A fellow games entrepreneur just shared with me this youtube video of the keynote I did this summer at Casual Connect titled: “Hunting the next Supercell”. This presentation is based on the work I have been doing with Mattias Ljungman and Stephen Thorne in the Atomico games investment team first as an Entrepreneur in Residence and then as a Venture Partner. Since my work at Atomico is done in parallel with running eRepublik Labs (that I sold to Stillfront in 2017), I try to have a candid & direct approach about why games is an interesting space for VC and what we base our investment decisions on in this space. Hope you find this useful.

Atomico Game investments past and present include: Rovio, Supercell, Bossa Studios, Teatime and OhBibi



Last week, we decided to pull down our first mobile game Tactical Heroes from the Apple App Store. Tactical Heroes is dead, may it rest in peace.

Although painful, it was an easy decision. The game that we launched on October 16 of 2014, simply never reached the necessary size and community engagement to thrive.

Being the first mobile game we got to launch (we cancelled 3 games that we never launched before it) after our initial success with eRepublik.com we had high hopes for Tactical Heroes.

Tactical Heroes was also on paper the type of game that should have made it. It came from our love of Turn Based Tactical games and our perception of a gap in the mobile games market and we did what felt like a lot of right moves.

  • XCOM is one of my all time favorite games and was a big inspiration for Tactical Heroes the same way Civilization was and is an inspiration for eRepublik.com.
  • We acquired a company “Alien Flow” with a small but experienced team in mobile to complement our team (that had browser games experience) and to work on the game.
  • Clash of Clans asynchronous battle gameplay showed a way where you could have a good multiplayer game loop and apply it (we thought) to  a different battle gameplay.
  • We were doing something original and new yet familiar by associating XCOM type turn based tactical combat to the Clash of Clans Base Building and defending loop.
  • Quite a few of us really enjoyed playing Clash of Clans but felt the AI based battles lacked depth and were too simplistic
  • Tablets were all the craze and we designed the game for Tablet first, with 3d graphics and focused on Apple where most of the App Store revenue was.

How little did we know!

I still think  that we got a few things right and the fact that we had close to 500.000 people try the game and an average review rate of 4.3/5 from thousands of reviewers (better than XCOM’s mobile version) is a testament to that. I want to take this occasion to thank all the people who played and tried our game, some daily for months. But we got two key things wrong and that is more than enough to kill a game on mobile.

  • We failed at the max 3 minutes of undivided attention rule by going for a flawed concept for mobile, one of the great things about turn based tactics that fans enjoy vs real time strategy is that you can think during your turn, plan your next move.  This works fine for a PC premium game, it just doesn’t work for a mobile free to play game especially if it’s multiplayer. During the design phase and afterwards we were always struggling with how long the battles where vs how much time you had to plan your move. The result was a 10 minute battle time that, although it allowed us to keep some of the essence of tactical turn based games (no twitch gaming) was just way too long. There is a reason Clash of Clans battles are 3 minutes and most successful free to play games have very short play times. On mobile you just don’t want a game that requires more than a few minutes attention, seconds if you are talking full attention, it’s just too easy to get interrupted. In addition in free to play, you need to have players go through the core loop as many times as possible to monetize and retain them. Many great games have failed or not done as well as predicted due to having too long a core loop. Vainglory, a great game and perhaps the most supported game in Apple history in terms of featuring has had some success with its eSports strategy and I would never bet against Kristian Segerstrale but I’m sure they were hoping to be higher in the grossing charts. Their battles are just too long. Even Blizzard’s Hearthstone, a great game by all means, is suffering from the fact that pvp battles are usually 15 to 20 minutes. The game is doing well but it just took Supercell’s Clash Royale a few days after launch not only to overtake Hearthstone but to claim the top grossing spot. Yes Clash Royale is not just a great simplification of a card game, it’s a wonderfully polished jewel. But most importantly all its PvP battles are just 3 minutes long (4 minutes with overtime).
  • Tablet first and Loading times. At the time we were developing Tactical Heroes we underestimated just how going for 3D graphics and focusing on Tablets first would hurt us. Going for 3D meant that the game looked great, we had good launch support from Apple (we were featured in best new games almost worldwide for what was our first game)  but for various reasons we didn’t get our loading times right. In certain cases depending on your device it could take over 30 seconds to load the game or get to and from a battle. Fine on PC, a death sentence for retention on Mobile. The game worked fine on iPhones but it was definitely better on iPad and iPads, were, and still are, just 30% of the market revenues wise.

Should we have made the game premium then? I don’t think so, XCOM already has a good mobile version and even with its brand power and following, it hasn’t really set the world on fire in terms of downloads and revenues. Rodeo Games whose games like Hunters and Hunters 2 we loved, made little revenues, perhaps enough for a very small indie and they have had to discontinue further development on Warhammer 40k other than adapting it to new platforms for now. Premium except for a very few exceptions (Monument Valley, Minecraft) is not a great business model for Mobile. No matter how much Apple Editors are inclined to support it over free to play.

Will someone ever manage to do a successful free to play turn based tactics game on mobile?  A larger company than us has tried as well more recently. Game Insight’s X-Mercs with a lot more marketing than Tactical Heroes and clearly more budget and time to develop it according to App Annie hasn’t fared any better. So no, I don’t think XCOM like turn based mechanics will make for a successful free to play mobile multiplayer game. On the other hand there are many different types of turn based tactics and we have seen a few games innovate on the genre and find some success like Score Hero from First Touch games or the Walking Dead from Scopely. But they all have much shorter “battle” times, focus on single player first and quite honestly don’t come close to the satisfaction I get playing XCOM 2 now on a PC (Yes I still love TBS).

So was Tactical Heroes a waste of time and money? Honestly it would have been if we hadn’t had the luck of having a strong existing game with eRepublik.com that gave us the financial legs to take the learnings and try again. We know exactly what mistakes we made with Tactical Heroes (and other failed projects) and we made sure we would not repeat them with our following major mobile release Age of Lords. Age of Lords has found major success in particular on Google Play. In a way its the closest game we have made in terms of gameplay to our original game eRepublik.com (which after 8 years is still going strong thanks to an incredibly dedicated community and team), its also a game where we took less risks. We were a lot more humble and followed proven mobile game loops. Now that the game has had over 1.6 million downloads, earned us a top developer badge from Google Play and 11 months after launch is growing mostly organically 10 to 20% month on month, we can build on it and add some more innovating touches. It also means we now have a strong mobile game DNA made of failures and success in the company. So yes it was worth it but we were fortunate that we were in a position that we could plan ahead that such a failure might happen and set aside sufficient funds to have another go.

I think that finding success in mobile games was harder than ever in 2015 and now there is a clear oversupply of games, too many developers and too many games coming out (about 3000 per week according to this gamasutra post). Game discovery is broken and smaller developers are over reliant on App Store featuring that in Apple’s case focuses on either:

  • Small game editor / game press pleasing indies. We know, our most featured game was Twin Shooter Invaders a game we knew would be game critic friendly. The problem is that in many cases this type of game has little chance of making significant long lasting revenues. Still the Apple App Store does still give a shooting chance for some who manage to hit the right balance of  games that are both critic friendly and have great KPIs.
  • Games from big or large VC backed studios that have had previous major success preferably on Apple App Store and can demonstrate large launch marketing budgets and ideally make Apple devices look good by using their latest features like 3D touch or having 3d Graphics (not necessarily a recipe for a great or profitable game).
  • Games with a big brand IP (not easy for a small or mid-size studio)

Apple’s priority is more about making its devices look great than in the actual game revenues. This makes sense short term (dangerous long term?) but it’s a very hard one for newcomers and mid size developers. On the other hand it does mean that you do regularly see indie games get great distribution from time to time. A nice touch but not a recipe for developer success, for every Crossy Road exception, I know many Indie games that have had worldwide Apple featuring and hardly get 10.000 $ of revenues overall, not enough even for a 2 person indie team to get by. Let’s not even mention all the other ones that don’t get noticed and end up with virtually no revenue.

I think that there is a more even playing field on Google Play. Google does look closer at game KPIs and seem to better understand or care about what types of games really work retention and profitability wise on mobile. Just like Apple, they still favor the big studio and big IP games and try to support the smaller indies but they also do a better job at identifying and supporting small and mid size studios with strong games that can become larger studios. We experienced this first hand with our game Age of Lords that has had strong and repeated support from Google Play due to its great KPIs and managed to be one of the top 100 grossing games in 25 countries (95 countries in the Strategy games category) on the platform. On the other hand of all our games it’s the one that had the least support from Apple (for the moment, we are optimists here).

So the mobile Gold rush is over , but I do think that for a team with “grit”, experience and decent recurring revenues from existing games this a great time to be developing mobile games. The mobile games market is expected to continue to grow by 15%  per year for the foreseeable future. The number of mobile games developers is going to decrease as many will close or move on,  there is going to be more consolidation in the sector and VC’s have now moved to the next trends / Gold Rush of virtual reality, augmented reality and eSports. This, added to the growing influence of YouTubers means I think there will be more space on the acquisition side. Developers will have to fund themselves from existing game profits rather than VC money and there will be less but higher quality game releases. This will be good for players and for discovery as well. The fact that the gold rush is over only means that it will be harder for newcomers or amateurs to strike gold but I do think it will actually open a window of opportunity for experienced self funded mid size developers that have the grit to push on.

Would I prefer to be in Supercell’s position, definitely, but they also had to have a lot of grit to get where they are, an important part of that team has been doing games together, failing and succeeding since way before they even started in Supercell. This is one of the key reasons behind their success.

So yes I’m sad we killed Tactical Heroes last week, but thankful every day for our long lasting success with eRepublik.com (in spite of several ups and downs) and growing success with Age of Lords. But above all I am grateful for the fact that the best people in our team have stuck together and demonstrated that we at eRepublik Labs together have the “grit” to seize this opportunity we now have to build on our failures and successes and become a great games studio.


Alexis Bonte is the co-founder and CEO of eRepublik Labs, a games studio that believes in grit and in inspiring it in games you can play for years with friends on any device. More than 6 million players worldwide have enjoyed its first game eRepublik.com and 1,6 million have already tried the recently launched Age of Lords.


Age_of_Lords_marketing2 After over 1 year of loving craftsmanship and hard work by a great team, we launched Age of Lords today. Age of Lords is a Medieval strategy MMO designed for mobiles. The team used a lot of the things we learned with our first game eRepublik.com, one of the first hit MMO strategy games back in 2007 (and still going). But the team also used what we learned from failed projects and, some of the more recent successes we had on mobile as we pivoted eRepublik Labs from browser games only to mobile games. This game is really the result of learning and tenacity and I’m really proud of the result, of the team behind it and of what it took to get us to a point where we can release such a game. You can try the game on Google Play here and you can get the press kit info here

Check out the launch trailer here:  I will update you on how things are doing in a future post, but we are off to a good start! Age of Lords has been featured by Google as one of the top 3 new games this week 🙂 Screenshot_2015-03-26-12-19-56 o7 Alexis

I had a bit of an improvised Fireside chat with Joaquim Lecha of Social Point at the South Summit in Madrid a few weeks ago. I say it was improvised because Mike Butcher from TechCrunch was supposed to be the moderator and did not make it in the end. I think the conversation with Joaquim ended up being quite interesting, I did not know him before and was impressed by his knowledge and understanding of the mobile games market. We ended up covering a lot of the challenges that developers of mobile games go trough at the moment and the different approaches that companies like Wooga, King, Social Point or my own eRepublik Labs are taking to face these challenges.  I hope you find the chat interesting its about 30 minutes long.

I’m really excited that we are launching Tactical Heroes worldwide on the iOS App Store tomorrow after close to 2 years of hard work. The game has been available in what we call soft launch in selected countries for about 4 months now and we have received great feedback from over 36.000 players that have helped us to fine tune it for this big launch.

We have had great reviews from the players about the game so far, as you can see its average rating is 4,4/5 from over 140 reviews in the past 30 days.

Screenshot 2014-10-15 18.01.53

Still you never know until you have fully launched so fingers and toes crossed. You can find the new launch trailer below as well as a link to the full press release. You can also install the game for free from this link.

If you like strategy games and in particular XCOM or are looking for a a game for your iPad that gives you a really interesting challenge, then you will like Tactical Heroes and I would be super thankful if you could try it and let me know what you think either here in the comments or on twitter @alexisbonte

If you are a friend from the press, you have full contacts and resources in the press release link and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have directly as well, just use this blog’s contact form to reach me.

You can see the Full press release and access marketing materials such as logos, screenshots etc from the eRepublik Labs webiste, here.


This is a presentation I did this morning at ICEX, the Spanish government org that helps Spanish companies develop abroad. My friend Isaac Martin Barbero who basically ambushed me last night at dinner into doing this to replace another speaker asked me if I could center it around failure. It is something I had already covered in a previous talk I do “building upon an idea”, but as I was doing this I realized that although I have had many failures over 17 years of being in start ups, many times I simply did not fail fast enough. One to remember and learn to do better.

Its really is a huge market and China is about to overtake the US. Interesting market research by Superdata

Its really wonderful and humbling at the same time to see how communities can be formed spontaneously from game worlds like the ones we at eRepublik Labs all contribute to crafting every day and see them become something much bigger than just a game.

For me this makes all our efforts very worthwhile, much more than DAU’s, MAU’s, day 1 retention rates and DARPU’s :).

Crafting game worlds is about giving others a catalyst for fun and community. Thanks to the Erepindo community for reminding me of this.

Watching this from Boston for a game world created in Bucharest http://www.eRepublik.com that has helped foster somehow this great community in Indonesia.

I don’t understand a word but they do seem to be having fun!

A few days ago I was contacted by David Garzón for his excellent project comotrabajan.com that has tens of interviews of various start up CEO’s and execs where he asks them: “how they work”. I have decided to translate it to english since many of the people I work with don’t speak spanish and I realized that this was a pretty good guide to understanding… how I work and why.

You can find the original post here. I have made only minor corrections and adjustments to the original by David below.

I am Alexis Bonte CEO of eRepublik Labs and this is how I work.

“There are people who have to fight for their success. Alexis Bonte is one of these cases. Born in Paris he grew professionally in the UK, France and Italy and based himself as an entrepreneur in Madrid. He has quite a unique modus vivendi and is always looking for ways not to waste time so he can dedicate his free time to his family. Personally I am delighted to be able to read about how he works.” David Garzón


Co-Founder and CEO of eRepublik Labs (crafting game worlds), business angel (Zonga.fm, Trilulilu.ro, TjobsRecruit.com, etc…) and Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum (Davos). Before eRepublik Labs, I was 6 years in lastminute.com in various roles: Marketing, Business development and Managing Director of the Italian business. I am half French half Portuguese and little Russian Armenian (from everywhere really), married to a Spanish wife from Cadiz and have 3 kids.

Locations: Madrid and (about 4 days per month (Bucharest)

Mobile: Iphone 5s and Galaxy 4

Laptop: Mac Book Pro

Twitter: @alexisbonte

“…success depends 99% on having the right people…”

What do you do on the first hour of a normal day at work?

When I am not travelling (about 10 days per month), sports at our office gym. We have a personal trainer that comes most mornings and is free for all the members of the team. I live in the same building where our spanish offices are, so I usually hit the gym around 8h00 or 8h30 every morning.

“… Sports in our office gym”

What are the apps or tools you can’t live without?

Gmail, Gcal, Google Drive (we have the full team on Google Apps) as well as Trello, that we use for all our projects. Google Maps as well because I hate not know ing where I’m going when driving. And finally our own internal tools to check the sales and KPI’s of our social strategy game world eRepublik.com live.

What is your favorite workspace?

The office. We strongly believe that the work space is very important, so we have invested in it with nice common areas like a bar, home cinema etc… We did something similar in our Bucharest studio with access to a terrace, games area, ping pong table etc..

Madrid Studio:

Bucharest Studio:

What music do you listen to whilst you work?

I don’t listen to music whilst I work, I find it to distracting. It is a little ironic, considering I am the chairman of Zonga.fm, the musical streaming solution for Vodafone (for now, in Romania but extending to other countries)

What is your best trick to save time?

Living above one of my offices. At the beginning I was afraid it was crazy, but it is one of the few ways I have to compete with other entrepreneurs who only live to work. I am 37 years old and have a family, I am in period of my life where I need to have a life outside of work, so I need to save as much time as possible by avoiding things like transports. Very often I will leave my office around 20h, take the kids to bed and come back around 22h to finish what I have to do. I am 1 minute away door to door so its easy to do.

“…living above my office.. is one of the few ways I have to be able to compete with other entrepreneurs who only live for their work…”

How do you handle your task list?

In this I am very classic. I have a small moleskine for each month, with 1 page per day, where I write own all my tasks for the day and tick them as they get done. I have tried all the digital solutions but this is still what I prefer.

What is your worse trait when working?

“Multitasking”, right now I am answering this interview, checking emails and finishing the projection on our next game, Tactical Heroes

Tactical Heroes tips web

Apart form your mobile and computer, what other gadgets are essential to you?

An iPAd, I have two with me, a mini and a air.

What was the hardest in your first steps?

Having to do almost everything by myself and the fear to fail. When I arrived in Madrid, I came from Milan, where I had a team of 120 people in a consolidated start up (lastminute.com). In Madrid I did not know anyone, apart from my wife, Jimena. I started alone in an office in calle Almagro. It was a bit of a culture shock. Luckily I met fantastic people like Martin Varsavsky, that helped me meet other people and enter the ecosystem.

Once you start building a team, the hardest part is to find ways to make that team be the the best possible team. This is even harder when you are in three locations like us (we have 2 game production teams in our Bucharest studio, one  in our Madrid studio and a finance & IP team in our Dublin HQ). This is very important and goes with the culture of the company, we invest in people but we need to also be firm with team members that don’t perform well. This is still our main challenge, working with the best team we can.

“…once you start building a team, the hardest is to make that team the best one possible…”

How would you describe your style of leadership?

One of my main values is fairness, I am approachable and friendly but not a “hearty dude” that just hangs out for a beer. I am demanding with myself and the ones I work with. We are not in this to just participate, we are in this to create the best company we can. In our case this means crafting the best games we can with a positive financial outcome and building the best possible team to have a “great company”. This is super difficult, and due to that I can be a little intense at times. I also try to delegate as much as possible in the areas where we have experienced people that perform, but I can really get into details in areas where we don’t have people with sufficient experience or where the results are below expectations. Basically, I adapt my leadership style to the needs of the moment.

“.. we are not in this just to participate, we are also in this to create the greatest company we can…”

What important lessons did you learn by creating and leading a company?

Success depends 99% on having the right people, at the right time, in the right place, jointly working on the right things for the company. Of course, you almost never have this situation of a perfect team, even less so at the beginning. So the most important thing I have learned is that you build this step by step, with lots of tenacity and with an eye on the bottom line so you don´t run out of money.

What advice would you give to a future entrepreneur?

Go for it or at least join a start up learn and grow for a few years with it and then go for it.

How do you deal with your mistakes?

I feel bad for a short moment, analyze it, then do the necessary correction as fast as possible and I move on to the next thing. I do a lot of mistakes, I believe it is better to make a mistake you can learn from than not taking decisions or risks. If you don’t do this you don’t progress.

What is your routine to disconnect from work?

My family, jogging in Casa de Campo and skiing on the week ends that allow it.

Fill in the blank space below:

I would love to see my friend and mentor Brent Hoberman answer these same questions

What is the best advice you have received?

“It’s time you go for it again and start another company” (My wife Jimena when I was starting to feel very comfortable in lastminute.com)

Is there something else that you would like to tell our readers?

We are all different, what works for one most likely won’t work for you. But if you are entrepreneurial or want to be, there are three rules that apply to everyone. You have togo for it, get the best possible team and be very tenacious.

And if you want to join a truly great adventure in the world of video-games, we are always looking for talent, so send us your CV to hr@erepubliklabs.com or got to eRepublikLabs.com