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Miniclip has agreed to acquire Sybo, maker of the smash mobile gaming hit Subway Surfers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. But it’s a pretty big deal.

The move is a sign of consolidation in gaming, and it comes on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the launch of Subway Surfers. The game has become an evergreen title that has had more than three billion downloads since 2012.

In the last 18 months or so, Subway Surfers has seen its daily active users rise from around 15 million to 20 million a day to now 30 million or so a day, said Sybo CEO Mathias Gredal Nørvig, in an interview with GamesBeat. He credited the efforts to focus on live operations to keep players coming back. While he isn’t talking about the purchase price, as both companies are private, Gredal Nørvig said it is the biggest deal in European mobile games this year.

“It is indeed monumental. The founders have been really proud of what they managed to accomplish with Subway Surfers becoming the largest game, seeing how the market kept downloading, how the players kept loving, how the fans kept coming,” Gredal Nørvig said. “We’ve had a very nice ride and over the last couple of years have seen the teams running very fine by themselves. With the consolidation happening in the market, and all the increased user acquisition budgets, all the things happening around us, they wanted to explore what that it could mean, if we could find the right fit or the right home for Sybo going forward. What’s really important for us is finding a partner who saw where we wanted to go and could enable our journey there.”

Overall, Miniclip will have something like 70 million daily active users, Saad Choudri, Miniclip’s CEO, in an interview with GamesBeat.

“Sybo is one of the jewels of the mobile gaming industry in terms of an IP generated from a mobile-first game,” said Choudri. “There are just a handful of those, like Angry Birds, and as a single game we know Subway Surfers is the biggest. We prioritize audience engagement as our No. 1 thing, and our entire vision and purpose is to be the world’s most popular games company. That is achieved squarely by what Sybo and the team are doing now with Subway Surfers.”

The biggest game

Subway Surfers is just about 10 years old.

Miniclip’s numbers, by the way, are now bigger than Roblox’s, thanks to Subway Surfers.

Sybo got its start in 2010, founded by Danish animation school graduates Sylvester Rishøj Jensen and Bodie Jahn-Mulliner. Their short film gave birth to Subway Surfers, which they further co-developed with Kiloo, a Danish games publisher.

“We are so thankful for the vision, expertise, and execution from Mathias and the whole SYBO Team, who have strengthened Subway Surfers both creatively and commercially during this past decade,” said Sybo cofounder Sylvester Rishøj Jensen, in a statement. “Subway Surfers has continued to be a successful mobile game for millions of fans worldwide, year after year.”

By operating on this scale, Sybo had some very big ambitions.

“We believe that we can bring people together, even if it’s just a casually, even if it’s just a snack in between meetings, or in between school sessions,” Gredal Nørvig said.

About half of the company’s staff focuses on adding more features for the game and to extend play times with live operations.

“We’ve had different teams working on activities that we are eager to announce to the market very soon. We have one title and soft launch and we have other things that are hitting the app stores relatively soon. So we have we’ve killed some projects back in the day. But now finally we are ready to meet the market again with new games this year,” Gredal Nørvig said.

He added, “If you look at Subway, from three years ago to what it is today, it is a very different game. What people sometimes don’t realize is that you really are putting the effort, the development resources, the time and everything else that you need to make a new game into what might be one feature into a pre-existing IP like this.”

Miniclip’s history

Subway Surfers has an environmental focus.

Miniclip, which is majority-owned by Tencent, has released some of the world’s most downloaded games. Founded in 2001, the company has successfully grown a huge global audience in over 195 countries and across six continents, with more than 60 games in its growing portfolio, leading to the studio exceeding three billion downloads by the end of June 2020, before reaching four billion downloads in Q1 2022.

“When we started this 10 years ago, our dream was to create something special that would be loved for generations to come,” said Sybo cofounder Bodie Jahn-Mulliner, in a statement. “The whole company, and our incredible fans, have driven the game to stellar heights. We have really had perfect flow in our partnership and gaming adventure, which has now culminated in what is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — deals in Danish gaming history. It’s a legacy we are both very proud of.”

The early days

Subway Surfers.

Copenhagen, Denmark-based Sybo co-developed the game with Kiloo, the publisher. The acquisition is set to complete this July following the legacy game’s 10th anniversary and a record-breaking banner year across daily installs, daily active users and daily revenues. In 2020, Sybo took over the publishing role itself.

Of the founders, Gredal Nørvig said, “When they started the company, they never anticipated selling because getting to this level of self-driven teams is not something that we had envisioned. And I’ve been saying ‘no’ relentlessly, at least once a week, to a lot of potential buyers over the years because we have been a very successful as a quality-oriented company.”

He added, “It’s hard to fathom how many players we reach. So it comes with a lot of responsibility, with a lot of fan interaction and love for the community,” Gredal Nørvig said. “We want to cater to that community. So we want to allow them to enjoy the IP in different genres. But we also want to show that we can also explore new IPS because people have grown up with Subway Surfers.”

Under Gredal Nørvig’s leadership, a team of savvy and experienced executives has navigated an industry of opportunities and challenges.  The company plans to keep the current management team in place with David Byrne, who joined in 2018 as chief operating officer and head of games; Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, who joined in 2017 as chief commercial officer and head of marketing; Anne Schnack Hansen, who joined in 2018 as chief people officer; and Andreas Glenvig, who joined in 2019 as finance director. 

“Since its launch in May 2012, the Subway Surfers mobile game has grown to more than 150 million monthly active players, it holds the title as the most downloaded mobile game, it was the world’s first game to cross one billion downloads on Google Play, and the most downloaded endless runner game in Apple’s App Store’s history”, said Choudri. “Miniclip has always had a strong focus on building high quality games that unleash the gamer in everyone, which has helped define the business and allowed us to lead in a crowded marketplace, delivering consistent growth through building our M&A with fantastic and innovative new partners. Which is why the Sybo team felt like such a natural fit, having developed one of the world’s most popular games. They have a proven record of delivering and maintaining an incredible gamer experience, as well as continuing to grow virally. We are beyond excited to welcome them into the Miniclip family as we empower them to keep running and running.” 

Sybo is among the latest game developer acquisitions by Miniclip, following the recent acquisitions of Supersonic Software (One Clue Crossword and Picture Cross) and Eight Pixels Square (Sniper Strike: Special Ops).

Raine served as exclusive advisor to Sybo in its sale to Miniclip. And Bech Bruun acted as legal and tax counsel to Sybo.

Today, the game is entirely self-published by Sybo and continues to develop regular updates for Subway Surfers.  Subway Surfers launched on the Apple Store in May 2012 and quickly rocketed to the top of the charts. One week after its release in the App Store, Subway Surfers was the number one downloaded game in 20 countries and soon after that, the number one in 50 countries, including the United States.

In September 2015, three years after its debut, Subway Surfers reached the milestone — one billion downloads worldwide. Subway Surfers topped 2019’s most downloaded mobile game globally, and today, Subway Surfers has had more than three billion downloads. Sybo now has 140 people.

Choudri said there is a market correction happening now driven by the slowdown in macroeconomic trends, and he said his company has stayed disciplined in its approach to deals.

Subway Surfers has 30 million daily active users.

“We’re seeing some of the frothiness come out of the market a little bit, but I actually think that’s a good thing as we needed a market correction,” Choudri said. “Some of these deals and valuations we were seeing were difficult to justify. We’re taking a long-term view.”

Miniclip has 910 people in 13 offices and an audience of 250 million monthly active users. To date, Miniclip’s digital games, which include the franchises 8 Ball Pool, Golf Battle, Football Strike, Carrom Pool, and Agar.io have generated more than 4 billion downloads. Tencent bought a majority stake in 2015. Choudri said the company plans to launch 14 games this year.

“We’re in the business of games,” Choudri said. “We are not here to create some sort of financial arbitrage. We want to continue making great games and launching great games. And that’s why we’ve got more launches than we ever had this year, at 14. And Sybo has a roadmap and they’ll be launching some new games soon enough. Hopefully, we’re excited to hear about them in the coming months.”

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