We are thrilled to lead the $2.6M round into LA-based Treehouse Games to fuel their quest to allow friends new ways to hang out and socialise through games. At a time such as this, we value our close friends and relationships more than ever. The boundaries that currently divide us throw into sharp relief the connections that define us, and make life worth living. The ability to grab a drink with friends or visit family have been (rightly) curtailed, and so people have resorted to ever more elaborate ways to interact, meet new people and party.
Of course, as game investors, an immediate solution springs to mind. Yet even when eventually we are all able to meet IRL, there will still be a demand for tools and platforms that allow friends to virtually meet and have fun. Indeed, as we outlined in our recent blog post about COVID-19 and Gaming, these trends of hanging out with friends online and social gaming were extant, and merely accelerated by the current pandemic. For many, jumping online into a server to spend time with friends is as natural as grabbing lunch with them (and if anything, more convenient). It is incorrect to hold the real and virtual worlds as necessarily distinct: Facebook started life as the digital analogue to a dorm-room directory, as a way for students to find each other and communicate. What about other real life experiences that have yet to be assigned a virtual equivalent? What about the bonding and camaraderie of a road trip?
It was this exact question that was posed by Michael Chu, co-founder and CEO of Treehouse Games, when we first met the team. He and Ryan Sullivan, co-founder and President, described the gaming landscape and player motivations in a way that really chimed with our particular perspective, and is briefly outlined below.
Competitive PvP games have focussed on drawing in users with gripping and intense gameplay, providing edge of the seat action and satisfying progression loops. As these gamers spend more time online to slog through further achievements, they seek game-to-game variance as well as the ability to hang out with their friends. In the same way, teenagers seek out action films early on for shock and awe, yet yearn for more varied and nuanced content as they mature.
One can argue that this process was one of the primary drivers behind the rise of battle royale (PUBG, Fortnite, Warzone et al). The last man standing mode and size of maps were exciting, but these merely acted as the bait, and it was as much the ability to hang out with friends that gave Battle Royale its unique appeal. The joking around as you were looting, the wild rides in vehicles, the planning and other slow moments with your friends, provided the moments of light relief amidst high intensity engagements. This was in direct contrast to the relentless high octane fuel of something like Battlefield, with no real lows for hanging out, outside menus.
Treehouse is building inviting and accessible cooperative play where users can go on adventures together, and build shared hangout spaces with friends. Despite ample examples of games in this general vein, none of these have been offered on a fully supported GaaS model, with regular updates, events and community support that we have become accustomed to from the top F2P PvP titles. Hence, the community around these titles have been fragmented and more akin to fans than hobbyists in their engagement with the top franchises. Animal Crossing is the latest example of the size of this market and the unmet desire for these kinds of products, but again, limited in a way a top GaaS would never be, by price and platform.
In providing GaaS, Michael brings his background at Riot, and expertise in operating a multi-billion dollar game at scale: during his time, he was a product lead across four cross-functional content teams, including forming and leading the Modes team. Ryan brings a different yet complementary perspective, having founded his own startup, Sirvo Studios, and scaled a team to build a game from scratch.
Doing deals during COVID is a new experience for everyone; but in this case we were able to build conviction right away despite only talking a couple of times on Zoom (and this was before the pandemic was even declared). We might have even shocked the Treehouse team with our speed, as they themselves admitted that they weren’t expecting a decision so soon! Investing is, as Brad Feld says, a bit like dating. You want to fall in love with that first date kind of energy. You want to feel time slip away and regret when you have to end the call for your next commitment. After you leave you want to keep thinking about them and wonder if you will meet again. With Treehouse it was love at first screen share. Their approach, their thesis and their style totally matched what we look for in a founding team. It is also reflective of the stage at which we love to get involved – with 75% of our investments over the past year having been at the powerpoint stage.
We are also very excited to have Kristian Segerstrale along with us on this investment, as an investor and advisor. His track record and knowledge is unparalleled. And when our friend Shanti Bergel, from his newly founded Transcend Fund joined, it was almost like a Playfish reunion. We can’t wait to get started with Treehouse and journey with them on this new adventure.