Indie game publisher Raw Fury has raised a seed round of $600,000. Former EA executive Karl Magnus Troedsson led the round. He joined Raw Fury as a partner and investor in 2016. Other notable investors include former Unity CEO David Helgason and Rikard Lindström, who had invested in game studios such as King.

“Sometimes I just invest in a team after meeting them one time or twice,” said Helgason in a phone call with GamesBeat. “In the case of Raw Fury, I’ve known Jonas Antonsson, the Icelandic founding CEO — I’ve known him for a really long time. Ten years or something already. He’s just a really tenacious person. Very thoughtful, very energetic, very fun.”

Antonsson cofounded Raw Fury in 2015, and it’s since collected a diverse catalog that includes Clifftop Games’s point-and-click adventure Kathy Rain, Art in Heart’s punishing roguelike Gonner, and Nifflas Games’s goofy puzzle platformer Uurnog Uurnlimited. It also supports independent developers as part of Stugan, a Swedish game accelerator program.

The game scene in the Nordic countries has seen a lot of success stories in the last few years. Finland-based Supercell generated $2.3 billion in revenue in 2016 thanks to mobile hits like Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, and it’s busy investing in local developers such as Shipyard Games. Earlier this year, Angry Birds developer Rovio’s IPO valued the company at $1.1 billion. And King, which Activision acquired for $5.9 billion in 2015, has amassed 2.73 billion downloads in five years for its title Candy Crush Saga.

Helgason says it’s hard to say why the Nordic region has been bustling with energy. He speculates that part of it might have to do with the social safety net, the high level of education, and accessibility of health care.

“Beyond that, I don’t know why it’s particularly lively, but the last decade or so in the Nordics has been pretty amazing,” said Helgason. “And it’s accelerating. I think some of it is kind of just that the rest of the world is learning from the playbook of Silicon Valley. And then you get people that have built some stuff, they’re returning to the ecosystem with knowledge and experience and sometimes money.”

Investing in games and new technologies

Above: Clifftop Games’s Kathy Rain.

Image Credit: Clifftop Games

Since stepping down as Unity’s CEO in 2014, Helgason has invested in a wide array of startups. These include everything from social game studios like Teatime Games to Dronesmith, which builds tools like APIs for drone developers.

“Building anything requires so much rough and tumble. It’s a full-contact sport, to build products and companies,” said Helgason. “I’m attracted to those people. I like to hang out with them. Having done some of these things, I give them advice and so on.”

As an entrepreneur himself, Helgason has a kinship to the startups he funds. He too has stories about being in the trenches. Such as the time he stole a ham and the Unity team subsisted off it “for months.” He sheepishly recounted the tale, noting that this was way back in the early days when they were still working out of a basement.

“I’m not a proponent of stealing,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s a story. It was a show piece outside of a restaurant. I was really, really hungry.

“We didn’t only live off that, but we cut slices off it, put it on Margherita pizzas, ate it on bread. For months, really. This was a big ham. Eventually it started to turn, so we didn’t quite finish it. It was pretty old by the time it came into our possession, I’m sure.”

He added, “I’m proud to say that we have the highest ethical standards now, whether it’s in the stealing of hams, or diversity, or anti-harassment. We’re a very mature and safe company now … no ham stealing. It’s in the code of conduct.”

And he’s drawn to Raw Fury, which he calls a kind of “platform” for different types of games among a very large pool of available titles. According to Steam Spy, Valve added over 7,000 games to its digital game store Steam in 2017.

A lot of this is thanks to Unity, which is the most popular game engine in the world and was downloaded over 16 billion times in 2016. It’s made it easier for smaller teams to jump right into game development and port to several platforms.

“I think generally, in the game industry, we’re living through a pretty exciting time. A lot of different things are working,” said Helgason. “You can make a niche indie label like Raw Fury with really cool games done by small teams building games that they’re passionate about and make that a success. At the same time, Clash Royale and so on are printing money.”

What’s next for Raw Fury is bringing more of their titles to consoles. It’s a good time for it, as indie games have been doing quite well on systems such as the Nintendo Switch. It’s given independent studios a fair bit of screen time this year with spotlights like its “Nindies” Showcase, which featured a trailer for the anticipated wall-jumping side-scroller Super Meat Boy Forever, a sequel to the 2010 indie darling Super Meat Boy.

A few of Raw Fury’s games are already on the Switch, such as Gonner and Uurnog Uurnlimited. Helgason says there’s a real opportunity there to reach passionate gamers.

“One thing is simply that indie developers with really small teams are now getting really good at going to the consoles,” said Helgason. “And the consoles are getting good at bringing in the indies. It’s a two-sided thing. I’m happy that Unity is getting really good for the consoles. It took quite a learning process for us.”

Challenges ahead

Above: Art in Heart’s Gonner.

Image Credit: Art in Heart

Console or not, games still occupy a crammed space. Discovery is a hot topic, and every developer and publisher is trying to figure out how to get their titles in front of players. Some platforms like Utomik are trying to soothe that pain point by offering subscription-based services so players can try more games without purchasing them outright. Others like Jump are opting for a highly curated service with few titles to wade through.

To tackle the problem, some folks opt for grounds-up community-building. Services like Chrono.gg believe that partnering with influencers is the best way to spread word of mouth. Helgason posits that one solution is grabbing slices of audiences on different platforms.

“We’re probably getting close to a point where half the world’s population has a smartphone,” said Helgason. “And within that pretty big and diverse group of people across all dimensions, games like those published by Raw Fury can find their niche audience. A million people there, a few hundred thousand people there, or hopefully several million people somewhere else. That’s a very small group. Three million people is a tiny fraction of the people with smartphones and gaming platforms, if you add it all up.”

It’s a tough road, but he seems optimistic. He doesn’t think that the challenge is “a natural state of things where things were discoverable and now they’re not.”

“In all industries, always, discovery is a problem,” said Helgason. “The flip side of discovery is marketing. You have to do it. You have to find the paths. There are different styles for that. Sometimes you’re buying traffic from an ad network, or putting up billboards — there’s a ton of different approaches. Of course, Raw Fury has its own method as an indie label. You have to find their niche audiences on the platforms where these people want to go.”

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