Photo: Rodrigo Sepulveda
Nicolas Gaume has had a great run as a gaming entrepreneur and now he wants to beat Zynga.At 19, Gaume was the founder of games studio Kalisto, which made some iconic games, soared with the bubble, and crashed with the bust.
Now he’s back with a new Facebook games startup called Mimesis Republic and a game called Mamba Nation, which we were the first ones to talk about.
The startup has been in semi-stealth mode working on its product for 3 years, and the game is very impressive because it’s a full, immersive 3D experience right in the browser.
Right now Mamba Nation has 175,000 beta users and is opening up today. We spoke with Gaume about the company ahead of the opening for this edited interview.
Why is Mamba Nation a threat to CityVille’s 100 million-plus users? For a few reasons:
- Gaume has built a huge company before;
- Mamba Nation is unlike any other Facebook game we’ve seen;
- There’s a real vision behind it.
Business Insider: What is Mamba Nation?
Nicolas Gaume: Mamba Nation is a virtual universe for teens and young adults that connects real life and the virtual worlds through social networks. Through Mamba Nation anyone can create an avatar and interact with their friends. We add the games, the tools and the brands that teens and young adults love.
BI: How much money have you raised?
Gaume: We had already raysed 5 million euros from angels and now we’re raising 6.5 million from institutional investors like Artemis, VerlInvest, and funds started by experienced entrepreneurs like DotCorp, Jaina Capital and Kima Ventures.
BI: What’s the valuation?
Gaume: Oh, come on. (Laughter.) To tell you the truth I don’t know exactly, but you can multiply by three and get an approximation.
BI: So what’s special about Mamba Nation?
Gaume: The first thing is that it’s a full 3D, immersive universe. Anyone can create an avatar to represent themselves, or several facets of their identity, and that avatar will evolve based on what you do. Every character has a room, which they can deck out according to their taste, and where they can invite friends. There are also plenty of games you can play.
BI: So it’s a bit like Second Life?
Gaume: No, because it’s not just a virtual universe. Think about it this way: what’s the difference between Alice in Wonderland and The Mask?
In Alice in Wonderland, Alice goes down the rabbit hole and discovers this amazing second universe. But once she comes back, there’s no connection with the real world or with her friends. It’s a private experience.
Now think about the movie The Mask. In The Mask, Jim Carrey’s character puts on the Mask, and he turns into this completely different character. But at the same time, that character is a reflection of who he is, and what the character does has an impact on real life. So the Mask will behave like the wolf from Tex Avery and be totally outrageous with the girl he likes, but that will help the real him get the girl in real life.
BI: Why is that a big deal?
Gaume: Think back to your adolescence. It’s a terrible time! You have all these conflicting emotions bubbling up inside you, and you’re trying to build your identity.
Back in my day, when I liked a girl what would happen would be that I would see her, and blush, and look at the tip of my shoes, and that’s it. I mean, I dressed up as a Jedi to go watch Star Wars Episode I when it came out. But today, through social networks and other technology, kids can build these virtual or separate lives that help them build themselves up in real life.
There’s been plenty of studies about this, and we spoke to psychologists and sociologists: today, the two kids who like each other will still blush and not talk, but at the same time send each other tons of incredibly intense text messages. That’s a pretty big deal.
When you’re a teenager, it’s actually pretty important that you can take on this parallel identity, like the Mask. You can go into the game and challenge the girl at a game, or talk to her, or approach her in some way. And it’s fine, because you’re doing it inside a game. But at the same time, it’s not just a game. It’s connected to your real identity through Facebook.
So we’re helping teenagers build their real identities through these virtual identities that are facets of their real identity. It’s pretty important.
BI: What makes you think you can grow huge and beat Zynga?
Gaume: That’s not how we think about it at all. But Mamba Nation is a really good game, and it’s pretty viral. We also have tons of other applications that feed back into the game. So for example a few months back we created an app called “Gossip”, where you could create these outlandish rumours about your friends and post them to their wall. We put it online one night just as a test, and within a week it was the top 6th app on Facebook — despite only being in French. So we’re planning a new version of Gossip and other viral apps that will get users into the game. And already Mamba Nation has almost 200,000 users despite being in private beta in French, and we’re monitoring this stuff very closely. It can get very viral.
To take another example that also goes back to my earlier point about multiple identities, we had a user who was a total metalhead fan. His avatar in the game was this huge, scary, hard rock guy, and he got the most points in his region in the game. But in real life he didn’t look the part at all. So we took his picture and created an ad in his region that said “This guy is the hardest metalhead in your region” and when they clicked they could see his avatar. You see, it’s the kind of things we can do and it’s the kinds of things that are really cool about the game.
BI: So, what’s the business model?
Gaume: It’s the basic freemium model you see with most Facebook games. You deck out your avatar and your room with items from in-game currency, which you can either earn through the game or buy. But there’s also a great opportunity for advertisers to bring their brand into the game and help kids interact with the game. We have partnership talks with several big companies to create or brand games within the game. Think about it: it’s a huge opportunity for a brand to interact and be part of a teenager’s online experience with his friends.