Monday, December 29, 2008

Alan Kane of Archangel Ventures Talks about Raising a Fund for Game Developers

Alan Kane of Archangel Ventures Talks about Raising a Fund for Game Developers

What is your background?

I came to Austin in 2004 after earning an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College. I started my career in gaming at Midway Games, where I was the studio CFO & COO for 4 years. Prior to Midway, I was an Investment Banker and quite frankly was not a “gamer.”

At the time, Midway had a great business plan and a bright future. My job was to focus on the business and operational side of the studio, while a very talented group of directors managed the production and creative development. The local studio grew from 35 to over 220 in just 18 months. We built out a new 40,000 square foot facility in the Domain. We released a couple of AAA titles and had a few more in the works. Then rather abruptly last summer, Midway corporate was forced to scale back their 2010 and 2011 plans, which led to a massive layoff here in Austin.

I stayed on for the transition and focused on securing employment for those who were let go. Then I decided to start my own consulting company focusing on CFO for-hire type engagements for game developers. I see so many studios that need help or want to outsource the operational and financial management side of their company, so that they can focus on making great games and not negotiating leases, bookkeeping, planning for growth, writing HR policies, etc. When I was growing up, my father was a brilliant engineer, however he couldn’t nail the business side of running his own company. So this is an issue I understand quite well.

My company provides investment capital and advisory services to game developers who are willing to do what it takes to succeed. My investments are equity stakes in actual game projects and not directly in the studio.

How much are you raising for your first fund?

For this first fund, I’m talking to successful angels and high-net-worth individuals in an effort to raise $10M to $15M and that will be structured as a typical VC fund. Over $15M the economics start to breakdown given the size of each project I am looking to fund and my investment criteria.

What are you going to provide your portfolio companies?

I’m looking for projects and studios in which there is a good fit. This is defined as a situation where there is a compelling risk reward at the project level and where the studio is willing and able to do what it takes to succeed. Let’s face it not every project is going to be the next Halo blockbuster, but if you structure the project in such a way it does not have to be, to be profitable. I will work with each portfolio company to help make this possible by investing the money, time, and energy necessary for success.

How does it work?

This is a new business model for funding game development projects and understand that each project is relatively unique.

However, without giving away the secret sauce I’ll give you a profile of an investment I will look to make. I will partner with an experienced game developer with existing technology to fund a specific project(s) rather than funding the studio itself. I will work with the studio to hash out the project (or slate of projects) budget and timeline that they are looking to produce. I will also base my investments geographically to take advantage of government matching funds programs. With these types of programs, you have a collateralized type of principle investment. In addition to a share of backend royalties, if a larger publisher is involved in the deal you can create a larger return by working with their milestone payments.

In each deal I do, I’m looking to make a return of 3-5x on a $250k-$500k investment. While this is not the typical VC target of +10x return, my risk is much lower than a traditional VC. The number of losing investments in my portfolio will be minimal due to my unique investment structure, shorter investment duration, and my liquidity events will be clearly defined.

How is it different?

Traditional investors will look at a gaming company and try to come up with a valuation for the company as a whole based on cash flow projections and a terminal value at some future event. What I do is make an investment based on a game project no more than 30 months out with a clearly defined revenue stream and terminal value. If a publisher does come into the deal great, I get a cut of that money too. The investors get their cash back out more quickly because they don’t have to wait for the company to be acquired or the studio to issue dividends. Movies are funded somewhat the same way. From an investor’s standpoint, this model works and is not simply based on the commercial success of the title.

How many projects are in the pipeline?

I currently have 6 very promising projects I’m actively looking to fund. There are another half dozen on my desk I still need to vet. Once I close my fund and word gets out I have $10M-15M to invest, I have no doubt the studios with the best projects will come looking for me. This industry needs an alternative funding model and I believe I have it.

Best regards,
Hall T.