New York-based FreshPlanet has just 15 employees, but it has made a big noise in the mobile game business with SongPop and SongPop 2, which are the biggest music trivia games with more than 100 million downloads to date. The deal represents a first for Gameloft as it is the first acquisition since the mobile game company started in 2000. It only became possible to do the deal after Vivendi called off its hostile takeover of Ubisoft, the big French video game company.
Founded in 2009 by brothers Mathieu and Romain Nouzareth, FreshPlanet has been entirely focused on music trivia games that make gaming more social. It launched the first SongPop in 2012, and it followed that up with SongPop 2 in 2015. In the games, you listen to clips from popular songs and have to guess the name of the song.
It might never have been noticed if it weren’t for Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, who posted about the game shortly after it came out. Mathieu Nouzareth, CEO of FreshPlanet, said in an interview with GamesBeat that downloads skyrocketed within an hour after Zuckerberg’s post. And its fresh take and good use of social media helped it staying in the top rankings of mobile games. Celebrities have been touting the game for years.
“We were three people at the start, and it’s always about coming up with the right formula, the right game at the right time, with a little bit of luck,” said Mathieu Nouzareth.
Alexandre De Rochefort said in an interview that the deal will give Gameloft access to fast-growing and unique category of music trivia games.
“Gameloft as a company that has grown organically throughout history and that’s why we are excited to announce a deal,” said De Rochefort. “We started back in April. But we never thought we would manage to buy FreshPlanet and get the deal done within 2018.”
Nouzareth will continue to run FreshPlanet, which will operate as one of numerous studios at Gameloft, which has more than 4,600 employees and revenues last year in excess of 300 million euros, or $341.6 million.
Gameloft was started in 2000 by Michel Guillemot, one of the brothers in the Guillemot family that started Ubisoft in 1986. Vivendi acquired more than 25 percent of the shares of Ubisoft, but it sold off that stake for a profit of $1.2 billion after Ubisoft found other investors, such as Tencent, to help it remain independent.
De Rochefort, who has worked at Gameloft since it was founded, said that Gameloft had a philosophy, much like Ubisoft, to grow its business organically. For a long time, that philosophy held sway. But Vivendi acquired Gameloft in 2016. The company then decided to embrace acquisitions as a way to grow.
That effort went into high gear in April, after Vivendi was flush with cash from selling its Ubisoft stake.
“We want to continue to diversify our catalog, and music trivia is very different form our games,” De Rochefort said. “In our 18 years, we have never done a music game. We also saw that this was a chance to expand our audience in the U.S. and with the more casual female audience.”
He noted that China is the biggest mobile game market in the world, but it has become harder to launch games there because of tightening of game certifications by the Chinese government. By contrast, expanding in the U.S. is an easier task, De Rochefort said.
“We have also wanted to find new ways of monetizing games,” De Rochefort said. “Since 2014, we have had our own ad agency. SongPop is strong with the advertising model.”
SongPop has also been strong with subscriptions, and that’s a model that Gameloft wants to expand as well.
“We are really thinking about finding a way to make subscriptions happen,” De Rochefort said.
Gameloft creates games for all digital platforms, two of which are featured in the “Top 10 Games by All-Time Worldwide Downloads” from App Annie. Gameloft operates its own established franchises such as Asphalt, Order & Chaos, Modern Combat, and Dungeon Hunter. It also makes games in partnership with Universal, Illumination Entertainment, Disney, Marvel, Hasbro, Fox Digital Entertainment, Mattel and Ferrari.
Every month, 114 million unique users can be reached by advertisers in Gameloft games with Gameloft Advertising Solutions, a leading B2B offering dedicated to brands and agencies. That reach was important to FreshPlanet, which is seeking new audiences for its SongPop games.
“We are hoping they can help us with user acquisition,” Mathieu Nouzareth said. “We’ve been working to improve every aspect of the product and refresh it with a major feature every quarter. We do an update every two weeks.”
Drake Star Partners advised FreshPlanet on the acquisition.
As for the future, Mathieu Nouzareth said, ” We are very good at music video games today and you can expect more from us in this category. We’re not going to be making an FPS or racing simulation.”