Australia’s first and only all-woman-founded mobile-games developer has secured half a million pre-registrations for its inaugural product, but co-founder Lauren Clinnick says Australia is lagging behind when it comes to supporting startups like this one.
Lumi Interactive was founded by Clinnick, Katie Stegs and Christina Chen just a year ago. Now, they have six full-time employees across the Melbourne and China teams, and their first game, Critter Clash, is almost ready to launch.
Clinnick and Stegs previously ran a consultancy for marketing and PR in the games industry, before pairing up with data scientist Chen to found Lumi.
“None of us have traditional games development or computer science training — we have collected that excellence around us,” Clinnick tells StartupSmart.
“We’re really focused on both the business scalability and we really care about the end user. You can solve all the other problems any other way.”
Lumi takes a data-driven approach to mobile gaming, basing its advertising campaigns on what its user base responds well to, in order to create a better user experience, and interactive entertainment, particularly for women.
For example, in a campaign with Aussie beauty subscription startup Bellabox towards the end of last year, players who completed five levels of the game within a week received $10 to spend at Bellabox.
“That’s really breaking the traditional mobile marketing model,” Clinnick says.
This method helps people discover products through “an integrated, creative merchant experience”, she adds.
It’s also “way more fun” than traditional in-game advertising.
Now, with the official launch of Critter Clash coming up, Lumi has 500,000 players pre-registered for the game, all without any advertising spend.
Even if only 20% to 40% of those turn into early downloads “it’s going to give us a really good, big cohort straight out of the gate”, Clinnick says.
Thanks to everyone who’s signed up to play Critter Clash on release we now have HALF A MILLION pre-registered players ready to take the battle to the jungle with us!
From everyone at Lumi, thanks for helping us reach this milestone Party Animals! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/3cE9ndgRcM
— Critter Clash (@critterclash) March 6, 2019
There’s also an opportunity to feature on the Google Play store, something that would come at no cost to Lumi, but represents “Google saying the game has promise and could bring in revenue”, Clinnick says.
“If our data continues to perform well, if we continue to improve, we could have a feature from Google before Easter,” she says.
“That can bring in a really large amount of players.”
Lumi also has other games in the pipeline already, with the team considering games that could be integrated with other platforms.
“We’re very interested in the opportunity Facebook Instant Games have. That really is a socially integrated game,” Clinnick says.
The team is also looking into developing more games internally, or partnering with other games with a strong wellbeing focus, whether that’s helping them move into the western market or simply working on operations.
“There will definitely be a lot more you will see from us this year,” Clinnick says.
“Having something that has this kind of traction and scalability is really exciting for us,” she adds.
“This is us before we explode.”
“This is us”
Critter Clash is very focused on promoting player wellbeing and a good culture around the three pillars of community, comedy and customisation, Clinnick says, rather than competition.
“It’s really important to us that the game experience people are having is a really positive part of their day,” she says.
“Those three pillars will be seen through any other games we do.”
Critter Clash is targeting older women as its main market, partly because the founders are passionate about connectivity in this community, but also because they’re some of the most engaged mobile gamers.
“Women are half of all mobile players, and women are so much more valuable on average to those game companies,” Clinnick explains.
“They stay for longer, they take more positive action, they often monetise more highly,” she says.
“If a game is for them, they really stay and they really engage with it.”
On the consumer side, women are “so powerful and so important and so meaningful”, Clinnick says, but on the developer side, there is still a significant imbalance.
According to Clinnick, only 12% or less of developers are “non-dudes”.
And when it comes to leadership in this space, “the numbers get even more grim”, she says.
“Our team is definitely one of the most feminine, colourful, soft and gentle, but still very commercially minded teams out there, for sure.”
The Lumi office is “the cutest”, Clinnick says, with a lot of colour and soft toys on display. And as the leadership team, that’s something the founders are totally comfortable with.
“This is our culture. This is us. No one can argue with the results we get.”
Australia lagging behind
Despite those results, Clinnick says Australia is somewhat behind the times when it comes to creating an innovative gaming community.
“Australia has lots of great games developers but we’re not seeing large companies … happen here, even though we have amazing game-design skills,” she says.
Critter Clash’s hypothesis is starting to be proven, she adds, however, the founders aren’t holding out too much hope of securing funding on their home turf.
“The rest of the world is more mature when it comes to accessing funding for these kinds of projects,” Clinnick says.
There are tools mobile games can integrate with their platforms that break down player analytics and levels of monetisation coming from the game, which can help developers access favourable loans, she explains.
“You can borrow against your revenue … and you can keep investing in user acquisition,” she says.
“Australia doesn’t have that level of sophistication and understanding just yet.”
Lumi is thinking about accessing funding, but for Clinnick, any relationship would have to start with a short-term user-acquisition loan.
“Once you start talking about equity you need to be aligned in your values,” she says.
“I would need someone to really understand games for them to be a great fit for me.”
The founders are open to talking to anyone about investment, but initially, they’re looking “to keep the momentum going to make hay while the sun shines”.
At the same time, while the team would like to find an Australian backer who is interested in mobile, women and data, “we might need to go overseas for that”, Clinnick says.
This is part of the reason Australia hasn’t had a “breakout hit” in the gaming space, she adds.
“Overseas, where people have the numbers that we have, it’s a lot easier for them to access capital,” she says.
“Australia has fallen behind the rest of the world in that kind of opportunity.”
The founders hope Lumi can provide a successful case study showing that games don’t have to be a risky proposition. The data analytics tools available mean they’re very transparent in terms of performance.
“They can be really scalable and they can be really exciting,” she adds.
Take your ego out of it
Clinnick’s advice to other startup founders and entrepreneurs is to get going, and to take a data-driven approach to decision-making.
“You have to model or mock up your MVP, whether you have it or not,” she says.
Get your branding out there, and just start running it, she advises.
“Mock it up and wrap it up like it exists, show it to people and see who wants to open the box … you can do that really, really early.”
This way, you can use data to help make decisions, from the startup’s name and branding to its description on social media.
“You can take your own ego and opinion out of it by just giving it to the audience and seeing what the data says,” Clinnick says.
“Learn how to be dispassionate about some things,” she advises.
“You have to have creative fire and passion … but sometimes you need to take a step back.”