Like Its Prickly CEO, Kixeye’s Games on Facebook Are Not Cute or Cuddly

Farms don’t have rocket launchers, but games built by Kixeye do.

And you won’t find purple cows or other decorations in Kixeye’s games — just blood.

Kixeye CEO Will Harbin

That’s how Will Harbin, Kixeye’s CEO, described his company’s social games to me last week over the phone.

Harbin is passionate about building games for Facebook, but we are not necessarily talking about the ones that appeal to 40-year-old housewives. The company’s titles include Backyard Monsters, War Commander and Battle Pirates, and 97 percent of the company’s audience is male.

Because of the small niche it is serving, the games don’t appear in Facebook’s Top 40. But they do monetize extremely well.

Kixeye is currently registering about one million users a day, and while most social game companies make roughly four cents per user, Kixeye claims it makes closer to 60 cents.

The San Francisco company has been profitable for the past two years, and this year it is projecting revenue in excess of $100 million.

It’s similar to the story Kabam and other social game makers have started to tell as Facebook becomes a more mature gaming platform. Developers are starting to see that if they target a more hardcore gaming demographic, with more sophisticated kinds of games, the players will be more engrossed and, therefore will spend more time and money in the game.

Besides, it is these players who are typically used to spending $60 per videogame for a console system, so getting a few dollars out of them is much easier.

But even though this all sounds great, don’t expect Harbin to hype the company’s prospects. Instead of pumping up the company as a prospective IPO candidate, or raising millions of dollars in private equity — just because he can — he is fairly pragmatic.

In fact, the lack of sensationalism in his voice would be considered almost boring if the conversation weren’t actually such a breath of fresh air in what is becoming an overheated sector. And despite having plenty of good things to say, talking to me seemed like a real chore, something he was only mildly tolerating.

What’s more, when I reacted positively to Harbin’s disinterest in our conversation — because it is so different from most pitchmen who talk to me — he was almost disappointed, saying that most people think he’s a jerk.

“I’ve had successes under my belt, but more importantly, I’ve had failures,” Harbin said. “I know what I’d be in for, and I’m not in a rush to IPO. It’s got to be the right time. Too many companies go public too early and have ruined their growth trajectory. No one here has incentive to cash out and get out quickly. We love what we are doing, and this has been a passion of mine since I was a child — videogames, that is — and it would have to make real sense for me to change my day-to-day job.”

Without IPO pressures, and without being accountable to shareholders on a quarterly basis, Harbin can aim for the fences.

The company, which is on track to have 300 employees by the end of the year (up from 35 a year ago), has raised $22 million in funding, and is announcing today that it has opened a development studio in Australia.

Harbin said he was able to pick up employees from 3 Blokes Studios, which RockYou acquired and subsequently shut down. He was going to acquire the studio, but when the deal fell through, he was able to hire everyone anyway. So far, there are about 10 people, and he thinks the studio will max out at 20.

A similar occurrence happened closer to home, when he was able to hire six employees from Crowdstar when that company shifted gears away from building Facebook games.

Harbin said he sees three areas of focus for the company: Building its own game platform so players don’t have to play via Facebook, developing mobile games, and expanding internationally.

The first mobile game, Backyard Monsters, is expected to come out for iOS and Android this summer, and will be distributed on Ngmoco’s Mobage network.

Still, Harbin is reluctant to grow too fast or stretch the company’s resources too thin.

“We are trying to be pragmatic and do what we can with the management bandwidth we have. We don’t want to get too big too fast,” he said.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald