Kik Messenger may have been a lone wolf pushing HTML5 on mobile, but that’s made it the perfect partner for mobile games marketplace Clay.io.

Clay.io, founded in 2012, is a marketplace for games currently living inside Kik’s platform, and it’s announcing today that it has raised $550,000 in seed funding from gaming companies DeNA and Chukong, along with Indeed co-founder Rony Kahan, to keep entertaining Kik’s users.

Clay.io got started after founder Austin Hallock began building web-based games and realized there was no marketplace for them like the one Steam provides for desktop games. He was drawn to HTML5-based games because they don’t require downloading and players can just jump in.

So he decided to build his own marketplace, and Clay.io was born.

During the first two years, Clay.io gathered more 1,500 games, both first- and third-party and of varying degrees of quality, Hallock told VentureBeat in an interview. During that period, Clay.io amassed about 20,000 users, which wasn’t nearly the level it wanted.

Kik, a messaging app that doesn’t require a phone number or email, has been getting a lot of engagement from its users due to the web-based mini-apps, or “mobile web pages,” as the company calls them, found inside the app. These web pages are designed to function entirely inside the Kik app, and they vary from games to quizzes, video apps, and everything in between. Today, Kik has 150 million users.

“Kik was the other side of the equation,” Hallock said. The Clay.io team started integrating into Kik’s platform in December 2013, looking to leverage Kik’s mass of users.

It worked. Clay.io has since grown to about four million users.

Mobile games that help you meet people

Discovery is a big part of the Clay.io-Kik partnership. Inside a Clay.io game, there’s a pull-out menu on the right that displays recommendations of other popular games to help users find and play new ones, and to keep them engaged in the app. “What we know about our users is that they’re looking for new and fun things to do. They don’t just come to Kik to talk to their friends, they also come to hang out,” said Kik vice president of marketing Heather Galt in an interview with VentureBeat. “They’re always looking for things to do.”

Clay.io has also built in a way for users to meet other users, by recommending players and their scores you can challenge and try to beat. Although most of Clay.io’s games are single-player games, it’s using this approach to still nudge people towards meeting others and play with them, in a way. “People want to meet new people on Kik, so we’re focused on that,” Hallock said.

This word-of-mouth approach seems to be working for the startup — Clay.io now has more than 100,000 daily active users.


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Up next: In-app payments, Google Play, and Asia

Unlike many media and digital companies, Clay.io doesn’t want to monetize through ads. Instead, it’s looking at in-app payments, which is where the big money comes from in gaming. The team hasn’t started to build that out yet, and determining how Kik can let Clay.io enable payments is still an unknown. “One of the things we need to be very cognitive of is that we are an app in the app store,” Galt said. “That will govern our decisions, including in-app payments.”

Clay.io is also already plotting its next move — the Google Play store. Clay.io’s games will be “wrapped” as Android apps, but will remain web-based. Although it’s mostly focusing on Kik at the moment, Hallock said that the company is definitely looking to expand to others as well. Cross-platform publishing is, after all, one of the biggest selling points of HTML5.

The company also has eyes on WeChat, the messaging app hugely popular in Asia. WeChat had 438 million monthly active users during the second quarter 2014, its owner Tencent revealed last month. Moreover, it has already been experimenting with and supporting web-based games inside its app that did well in Asia, said Hallock.