It’s less than four years since British entrepreneur Stuart Lewis-Smith launched Live Play Mobile, but the gaming platform-cum-television broadcaster has already delivered 30,000 hours of original content. Now the business hopes to become a household name through a landmark partnership with the iconic US game show Wheel of Fortune.
Live Play Mobile, first featured in Forbes 18 months ago, offers mobile gaming, but with a difference. Users play its bingo games on their mobile devices, but each game is hosted live from one of the company’s studios in Hollywood and London, with glossy production values and the feel of a TV game show. There’s no fee to play – to participate, you just need to have the Live Play app and a device capable of streaming the broadcasts.
“Our mission statement sets out our desire to enrich people’s lives by encouraging them to interact with other people in live games,” says Lewis-Smith. “It’s a truly social experience.”
The rapid growth of Live Play Mobile during the Covid-19 pandemic, when people were stuck at home and seeking new ways to connect to broader communities, saw the company attract the attention of multiple suitors. A year ago, Lewis-Smith agreed to sell the business to the UK-based mobile game developer Tripledot, which had just completed a Series B funding round valuing the company at $1.4 billion.
“Bringing these businesses together made a lot of sense,” says Lewis-Smith, who remains in charge at Live Play Mobile. “Their rapid rates of growth and our innovative model felt like a good fit.” He points to data just published by the Financial Times revealing that Tripledot was the fastest-growing gaming company in Europe over the past three years, delivering average annual growth of 795%.
With Tripledot’s track record, vision and capital firepower behind it, Live Play Mobile has been focused on growth itself, with sales up by a multiple of six times’ last year. In many ways, its deal with Wheel of Fortune represents the culmination of this phase of the business’s evolution, with Lewis-Smith excited about what being featured on a show that attracts 21 million viewers a week could do for the business.
The partnership will see Live Play Mobile featured on Wheel of Fortune each day of next week, through a series of segments on the show exploring the company’s games. In addition, contestants who land on an area of the show’s wheel featuring Live Play Mobile’s logo will win a $10,000 cash prize.
It’s a promotion that will clearly deliver huge exposure for Live Play Mobile, but Lewis-Smith believes it is also the right kind of association. “We share many of the same values as Wheel of Fortune and we were honoured when they approached us,” he says of the US’s longest-running gameshow. “It’s about a family-friendly community where viewers welcome hosts into their homes.”
Indeed, one element of the partnership will see Maggie Sajak, daughter of Wheel of Fortune’s long-running host Pat Sajak (and a regular host of the show herself), host Live Play Mobile games in its live-streams. Using celebrity guest hosts has become an important part of Live Play Mobile’s audience-building strategy. Previous guest hosts have included Carston Kressley, best known for shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the social media influencer Brian Christopher.
It’s a formula that has paid off for the business so far, helping it to thrive in a difficult environment for mobile gaming. Apple’s decision to implement new privacy restrictions on advertisers’ access to data has been one headwind for the sector, while the easing of Covid and the end of lockdowns has seen user habits revert to more normal patterns
In addition, gaming companies have also faced a difficult economic backdrop given the pressures on consumers’ pockets; while Live Play Mobile doesn’t ask customers to pay to play, it does monetise its product through spending on in-app purchases and other user activity. In fact, Lewis-Smith says investment in product development and a very data-driven approach – supported by Tripledot’s expertise in this area – has helped it buck the market and increase monetisation.
Alongside such growth, investment has been crucial. Live Play Mobile has doubled its staff headcount over the past 18 months and opened new studio facilities in Hollywood after outgrowing its original premises. The company is now able to live stream a number of different games simultaneously – effectively, it is delivering 72 hours of live content in every 24-hour period.
Lewis-Smith is convinced there is more to come. “We can maintain our current rates of growth throughout 2023, continuing our exponential trajectory,” he says. “We feel very confident about our ability to market on mobile; our offer is completely differentiated from the rest of the gaming industry.”
Certainly, no-one else is producing so much live content – let alone a tie-up with a show with the brand value of Wheel of Fortune. Live Play Mobile’s numbers continue to come up.
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