Based in NYC, TreSensa is a game development/distribution company that optimizes games for the mobile web. The brainchild of Rob Grossberg, Rakesh Raju, and Vincent Obermeier, it is often referred to as ‘the biggest mobile gaming company you haven’t heard of’. Rob shares the story of TreSensa and its journey of creating the world’s first mobile web content delivery ecosystem.
TreSensa launched in July 2011. Before venturing into the gaming space and founding TreSensa, Vincent and I spent many years in the digital marketing space, working at various companies such as DoubleClick and Tremor Video. Rakesh is our gaming guy. Prior to TreSensa, he was on the original engineering team for Real Arcade, Real Networks’ digital game store, he built the R&D team for Tribeca Tables, one of the world’s largest online poker networks, and he ran a successful casual/mobile game development shop in India.
Casual Connect actually played a staring role in helping to bring Rakesh to TreSensa. Vincent and I had spent months and months looking for a NYC-based tech co-founder who had game experience. I think we would have had an easier time finding Al Capone or Bigfoot. But then Brad Hargreaves, the founder of General Assembly and head of the NY Games Forum, introduced us to Rakesh and the courtship was on. Rakesh played hard to get for a while and did not want to leave his game studio in a lurch. Then came Casual Connect Seattle. Vincent flew out to Seattle with Rakesh, and they were both blown away by the discussions and interest in HTML5 game development at the conference that year and immediately recognized the huge potential that existed for mobile web game distribution and monetization. They would meet up between sessions, and Vincent would provide the HTML5 updates from the business tracks while Rakesh would provide the updates from the tech tracks. Then Vincent helped Rakesh pick out a sweater at a nearby shop, and we had our game and tech guy.
As a company, we decided to make our big bet on the mobile web and HTML5. We firmly believed (and still do) that the mobile web will be the next major platform for mobile games. In 2011, the mobile gaming market was becoming more and more fragmented. We realized that the economics within the app stores, with its discovery challenges and rising cost-per-user-acquisition, was a broken economic model and that providing alternatives to the app store could be a BIG deal. Not many other companies were willing to make this bet at the time, but we guessed that within the next two years, the browsers, operating systems, and devices would only get stronger, able to support a wide range of popular casual gaming genres. We guessed right, as that is exactly what has transpired. In addition, people have been replacing their lower end devices much faster than predicted, which has been great for us, as dealing with weak Android 2.3 devices (which have now dropped to under a 20 percent share of the Android market) is no fun.
Getting Over the Hurdle:
TreSensa’s technology comes in two parts: we have our game engine/development tools, and we have our games distribution/monetization platform. In 2012, we focused on our engine, TGE. We needed to prove that commercial quality mobile web games could perform within all major web browsers. It was a challenging year for us, as HTML5 was at a very nascent stage when we started out, so we had to use our engine and our game development expertise to fill in many gaps in HTML5. When we ran into problems with performance and could not find any existing solution, we’d build something to solve it ourselves.
Then in the summer of 2012, Facebook dumped its HTML5-based mobile app due to performance issues. Suddenly, HTML5 was a bad word not to be mentioned around children, developers, and VCs. Even my dogs stopped loving me. But we stuck to our guns while many others who initially backed HTML5 jumped ship. We had our Wayne Gretzky moment of going to where the puck was not. We knew that mobile web gaming was going to happen. We just needed to wait for the market to catch up. In order to make our seed investment last as long as possible, we paired down to a skeleton team of four, and took on several work-for-hire projects to help pay the bills. In fact, the first game released using TGE was a game for Progressive Insurance called Rocket Cat.
The Tide Begins to Turn
In Fall 2012, we had a set of mobile web games that worked great, but we realized that building a mobile web game was only half of the battle. To then distribute and monetize a mobile web game was a big challenge, as the emerging distribution channels each had their own requirements and complexities. We decided to take on the distribution challenge and develop a proprietary distribution platform called TGS. On October 9, 2012, we launched our first three games on games.com and a showcase site we set up called www.mobilewebarcade.com. A set of beta studio partners using our engine then cranked out about 20 more games within the next three months, and we added five more distribution partners. Others in the industry began to take notice. In early 2013, we began to work with DeNA and NBCU to support their mobile web game efforts. A few months later, we began working with HBO on a game for their True Blood series. And then that summer, we began working with Amazon as part of the big web app initiative and Kik Messenger as they launched their HTML5 game platform. The momentum started gaining speed and has not slowed down.
This year is going to be a big year for mobile web gaming. We are seeing the interest pick up both from game studios/developers, as well as from distribution partners. In particular, the online game portals are making the shift to HTML5, with many either recently launched or soon launching their mobile web game portals. TreSensa has over sixty distribution partners now integrated on its platform and over forty-five commercial quality HTML5 games within our library of content. And just this month, we de-coupled our game engine from our distribution/monetization platform so that games built with other third party engines (and some good ones are starting to emerge) can be easily integrated with our distribution/monetization platform.
Throughout our two and a half year history, we have had to work with all sorts of constraints – resource constraints, money constraints, technology constraints, and market constraints. We took on the challenges as all start-ups must and did so with a small team of passionate “doers”. For a good part of 2012 and 2013, we shipped code pretty much every day and having a close knit team allowed us to accelerate, react to the market, and experiment in ways that would be much harder to do with a large team. Even with revenues growing and additional funding, our plan is to keep the team small (we are now a team of eleven) so that we can stay agile and continue to innovate as mobile web gaming emerges and evolves.
We are just getting started.