How Scopely aimed to be a hit company, rather than just a hit game maker | co-CEOs fireside chat

Walter Driver and Javier Ferreira, co-CEOs of Scopely, spoke with me in a fireside chat at GamesBeat Summit 2024 about how they feel the product they created was the company itself, not any individual hit game.

Scopely got started in 2011 and Driver and Ferreira helped drive it to enormous success with games such as Star Trek Fleet Command and Marvel Strike Force. In 2023, they sold the company to Savvy Games Group, the Riyadh-based company financed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, for $4.9 billion.

Shortly after that, they launched Monopoly Go, a mobile game that generated $2 billion in revenue just 10 months after launch. That game helped put the enormous ambition of the Saudis in a good light as they poured money into the game industry at a time when much of the industry has been suffering layoffs. We talked about the long journey of Scopely and its focus on resilience and adaptation — the theme of our GamesBeat Summit event.

While times are challenging, there are still rewards for companies that persevere. Monopoly Go was the No. 1 game of 2023, and Scopely also launched cross-platform versions of its party royale hit Stumble Guys.

GB Event

Lil Snack & GamesBeat

GamesBeat is excited to partner with Lil Snack to have customized games just for our audience! We know as gamers ourselves, this is an exciting way to engage through play with the GamesBeat content you have already come to love. Start playing games now!

Learn More

Monopoly Go took a total of seven years to come to the market, and its success has enabled Scopely to keep more than 2,300 people employed at a time when others are cutting back.

Here’s an edited transcript of our fireside chat.

scopely 1
Scopely’s co-CEOs talk about their journey with Dean Takahashi at GamesBeat Summit 2024.

GamesBeat: We’re trying to level set everyone here and talk about the founding and origins of Scopely. Walter, you co-founded it in 2011. Javier joined soon after. How did this come together? What was the vision for the company back then?

Walter Driver: I started the company, as you said, in 2011. We had an ambition to make things that mattered a lot to people for long periods of time. They could look forward to playing every day. Hopefully create the kind of company that we always aspired to be part of, a place we’d want to work for a long time, that challenged us to find out what we were capable of. One thing I knew at the time, in the early days, was the ambitions we had to make the kinds of products we wanted–we probably didn’t have the capabilities to make those in our current incarnation.

I spent a lot of time going around the industry talking to people that I respected the most, trying to figure out who were the people they respected the most. Who were the smartest, most talented people in the industry, people who might transform our future potential the most? Javier’s name was one of those that came up repeatedly. We were connected by a mutual friend, Mike Marchetti, and spent about nine months having quite a few conversations with him, talking about the kind of company we wanted to build. Fortunately enough we convinced him to come join. A lot has happened in the ensuing years.

GamesBeat: Javier, what did you think was different about Scopely when you joined? It’s very different to have co-CEOs.

Ferreira: I started working in mobile games right at the beginning of the industry. Black and white pixel phones. I’d been at Jamdat, which was one of the early mobile game publishers. We were bought by EA. I spent a few years at EA. Then I moved over here to the U.S. to run games publishing for Disney Interactive. At Disney, that was maybe not the happiest part of my professional career, but I learned a lot of the things that really mattered. On the personal side, some of the things that Walter was talking about–I wanted to focus on the experience. I wanted to work with people I thought were crazy talented. I wanted to do meaningful and important things with our professional experience. I wanted to have ambition, but at the same time no ego.

On the business side, I learned a lot of things in those prior experiences. For me, there were three pillars that I was thinking about where I wanted to be different. First was creating talent. Game companies had been generally fairly rigid in how they created talent. By that I mean, basically you had to be on the payroll. You had to be part of the company to be part of the games we were making. We saw it differently. We were driven to find great talent wherever it might be, whatever company they might be part of. We wanted to build teams that would go out and find big opportunities.

Scopely made Monopoly Go under license from Hasbro.
Scopely made Monopoly Go under license from Hasbro.

The second one was technology. Free-to-play games, live services, there was a lot of creativity in that area of game development, but it was also heavily technology-driven. Walter and the team had a really interesting technology platform. I had seen the power of that, and also how problematic it was when you didn’t have access to that technology. That was a differentiating factor.

The third one was talent. This is an industry where one person, two people, three people can make or break a multi-billion-dollar business. In conversations with Walter, we had the same perspective. We wanted to build a company with the best talent in the industry. We wanted that to be one of our key tenets. Those were some of the things that attracted me to the experience. As Walter was saying, we spent many months speaking and making sure that we were aligned, both intellectually and also emotionally. That was key to the conversation. It’s been 10 years since then and we’ve been successful. I’m glad I made the decision.

GamesBeat: Walter, you had a long term approach. The mobile business at the time didn’t lend itself to thinking long term. How did you get started that way, planning so far ahead?

Driver: One of the things that Javier and I talked about in those initial conversations, we had seen a lot of companies that were fortunate enough to have success in the early days of mobile games being somewhat surprised by that success. They struggled to replicate it. We thought it was important in the beginning to not just try to build a single product or just get traction, but really have a blueprint for a company that could have repeated success over long periods of time. At the core of that was this understanding of the experience itself.

The first goal we had was for the majority of the people who came to Scopely to say that this was the best experience in their professional life. Which may seem like a weird foundational goal for the company, but in a talent-driven industry, if people are having the best experience of their professional life at Scopely, they’ll probably tell their friends. They’ll probably want to come work here. Talented people we have will want to stay. That was important to the kind of company we wanted to be part of, too. We wanted to have the best experience of our professional life. When that’s a core goal, it impacts the way you look at a lot of things. It’s not just about shipping the next feature, but really being intentional about how you design the culture of the company and its processes, to try to enable people to have a greater sense of agency and empowerment, to challenge them the way they want to be challenged, to work alongside people who feel they’re the best version of themselves.

It also affects how you invest. We were investing in a back end technology platform that would make all our games more effective when we were a series A startup. We desperately needed to generate more revenue and ship more products. A lot of our investors would ask, why do you invest in this thing that doesn’t generate revenue. It takes a bunch of great engineers who could be on a revenue-generating project. But we wanted to plan to be around for a long time. We wanted to build the infrastructure to support a larger portfolio of businesses. And also, we wanted to stockpile talent that could go after more than one opportunity and bring in people who could help us build the next chapter of the company, whatever chapter we were. In the game space you need a lot of great people focused on whatever is happening now, but you also need enough density of really talented people that are driving the next wave of ambition and growth, the stuff that may be coming two, three, four years from now.

Scopely is buying Stumble Guys.
Scopely’s Stumble Guys.

We brought that long term orientation to a lot of decisions, and it’s served us well over the last decade. Now we’ve had more than 500 million play a Scopely game in the last 12 months. It requires a lot of discipline to keep thinking about what will serve you well five or 10 years from now, but that long term orientation has paid off for us.

GamesBeat: The theme of our summit here is resilience and adaptation. You guys have had your share of adversity to overcome in building this company over such a long time. How did you approach challenges?

Ferreira: We’ve had, I think, 12 consecutive years of double-digit growth from a revenue perspective. Throughout the journey we’ve raised a bunch of rounds – $100 million validation, $600 million, $1 billion, $3 billion. From the outside, there’s always this notion of, oh, it’s a rocketship, everybody is high-fiving all the time. But the reality is that building a company like this is experiencing failure constantly. The reality is that you can describe your job as overcoming and resolving failure on a consistent basis. That’s how, over time, you achieve success.

We’ve tried to build a company that internalizes that, that accepts that we’re going to fail more than we succeed. Generally we’re more wrong than we’re right. But if we have the right mindset, if we have the right culture, we can work together. As I said before, we can be ambitious, but humble. We can change our minds quickly and learn quickly. Ultimately if we can learn and grow faster than our competitors, we will always win. That’s been the experience and the journey.

A lot of the success of the company has been built around that. It’s not because we were visionaries that anticipated the market better than anyone else. It’s been driven by the ability to iterate, to change our minds and find new ideas when it made sense.

Driver: Focusing on being the best when you’re in an early stage business is going to set you up for a lot of frustration, because you’re not the best yet. You’re going to feel like you’re failing constantly. But if you can become the best at getting better, if you can focus more on the rate of improvement, seeing things less as, “This is a success and this is a failure,” and more of just an ongoing iterative process–that’s why we talk a lot about how we’re not just trying to build a company, but trying to build a learning machine, where learning can happen as fast as possible. To learn quickly you have to try to do things you haven’t done before. Inherently, you’re going to be operating at the frontier of your current capabilities. You’ll experience a lot of failure. But if you’re not trying to do ambitious things, you won’t be learning very fast. You won’t be challenging yourself. A lot of it is the lens that you bring to that. If you bring the right lens, it can help manage the company’s energy and the energy of the people involved to be able to stay with it for much longer.

Scopely makes a wide range of mobile games.
Scopely’s top mobile game hits in 2020.

Ferreira: One final thing I would add around the market. There’s a lot of talk about the market and what’s going on. I think we’ve always tried to look at the market as proving always a set of challenges, but also a set of opportunities. That’s always been the case. I think it’s still the case today. We’ll talk about Monopoly, where we launched one of the most successful mobile games ever, however you choose to define the market today. I would encourage every team and every company out there to just have this view of the market, which is, as I said, there are a number of challenges, but there are a number of opportunities for the companies that can solve those challenges better than anyone else. That’s always been the case.

GamesBeat: That brings us to Monopoly Go, which has had tremendous success. It’s interesting that it took so long to get to the market. I’ve talked a lot with Mike Morhaime, the former CEO of Blizzard, about how the success of World of Warcraft gave them an opportunity to focus on quality. You guys had Star Trek Fleet Command, which was very successful, but it didn’t seem to enable the same kind of thinking about ambition as something like World of Warcraft gave to Blizzard. I wonder how you started thinking about quality level, how long to invest, and whether there was some transition in thinking there. “We can be more ambitious than Star Trek now.”

Driver: Our ambitions have grown every year over the 12-plus years of the company. As Javier said, we’ve had 12 consecutive years of double-digit growth. Before Monopoly Go we had four franchises that did more than a billion dollars in lifetime bookings. Internally we talked a lot about how the success of whatever wave of products is generating today is enabling the next set of products we want to invest in and giving those teams an opportunity to try to build the best product of their careers.

Monopoly Go was one of those situations. I think it benefited from the success of the products that had come out before it. We’ve talked publicly about how it took seven years from the time we started it until the time it was globally released. That was a lot longer than anyone anticipated. It was not a straight line. We started over with new designs of the game a couple of times. I don’t think we would have been able to do that if we hadn’t had a strong foundation in the rest of the business. Also, the conviction to try to make the absolute best thing possible every time we had the chance.

Now that it’s come out it’s probably the biggest mobile game of all time 12 months after launch. The scale is bigger than anything we’ve done before. That does give us an opportunity for the next wave of things we’re thinking about to be even more ambitious. Maybe make decisions that few other companies could make in terms of laying out plans for the long time. That mentality has served us well before. We could have launched Monopoly after four or five years, but it wouldn’t have given us a decade-plus of different decision-making if we had done that. There are compounding benefits to thinking long term around these games and giving yourself the space to make something really great. Things that are truly great in this industry are exponentially more valuable than things that are just quite good.

scopely 2
Javier Ferreira talks about Scopely’s journey on stage at GamesBeat Summit 2024.

Ferreira: I don’t think our ambition had changed, but I think we learned. We certainly learned a number of things from Star Trek. Star Trek was a business we built up to $300 million a year. It was a good business. Certainly our most successful business we had ever launched. But I think the two key things that we learned in that process–when the team is strong and the product strategy is the right one, generally more time in development will serve you well.

When we think about these businesses, we think about 10 or 20 years of business once you launch them. Giving the team another year, even another two years of development to find the magic makes sense. It makes business sense. With Monopoly we were very committed to not launching the game until we had total conviction that we had found the best possible experience.

On the marketing side, with Star Trek we had not leaned into marketing more aggressively at launch. That was probably a missed opportunity for us. We didn’t want to make that mistake with Monopoly. At the release of the game we leaned in and made sure that we spent as much as possible.

GamesBeat: Seven years to make it and seven months to the first $1 billion. That’s not bad. And then three more months after that you hit the $2 billion revenue mark for Monopoly Go. What sort of opportunity does this create for Scopely now?

Driver: Having a flagship franchise at that scale gives us the ability to continue to make ambitious bets for the long term. Maybe things that few other companies can do. We’ll continue to try to make new kinds of experiences across a number of different categories. Things that are complex and challenging, very small bull’s-eyes to hit, but if we’re able to do it they can become people’s favorite new games. Things that can really energize communities and help people form relationships through gameplay.

Each one of those projects is highly challenging. It’s like starting a new company almost, finding product-market fit with a new business. Hopefully it gives some air cover to those teams that are trying to create the best thing they can.

Ferreira: It’s a really exciting time right now to be at Scopely. Monopoly and the success of the rest of the portfolio has built an exciting platform in terms of scale and business trajectory. With the Savvy acquisition we also created a stable long-term capital structure, so we can think in the very long term, and at the same time have access to a lot of capital as needed.

When a company launches a game of this scale, it impacts everybody else within the company. It sets a benchmark for what we’re capable of doing. Monopoly is one of the largest if not the largest mobile game ever launched. It’s inspired all of our teams to go build the next Monopoly. We’re thinking bigger in terms of the products and experience that we’ll build moving forward, both in terms of gameplay and platforms. It’s a play right now where there are no constraints on what we can do.

GamesBeat: Savvy acquired Scopely for $4.9 billion about a month before the Monopoly Go launch. Great timing. Brian Ward, the CEO of Savvy Games, was here yesterday. He’s excited about your ambitions, including the M&A strategy that you have. What opportunities do you see there to build through acquisitions?

Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy Games Group, and Lisa Cosmas Hanson, president of Niko Partners, at GamesBeat Summit  2024.
Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy Games Group, and Lisa Cosmas Hanson, president of Niko Partners, at GamesBeat Summit 2024.

Driver: We mentioned earlier that we put a lot of thought, over the history of the company, into what is the optimal setup at every stage of the company for long-term success. Who are the right partners? What’s the right access to capital? How do we make the business better? The partnership with Savvy, we believe, put the company in a stronger position. It gave us a very long term-oriented partner and shareholders with a lot of continuity to be able to plan for a long time, one that shared our ambitions. They’re one of the most important companies in the game space.

One of the areas we thought was enabled by that was the ability to do M&A on a greater scale. We’ve had a lot of success bringing great teams and products into the Scopely system over the years through M&A. We believe that no matter how much innovation is happening inside the company, there’s more innovation happening outside of it. You need to really engage with all that innovation and look for talented teams and products that might have been created elsewhere, that you could never build yourself inside the company.

We’re always looking for opportunities to create DNA mutations at Scopely through the companies we acquire, the people and teams. They can teach us things we don’t know and augment our product strategies. We’re seeing right now that there’s a moment in time where not a lot of acquisition activity is happening in this space. A lot of companies that were very active over the last few years are less active right now. We believe it’s a favorable time, over the next couple of years, to find the most ambitious game-makers that are also looking for a long-term home where they can do their best work, focus on creating great games, and not be distracted by the public markets.

They can have access to a lot of infrastructure, the kind of infrastructure we built around Monopoly Go, that can be leveraged to build and scale great products that other companies have made. We’ve found that as we get deeper into those conversations, a lot of that infrastructure is attractive to great game-makers and people who want their products in the hands of as many people as possible. We’re excited to explore those M&A opportunities over the coming years in partnership with Savvy. There’s a number of great opportunities out there.

GamesBeat: Do you have advice for anyone thinking about how to follow in Scopely’s footsteps?

Ferreira: For me, I would say to surround yourself with amazing people that want to go on a journey with you, that share your values. You’re going to spend an immense amount of time with those people. They’re going to become a meaningful part of not just your professional life, but your personal life. I would start with that. Second, as I said before, embrace the difficulty. Embrace challenges. Embrace failure. That’s how you build success. It doesn’t work the other way around. You get to success by going through that process. Make sure you’re excited to go on a journey for the right reasons, the right motivations.

Driver: Embrace change, also. We say a lot at Scopely that change is never painful, but resistance to change is painful. If you’re an insurgent in this space, it’s a very fast-moving space. You have to look at change as an opportunity and figure out how to harness it and use it in ways that serve your interests over larger incumbents, who are going to be slower to react to that change. Sometimes we talk to smaller companies who are bemoaning whatever change that’s happening. We definitely encourage you to figure out how to position yourself to ride the wave of whatever changes are out there and use that to your advantage.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top