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Carry1st has raised $27 million to develop and publish mobile games in Africa — a big milestone in an otherwise tough time to raise money.

The funding comes a year after the company raised $20 million from marquee investors, and it is possible to do this new round because the company has seen good growth, said CEO Cordel Robbin-Coker in an interview with GamesBeat.

He said the company will use the money to develop internally produced titles, including home-grown games for the African market — something that the team has always wanted to do.

“This round is oriented around content, as our content engine has grown,” Robbin-Coker said. “We used to be primarily just licensing third-party games and publishing them exclusively across Africa. But since our last raise, we’ve acquired two games, and we think there will be opportunities to acquire more games, particularly in this market. We can buy interesting franchises and own and operate and try and improve them. And we’ve also built our team, a game development team.”

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So far, much of the company’s success has come from publishing titles in Africa from third-party game companies (like Sponge Bob: Krusty Cook-Off) that have been successful around the world. Now it will develop and publish its own titles too.

Carry1st at Comic-Con Africa.

Carry1st will use the financing to develop, license and publish new games as well as further expand Pay1st, the company’s monetization-as-a-service solution.

“It’s definitely an inspiring because the local players are really hungry for great international content. One of the things that Activision did was put up the first Call of Duty: Mobile server on the continent in South Africa. And we got a chance to run a bunch of tournaments and engage users,” Robbin-coker said. “Finally, global companies are paying attention and we provide a much better player experience for them. And some of the best brands are now focused on the region. That’s really cool. That’s exciting.”

He added, “But on the other side, getting to develop our own content has breathed new life into the company. Everyone in the gaming industry wants to build games, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. And so I think the team has been really energized around our ability now to develop and launch our own titles from the region to a global audience.”

Bitkraft Ventures led the round with participation from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), TTV Capital, Alumni Ventures, Lateral Capital, Kepple Ventures and Konvoy. This capital raise comes off the back of a successful partnership with Call of Duty: Mobile in South Africa in Q4 2022, as well as new partnerships to be launched in 2023.

In 2022, Carry1st signed a partnership with Riot Games to pilot local payments for the company’s games in Africa. Riot Games is the developer and publisher behind League of Legends — the most-played PC game in the world — as well as other titles like Valorant, Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra, and League of Legends: Wild Rift. The company is an early investor in Carry1st and has been a continued supporter of the business.

The financing also comes off a successful year for Carry1st, which saw the first game from its CrazyHubs gaming accelerator become the No. 1 downloaded game in the US (according to data.ai); grew its revenue significantly over the last twelve months; and signed a range of partnerships that will fuel the company’s growth in 2023 and beyond. Robbin-Coker said the company grew revenues 10-fold in the past year.

Pay1st payments

Carry1st founders
Carry1st founders Lucy Hoffman, Cordel Robbin-Coker (right) and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.

Carry1st provides a full-stack publishing solution, handling user acquisition, live operations, community management and monetization for its content. The company enhances monetization in the region through Pay1st, its embedded payments solution and online marketplace for virtual goods, which allows customers across Africa the ability to pay for content in their preferred way.

“We’re delighted to partner with BITKRAFT, one of the world’s top gaming VC firms, alongside a16z and other existing investors as we continue on our mission to scale awesome content in Africa,” said Robbin-Coker, in a statement. “2022 was a year of significant growth but together with our partners we look forward to making 2023 even better.”

Africa is the next major growth market for mobile games, driven by rapidly increasing technology adoption among the continent’s 1.1 billion millennials and Gen-Zers.

“Africa is home to the largest population of young people in the world, and this upcoming generation will grow up digitally native with videogames as their primary entertainment preference,” said Jens Hilgers, founding general partner at Bitkraft Ventures, in a statement. “We have full conviction in Carry1st’s impressive founding team and their vision of building out foundational infrastructure and localized content, ensuring that gaming and interactive entertainment in Africa will thrive.”

Carry1st brought third-party games to Africa.

A report released in 2021 from Newzoo and Carry1st, showed the games industry in Sub-Saharan Africa is on track to increase by 728% in 10 years. Carry1st has positioned itself to be the conduit for international and local mobile game companies to profitably serve these consumers.

Jon Lai, a16z games general partner, states: “We’ve been really impressed by Carry1st’s ability to deliver on our shared vision of building the leading next generation publisher for Africa. a16z is excited to continue to invest in the company and support the next chapter in its growth.”

Lucy Hoffman, chief operating officer; Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu, chief technology officer; and Robbin-Coker founded Carry1st in 2018. The company has 75 people across 25 countries, mostly in Africa.

Robbin-Coker said the company will likely adopt a model similar to Scopely, which handles centralized design and art direction and then partners with third-party studios with engineers and artists. So far, Carry1st has acquired two games and it will likely do more.

Among the titles that it has licensed for Africa is a SpongeBob title. The company also did a pilot with Call of Duty: Mobile in South Africa, and Robbin-Coker said a few more partnerships are in the works. Most of the focus is on mobile games, though the company’s payments enable PC games — like Riot’s titles — to reach the African market.

Robbin-Coker said the company did not go out widely to seek new venture capital, as it did not want to spend a lot of time on the project when the market was weak. Instead, it focused on bringing in a key investor like Bitkraft, which knows the gaming market.

During the global economic downturn, game companies are focused on growth markets and Africa has become one of the fastest growing mobile markets. The top growth markets for Carry1st are Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco and Egypt.

While the rest of tech and some of games is hurting, Robbin-Coker said he was glad his company could make some good news in a sea of despair.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity in front of us. We’re happy that our existing investors continue to believe in the African opportunity, believe in Carry1st, and want to really get more exposure to that. It’s an exciting time.”

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