Women-Centered Gaming Startup Raises $55 Million To Scale And Grow Istanbul Into A Tech Hub

Orignally published on 2022-01-19 12:00:00 by

The worldwide social, casual, and mobile gaming industry has been growing by leaps and bounds—it has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to Statista. Industry revenues are projected to be $90.65 billion in 2022.

Gamers are no longer just young men. “Driving growth are women over the age of 35,” said Rina Onur Sirinoglu, CEO and cofounder of Spyke Games, a social, casual, and mobile gaming startup. As a cofounder of Peak Games, a mobile gaming company based in Istanbul, she helped grow and sell it to Zynga for nearly $2 billion.

For her next chapter, her goal is to create one of the largest gaming companies in the world, make Turkey into a gaming hub, and include women in shaping the development of games. “Covid-19 has been both a blessing and curse,” said Onur Sirinoglu. It’s the perfect time for entertainment that brings people together remotely. Still, it has made it more challenging to find creative inspiration that sparks content creators’ imaginations and serves as fuel for product development.

Onur Sirinoglu has put together an experienced team of cofounders with a history of working together. Building games is second nature to them: They have been doing it for 10 to 12 years. The team is also aligned with Spyke’s mission and culture—to build highly engaging emotional experiences through data-driven game design that combines beautiful aesthetics, inviting characters, and captivating gameplay.

“We have so much shared history,” said Onur Sirinoglu. The cofounders know what makes each other tick and what makes good gaming. They were cofounders or executive team members at Peak Games, Zynga, and Riot Games. The cofounders have developed many of the world’s top-grossing global mobile titles.

Many popular games, such as Candy Crush, are solitary experiences. It’s an individual experience and great, mindless fun. “It’s wonderful, but it doesn’t connect you to the rest of the world or even your friends and family. Your game experience doesn’t necessarily get better by playing with others.”

“Spyke isn’t just a game-production company,” said Onur Sirinoglu. It’s a platform that connects people through the games that it produces. “Our North Star is to create a social layer and connectivity in every product created.”

For gamers, the competition isn’t just local; it’s global. For the company, competition isn’t just the best game developers. It’s also social media and entertainment platforms, from Tik Tok to Netflix. “We’re vying for the attention of the player,” Onur Sirinoglu said.

“This is a team business,” said Onur Sirinoglu. The artists, engineers, product developers, and data scientists are aligned around a common mission: to create quality content that connects people to compete, engages them enjoyably and playfully, and encourages them to support each other as they learn to get better at the game.

While at Peak, Onur Sirinoglu tried a decentralized working structure by having multiple offices in different cities. But she found people were siloed and not collaborating at a maximal level. It just didn’t work for their product development process. “We need to get people from different disciplines at the same table. As much as it was safe [in the age of Covid-19], we tried to come into the office.”

Feeding the imaginations of creative content creators is critical. As a creative team, they are inspired not just by other games but the world at large. Going to the latest Pixar or DreamWorks animated movie was a team event at Peak. “We found new ways to find creative inspiration by being in the office and not going to the theater,” said Onur Sirinoglu. They brought social activities into the office.

The team has been beta testing Spyke’s first game. Based on the feedback from beta testers, the startup raised a $55 million seed round from Griffin Gaming Partners (GGP), the startup’s pre-seed investor. GGP, one of the world’s largest venture capital firms, is focused on investing in the global gaming market. The funding for Spyke breaks records as the largest seed round raised by a female CEO in Turkey—as well as globally—in the mobile gaming industry.

“They [GGP] see hundreds and thousands of games every year and know the metrics [that drive success] inside and out,” said Onur Sirinoglu. The Spyke team knows firsthand that social games allow you to play and share experiences with others. Users invite their friends and family to participate. Not only does this make the game fun, but it also creates an experience that engages and retains users for the long term and makes the game viral.

For every dollar you spend in acquiring a typical user, each invites four or five of their friends, colleagues, and family. The referrals enable social games to proliferate and create communities around themselves. A loyal, engaged fan base makes it hard for a competing gaming company to pry the community away.

Turkey is a rising tech hub. Its talent pool is growing faster than Eastern European countries like Ukraine, Romania, and Poland. Women have been an overlooked market for games but are now driving growth in the industry. Turkey has a distinct edge. It has a much higher percentage of women graduates with tech degrees than the U.K., and the U.S., and, to a lesser degree, Eastern European countries.

Having access to female talent is key to developing content that will appeal to women. “The gamer archetype has changed,” said Onur Sirinoglu. Women 35 plus are driving growth. “And the types of games that are targeting women are rapidly changing. It’s only natural to have female leadership.”

As competition for Turkey’s tech talent heats up, Onur Sirinoglu believes Spyke’s culture gives it an edge. “Every product or company decision is data-driven,” she said. “My idea as the CEO doesn’t have more weight than somebody who has just joined the company a month ago,” she said.

Founders who succeed at scaling their companies often give back to their community by mentoring and funding other ambitious start-up entrepreneurs. Onur Sirinoglu is also a founding partner of 500 Istanbul, a venture capital fund that has raised $330 million. The fund has invested in 33% female-founded companies—about double the percentage in the United States.

Spyke’s first game will be released in about a month.

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Orignally published on 2022-01-19 12:00:00 by

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