In the coming decades, Africa will be a major growth market for mobile games, driven by the rapid adoption of technology among the continent’s youthful population. And if Gamers in sub-Saharan Africa will rise to more than 180 million over the next five years, per year report, startups as established in South Africa Wear 1st are strategically positioning themselves for this sequential growth phase in the industry.
Since launching in 2018, Carry1st, a publisher of social games and interactive content across Africa, has raised funding from investors such as Google through its Africa Investment Fund and Avenir Growth Capital. But more impressive is support from top funds focused on web3 and gaming: Andressen Horowitz (a16z), Konvoy Ventures – and now Bitkraft Ventures, the lead investor in the recently announced $27 million pre-Series B round. Both a16z and Konvoy participated in this funding round, including TTV Capital, Alumni Ventures, Lateral Capital and Kepple Ventures.
“We now have, in our minds, the top three funds focusing on gaming and web3. And so it just adds even more resources, perspective and assistance to help us achieve our goals,” CEO Cordel Robbin Coker australiabusinessblog.com said in an interview.
Last January, Carry1st announced a $20 million Series A renewal round, following the $6 million it raised in May 2021 from several investors, including Riot Games, the developer and publisher behind the world’s most-played PC game, League of Legends. Sometime last year, Carry1st and Riot Games bolstered that investment by signing a partnership under which the South African outfit agreed to pilot local payments for the American video game developer starting in 2023. In other words, Carry1st will act as Riot’s payment partner in Africa.
Robbin-Coker said during the call that the partnership leverages Pay1st, the gaming startup’s monetization platform used for the company’s games and those of third-party publishers.
Launched in 2018, Carry1st was a game studio that invented, developed and launched mobile games (starting with Carry1st Trivia). While the company is still making its games or has recently started acquiring games to improve, relaunch and widely publish (My salvation and Gebeta), Carry1st also licenses exclusive third-party games. Pay1st is the embedded funding platform that helps the startup generate revenue from both categories: proprietary games and third-party games, of which Riot Games is one of the clients.
“The Partnership [with Riot Games] is our big initiative this year because we’ve built all this cool technology around payments and digital commerce, and we’ve only used it for our games,” noted the CEO, who founded Carry1st with Lucy Hoffman and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu. “But we thought we might as well take the opportunity to partner with great big game companies who may not be ready to fully license their games to us, but are eager to make more money in the region and understand how profitable Africa can be. for them.”
Meanwhile, during the call, the CEO mentioned that the four-year-old gaming startup has other partnerships, including a “major game licensing deal that we’re excited about.” In addition to the Riot Games partnership, Carry1st is also building on the momentum of a successful partnership with Call of Duty®: Mobile in South Africa this happened in the last quarter of 2022, where Carry1st, acting as a local partner, instructed and directed the video game franchise on ways to achieve scale in South Africa during a three-month pilot test.
“It [South Africa] is a promising market for them, and they were keen to have a local partner to help them navigate and help run a pilot for three months last year. We hope that will lead to, you know, even greater engagement and even bigger and better prospects for that franchise, not just in South Africa but potentially across the continent,” he added.
With the pre-Series B funding, Carry1st will drive growth in all of these areas: developing, licensing and publishing new games, and expanding Pay1st. According to the company’s statement, the funding round stems from a successful year in which the first game of its CrazyHubs gaming accelerator – the accelerator launched by Carry1st in partnership with CrazyLabs, one of its six partner studios – became the No. 1 downloaded game in the U.S. for a few days last July, according to data.ai. The game, The presidentis loosely based on a fictionalized Donald Trump and used to be developed by Mekan Games from Nairobi.
Games like The president have seen Carry 1st’s revenues grow by a factor of 10 over the year. Other areas where the gaming startup has also seen growth include Carry1st Shop, the online marketplace for virtual goods, which the company says enables customers across Africa to pay for content and 100+ products through 120 different payment methods, including bank transfers, crypto and mobile money.
“What we found, particularly in countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco, was that there was a huge demand for digital content, especially with the option to pay for it with local payment methods and more importantly, in local currencies. which is unique or unusual because most online purchases are denominated in dollars,” said the CEO. He stated that Carry1st was the gaming startup’s fastest growing product last year as users and revenue increased fivefold.
In the australiabusinessblog.com interview last January, Robbin-Coker said that South Africa-based Carry1st is the opportunity to develop infrastructure to support play to earn in Africa. It’s a plan that’s still in motion – according to the CEO, Carry1st is developing a beta platform called Play1st where gamers interested in web3 games can discover games, rate them within communities, and display achievements and rewards – but with less enthusiasm given how the hunger for web3 games has cooled over the past year.
Speaking about the investment, Jens Hilgers, the founding general partner at BITKRAFT Ventures said, “Africa is home to the largest population of young people in the world, and this emerging generation will grow up digital natives with video games as their primary entertainment preference. We have full conviction in Carry1st’s impressive founding team and their vision to build out a foundational infrastructure and localized content to ensure that gaming and interactive entertainment will thrive in Africa.”