Social Game Developer Kixeye Raises $18 Million, Adds Zynga Co-founder Andrew Trader To Its Board

Back in April, game developer The Casual Collective rebranded as Kixeye and launched a new realtime strategy game called Battle Pirates. Since then, the startup has been hard at work on raising some new capital to expand its team and roll out additional titles. This officially came to pass this morning, as the company announced that it has closed an $18 million series C funding round, bringing total investment to $23.5 million.

The new round was led by Jafco Ventures, with contributions from returning investors, Trinity Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners. As part of the raise, Jafco Managing Partner Joe Horowitz is signing on to the startup’s board and will be joined by — in a big symbolic feather-in-the-cap for Kixeye — Zynga Co-founder Andrew Trader, a.k.a. “A.T.”

According to Kixeye CEO Will Harbin, the startup has hit its stride over the last 8 months, in which time it became profitable as well as cash-flow positive. So, in adding Trader to its board of directors, Kixeye is hoping to use the Zynga EVP of Sales and Business Development’s experience (especially in scaling Zynga into the largest player in social gaming) to help continue its own recent growth kick.

As for Trader, he said that he’s watched Kixeye emerge as one of the leading innovators in the social gaming space, especially for hardcore gamers. “Gamers want great games, not re-skinned versions of the same thing”, A.T. said. “I’m excited to be a part of this company, and I look forward to helping them continue their successful trajectory”. And speaking of re-skinning and cloning, both are things that Kixeye has become extremely conscious of, considering that last week the startup accused well-funded competitor, Kabam, of copying its successful Backyard Monsters and re-skinning it for the beta launch of Kabam’s own Edgeworld.

As VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi reported at the time, accusations of re-skinning have become commonplace in the rapidly growing (and competitive) social games space, but Kixeye felt that this instance was “particularly egregious”. “It’s not only insulting to us”, Harbin told VentureBeat. “It’s very bad for this space. We are fighting an uphill battle to create hardcore games on Facebook. The more clones there are for these games, the more they could sour consumers on the whole market”.

And what’s more, accusations of stealing (and re-skinning) are also known to Zynga (and by extension, A.T.), which has been accused of stealing the original code for Farmville, for example.

As such, social gaming players are each looking for ways to distinguish their brands and their titles from the competition. In the case of Kixeye, Harbin says that the company plans to use some of its new funding to begin a new, aggressive release cycle that will include some new approaches to social games.

“Over the next year, we will be releasing one major title per quarter, starting with our upcoming RTS War Commander”, the CEO said. “We are also looking to create games on the Facebook platform that no one has seen before, including dynamic MMORPG’s, racing games, and, hopefully, titles that really push the envelope”. And Harbin has good reason to want to take these genres to Facebook, as racing, action, and hidden objects are among the genres that have few titles on Facebook at this point.

And the company is growing at a rate that justifies its new ambition: Over the past 18 months, Kixeye has grown its team from 3 to 60, and has gone from little presence on Facebook to over 5 million monthly active users. Part of the reason, too, that Kixeye has been so adamant in defending Backyard Monsters is that the game was really what put Kixeye on the map, as its currently averaging more than 1 million daily active users.

So, as the San Francisco-based game developer goes forward with a wad of cash in its pocket, users can probably expect to see the startup continue to focus on creating Facebook titles for the hardcore gamer, in an attempt to make more interesting and challenging games that target an older and more mature audience. And I’d expect that going after top engineering talent will be a part of that effort.

For more on Kixeye, check ’em out at home here.