What’s everyone been up to in quarantine? Playing a lot of games on their phones, apparently.
And that has meant boom times for Bunch, a Discord-like video chat app for mobile games. Its number of monthly active users has grown 50 times over since March, reaching north of 1 million. “I look at gamer behavior, and there are the hardcore gamers, who really care about the game,” explains Bunch cofounder Selcuk Atli. “And there is another category we call ‘social gamers,’ people who look at gaming as way to spend quality time with their friends. And I think that’s who we’re really seeing.”
On the strength of that growth, Bunch has raised a $20 million Series A. The round is led by venture capital firm General Catalyst and brought in many of the major gaming companies, including Electronic Arts
, Take-Two Intereactive and Krafton, the maker of PUBG. It’s unusual for the top game studios to partner in an investment like this and is a sign that these companies think there’s a potential to integrate Bunch into their games.
“The entire gaming industry is getting behind Bunch,” says Niko Bonatsos, the General Catalyst managing director who coordinated the funding. “We believe that there is a need for the next generation of gaming infrastructure to be developed. The YouTubes, the Twitches of the world have dated themselves. So whenever there’s any new gaming infrastructure product out there, I’m very interested.”
While Twitch and YouTube are largely the domains of console and desktop gamers, Bunch is solely for mobile games. Founded in 2017, Bunch for now has largely relied on first-party games it developed itself. Atli’s favorite is Mars Dash. “Mario Kart on Mars,” says Atli, who started the company with Jason Liang and Jordan Howlett. “You get to freeze your friends and fly over—one of those games where you get to mess with your friends.” Those games can be played within Bunch’s app, and Bunch can also be used for video chat while playing Minecraft, Roblox and PUBG, among other games.
In March, the growth came rapidly. “All of a sudden, we started get a lot of users in a single day,” Atli recalls. “We were like, ‘What’s happening?’” At the start, Italy was a hot spot. “And then the next day, a lot of them starting coming from Spain,” the growth coming as one country after another in Europe began lockdowns.
As users poured onto the app during Covid-19 quarantine, Atli noticed a shift in their demographic—changing from being a majority of teenage boys (ages 14 to 15) to women in their 20s and 30s. 60% of Bunch’s users are female now.
The $20 million in funding is partly earmarked for staff hires and to pay more for more servers, technology that Bunch found itself keenly short on in March. “We basically had to stop all future work for a month or two just to get our kitchen in order,” Atli says. It previously raised $3.85 million last November from Tencent, Riot Games, Supercell and other investors.
The grandest dream for Bunch is that it ends up like Discord, a chat app that’s also a social network. “There hasn’t been a social network created yet for casual gamers,” Bontasos says. “For that kind of person, there is no real community.”