Q&A: Outspark Gets Series C Funding, Soon To Launch Platform

San Francisco-based MMO publisher (Fiesta) and online game platform developer Outspark has announced $8.3 million in Series C funding -- CEO Susan Choe talks to Gamasutra on plans for Outspark Publishing Platform.
San Francisco-based MMO publisher and online platform developer has announced $8.3 million in Series C funding, and here, CEO Susan Choe explains what the company plans to do with that investment. Outspark, founded in January 2007, announced its original Series A funding in an undisclosed amount that April; another round came through last year. This new round allows the company to move forward with partnerships centered on its not yet launched Outspark Publishing Platform, which will allow companies to publish games online using Outspark's proprietary tools, which facilitate such things as user acquisition and tracking, microtransactions and more. This was outlined by Choe in an interview from earlier this year. The company got its start running its own games, such as Fiesta, primarily ported over from Asian sources. Says Choe today, "The company's been going through a growth mode. We're up to 5.4 million uniques, with 4.7 million users registered. I think after Nexon, according to comScore, we're the largest North American audience base [for free-to-play MMOs]." Seventy percent of Outspark's userbase is in North America, with the remaining 30 percent in Northern Europe; the company currently operates games in only English-speaking territories. But simply running ported-over Asian games has never been the goal of the company, though Choe says the company is "always going to run some portion of the games ourselves". Its Outspark Publishing Platform is the engine for growth, despite the success the company has found in this niche, says Choe. "We've been really launching games for a year and a half. It's been a pretty rapid growth. So in recognition of rapid growth and audience quality, we're near profitability pretty soon. The investors that we've met gave us the up-round, and we've raised $8.3 million for growth capital... This gives us additional options to be able to invest or even maybe acquire, as well as partner with other content or service distribution companies." The new round of funding has been lead by Syncom Venture Partners, with participation from SBI Investment and Mille Plateaux. Says Choe, "The new investors who are joining the crowd are veteran media, communication-focused investors, both in the U.S. and the international market, and I think this is a reflection of our model, which is instantly global." Its Publishing Platform includes solutions for registration, billing, payment, content management, patching, community, marketing solutions, as well as a web-based launcher and installer for Outspark-distributed download games, in the form of several APIs. Outspark Publishing Platform licensees will also have the opportunity to hook into its single logon system. Its business model and tools are based around free-to-play microtransaction-supported games, which Choe calls "freemium" titles. This suite of options is what's attracting attention, says Choe, though she can't yet name names. "[With] the third party publishing program, we're actually starting to get a pipeline of partners from all over who are interested in working with us," says Choe. "We're in the midst of refining the final details of how we work together," Choe says. "We'll be launching those partnerships pretty shortly." These include "major media partners" from the U.S., Europe, and Asia -- and "pretty shortly" is, per Choe's target, "the end of the summer." The company plans to use this money for recruitment, says Choe. "We're in the midst of searching for talent, both at the executive level and at the execution level... we're hiring across the board, to both support number of games expansion as well as geography." As mentioned, 70 percent of the company's audience is North America-based, but that may change, though English remains the focus for the company, says Choe. "We're also starting to partner with European game developers to address the part of our audience that's European as well as English-speaking [with] games." Choe claims that the company's ARPPU -- average revenue per paying user -- is $50 per month, and that its ARPU -- average revenue per user overall -- is "still in the double digits for all users."

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