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6 investors on 2021’s mobile gaming trends and opportunities

Many VCs historically avoided placing bets on hit-driven mobile gaming content in favor of clearer platform opportunities, but as more success stories pop up, the economics overturned conventional wisdom with new business models. As more accessible infrastructure allowed young studios to become more ambitious, venture money began pouring into the gaming ecosystem.
After tackling topics including how investors are looking at opportunities in social gaming, infrastructure bets and the moonshots of AR/VR, I asked a group of VCs about their approach to mobile content investing and whether new platforms were changing perspectives about opportunities in mobile-first and desktop-first experiences.
While desktop gaming has evolved dramatically in the past few years as new business models and platforms take hold, to some degree, mobile has been hampered. Investors I chatted with openly worried that some of mobile’s opportunities were being hamstrung by Apple’s App Store.
“We are definitely fearful of Apple’s ability to completely disrupt/affect the growth of a game,” Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Sakib Dadi told TechCrunch. “We do not foresee that changing any time in the near future despite the outcry from companies such as Epic and others.”
All the while, another central focus seems to be the ever-evolving push toward cross-platform gaming, which is getting further bolstered by new technologies. One area of interest for investors: migrating the ambition of desktop titles to mobile and finding ways to build cross-platform experiences that feel fulfilling on devices that are so differently abled performance-wise.
Madrona’s Hope Cochran, who previously served as CFO of Candy Crush maker King, said mobile still has plenty of untapped opportunities. “When you have a AAA game, bringing it to mobile is challenging and yet it opens up an entire universe of scale.”
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. We spoke with:

Hope Cochran, managing director, Madrona Venture Group

Daniel Li, partner, Madrona Venture Group

Ethan Kurzweil, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners

Sakib Dadi, investor, Bessemer Venture Partners

Alice Lloyd George, founding partner, Rogue VC

Gigi Levy-Weiss, general partner, NFX

Hope Cochran and Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group
Does it ever get any easier to bet on a gaming content play? What do you look for?
Hope Cochran: I feel like there are a couple different sectors in gaming. There’s the actual studios that are developing games and they have several approaches. Are they developing a brand new game, are they reimagining a game from 25 years ago and reskinning it, which is a big trend right now, or are they taking IP that is really trendy right now and trying to create a game around it? There are different ways to predict which ones of those might make it, but then there’s also the infrastructure behind gaming and then there’s also identifying trends and which games or studios are embracing those. Those are some of the ways I try to parse it out and figure out which ones I think are going to rise to the top of the list.
Daniel Li: There’s this single-player narrative versus multiplayer metaverse and I think people are more comfortable on the metaverse stuff because if you’re building a social network and seeing good early traction, those things don’t typically just disappear. Then if you are betting more on individual studios producing games, I think the other thing is we’re seeing more and more VCs pop up that are just totally games-focused or devoting a portion of the portfolio to games. And for them it’s okay to have a hits-driven portfolio.
There seems to be more innovation happening on PC/console in terms of business models and distribution, do you think mobile feels less experimental these days? Why or why not?
Hope Cochran: Mobile is still trying to push the technology forward, the important element of being cross-platform is difficult. When you have a AAA game, bringing it to mobile is challenging and yet it opens up an entire universe of scale. The metrics are also very different for mobile though.
Daniel Li: It seems like the big monetization innovation that has happened over the last couple of years has been the “battle pass” type of subscription where you can unlock more content by playing. Obviously that’s gone over to mobile, but it doesn’t feel like mobile has had some sort of new monetization unlock. The other thing that’s happened on desktop is the success of the “pay $10 or $20 or $20 for this indie game” type of thing, and it feels like that’s not going to happen on mobile because of the price points that people are used to paying.
Alice Lloyd George, Rogue VC

6 investors on 2021’s mobile gaming trends and opportunities

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

WhatsApp delays enforcement of a controversial privacy change, Apple may get rid of the Touch Bar in future MacBooks and Bumble files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for January 15, 2021.
The big story: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash
Earlier this month, WhatsApp sent users a notification asking them to consent to sharing some of their personal data — such as phone number and location — with Facebook (which owns WhatsApp). The alert also said users would have to agree to the terms by February 8 if they wanted to continue using the app.

This change prompted legal threats and an investigation from the Turkish government. Now the company is pushing the enforcement date back three months.
“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a post. “We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”
The tech giants
Uber planning to spin out Postmates’ delivery robot arm — Postmates X is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company.
Apple said to be planning new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros with MagSafe and Apple processors — This could be the end for the Touch Bar.
Amazon’s newest product lets companies build their own Alexa assistant for cars, apps and video games — Yes, that means your next car could have two Alexas.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Bumble files to go public — The company plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange, using the ticker symbol “BMBL.”
Tracy Chou launches Block Party to combat online harassment and abuse — Currently available for Twitter, Block Party helps people filter out the content they don’t want to see.
Everlywell raises $75M from HealthQuest Capital following its recent $175M Series D round — Everlywell develops at-home testing kits for a range of health concerns, and it added a COVID-19 home collection test kit last year.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Fifteen steps to fundraising a new VC or private equity fund — Launching is easy; fundraising is harder.
Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree — The acquisition of Fountainhead Press marks Top Hat’s third purchase of a publishing company in the past 12 months.
Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers — Takeaways from Lawson’s new book “Ask Your Developer.”
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
Everything else
Video game spending increased 27% in 2020 — According to the latest figures from NPD, spending on gaming hardware, software and accessories was up 25% in December and 27% for the full year.
DOT evaluated 11 GPS replacements and found only one that worked across use cases —  The government wants to create additional redundancy and resiliency in the sector.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

Daily Crunch: Samsung unveils Galaxy S21 line

Samsung lowers prices with its latest Galaxy S phones, Google completes its Fitbit acquisition and Beyond Meat is coming to Taco Bell. This is your Daily Crunch for January 14, 2021.
The big story: Samsung unveils Galaxy S21 line
Samsung’s new line of phones includes the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra, priced at $799, $999 and $1,119 respectively, an across-the-board price cut of $200. Brian Heater writes that the Ultra, in particular, “has one very important trick up its sleeve” — namely compatibility with the S Pen.

All three phones are available for pre-order now and start shipping on January 29.
In addition, Samsung announced the Galaxy Buds Pro, which cost $199 and come with a stated five hours of battery life. And it’s launching a Bluetooth locator, dubbed the Galaxy SmartTag.
The tech giants
Google’s Fitbit acquisition is official — This follows regulatory scrutiny on both sides of the pond.
Amazon’s Ring Neighbors app exposed users’ precise locations and home addresses — The bug made it possible to retrieve the location data on users who posted to the app.
Beyond Meat shares soar after inking deal with Taco Bell on new menu items — Taco Bell announced that it would work with Beyond Meat to come up with new menu items due to be tested in the next year.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Medium acquires social book reading app Glose — Glose has been building iOS, Android and web apps that let you buy, download and read books on your devices.
Tiger Global is raising a new $3.75B venture fund, one year after closing its last — Despite being named Tiger Private Investment Partners XIV, this is actually the firm’s thirteenth fund.
Carbyne raises $25M for a next-generation platform to improve emergency 911 responses — The Israeli startup aims to help emergency services get more complete information about callers, and to provide additional telemedicine services.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Five consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies — Investors are generally bullish on at-home fitness startups.
Poshmark prices IPO above range as public markets continue to YOLO startups — This is the late-2020, early-2021 IPO market in action.
Twelve ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share — Founders seeking non-dilutive funding: start here.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
Everything else
Tech and health companies including Microsoft and Salesforce team up on digital COVID-19 vaccination records — The so-called “Vaccination Credential Initiative” includes a range of big-name companies from both the healthcare and tech industries.
2020 was one of the warmest years in history and indicates mounting risks of climate change — 2020 either edged out or came in just behind 2016 as the warmest year in recorded history, according to data from U.S. government agencies.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Samsung unveils Galaxy S21 line

Amazon launches $1.2 mobile Prime Video plan in India

Amazon is doubling down on one of the biggest strengths of its Prime Video streaming service: aggressive pricing.
The e-commerce giant on Wednesday launched Prime Video Mobile Edition, an even more affordable tier of the on-demand video streaming service — now also bundling some mobile data.
Prime Video Mobile Edition, for which Amazon has partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel, will feature 28-day mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) access to customers in India for Rs 89 ($1.22). This tier will include 6GB of mobile data that customers can consume during the subscription period. There’s also a slightly expensive plan for Prime Video Mobile Edition that will charge customers Rs 299 but will offer 1.5GB mobile data for each day of the subscription. To anyone who subscribes to Prime Video Mobile Edition, Amazon says it will pick the tab for the first month.

Amazon Prime subscription costs $1.7 a month in India and includes access to Prime Video and Prime Music.

The new Prime Video plan is currently only available in India. Its launch comes two years after Netflix unveiled a similar plan in India.
Affordable pricing is key for on-demand steaming services that are looking to make inroads in India, the world’s second-largest internet market. Even as more than 600 million users are online in the country today, only a fraction of them currently pay to access digital subscriptions. In a recent report to clients, analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated that gaming and video streaming market in India could clock as much as $5 billion in gross value transactions by March 2025.

Netflix launches Rs 199 ($2.8) mobile-only monthly plan in India

“India is one of our fastest growing territories in the world with very high engagement rates. Buoyed by this response, we want to double-down by offering our much-loved entertainment content to an even larger base of Indian customers. Given high mobile broadband penetration in the country, the mobile phone has become one of the most widely used streaming devices,” said Jay Marine, vice president, Amazon Prime Video Worldwide, in a statement.
Airtel, the second-largest telecom operator in India, is the first roll-out partner for Prime Video Mobile Edition, said Sameer Batra, director, Mobile Business Development at Amazon, suggesting that the company may ink similar deals with other telecom operators in the country as it looks to expand the “reach of our service to the entire pre-paid customer base in India.”
Nearly every on-demand video streaming service in India, including Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar, maintain various partnerships with local telecom operators and satellite TV providers to reach more users in the country. Amazon did not explicitly say when or if it plans to extend Prime Video Mobile Edition outside of India.

Amazon launches $1.2 mobile Prime Video plan in India

Rollables are the new foldables

Smartphone sales are bad — and have been for a couple of years now. Certainly this ongoing pandemic hasn’t helped. All the talk about how 5G and new form factors were going to cause a kind of bounce-back all fell by the wayside, as people put a pause on unnecessary luxuries.
Samsung is the only company that’s seen some success with the foldable form factor, and that whole thing got off to a…rough start. There were plenty of technical issues at first, leading to a less than auspicious first impression. These days, price continues to be a major hurdle — especially during a time when paying $1,000 and up on a phone is a major red flag for many.
In the world of phone form factors, two is, at the very least, the start of a trend. And on day one of CES both LG and TCL have offered their take on yet another form factor designed to offer more screen real estate in pocketable devices.

Image Credits: TCL

LG’s product is — for the moment — the more notable of the two, largely because the company plans to actually release the thing. In an interview published this morning, spokesperson Ken Hong told Nikkei, “As it is released at CES 2021, I can tell that it will be launched this year.”
And, indeed, LG’s a company not afraid to take chances with a wacky form factor. There are a number of examples of the phenomenon in recent years, most notably the swiveling screen on the LG Wing.
Still, the product didn’t amount to much more than a brief tease during a press conference (an excuse to transition between scenes, really), so you’d be forgiven for assuming that the tech still has a long way to go.
TCL, meanwhile, noted up front that the product is still firmly in the concept phase, but managed to give us a better look. I suppose it’s easier to parade concept than an unfinished real-world product. Details are still slim, but the company says the device is capable of expanding from 6.7 to 7.8 inches.
One imagines — or, at least, hopes — that the industry has learned from the issues stemming from the first batch of foldables. Sometimes the race to bring technology to market results in delivering something half-baked, an issue that came back to bite companies like Samsung and Motorola. Lab testing is one thing — the real world is a different thing entirely.

Rollables are the new foldables