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Zebras, not Unicorns.

by Andre Faure on 08/21/20 10:05:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Obviously, you have already heard of the term “Unicorn” when it comes to define startups that become huge very fast and make a lot of money at the same time, but you ever heard of the term “Zebra”? Let’s start here: Game companies are not Unicorns. We are Zebras.

Let me begin by defining what Unicorns really are. Unicorns are companies created with the single purpose to receive investment, frow like crazy, attract major investments and then be sold or go public (the famous IPO), delivering a great wealth to its founders, but more importantly, to its investors. Unicorn startups are nothing more than a type of investment, just like your savings account, but for people with a LOT of cash.

There are no Unicorns in the games industry. Well, let me express myself better – there are no game companies that can be called a Unicorn. They may be in the industry, but they are not a part of the industry as an ecosystem. King is an Unicorn? No – it started as a game portal long ago and grew organically to what you know today. Supercell is an Unicorn? No, it started as an indie studio, had a huge hit and was bought. Rovio? No. Zynga? No. Garena? No, and I could go on and on telling the story of each company to prove they are not Unicorns, they started and still are, Zebras.

The whole Unicorn thing has a lot to do with motivation. An Unicorn created for the games industry is looking for a single thing: to just make money from its players as fast as they can, stuff their offices with the most employees as they can, to create an empty notion of “value” that investors can cash in, to drive more value and then exit getting tenfold what they put in. That’s simply not how the games industry works. Our final product – games – is a risky business. One that is absolutely not attractive to the startup business model, unless you are spending a huge amount of money from investors to create massive numbers for a few games, transforming an artificial user acquisition into, again, value.

So now that we got through what Unicorns are made of, let’s talk about Zebras.

Why Zebras? (this is an excerpt from the Zebra Manifesto, you can read it here)

  • To state the obvious: unlike unicorns, zebras are real.
  • Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other.
  • Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output.
  • Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive.

I’m pretty sure that, if you work or run a company in the games industry, you will notice a bit similarity between what is said in the Manifesto and how your company actually was born and has grown so far.

My desire is simply that we stay true to our business and do not let ourselves be enchanted by a few hypefests I’ve been following over the past few months. When it comes to the game business, Zebras are cooler than Unicorns.


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