London’s new king of social gaming is always on the move

SINCE Riccardo Zacconi’s online games company, King.com, first started developing games for Facebook in mid-2011, the business has seen growth explode, overtaking US gaming giant Zynga on the Facebook gaming charts, and being highlighted as one of the hottest companies on London’s burgeoning technology scene.

But King.com is no flash in the pan. August marks the company’s 10th anniversary, making it a year older than Facebook and four years older than its rival Zynga.

King.com started out in 2003 building simple puzzle and skill games for its own website, on which people would compete for cash prizes. It quickly attracted interest, receiving funding from venture capitalists at Apax Partners and Index Ventures in 2005, the same year Zacconi says the business turned profitable.

From there, King.com continued to build momentum, churning out new games on its website as well as for then-dominant websites such as Yahoo and MSN. But by 2009, Zacconi could see his games were losing traffic to Facebook. In 2011, he moved his most popular game, Bubble Saga, onto the social network, and then another, Bubble Witch Saga.

The games were a hit, and by October 2011, King.com was one of the 10 most popular developers on Facebook. More games followed, and in January this year the latest, Candy Crush Saga, overtook Zynga’s FarmVille to become Facebook’s most-played title. The games are free but charge players small amounts for power-ups or extra lives, a lucrative business model.

Now Zacconi says he is working seven days a week as he travels from King.com’s Soho headquarters to San Francisco, Hamburg, Barcelona, Bucharest, Stockholm and Malmo, but if the work is tiring him out, he doesn’t show it.

“When a company grows very fast as we have, it’s fun,” Zacconi says. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years and the company has not always been growing, and now it’s exploding and every day I’m learning new things.”

King.com has around 400 staff, and plans to have around 700 by the end of the year. This expansion is needed because the secret to his games’ success, Zacconi says, is that King.com has invested in developing them for not only the web, but for smartphones and tablets too.

“I think there’s a big advantage in having content which is ubiquitous, because it means you can have the same game everywhere: You can start on your tablet, you can continue on your iPhone, you can continue on your PC, and in the future you will be able to continue on your TV from where you left off,” Zacconi says.

This multi-device compatibility explains King.com’s momentum throughout 2012, as its major rival has stalled. Since Zynga’s initial public offering 14 months ago, revenues have flatlined as gamers abandon its web-focused titles for mobile games, and the company’s stock price has fallen by two-thirds.

However, Zacconi says Zynga’s poor market reception has not put him off floating King.com. Although, in his words, “we have not yet kickstarted the process,” the company has been exploring the option, with New York’s Nasdaq listing the likely destination, and Zacconi says he has “been doing some simple things which any company which grows needs to do, like reviewing compensation and structures and the board structure”.

On the other hand, there is no pressure for a flotation. “Right now I think we are very focused on execution,” Zacconi says. “But it’s going to be a very interesting year.”

CV: RICCARDO ZACCONI

Born:
1967, in Rome

Studied:
Economics, in Rome

Career:
1991-92, strategy consulting, LEK partnership, Germany

1993-1998, strategy consulting, Boston Consulting Group, Germany

1999-2000, managing director at Spray Network internat portal (sold to Lycos), Germany

2001-2, entrepreneur in residence, Benchmark Capital

2002 VP marketing and sales, uDate online dating (sold to IAC)

2003 to now: King.com, co-founder and chief executive