Leaf Mobile has put a premium on developing games that are heavy on IP
The mobile game executive believes there’s still a long way to go
You don’t meet many CEOs of video game companies who studied political science and history in university.
“It allows you to win a good game of Trivial Pursuit,” Darcy Taylor says with laugh about his background in the humanities from Queen’s University. But after a few years skiing professionally in Whistler, the Barrie, Ontario, native built a career on the marketing side and founded a company that was bought by IMG (which later became American talent behemoth Endeavor Group Holdings).
He was working for an international conglomerate in Seoul and coming back to Vancouver regularly when he and co-founder Mike Edwards started talking about the mobile gaming industry. “I told him, If you think mobile is big now, and mobile gaming is interesting, you should see what’s happening over here,” Taylor remembers.
Eventually, Taylor and Edwards came up with the idea of entering the free-to-play mobile game space by building up a group of studios that are, in Taylor’s words, “entrepreneurial-driven and independent, but working toward a common goal—to be a powerhouse of free-to-play.”
Leaf Mobile launched in 2018 and was spurred into action by the acquisition of Nanaimo-based Ldrly Games. Taylor and company took Ldrly and its so-called “green assets” (read: cannabis-adjacent games) from some $2.4 million in revenue in 2018 to almost $38 million last year.
“Our hypothesis was that by injecting capital into the company to fine-tune the marketing and user acquisition, to streamline the production and to inject IP on top of proven game franchises, we could reinvigorate or reignite a group of assets that have a steady following and just need some additional support,” Taylor explains.
That strategy unfolded again at the beginning of this year, when Leaf paid $159 million for Vancouver’s East Side Games. Leaf, which graduated to the Toronto Stock Exchange as part of the deal, is now home to more than 150 employees.
“They were transitioning East Side Games and focusing more on pure IP or IP-driven games, like you see with RuPaul’s Drag Race and Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money,” Taylor says. “What we were saying was, Let us prove our concept with the green assets of what we can do. And if it works, we’ll come talk to you about building a bigger and better company. Long story short, they liked what we did, and we had a common mindset.”
That mindset definitely involves building out the world’s biggest free-to-play mobile game studio, something that took yet another shot in the arm with the March announcement that the company is slated to purchase Vancouver-based Truly Social Games.
But Leaf also wants to further establish B.C. as a gaming powerhouse. Taylor, in particular, is tired of watching studios in other countries take away our homegrown talent.
“We watched [Vancouver mobile game company] A Thinking Ape get taken over by [Swedish video game company] Embracer Group and wondered why we were letting all of these international companies come in and take our best and brightest and build global powerhouses from here in other parts of the world,” Taylor says.
“Why don’t we do it here? We have the talent—the talent is Canadian, we should be the ones building a global powerhouse from Canada, not the other way around.”
To that end, Taylor has something of a plan: “Our goal is to build strategically and smartly. I would argue that you’ll see us, in three to five years, definitely double the size we are. But the vision is to become a Tier A player in the free-to-play market space—we’re talking among the biggest, billion-dollar revenue companies.”
So, unicorn status?
“We’d like to be a unicorn, yes. We feel we’re a unicorn in waiting.”