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Mino Games has raised $15 million to create its Dimensionals collectible character game with Web3 features.
Mino Games previously scored big hits with its Mino Monsters series of free-to-play games and titles such as Cat Game and Dog Game. Now the character-driven gaming company is transitioning into Web3 games with the new Dimensionals franchise.
It will get help in doing so from gaming industry veterans Bing Gordon and Don Mattrick, who have joined the company as advisers.
Standard Crypto led the round, with participation from Boost VC, Collab Currency, Earl Grey Capital, and Konvoy Ventures.
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“Our main focus is on Dimensionals. We see this as like a once-a-decade opportunity,” said Mino Games CEO Sasha MacKinnon, in an interview with GamesBeat. “So we raised a lot so that we could really double down on it.”
Previous investors include Sybo Games and Andreessen Horowitz, and the company has raised $25 million to date. Mino Games will use the funds to accelerate the launch of its ambitious new franchise, Dimensionals, as the next major entrant in Web3 gaming.
“Every game we have made is built around its lovable, collectible characters. We’ll be using this funding to double down on our core mission – to become the next household name in gaming through a multi-platform, multichannel approach,” said MacKinnon, who started the company with Josh Buckley in 2011. “Web3 allows us to work directly with our community to design new gaming experiences that we didn’t think were possible just a few years ago. We’re sparing no expense in building this ambitious franchise, and we think the fast-growing Web3 gaming community will love it. Expect Dimensionals to take everything we’ve done up a notch.”
The margin squeeze in mobile
One of the most difficult things for free-to-play gaming, for all studios, has been that margins have gotten squeezed, MacKinnon said.
“Over the last decade, your margins have been squeezed through the platform fees, but then also user acquisition costs,” he said. “The user acquisition has also been monopolized by Google and Apple Search Ads. So it’s not uncommon for average midsize gaming studio to give 80% of their revenue back to the platforms and ad networks. And so this distribution is almost like a stranglehold over developers.”
The exciting thing about Web3, beyond building a different kind of community where the game gets support upfront, is that it doesn’t have to go through centralized distribution. Mino Games can bypass the big platforms and their fees.
“That’s really exciting,” he said.
MacKinnon believes that the revenue should belong to game developers, content creators, and gamers. The company aims to leverage Web3 to build a direct relationship between developer and community, and fundamentally reshape distribution in the market.
“We’re on the cusp of the next era in gaming where blockchains will power in-game economies, aligning the incentives of players with those of the game devs,” said Alok Vasudev, cofounder of Standard Crypto, in a statement. “Mino Games has a proven record in free-to-play and understands where crypto can enhance the experience for players. We are incredibly excited to work with Sasha and his inspiring team on what we believe will become a blockbuster gaming franchise.”
MacKinnon and Buckley moved fast in 2011 to launch successful free-to-play titles, with big hits including Cat Game and Dog Game. The company’s games have each made millions in revenue, with players spanning over 90 countries and 60 million downloads to date.
Mino Games has drawn seasoned talent from major gaming companies, including Electronic Arts, Zynga, and others. The team is spread out throughout Asia, Europe, LatAm, and North America as a remote-first company. The company is actively hiring for multiple positions and plans to expand the team by 50% by year end. It currently has 80 people.
MacKinnon said that back in 2011 the original vision was to build the next household gaming franchise at the dawn of smartphone gaming.
“We saw mobile games become a nascent distribution channel, and new technologies were a way to bootstrap a big franchise,” MacKinnon said. “That was our original pitch. We raised $2.5 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz and we built our games which were all character collection games.”
Cat Game eventually grew to thousands of cats.
“We’ve built this big company off just innovating on characters, like lovable, collectible, characters, and building mechanics and community around those characters,” MacKinnon said.
The transition to Web3
After a decade of experience in Web2 economies and characters, the company decided to move into new technology.
“As Web3 started to really pick up, with Axie Infinity and all the NFT hype, we saw this was perfect for us,” MacKinnon said. “It just felt like deja vu 10 years later. But now we have this great team and all this experience. We jumped on it. And so I feel more strongly about that mission now than even when we first launched.”
Back in 2016, the company moved from San Francisco to Montreal because of the high cost of running a company in the Bay Area. Montreal was five times more cost effective, where they could hire 50 in Montreal versus 10 in California. But the company spread out further during the pandemic and became completely virtual. Buckley left the company a few years ago and became a prolific investor.
The Dimensionals title is far more ambitious than anything the company has done to date, MacKinnon said.
“Web3 allows you upfront to connect with the community and take it on new media. So Dimensionals is kind of like Pokemon meets Marvel. It’s a multiverse full of hundreds of dimensions,” MacKinnon said. “And every dimension has these superheroes that are chosen to represent that dimension. And those superheroes the Dimensionals. You get like these crazy characters and environments like a Spirit Raven character from the shadow dimension.”
Just like the company did with Cat Game and Mino Monsters, it has the potential to extend this content into the future, over decades, the way that Pokemon has grown, MacKinnon said, by continually layering in new characters and content.
“We’re investing very heavily in not just gaming, but also in automation, as well as NFTs and multiple other media from the very beginning,” MacKinnon said.
He is excited about the mechanics that will be enabled in the Web3 space.
“But for me, the real promise of web three is how it’s going to change the relationship with the community,” he said. “It’s really fun to see the positivity in the community.”
The company expects to make pre-launch assets available for free, rather than sell them for high prices.
Getting past the haters
I asked how the company deals with the enmity toward Web3 from traditional gamers in the West.
MacKinnon has noticed that companies have responded to the backlash by refraining from mentioning things like NFTs, which have been associated with scams or worse. Those companies emphasize player ownership and the right to resell their gear that they buy or earn in the game.
“I think what will happen is, once we actually just have some fun games with good user experiences, where people can after a month of playing go and buy and sell and trade it on the market, then it will be understood,” he said. “We need to make it more accessible, working to make really fun games that people play. And then having great features on the backend of that which is enabled by crypto.”
It’s similar to way people reacted to Facebook games, and then eventually everybody started playing.
“The goal of Dimensionals is to build a fun game that can be distributed across all platforms,” MacKinnon said. “Designing the game in a way where it’s accessible to all platforms, and also to all audiences, is probably one of the key innovations. How do we make this thing so we can get mass adoption?”
On top of that, you should not have to have cryptocurrency wallet up front. MacKinnon noted that the funding was based on getting money from crypto investors as well as bringing in advisers like Gordon and Mattrick, who have had long careers in games.
Surviving the crypto winter
As for the crypto winter, MacKinnon thinks it is the best time to launch.
“The worst thing that we could have done probably would have been to launch right before the crash,” he said. “Reputational damage screws over annual holders of your assets. And so now we get to launch and we give it away for free. We’ll hopefully see it sort of a slow growth of the financial value of these things.”
He added, “More importantly, we’re going to be using it to build community. And I think what we’re going to see over two to three years is this burgeoning community will start to rapidly grow. As more and more people catch, and more fun games come out, people play more, they can get the idea of supporting a game from its beginning.”
There are some acquisitions happening and consolidation spreading.
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