Turkey’s Gram Games scored a big hit last year with 1010, a Tetris-like puzzle game with a clever twist that was downloaded more than 50 million times. And now it has another hit with Merged!, which has been downloaded more than 1 million times in its first week.
The new hit puts Istanbul-based Gram Games into the rarefied club of mobile game companies that have had two back-to-back hits, and it once again shows that, in the $30 billion global mobile game business, the rags-to-riches business fairy tale is still possible in mobile games.
With last year’s 1010, Gram Games took an old nostalgic title and tweaked it with a new type of gameplay, described as Tetris without gravity.
Merged! is just as simple. You start with a board covered with colored dice. Then you draw a pair of dice, each with its own number of dots and colors. You then try to match them on the board with other dice. If you do it, you can clear the dice from the board. You can see from the video below that the new game was also inspired by Tetris in a different way.
That clever gameplay is why venture-backed Gram Games has another hit on its hands. The title debuted on the Apple iTunes App Store on July 28. As I write this, it is ranked No. 19 on the top free apps chart, and it is fifth on the top free games.
Merged! is easy to learn but tough to master. The aim is to match numbered blocks on a grid and amass the highest score. Connecting three ‘one blocks’ will create a ‘two block.’ Three ‘two blocks’ will create a ‘three block,’ and so on. If you get enough blocks matched, you can can explode nine blocks on the grid.
Mehmet Ecevit, CEO of Gram Games, said in a statement, ‘We’re really pleased that Merged! is doing so well, with one million downloads in under a week. We are very confident in Merged! and that it will surpass 1010! in terms of downloads.”
The game is also available on Google Play. To date, Gram Games has raised $600,000 in funding and another $500,000 in a convertible note from Hummingbird VC. The company is currently looking for its next round. The company has 30 employees now.
Gram Games formed in 2012, founded by Ecevit, a self-taught programmer, Kaan Karamanci, and Alpay Koralturk. Their philosophy was to learn continuously, be driven by data, hire the best people available in order to grow, and maintain their gamer roots in their corporate culture. Ecevit’s first job was as a shepherd. That was one of the ways he paid for his education.
The company released three titles and found enough success to keep going. But it was down to its last $25,000 in the fall of 2014.
Then, 1010 emerged during the company’s Prototype Wednesdays, an event where all the staff put their work on hold to focus on prototyping a pet project. The 1010! title came out of that process. The game was prototyped in a day, tested internally, and built and released within a month.
“We almost didn’t finish the project,” Ecevit said in an interview last year. “We sent it to family and friends, and they liked it.”
Gram Games said the title is monetizing quite well without any in-app purchases. About 99 percent of the revenue comes from ads. The 1 percent of remaining revenue comes from people who pay in order to shut off the ads.
The company had just five people when it made 1010!, but now it has 30 employees. On the global stage, it competes with the likes of Supercell, Machine Zone, Gree, and DeNA. There are already hundreds of clones of the 1010! game on the market, most of them in Asia.
Gram Games’ investors include Hummingbird Ventures (Deliveroo, Shutl, Avinity) and serial business angels Fabrice Grinda, Jose Marin, Kaan Karamanci, and Tunc Yalgin.
Meanwhile, Ecevit said that Turkey’s gaming ecosystem needs help. Gram Games has also set up its own tech accelerator, 2Tons, to help local game developers in Turkey. They share knowledge and publish their titles with lower marketing costs.