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Creator economy of Gaming & the Future of Game Monetization

In this analysis, we will unlock 3 market opportunities:

  • Help game creators make money, i.e. people who build and sell games
  • Help game players (the player-creator) make money
  • Monetize gaming tech and game businesses by solving real problems

Video games and the creator economy

From big game studios to independent game developers making money by releasing “indie games”, the creator economy has arrived in the gaming space. Unlike video games released by major publishers with AAA titles (e.g. Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Halo, Final Fantasy), indie games are created by solo game developers or smaller game studios without large marketing budgets or funding.

In 2020, there were 9,722 indie games released (up 25.6% from 2019). Hades, Among Us, Fall Guys, Spiritfarer, and Paradise Killer have gained mainstream popularity among casual gamers during the pandemic lockdown. Work-from-home has created opportunities for indie developers to work on side projects and release games.

Empower game makers to monetize

New digital distribution channels have enabled game developers to sell their new games and reach wider audiences:

  • Steam has over 47% of game publishers selling their games on the platform.
  • Roblox offers a game creation (Roblox Studio) plus publishing platform. Users can program games and play games created by other users.
  • Epic Games helps developers self-publish their games, set up their game page, and collaborate with game influencers.
  • GOG is a publisher focusing on the best classic games niche.
  • (📥 Full version) 7 more company examples and unique value propositions

The rise of UGC and player-creators

Now there are two types of game creators. (1) People who code and sell video games which we’ve already mentioned. (2) People who play games and sell virtual goods such as avatars, skins, gifts, collectibles, virtual worlds—or monetize storytelling through audience-building and streaming. They are known as the in-game creators, game modders, or game content creators.

User-generated content (UGC) platforms allow game players to participate in the gaming creators’ economy and monetize virtual worlds. Key players include:

  • Overwolf is for creating, sharing, and monetizing in-game apps and mods.
  • Mod.io helps players create game modding, host, moderate, monetize, brand & grow a creator community.
  • Rec Room has over 2 million players who created in-game content such as player-made game rooms. The company raised $100 million to extend more than $1 million in payouts for creators.
  • (📥 Full version) 5 more game creators monetization tools

What problems do they solve?

  • Help people discover new games. Game publishers like Steam, Roblox, GOG provide a listing of popular video games, recommend new releases, and a marketplace for players to discover, download or play new games. They are the “app store” for game distribution.
  • Connect developers with players. Steam has 120 million monthly active players in 2020 (up 95 million from 2019). Roblox has 33.4 million daily users. Epic Games has 100 million players on the platforms. Developers can leverage these publishing platforms to increase game revenues.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more valid problems existing players are solving. Understanding these valid problems will help you build something people want. You’ll also learn:
  • Problem definition 1: How are Roblox & Epic Games solving problems for game developers?
  • Problem definition 2: How Steam generates additional revenue by solving this problem?
  • Problem definition 3: What problem does Mod.io solve to make money as a business?

Business models

In the past, the gaming industry monetizes through selling game copies. Newer business models known as game-as-a-service (GaaS) are thriving in the gaming space to help publishers, developers, and game creators monetize better:

  • Game subscription: Apple Arcade ($4.99/mo, access 200+ games) bundles unlimited access to a selection of games, focuses on mobile-first gaming and Apple devices. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($14.99/mo, access 100+ games) focuses on indie, blockbuster games, and cross-platform subscriptions on console, PC, and mobile devices
  • Free-to-play: Tencent invested $330 million in Epic Games back in 2012 to expand its free-to-play model—a more profitable business model than selling game copies (one-time model). Similar to Freemium in SaaS, players can play a fully functional game, and then pay “upgrade” fees for buying virtual goods, unlocking next levels, playing without ads, new game updates, or big releases.
  • (📥 Full version) 2 more strategies to help you layer different revenue streams and build a profitable game tech business. You’ll also learn:
  • Strategy 1: How to use this model to reduce marketing costs or user acquisition efforts?
  • Strategy 2: Most popular way (due to its flexibility) to expand your revenue streams as a game business, including examples of big game studios applying this model.

Why now?

There are massive opportunities for building in the gaming space. This section explores the key takeaways, the future of gaming tech, and the “why now” questions (most important slide in a pitch deck!) for your investors:

  • Lower marketing costs due to community-driven platforms. People find gamers friends online, join groups, play together and socialize. Natural network effects happen when players attract more players by inviting their friends.
  • As the creator economy rises, new creators platforms will emerge to help passionate players create, sell & trade virtual goods and earn side incomes. Similarly in the adjacent player-creator category, game influencers will leverage storytelling or live-streaming to help game studios distribute new games.
  • (📥 Full version) 5 more market evidence in detail to help you make smart entrepreneurial decisions. You’ll also learn:
  • Evidence 1: Why the rise of new gaming business models will drive demand for adjacent product categories to rise?
  • Evidence 2: New problems have started to emerge in the creators’ economy and why new solutions are needed?
  • Evidence 3: Competition in creators economy is rising and why new solutions are needed to drive out competition and win?
  • Evidence 4: Impact of eSports and the next-gen game tech solutions
  • Evidence 5: Why gaming tech should cater their solutions to this user behavior shift?

Business opportunities

  • Shopify for game businesses. Think direct-to-consumers (D2C) but for gaming. Build a digital commerce solution for game creators to easily set up their online storefront, cloud streaming, analytics, payment, and customer relationships through their own site. Having their own brand will be able to control the user experiences and eliminate platform fees on marketplaces like Steam, Epic Games, and GOG.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more specific product ideas and business opportunities that are solving problems. You’ll unlock:
  • Opportunity 1: Game-as-a-service (GaaS) idea
  • Opportunity 2: Monetize by helping game founders succeed
  • Opportunity 3: Monetize by helping game developers succeed
  • Opportunity 4: Niche business idea for no-code game creation platform

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Unbundling of Excel and the Future of SaaS

Excel is SaaS’s biggest competitor

In a pre-SaaS (software-as-a-service) world, nearly every industry relied on Microsoft Excel. Accountants relied on it for finance management. Managers used it for project management. HR used it for payrolls and employee directories. The sales team used it for lead management and CRM. Individuals used it for to-do list planning.

As companies adopt digitization, operations and workflows become more complicated. Businesses need to find a way to automate and scale efficiently. Teams need to collaborate internally and externally. Specific use cases gave rise to the unbundling of Excel—businesses are created to replace spreadsheets with alternative tools that cater to a niche target audience, interest, and job-to-be-done.

Turning Excel templates into software companies

Despite new players arise, Excel has yet to be completely replaced due to its decade-long usage, programming capabilities (i.e. Excel formula), and reliability.

In fact, most SaaS apps are simply products unbundled from Excel. These are businesses that turn spreadsheets into profitable software companies:

  • Salesforce, one of the earliest SaaS businesses founded in 1999 replaced CRM spreadsheets in Excel
  • Trello, Jira, and Asana replaced project management and Gantt chart Excel templates
  • Xero, QuickBooks replaced bookkeeping in spreadsheets
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more business categories are born out to replace Excel templates
  • (📥 Full version) 14 more company examples across business categories

Unbundling of Excel: Era 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

To understand the future of SaaS, we need to zoom into the transition of Excel unbundling. I call it Excel 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of Excel unbundling:

  • Unbundling of Excel 1.0: The Internet was born. Rise of cloud-based apps such as cloud-based CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot), document management (Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Online), and cloud accounting (Xero). Softwares are created to replace spreadsheet functionalities with a better interface, user experience, integration, and workflow optimization.
  • Unbundling of Excel 2.0: Rise of collaboration tools. Softwares are created to empower team collaboration. For example, project management (Trello, Asana), document collaboration, communication tools. (📥 Full version) 9 more company examples across segments.
  • Unbundling of Excel 3.0: Rise of no-code, low-code tools. Softwares are created to turn spreadsheets into apps without any technical knowledge. Airtable & Coda turns spreadsheets into interactive databases. Glide, Adalo turns spreadsheets into mobile apps. (📥 Full version) 5 more company examples across segments.

What problems do they solve?

  • Break down technical barriers. No-code and low-code tools empower non-technical developers to build websites, apps, automated workflow, and infrastructure.
  • Reduce blockers. Most team collaboration apps solve this problem by allowing internal collaboration within an organization.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more valid problems existing players are solving. Understand these problem statements will help you build something people want. You’ll also learn:
  • Problem definition 1: What problems does Firebase solve?
  • Problem definition 2: What problems do collaboration apps solve?
  • Problem definition 3: What problems do low-code apps solve?

Business models

A SaaS typically makes money through a monthly or yearly recurring subscription membership model by providing access to the product features. There are different ways to charge access for users, for example:

  • (📥 Full version) 4 more strategies to help you layer different revenue streams and build a profitable SaaS. You’ll also learn:
  • Strategy 1: If you’re just starting out with a SaaS MVP, you can monetize immediately using this pricing model, then add more revenue layers as you go.
  • Strategy 2: If you want to scale the pricing, this model is a good addition.
  • Strategy 3: If you’re creating a SaaS for creators monetization, this is a strategic business model.
  • Strategy 4: Most common way to create additional revenue streams on top of your core SaaS features.

Why now?

There are massive opportunities to build in the SaaS space. This section explores the key takeaways, the future of SaaS, and the “why now” questions (most important slide in a pitch deck!) for your investors:

  • To compete in today’s SaaS world, it’s not enough to create a SaaS business by offering better UI and UX. Customers have rising expectations—does it offer automation? Integration? Speed? API? All-in-one feature for the price of one?
  • (📥 Full version) 4 more market evidence in detail to help you answer the “why now” questions. You’ll also learn:
  • Evidence 1: new problems that are emerged from remote work and why new SaaS solutions are needed
  • Evidence 2: new problems that are emerged from freelancing entrepreneurship and why it matters for SaaS businesses
  • Evidence 3: why this cultural shift in the workplace will give rise to new SaaS solutions?
  • Evidence 4: where the future of SaaS is heading?

Business opportunities

  • (📥 Full version) 3 specific product ideas and business opportunities that are solving problems. You’ll unlock:
  • Opportunity 1: SaaS idea that helps cross-functional teams collaborate
  • Opportunity 2: SaaS idea that helps product team build the right product features
  • Opportunity 3: SaaS idea in automation

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E-commerce roll-ups and the rise of Thrasio biz model

The rise of e-commerce roll-ups

In the past, roll-ups were mainly proceeded by private equity firms, large conglomerates, and institutional buyers whereby companies acquire businesses in the same market and merging them under a single entity to scale.

Today, there are new companies that consolidate independent private label brands with decent revenue. They are the aggregators of e-commerce brands. Unlike marketplaces that connect buyers and sellers to acquire or sell off their brands (e.g. Flippa and Exchange Marketplace by Shopify), roll-up platforms are operational and resourceful. They:

  • have a thesis around e-commerce product categories they want to acquire
  • search across marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify
  • find winners and merge these companies
  • operate like a private equity firm, may fund and invest in buyout businesses
  • platform-agnostic or vertical-focused
  • grow them collectively using built-in technology, infrastructure, data analytics, operational expertise, capital, and economies of scale
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more specific strategies on how aggregators operate and scale

Key players around the world

  • Amazon-focused aggregators: Thrasio (made $100 million in profits, acquired more than 100+ brands), Heyday, Perch, and Branded
  • Shopify aggregator: OpenStore
  • Home living & consumer electronics roll-up: Berlin Brands Group
  • Asia-Pacific focused consolidator: Una Brands (raised US$40 million) targets acquisition on Tokopedia, Lazada, Shopee, and Rakuten using a platform-agnostic approach by focusing on Shopify, Magento, or WooCommerce.
  • (📥 Full version) 1 more company that focuses on the Amazon platform
  • (📥 Full version) 5 more companies from emerging market

What problems do they solve?

  • Not being able to find ideal buyers ➝ help sellers get acquired. Roll-up platforms help successful e-commerce merchants or direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands to exit their businesses lucratively.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more valid problems they are solving that actually make these platforms super profitable. You’ll also learn:
  • how do roll-up platforms create values for their clients?
  • what are the user pain points in getting a business acquired?
  • how do they tackle complexities in selling off businesses?

Business models

Roll-up companies are running the business using a private-equity model. They act like collaborators, operators, and venture capitalists (VC) at the same time. For example:

  • Thrasio acquires third-party sellers on Amazon focusing on everyday consumer brands, scale the business, and offer exit options for the sellers. In 2020, Thrasio profits $100 million on $500 million in revenues.
  • Heyday provides tech stack, capital, advice, and insights to help consumer product brands accelerate the next level of growth.
  • (📥 Full version) 2 more specific ways to monetize as e-commerce aggregators. You’ll also learn:
  • different ways to partner with potential acquisition targets
  • different ways to expand your roll-up portfolio

Why now?

As e-commerce entrepreneurship is exploding, there will be more successful independent merchants who will need to find a way to exit their brands. Here is the market potential snapshot:

  • Growing numbers of independent sellers. In 2020, more than 50% of Amazon's gross merchandise volume (GMV) was coming from third-party, independent sellers.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more market evidence in detail to help you answer the “why now” questions for your investors or partners. You’ll also learn:
  • insight from Amazon financial statement
  • impact of D2C brands
  • insight from the emerging e-commerce markets and why there are untapped opportunities to monetize

Business opportunities

  • (📥 Full version) 4 specific product ideas and business opportunities that are solving problems. You’ll unlock:
  • one specific product idea in SaaS
  • one vertical-focused roll-up platform idea
  • solution to help aggregators find the next acquisition winner
  • specific business idea to participate in a roll-up partnership

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