TabTale Cranks Up Its Game-Making Machine: The Israeli company isn’t worried about sophisticated games. It’s making games kids want to play and lots of them

JANUARY 4, 2014, 10:00 AM

TabTale Cranks Up Its Game-Making Machine


You’ve probably never heard of a company called TabTale. But if you’ve ever used an iPad or smartphone to entertain young children (as many parents do), you may very well have downloaded one of its hundreds of animated games or interactive books on topics like virtual cupcake baking and doctors who heal zombies. (I personally wasted an enjoyable hour this week playing Santa Rescue Challenge, one of the company’s recently released holiday titles.)In the hyper-competitive game world, TabTale isn’t striving for home runs like Candy Crush Saga from or the Angry Birds franchise from Rovio. Its approach is to step up to bat as often as possible by releasing a lot of games and hope to hit a lot of singles and maybe a double or two.

Indeed, the small Israeli start-up is striving to become a “machine” for game production, with a goal this year of churning out 18 new titles a month. We’re not talking junkware, either — TabTale’s games routinely appear on the lists of most popular apps in the education and kids’ games categories for at least a few days after they appear. The company is counting on customers to enjoy the games and e-books enough to pay for more levels, ad-free versions and even subscriptions to all the titles in a series.

“Kids have an innate way of playing with things. They always want the new icon, the shiny thing,” Sagi Schliesser, co-founder and chief executive of TabTale, said in an interview in Tel Aviv in December.

And as far as the kids are concerned, a game about zombies is different than one about babies, he said, even if both have the same underlying game mechanics.

“They don’t care that it’s really the same technology,” Mr. Schliesser said. “We keep the template, but the story is different. Even the minigames are different.” (The variation helps keep youngsters interested, since the average gaming session with the company’s apps is five minutes.)

Since its first app release in 2010, TabTale has published about 220 unique apps on iOS and Android, including popular lines like the Doctor X medical games and Design It fashion makeover series. The company says more than 280 million copies of its games have been downloaded, with more than half of those downloads coming in 2013 as 50 million new users discovered its games and interactive books. All of the games are in English, and the top two markets are the United States and Britain, but No. 3 is Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Schliesser said revenue was about $15 million in 2013, with about half coming from advertising within the games and half from in-app purchases and upgrades. And he said the company, with about 130 employees worldwide, is profitable.

Although based in Israel, TabTale also has production studios in Macedonia, Ukraine, India and Bulgaria. Individual teams have extensive control over their game concepts and narratives, and each creative producer manages eight games at a time.

The process is so efficient, Mr. Schliesser said, that the typical game takes about four months and just $50,000 to make. “So we have very good economics,” he said.

The company has raised just $13.5 million since its inception, including $12 million invested by Qualcomm Ventures and Magma Venture Partners last October. Mr. Schliesser said the new funds will go principally towards acquisitions, since he expects mobile game makers to seem some consolidation in 2014.

TabTale’s games don’t have the polish and brand appeal of titles from multinational giants like Disney and Viacom’s Nickelodeon. But keeping it lean and fast is becoming more important in the mobile game world as giants like Electronic Arts and Zynga have struggled to make money from complex, expensive titles.

“It’s a very fast-moving market,” Mr. Schliesser said. In addition to the big companies, TabTale’s competitors include Toca Boca of Sweden, Ninjafish Studios of New York and a host of Eastern European and Chinese entrants.

The company faces some other challenges, too.

Most of its games are of the princess and dress-up-the-characters variety, appealing far more to girls than boys and geared to the under-6 set. Because of privacy restrictions imposed by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the United States, TabTale doesn’t use email or social media referrals to build word of mouth, but relies more on in-app promotions to its newer games.

TabTale also doesn’t have a presence in the fast-growing casual games segment that targets older children and adults, although the company expects to release three such games in the next three months.

The beauty of the business model is that if one game doesn’t work out, so be it. It didn’t cost much, and TabTale can quickly move on to the next one.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: