Exploding Kittens Draws Funding to Create More Games, Explore Entertainment – The Wall Street Journal

LOS ANGELES—The company behind Exploding Kittens, the popular card game that combines whimsical drawings of felines with cutthroat strategy, has sold a $30 million minority stake to a prominent media investor—a departure from its early days raising funds on Kickstarter.

The nearly 5-year-old Exploding Kittens Inc. says it will use the new investment, from an affiliate of former News Corp. executive

Peter Chernin’s

investment firm, to develop more products, hire more employees and explore possible entertainment options.

Chernin Group’s affiliate, TCG, is to be a minority investor, but other terms weren’t disclosed, including the exact percentage the venture fund obtained or how the stake values the 24-person company overall.

Project manager Kellee Vopelak tests out a new expansion pack to the Exploding Kittens game.


Photo:

Roger Kisby for The Wall Street Journal

Launched in January 2015, Exploding Kittens holds the record for attracting the most backers for any project on Kickstarter, with over 200,000 people chipping in. The $8.7 million the company raised to fund the creation of its eponymous card game is among the 10 largest sums ever raised on Kickstarter for a single project.

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Founded by former Xbox designer

Elan Lee

and

Matthew Inman,

creator of popular online comic “The Oatmeal,” the company started from the desire to make games that would get players away from TV screens and encourage in-person interactions.

Exploding Kittens has since released three more games with a fourth slated for launch in November, and it has developed a popular mobile app. But the original game remains its most popular offering.

The company says it has sold over eight million units to date, most of them its namesake product.

Despite the big-money funding, Exploding Kittens still plans to launch some new games via Kickstarter, which has proven valuable as a marketing channel as well as a source of financial backing.

A board game being designed at the Exploding Kittens offices.


Photo:

Roger Kisby for The Wall Street Journal

The eponymous game and two other Kickstarter-backed games remain its best sellers, the company says, partly because it posted them on the crowdfunding platform before they were finished, giving the audience some input on the final product.

“When you put it on Kickstarter, there’s a sense that we’re building this thing together,” Mr. Inman said.

Based on a card game called “Bomb Squad,” Exploding Kittens has a relatively simple premise. Players draw and play cards as they try to strategically eliminate their opponents. Drawing an exploding kitten card removes a player from the game—unless he or she is holding a “defuse” card with a name like “catnip” or “belly rubs.”

The co-founders head up different facets of the company’s operations. Mr. Lee runs development while Mr. Inman heads Exploding Kittens’ creative side. He calls himself the company’s “lord commander of fun.”

The Exploding Kittens game combines whimsical drawings of felines with cutthroat strategy.


Photo:

Roger Kisby for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Lee said he thinks the company’s games have resonated with people because they are more about the player than the game.

“We don’t build entertaining games,” he said. “We build games that make the people you’re playing with entertaining.”

Chernin Group partner

Jesse Jacobs,

who joined the Exploding Kittens board following TCG’s investment, said the rapidly growing tabletop game industry is fragmented, making it a ripe target for strategic investment.

With the new financial backing in place, Exploding Kittens plans on publishing three games a year. Its games could become fodder for television shows, interactive media or other entertainment.

“I can’t say whether that’s going to be a multiyear television show, a movie, an experiential thing that’s part of a theme park,” Mr. Jacobs said. “But all those are things they should be pursuing.”

As a News Corp. executive, Mr. Chernin was responsible for “Avatar” and “Titanic”; among the movies and television shows he has produced since leaving the company are three Planet of the Apes titles, “Hidden Figures” and the “New Girl” series.

Exploding Kittens is already venturing beyond the tabletop.

Next May, the company will host a convention in Portland, Ore., called Burning Cat, where participants will be able to play new games from Exploding Kittens and smaller developers. Other attractions at the event: a dunk tank filled with LaCroix sparkling water, what is billed as “the world’s largest game of freeze tag” and a 20-foot-tall cat statue that will be set ablaze at the conclusion of the convention.

A two-day ticket costs $80 and there is already a 14,000-person waiting list for the event, which has a capacity of 9,000.

Mr. Inman calls himself the company’s ‘lord commander of fun.’


Photo:

Roger Kisby for The Wall Street Journal

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