Booyah co-founder and longtime chief executive Keith Lee stepped down last week while Jason Willig, a former EA-Hasbro executive who came in as chief operating officer six months ago, is moving up. Lee becomes a strategic adviser and evangelist for the company.
The move was actually announced last week, but curiously no other media outlets picked it up. We saw the change in our weekly hires tracking story today and decided to break it out today. Willig joined the company in March after serving as the chief operating officer of EA’s Hasbro business unit, which is responsible for brands like Monopoly. He also used to be a general manager at LucasArts.
Founded by several Blizzard Entertainment alums who worked on titles like Diablo II, Booyah has had many twists and turns in its history. Originally backed with $4.5 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ iFund, Booyah started with an app which was about sharing life achievements.
It then pivoted toward mobile games with MyTown, a Monopoly-meets-location-sharing game that was able to acquire users at a much more rapid pace than rivals like Foursquare and Gowalla. On the back of these numbers, the company was able to raise $20 million from Accel Partners, which had previously backed out of a very competitive race among VC firms to fund Foursquare. Shortly thereafter, it also simultaneously launched a Facebook game, Nightclub City, a casual sim game where players manage a virtual nightclub. The game peaked at slightly more than 8 million monthly active users in September before declining.
Retention on MyTown also wasn’t great, so it quickly fell back down the charts. The company then re-oriented back to iOS where it launched Nightclub City DJ Rivals, a casual simulation game that married the location-based elements of MyTown with the virtual economy and design of Facebook’s Nightclub City. The concept was widely copied on iOS with games like Storm8’s Nightclub Story and Disney and Tapulous’ Club World.
That game also didn’t stick in the top-grossing charts, so Booyah re-launched the MyTown brand as a city-building game a few weeks ago. It also released a platformer called Early Bird, which was unlike anything the company had launched before. The app is currently #279 in the top grossing games genre in the U.S.
However, without a major hit that’s been effective at retaining users, Booyah’s portfolio isn’t enough to justify the valuation that more than $24.5 million in venture funding from KPCB and Accel implies. So we’re not surprised to see major changes in the company’s management, regardless of who initiated the moves.