Chillingo's founders have built a 'Google Maps for games'
Splace wants to help game publishers nurture communities
Today’s is a big edition of PreSeed Now.
Not only have we got the scoop on a really interesting new startup from a pair of founders you might remember, we also have a sponsor to announce.
Yes, the good folk at thestartupfactory.tech are now sponsoring PreSeed Now with their Technical Due Diligence offering for investors, which you can read all about below.
We’ll still be keeping the newsletter the same, with paying PreSeed Now members getting the full report about each startup (and look out for more useful benefits soon!), but sponsor support helps us grow the publication.
So, thank you and welcome to our new sponsor 🙏
As for today’s startup, if you’ve been following the tech industry for a long time, you’ll remember Chillingo was a big name in mobile games at the beginning of the iPhone era and was acquired by EA in 2010.
Now its founders are back with Splace. You can read all about it below.
When you invest in a startup, you need to be sure their tech–the true value behind the deal–is everything they claim it is.
PreSeed Now is sponsored by thestartupfactory.tech’s Technical Due Diligence offering.
This service goes much deeper than the technology itself, taking in leadership, technology strategy, product and roadmap, people, engineering practices, and commercial analysis.
Find out more and explore case studies now: [SHOW ME MORE]
Splace wants to help game publishers nurture communities
One of my favourite contrarian takes is that Google Maps is the world’s most successful social platform. More than just a navigation aid, it features crowdsourced ratings, reviews, and photographs, and can let you see your friends’ location on the map.
Meanwhile, Snapchat’s social map is rapidly becoming one of the app’s most important features.
So what if that idea was transferred to the world of videogames? That’s what Chris Byatte and Joe Wee–who previously founded ‘Angry Birds’ and ‘Cut the Rope’ publisher Chillingo, and sold it to EA in 2010–are doing with their new startup, Splace.
As Byatte puts it, Splace is “a next generation social network connecting gamers with each other, and the game worlds that they inhabit.”
In practice, what this looks like is a web and mobile app that allows users to join communities focused on different games, currently with a focus on large, map-based and open-world titles like Fortnite, Elden Ring, Grand Theft Auto Online, and Death Stranding.
Users can share screenshots and videos, and pin them to the exact point on the game map where they took place. The idea is that this over time builds into an immersive, social way of exploring, sharing, and discussing in-game experiences, with room to accommodate whatever kinds of content suit the players of a particular game.
Byatte and Wee also see Splace as a ‘second screen’ destination for gamers to help them engage with a community and coordinate gameplay with their friends.
Right Splace, right time?
At present, users have to manually place the content in the right place on a game’s map, but Wee says Macclesfield-based Splace is in talks with a major games publisher for a deal that would see the app integrate deeply with game worlds. This new marketing channel for games is where the startup sees its business opportunity.
“Imagine knowing in real-time, where your friends are within a game, just by looking at Splace. Maybe taking a photo or video in the game, and then it appears in the exact point in the game world… If you can do two-way data flows, the possibilities are really mind boggling. We can bring these worlds together; social and gaming.”
Byatte and Wee say they recognise the importance of communities in keeping up interest levels in a title over time. Splace is their attempt to become the go-to place for this kind of activity.
“Gaming content is fragmented,” says Byatte. “Gamers are watching streams on Twitch, chatting on Discord, and posting on Reddit or Twitter. Gamers are looking for content, and more importantly, they're looking for community. But actually there is a considerable challenge to search for and consume that content.
“If you search for, say, Elden Ring or Call of Duty on Reddit, there are countless subreddits for each of these games, which makes it very difficult to follow all the content. We solve that by having one space per game.”
And why the particular focus on location?
“Often we find that discussion on these other networks–Reddit, Discord–it's often about location. Where did you find that rank? How do you level up? Where's our sword? Where are you in the game so I can come and meet you in this gaming universe?”, explains Byatte.
Splace was soft-launched over the Christmas and New Year period at the end of 2022. Versions are currently available for the web and iPhone, with Mac and iPad versions on the way and plans to become available on whatever platform gamers are on.
“In the medium to long term you’ll hear more announcements from us in terms of game publisher partnerships, and how we can help them leverage community with the big games that they run as a service,” says Wee.
“We want to be the go-to place for publishers to spin up communities instantly around their gaming worlds,” Byatte adds.
Over 20 years in the making
Splace is the latest chapter in a long partnership between Byatte and Wee that has lasted more than 20 years.
In 2002 they launched a very early mobile app store called Click Gamer. As was the only way back then, it allowed users to buy games on the web, download them to their computer, and then sideload them onto their mobile device. Similar to the app stores of today, it used a revenue share model in partnership with developers.
I remember buying Puzzle Bobble for my phone this way in the mid-2000s. It was so slow and inconvenient that I didn’t buy another mobile app until the Apple App Store came along.
With its industry-transforming App Store, Apple encouraged developers to upload games themselves and have a direct relationship with the app store operator. But Byatte and Wee spotted an opportunity for mobile game publishers in this new landscape, and launched Chillingo.
“The problem back then was most game coders needed help to bring their title from a good status to an incredible game. So we'd supplement their efforts by signing producers to help with UI, level design….we’d take game developers to GDC [the Game Developers Conference]...”
With hit games like Cut the Rope and the first version of Rovio’s Angry Birds in their roster, they launched a social gaming product called Crystal, which developers could integrate into their titles via an SDK. Byatte says this grew to more than 100 million players in the days before Apple’s Game Center launched.
Then in 2010, Chillingo was acquired by gaming giant EA. Reports at the time pegged the deal as being worth around $20 million.
Byatte and Wee stayed with EA until 2014. Wee says that in the following years they advised companies and observed the gaming landscape until the idea for Splace emerged.
Investment, vision, competition, and challenges
Continue reading for a deeper dive on Splace:
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to PreSeed Now to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.