Big Fish Games hopes to be just that in the casual retail gaming pond. A leading publisher of casual, single-player games, it offers titles such as Sudoku and Mahjongg through its website, as well as original titles for download such as its flagship Mystery Case Files and Drawn. Its games are published for PC and mobile devices such as Apple's iPad and iPhone and Amazon's Kindle, and are also available on Facebook and through partnerships with magazines and publishers, such as Women's Day and Harlequin. BigFishGames.com offers more than 2,500 games developed in-house and by third parties. Having racked up 1.5 billion downloads by 2012, more than half of the company's revenues come from outside of North America.
The company surpassed the $100 million revenue mark in 2009, and 2011 marked its ninth consecutive year of record sales, as it saw organic growth of 30% over 2010. Mobile, a hook Big Fish began baiting in 2008, was a significant contributor to its 2011 gains. With thousands of games in its catalog and only about 100 on iOS devices, that market seems to be a prime candidate for sustaining its record results. On top of its pile of record-breaking sales years, the company also claims to be profitable. Continued growth like that is likely to keep it not just a big fish, but the biggest in its particular pool. Market research firm NPD Group's findings ranked Big Fish Games as the #1 game company in 2010 in the paid casual games space, ahead of Electronic Arts' Pogo.com at #2.
Most of Big Fish's growth has come organically, only sporadically dipping into the M&A waters. A 2009 acquisition of Vancouver-based casual game company Grubby Games kicked things off, and gave Big Fish a studio in Canada. Then in 2012 it picked up California-based mobile social game developer Self Aware Games with the purchase of parent Social Concepts. While Big Fish has held a leading position in the paid digital space of casual gaming, Self Aware brings expertise in the more Zynga-like free-to-play, virtual goods sales model. Furthermore, as the creator of the popular Card Ace: Casino, Self Aware positions Big Fish well in the growing market of casino games.
The company has also parlayed promotional runs into big wins. A targeted effort during Mother's Day in 2011 put one of its marquee games, Drawn, at #1 on the iPad, knocking off the undoubtedly miffed Angry Birds. The top 25 iPad games that weekend saw 15 spots gobbled up by Big Fish titles, and the company landed 11 games in the top 100 on the iPhone. The choice of Mother's Day was likely not arbitrary, as more than 75% of its customers are women, primarily between 25 and 65 years of age.
Helping feed Big Fish's international success is support for local languages and currencies. It has dedicated portals in several languages including Danish, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Swedish. It also takes payments for games in 16 currencies. The portals expanded Big Fish Games' direct-to-consumer sales; the company also sells through retail stores, including Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart.
Fueling its bevy of games are partnerships with hundreds of developers, and exclusive agreements with about 150. Founded in 2002 by former executive of major competitor RealNetworks (GameHouse and RealArcade) Paul Thelen, Big Fish Games has offices in Seattle, Vancouver, and Ireland. Investors include Balderton Capital, General Catalyst Partners, and Salmon River Capital. – less