funding rounds skew the investment rate diagram a lot. By excluding them we get to a more “organic” investment rate, that has been averaging around $20 million per month in years 2007 and 2008 as shown in the diagram below:


In this “organic investment rate” diagram there are two major peaks:

  • July 2008: 11 investments totaling $71 million, led by Zynga’s $29 million and Gaia’s $11 million funding rounds
  • October 2008: 10 investments totaling $53 million, led by Oberon’s $20 million and Playfish’ $17 million funding rounds

July 2008 shows the peak of investments with most deals and largest sum of money invested. On the face of the current market turmoil, it is very encouraging to see October 2008 to be a very strong month. One reason for October’s strong performance could be that companies are following the advice to “raise money NOW if you can”. If so, we should see a rapid drop off in investments in the coming months.  Given that November 2008 is starting to look like a dry month, this might be more true than us entrepreneurs would like it to be. Given the economic downturn I expect July 2008 to remain the biggest organic month for the next 12 months.

Most active VCs

The usual suspects populate the TOP10 lists of the most active VCs and the most heavily investing VCs. When you combine these two TOP10 lists, the most prominent VCs in this space read like the who’s who of venture capital (for comparison, see Fortune’s Midas list and’s TOP100 early stage VC list). The diagram below shows the VC with largest fundings participated in (bars) and largest number of deals (line graph). When reading the table, please bear in mind that the investment bar graph shows the total value of deals the VC company participated in, not the actual amount a particular VC company has invested. So if two VC companies participated in a 5 M$ deal, then both companies are credited in this analysis with 5 M$ as there is no data available on how the investments are split between VC companies.


I’ve shown in the figure above also deals in the related sectors to showcase the VC company’s participation in the total $1,7 billion invested in years 2007-2008. Please note that investments in the related categories (MMORPG and technology etc) are only shown on the table above if the VC company also has made investments in the Virtual Worlds, Casual MMO, Social games and Casual games sector. Thus e.g. Providence Equity Partners that provided $300 million to Zenimax Media (MMORPG) has been omitted.

Accel Partners leads the pack when considering both the number of deals completed and the total value of deals participated in. Accel has been very active investing into developer-operators (e.g. Playfish and GameForge), but has also investments in related sectors (Mochi Media, a game advetising network and Raptr, a social network for gamers). Benchmark Capital is a close second with a large number of deals and almost as high total deal size. Benchmark has also been investing into developer-operators (e.g. Gaia, WeeWorld, Sulake, Grockit).

The figure below shows a selection of the most active VCs and their portfolio companies.


Overall it is clear that the sector has been very attractive to all of the most profilic VC funds in Silicon Valley and London. The companies that are able to attract investment from this all star cast of VCs are definitely on the top of their game.

Note: Balderton Capital is the former European office of Benchmark Capital. Certain deals may be listed under Benchmark, when they might have been done by Balderton (Benchmark Europe).

Distribution of investments by company category

My sector definition encompasses virtual worlds and casual MMOs (persistent, online worlds) as well as social and casual games, which makes the category quite broad. The sub-category that clearly dominates the investments in Virtual Worlds, that has taken the biggest number of deals as well as the largest total sum. Casual games are a close second on deal size thanks to the huge investment (83 M$) into Big Fish Games.


Note: Please see my category definitions to understand how companies have been grouped and important caveats to the methodology.

Social games have been funded very seriously compared to the costs it takes to develop these games. The key reason I can think for the investments of this magnitude that there is a “landgrab” going on. The development costs of social games are neglible compared to the costs of developing a full-blown virtual world or a casual MMO, so the money is going into growing the businesses thru acquisitions and erecting barriers to entry (e.g. by investing into higher game quality). The competition between Zynga and Social Games Network is looking very much like the widget wars between Slide and RockYou. That duel has recently been turned into a three party free-for-all, as PlayFish has in one years time emerged as a very serious contender. With the most recent funding from Accel Playfish has the checkbook to play ball with Zynga and Social Games Network.

Unlike Zynga and SGN, Playfish hasn’t so far purchased any third party games or developers. It’ll be interesting to see who is going to be their first acquisition target, although with several titles in TOP10 on Facebook, they aren’t probably in a huge hurry to go a buying spree.

Average deal size

The average investment size in Series A is around 3-5 M$, which is exactly as you’d expect it to be. The seed rounds are quite large (averages even close to 1 M$ in certain categories), which is probably due to the fact that only high value fundings get the press spotlight, and thus the dataset doesn’t include many of the smaller deals.


Distribution of investments by stage

The Virtual worlds, Casual MMOs and Casual & Social games sector is a young one. The majority of deals (# of deals and value of deals) are made in the Seed and Series A phase.

The list below summaries the deals from years 2007 and 2008 (to October):

  • Seed: 13 deals, worth 12 M$
  • Series A: 42 deals, worth 249 M$
  • Series B: 16 deals, worth 128 M$
  • Series C & later: 4 deals, worth 44 M$
  • Undisclosed stage: 27 deals, worth 193 M4

Here are timeline breakouts of the investments per funding stage.


Data spreadsheet

The data on VC investments has been collected from publicly available sources including but not limited to

The data was gathered by Jussi Laakkonen and Adam Martin.The data is most accurate for year 2008. Year 2006 and earlier years have been only covered sporadically and typically only for companies that have received follow-up funding in year 2008. The data is provided AS IS and the authors make no warranties about its accuracy.

Download the full spreadsheet with categorizations:

cc-by-nc The data is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial license.

Summary list of VC investments

A summary list of VC investments in the Virtual worlds, Casual MMO, Social games and Casual games sector is shown below:

Date Company Invested Category
Oct-08 Playfish $17,0 Social games
Oct-08 Metaplace $6,7 Casual MMO
Oct-08 Second Interest $0,5 Virtual world
Oct-08 Kirkland North $0,2 Social games
Oct-08 Booyah $4,5 Other
Oct-08 Ray Flame Entertainment $0,8 Casual MMO
Oct-08 Oberon $20,0 Casual games
Oct-08 Farbflut Entertainment undis Casual MMO
Oct-08 MindFuse $1,0 Casual MMO
Oct-08 Taatu $2,5 Virtual world
Sep-08 Challenge Games $10,0 Casual MMO
Sep-08 Big Fish Games $83,0 Casual games
Sep-08 RobotGalaxy $5,0 Virtual world
Sep-08 Hollywood Interactive $5,0 Virtual world
Sep-08 RobotGalaxy $7,0 Virtual world
Aug-08 Nonoba $1,7 Casual games
Aug-08 LOLapps $4,5 Other
Aug-08 Webcarrz $4,0 Virtual world
Aug-08 Knowledge Adventure $5,0 Virtual world
Aug-08 Dizzywood $1,0 Virtual world
Jul-08 Challenge Games $4,5 Casual MMO
Jul-08 Zynga $29,0 Social games
Jul-08 Virtual Tweens $1,0 Virtual world
Jul-08 Monte Cristo Games $7,0 Casual MMO
Jul-08 Playfish $1,0 Social games
Jul-08 Gaia Interactive $11,0 Virtual world
Jul-08 Six Degrees Games $7,0 Casual MMO
Jul-08 Social Gaming Network $3,0 Social games
Jul-08 Young Internet $4,7 Virtual world
Jul-08 Riot Games $7,0 Casual MMO
Jul-08 Atomic Moguls $1,0 Casual MMO
Jul-08 8D World $1,0 Casual MMO
Jun-08 Erepublik $0,7 Casual MMO
Jun-08 I’m in like with you $1,5 Social games
Lumos Labs $3,0 Other
May-08 Social Gaming Network $15,0 Social games
Grockit $8,0 Other
Caspian Learning $2,8 Other
Apr-08 Serious Business Inc $4,0 Social games
Apr-08 Kongregate $3,0 Casual games
Apr-08 Northworks undis Casual games
Apr-08 Club Cooee undis Virtual world
Apr-08 Akoha $2,0 Other
Apr-08 Metaversum several m€ Virtual world
Nurien Software $15,0 Virtual world
Bunchball $4,0 Social games
Play Hard Sports $5,0 Casual MMO
Numedeon $1,0 Virtual world
Eximion Undis Casual games
Hangout Industries $6,0 Virtual world
Playfish $3,0 Social games
9You $100,0 Other
Simmersion Holdings $1,9 Virtual world
Chapatiz $0,5 Virtual world
EveryScape $7,0 Virtual world
Fluid Entertainment $3,2 Virtual world
Gamook $1,5 Casual games
Handipoints $0,8 Virtual world
Alamofire $2,0 Social games
Mar-08 PopJax $4,7 Casual games
Feb-08 Dizzywood $1,0 Virtual world
Feb-08 Sparkplay Media $4,3 Casual MMO
Feb-08 Flowplay $3,7 Casual MMO
Feb-08 Atomic Moguls $1,0 Casual MMO
Feb-08 RocketOn $5,0 Other
Jan-08 C3L3B Digital $3,0 Virtual world
Jan-08 Zynga $10,0 Social games
Jan-08 Rebel Monkey $1,0 Casual MMO
Dec-07 Playfirst $16,5 Casual games
Dec-07 WildTangent $20,0 Casual games
Nov-07 Hidden City Games $15,0 Virtual world
Nov-07 Zweitgeist undis Other
Nov-07 Apaja Online $2,3 Casual games
Oct-07 Numedeon Undis Virtual world
Oct-07 Star in Me Undis Virtual world
Oct-07 GameLayers $0,5 Other
Sep-07 Emote $8,0 Casual games
Sep-07 Watercooler $4,0 Other
Sep-07 RocketOn $0,8 Social games
Aug-07 Spill Group undis Casual games
Aug-07 GameForge undis Casual MMO
Aug-07 Kongregate $5,0 Casual games
Aug-07 D2C $6,0 Casual games
Aug-07 Conduit Labs $5,5 Social games
Aug-07 Doppelganger $11,0 Virtual world
Weblo $3,2 Casual MMO
Grockit $2,7 Other
Jul-07 Geewa $2,0 Casual games
Jul-07 WatAgame $4,0 Virtual world
Jul-07 Three Rings $3,5 Casual MMO
Jun-07 Metaversum several m€ Virtual world
May-07 Frenzoo undis Virtual world
May-07 Multiverse $4,2 Virtual world
May-07 Avaloop Undis Virtual world
May-07 World Golf Tour several m$ Casual MMO
May-07 Two Way Media $10,6 Other
Mar-07 Kongregate $1,0 Casual games
Mar-07 Flowplay $0,5 Casual MMO
Mar-07 Gaia Interactive $12,0 Virtual world
Feb-07 Zweitgeist $0,6 Other
Feb-07 Virtual Air Guitar $0,2 Casual games
Feb-07 Doppelganger $5,0 Virtual world
Dec-06 Metaplace $5,0 Casual MMO
Dec-06 D2C $1,5 Casual games
Nov-06 WatAgame Undis Virtual world
Nov-06 Bunchball $2,0 Social games
Oct-06 Mind Candy $7,4 Virtual world
Aug-06 WildTangent $13,0 Casual games
Jul-06 Sulake $8,0 Virtual world
Jun-06 Stardoll $6,0 Virtual world
Jun-06 WeeWorld $15,5 Virtual world
Feb-06 Stardoll $4,0 Virtual world
Dec-05 Doppelganger $8,5 Virtual world
May-05 WeeWorld $5,5 Virtual world
Apr-05 Doppelganger $2,5 Virtual world
Jan-05 Big Fish Games $8,7 Casual games
Jan-05 Sulake $24,0 Virtual world
? Sulake undis Virtual world
May-04 WildTangent $16,5 Casual games

See the full table with details for this sector.

Category definitions

Much of the analysis done in this blog post is based on assigning companies to the categories. The companies are assigned to categories subjectively and only using publicly available info (i.e. no research has been done into actual user experience to validate the companies’ claims). Category assignment has been done solely by Jussi Laakkonen and doesn’t represent the opinions of Adam Martin. The categorization part is the weakest and most subjective part of my analysis, so you should take it with a ton of salt.

The categorization uses the terms Virtual worlds, Casual MMO, Social games and Casual games as defined loosely below:

Virtual world

  • free form play, not a lot of rules
  • large scale multiplayer, concurrent
  • some sense of world/place (e.g. rooms, gathering areas)
  • avatars
  • persistent world
  • typical example: Habbo Hotel, Second Life

Casual MMO

  • gameplay with defined ruleset
  • shorter sessions, more accessible than full-fledged MMORPG
  • more mainstream topics (e.g. sports, dance) than typical MMORPG
  • large scale multiplayer, concurrent or asynch
  • some sense of world/place (e.g. rooms, gathering areas)
  • avatars
  • persistent world
  • typical example: Maple Story, World Tour Golf

Social game

  • gameplay with defined ruleset
  • asynch multiplayer or small scale concurrent multiplayer
  • utilizes social graph and/or only available on a SocNet
  • limited or no use of avatars
  • typically persistent world
  • typical example: Friend for Sale, Who has the biggest brain

Casual game

  • gameplay with defined ruleset
  • single player or very limited asynch/concurrent multiplayer
  • no use of social graph
  • no use of avatars
  • non-persistent world (with the exception of leaderboards)
  • typical example: Bejeweled, Desktop Tower Defense

What this helpful? Where to dig in?

If you found this data and analysis to be helpful, feel free to shout out in the comments ;-). Also I’d be happy to hear about ideas on further analysis on the data. Any corrections (errors, omissions etc) are more than welcome!

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31 Comments on “Virtual worlds & social games investments defy downturn in October 2008, peak in July 2008”

  1. […] more Jussi Laakkonen’s blog « Customer development or why 9/10 startups fail Virtual worlds & social games investments defy downturn in October 2008, peak in July 2008 […]

  2. Hi Jussi – another couple of great posts. I am fearful this sector is over invested!

  3. Nic, the sector definition is quite broad (virtual worlds to casual games), which partly explains why figures are so high.

    Nevertheless, there’s been a surge of investments in the space and I think most of deals have taken place for good reasons (e.g. huge traction and good revenues with virtual goods, dramatically lowered distribution & user acquisition costs, overall success of entertainment in social media & new platforms like iPhone, expanded audiences thru more accessible games & themes).

    Research puts the total gaming segment at around $37 billion globally for 2007. It is clear that social & casual games, virtual worlds and casual MMOs amount to currently to a fairly small part of that revenue, but they have highest growth rates (alongside MMORPGs). When whole gaming segment is still growing at double-digits year-on-year for 2008, and this sector is clearly eclipsing that, there is a lot of potential for breakout successes.

  4. Found a related post on web 2.0 VC deals thru

    Web startups amass nearly $14 billion in VC deals (2004-2008). From crunchbase: 914 start-ups, 1307 investment rounds by 817 investors.

  5. Healy Jones Says:

    This is a pretty intense analysis. Great work. Computer/online gaming is a bigger industry than the movie industry, and more attention should be paid to it!
    Question – do you see online learning intersecting with online gaming?

  6. […] bad sign for virtual spaces? Nah — look at the latest figures for investment that Jussi Laakkonen gathered. There’s a very bright future ahead still, for the right […]

  7. Healy,

    as much as I’d like games business to be a bigger industry than the movies, it isn’t. This is a common misunderstanding which stems from a report a few years back in which the US game software sales were bigger than the movie box office receipts. The game software sales is a good indicator of the industry size, but box office receipts receipt only a tip of the iceberg for the movie industry, which makes a lot more money from DVD sales, TV deals, pay-per-view, hotels, product placement, movie rentals, re-releases etc. Games have none of that.

    The research I’ve seen puts game industry at trajectory to eclipse the declining music industry globally in a couple of years time, but there is a loooong way to being bigger than movies.

    As for online learning intersecting with online games, yes it has already (see e.g. I see a lot of potential with Funware (the use of game mechanics in non-game applications), more here:

  8. Wallen's Says:

    Hi Jussi, great and very rich analysis indeed!!!

  9. Maths Says:

    What about Benchmarks USD 8M investment in Swedish company Power Challenge?
    They did a follow-up investment this summer aswell.

    Perhaps the recent sale of Bigpoint (70 M €) should be up there. A few others missing aswell but it is still good work putting it together.

    I am reading your comments above and reacting a bit. The gaming industry has no pay-per-view or movie rental sales, true. But there is significant revenue being made (apart from retail sales) from product placements, premium services like subscriptions, virtual items, media deals, downloads, advertising (and more) instead. And that is, in my opinion, impossible to measure and take into account for any analytics on the “outside”. What I am trying to say is that the gaming industry (wide definition i know) is so much bigger then most people think.

  10. Maths Says:

    ah. i missed that you left out MMORPGs

  11. PowerChallenge was not included in the original data set, as I hadn’t discovered that deal at the time of reporting. It definitely belongs there, so for next iteration of this analysis, it should be included.

    Company sales don’t belong in this analysis, as it focuses on Venture Capital investments.

    Good points on premium services and subscriptions. Those are not included on NPD’s figures (which were used as the basis for the fallacy Games money > Films money, or Brick’n’Morta game sales > Movie box office receipts).

    Several industry research organizations do try to account for these online revenue sources, but it is a lot harder as there is very little transparency into the numbers as many of the operators don’t give out figures. PriceWaterhouse Coopers’ research puts the total, global games market (excluding hardware) at $37 billion for year 2007. Their estimates have movies at roughly three times this size. (beware: lies, damn lies, statistics ;-)).

  12. […] MMOG market continues to be very hot, and possibly all but impervious even to our current economic chaos.  I continue to see MMOGs in development for ever broader demographics and more obscure (or […]

  13. Kaisa Says:

    Nice work BRO!I admire and I´m jealous about your english!

  14. SonjaK Says:

    Ciao Jussi,

    Did you notice this one? “U.S. venture capitalists are forecasting a difficult 2009 for the
    country’s economy, the capital markets, and the venture industry as the global financial crisis takes its toll on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

    Click to access 09PredixRelease.pdf

    Would be nice to make a jump in time to the end of 2009 to see the differences between 08 and 09 :)

  15. Hei Sonja,

    yup, it’s looking grim across the board. However, I’m optimistic that online games can be one of the markets that can still attract investments. Many of the top investors have spoken about continuing to (or even switching to) invest in the games space.

    But the bar to attract investment has gone significantly higher. At least November and December are looking very dry on the VC front.

  16. I like your all posts use to do good analysis on every topic you take. Great once again.
    online video guide

  17. itzCorinne Says:

    How do you differentiate/define Virtual Worlds from MMORPGs? I downloaded the excel file and noticed MMORPGs were broken out separately but no definition. The virtual world definition sounds very similar. Thanks!

  18. Hi,

    the majority of the MMORPG investments are relatively easy to distinguish because the money has gone into companies that state that they build MMORPGs (e.g. Zenimax Media, Turbine, Realtime Worlds).

    If you look at the category definitions above, I’ve used the “rule orientation” of the application as the distinguishing factor between Casual MMOs (rule/goal oriented) and Virtual Worlds (free form play, less goal orientation, more about social interaction). The line is clearly ambiguous and several of may classifications are definitely open to interpretation.

    The same approach would is used to break classify the rest of the MMORPGs, that were not self-labeled as MMORPGs.

  19. […] done a second update to our game and virtual worlds funding list with new data from Jussi Laakkonen’s blog. Previously, we had updated to include data from Virtual World Management’s list, so the […]

  20. […] We’ve done a second update to our game and virtual worlds funding list with new data from Jussi Laakkonen’s blog. Previously, we had updated to include data from Virtual World Management’s list, so the […]

  21. […] done a second update to our game and virtual worlds funding list with new data from Jussi Laakkonen’s blog. Previously, we had updated to include data from Virtual World Management’s list, so the […]

  22. […] We’ve done a second update to our game and virtual worlds funding list with new data from Jussi Laakkonen’s blog. Previously, we had updated to include data from Virtual World Management’s list, so the […]

  23. […] We’ve done a second update to our game and virtual worlds funding list with new data from Jussi Laakkonen’s blog. Previously, we had updated to include data from Virtual World Management’s list, so the […]

  24. […] a second update to our game and virtual worlds funding list. Here we’re adding new data from Jussi Laakkonen’s blog. Previously, we had updated to include data from Virtual World Management’s list, so the […]

  25. […] data from Virtual World Management and Jussi Laakkonen’s blog, the dollar value is a significant jump from 2007 with over a $300 million gain. According to […]

  26. […] Along with that, financings have slowed. So far this year, 25 companies have raised $126 million, according to our calculations. Game and virtual world fundings for 112 companies hit $936.8 million in 2008 by our count. That compared to $613 million raised by 62 companies in 2007, according to Jussi Laakkonen. […]

  27. […] data from Virtual World Management and Jussi Laakkonen’s blog, the dollar value is a significant jump from 2007 with over a $300 million gain. According to […]

  28. […] data from Virtual World Management and Jussi Laakkonen’s blog, the dollar value is a significant jump from 2007 with over a $300 million gain. According to […]

  29. […] of the slides referenced above pointed me to Jussi’s blog. Clearly one should now focus on a virtual […]

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