‘We said no to an offer every week’: why Sybo sold to Miniclip after ten years of takeover bids

 

With the dust settled on Miniclip’s monumental acquisition of Sybo, we caught up with CEO Mathias Gredal Nørvig to find out more about the deal and what’s next for the Subway Surfers maker.

He told us:

  • Sybo has been turning down buyout offers for years – one per week, on average
  • Subway Surfers DAU is still rising, and is currently around 25-30m; MAU is 150-180m
  • Sybo’s complex publishing deal with Kiloo finally ended in 2020, paving the way to a sale
  • Miniclip beat nine other bidders due to its culture, plus its data and UA expertise. And a large bid, of course
  • TikTok virality has opened up a whole new player base for Subway Surfers
  • Sybo is now working on new IPs and more new Subway Surfers projects

Because it’s been around for so long, it’s easy to forget how big Subway Surfers’ numbers are. Sybo CEO Mathias Gredal Nørvig says that the game’s daily active users have risen to 25-30 million recently, and monthly active users number between 150 and 180 million.

“We were the first game that had more than a billion downloads on Google Play and we are by far the most downloaded game in the world now,” he tells us.

“We have between a million and a half and two million new installs daily and we’re 10 years in – of course a lot of that is reinstalls but it is still people being engaged and excited to come back.”

Subway Surfers celebrated its 10th birthday earlier this year, and has 25-30m daily active users.

So why sell, and why sell now? The end of a long-standing and complex publishing deal with Kiloo in 2020 kickstarted the process, as a newly-liberated Sybo took full control of Subway Surfers.

“We agreed that would take it over peacefully,” says Gredal Nørvig. “It enabled us to stand on our own feet. Once we had that independence, we actually didn’t change anything. We had a lot of momentum already and then in September last year yet another [potential buyer] reached out…”

“I said to the founders, look, I know that you have let us run with the baton, but vision-wise and investment-wise, either we need to join a bigger family or we need to hire five more lawyers, five more backend engineers…and the market in the fall was super hot. So I said it might actually be the perfect time. We knew that there was a lot of interest, and the second we raised the flag, there was a lot of inbound.”

23 different companies presented Sybo with a potential deal, and ten formal takeover bids were made, says Gredal Nørvig. And those takeover offers were far from the first – Sybo has been turning down offers from an array of suitors for ten years, he says.

Sybo founders Bodie Jahn-Mulliner (left) and Sylvester Rishøj (right) had resisted takeover bids for a decade, until now.

“We basically said no to an offer every week. The same 50 companies that were buying traffic and IPs would basically reach out once a year. And if you just put all that together, then that’s once a week that you say: no, we’re still not for sale.”

After fielding those 23 presentations and 10 bids in late 2021, Sybo whittled its suitors down to a handful. “Quite early on, we said Miniclip seems to be the best of all worlds,” he continues. “I’ve known [Miniclip boss] Saad for many years – I know him to be a super good guy.”

“Of course we didn’t care exactly who had the highest bid, but with Miniclip we had a perfect match between a high bid and Sybo remaining independent, running with the exact same management team, the same strategy, the same roadmap, but under the umbrella of a company that that is better than us on some fronts.”

“With Miniclip we have someone who knows a lot more about UA, has lot more publishing experience, has a lot more data experience, but we also inspire them with our marketing efforts, our virality and our IP ownership.”

“And those synergies also mean that our staff is excited – and I don’t think they would have been excited by all of the bidders.”

Under Miniclip’s ownership Sybo is looking to expand the Subway Surfers series and develop new IP.

Even as the Miniclip deal was in flight, Subway Surfers continued its inexorable growth. Recently TikTok and a beefed up live ops programme have been fruitful ways to grab new players and re-introduce lapsed ones, says Gredal Nørvig.

It continues to expand its reach through spin-offs, too. Apple Arcade title Subway Surfers Tag and Subway Surfers Match both launched in the last few months, and half of Sybo’s staff is now working on new titles while the other 50% keep Subway Surfers rolling.

“There are several things we want to test out, what we can do IP-wise,” says Gredal Nørvig. “We want to see how we can reinvent mechanics – for now we’re not able to reveal too much just yet. We know that we have a gem in Subway Surfers and the players are engaging with everything we put out.”

“But we also know that we want to be more than just that one title,” he adds. “So we’re trying different things out. We know that we sit on a very interesting title in Subway Surfers and the IP can do more than we’ve done. But we’re not done with developing new IPs either.”