Pocket Burger are the former Space Apes who want to ‘make a new genre and own it’

 

With a mix of hard data and gut instinct, UK startup Pocket Burger wants to make unexpected games based on “fantasies not being served,” as co-founder Adam Sullivan puts it.

The four co-founders Mitchell Smallman, Matt Down, Jarrod Gecek and Adam Sullivan came together in the summer of last year, when former Space Ape product manager Mitchell Smallman left Netspeak Games after under almost two years at the Sunshine Days maker.

He was soon joined by Down, a former senior dev at Space Ape, Gram Games and Mediatonic, Gecek, former artist at Rovio and Solar Opposites and Sullivan, part of the founding team at Space Ape and veteran of Playfish, PlayStation and Dare Digital.

Pocket Burger raised $1m from RLC, Sisu and a group of angels including Joakim Achrén and Eric Seufert in November 2021. What those investors are betting on its Pocket Burger “making a new genre and owning it,” as Smallman puts it. 

“We’ve been very honest with our investors around the nature of what we’re doing,” says Smallman. “We’re going to fail a lot along the way, right? This is why it’s important we have investors that we trust, who get the scene and that know how hard it is to break out into a new genre, but also know the payoff from people who do that.”

Smallman and Sullivan in real life, in grainy black-and-white-o-vision.

That’s why Pocket Burger won’t be making a merge game, for example – even if they came out with a phenomenal product, there are “many other people with bigger wallets than us”, says Smallman.

“The tagline we use is ‘games people don’t know they want yet’,” Smallman continues. “The example I often give is Golf Clash – like, Tiger Woods games were out for years, and everyone’s like, oh, golf doesn’t make any money. But Golf Clash actually found the audience with casual, three-hole golf and a familiar Clash Royale meta.”

“We want to do new stuff for millions of people being missed for one reason or another,” he continues. “That involves a lot of market research. So yeah, the pitch to investors is we do risky, smart bets that other people aren’t willing to do and a lot of them aren’t going to pay off. But the one that does is going to put us on the map.”

Who are those millions of people being missed right now? Co-founder Adam Sullivan prefers to talk not about demographics, but instead around “fantasies not being served”.

“There are a lot of great games out there about, you know, repairing a mansion, which is a great fantasy that obviously lots of people have,” says Sullivan. “But there’s a bunch of other fantasies out there that are just not being served by games. Or certainly not being served by games in the free to play space.”

Whether that unfulfilled fantasy is being a super spy, a racing driver or something weirder and more obscure, Pocket Burger is determined to find it. And it’s not looking at other games for those fantasies, it’s looking at TV and film.

Pocket Burger founders Matt Down, Mitchell Smallman, Adam Sullivan and Jarrod Gecek in cartoon form.

Medical dramas, for example, are big in TV and film but not so much in games. Why? “We’ve sort of figured out there’s a reason for that, and that medical games are actually very, very hard to hit the fantasy of,” says Smallman. “But that’s what we signed up to do – find these things that have a large audience and that are perhaps hard to do, or not done for a reason, and find a way.”

Smallman and Sullivan describe their eventual end product as being loosely ‘hybrid-casual’ – monetised through both ads and IAPs – and say they will lean heavily on their experiences in live ops and monetisation at Space Ape to build the business. Pocket Burger has already had a few games out there, but describe them as tech tests and nothing the team wants to shout about just yet. 

And so far, Sullivan has been surprised at how receptive casual players are to less conventional ideas. “As an industry we tend to think of casual players in a fairly narrow way,” he says. “What we’re finding is that players are looking for something slightly left of centre – there’s only so many ways you can decorate a mansion. Players are looking for new experiences and new art styles.”

The Pocket Burger team continues to test ideas here and there, and plans to have its first ‘real’ game out on app stores by the end of the year. It’s also aiming to expand its team of seven to 12 for its second game.

Those games certainly won’t be medical dramas or a merge games, then, but they will be something you’re not expecting. “I’m down with weird,” adds Smallman. “People want weird, strange things more than they want something they’ve seen before.”