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Our Investment in Barnyard Games: Pioneering Social Games for the Unreal Engine for Fortnite Ecosystem

December 14, 2023

Gaming is in a golden age. Over the last decade, while other areas of the consumer tech landscape have been relatively quiet, gaming has seen platform shifts—mobile, live services, user-generated content—and with them the rise of iconic studios like Roblox, Riot, Mihoyo, Supercell, Epic Games and more—whose titles have reshaped how consumers socialize and play today.

This has compelled me to invest in game studios the last several years and now at Menlo Ventures. Today, I’m proud to announce my first games investment at Menlo, leading the seed round in Barnyard Games.

We knew the Barnyard team was special even before our first meeting. Co-founders John Blakely, Matthew Armstrong, Mark Cieslar, and Chris Sturr each have a proven track record of success within the gaming industry, taking games from zero to one in their previous roles. John and Mark launched and scaled EverQuest 2—the fantasy game that defined the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) genre—while Matthew was one of the original creators of the wildly popular first-person shooter Borderlands. The team previously worked together at Mutant Arm Studio developing an original AAA IP.

But it’s not just the talent. What really compelled us about Barnyard was the team’s vision. Barnyard is betting big on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine for Fortnite (UEFN), and we share the vision for the studio to build the defining social gaming experience for the emerging platform. “It’s about rapid iteration, innovative thinking, leveraging our extensive Unreal Engine experience, and having a ready-made distribution infrastructure. Fortnite Creative is our new frontier,” says co-founder Matthew Armstrong.

Fortnite x UGC: Why UEFN Will Become Gaming’s Next Big Platform

In UEFN, Barnyard is placing itself at the convergence of two of the biggest trends to touch gaming in the last few years: The rise of Epic, and the growing popularity of user-generated content (UGC).

1. Epic builds an empire

I’ve long had admiration for Epic Games. Growing up, my younger brother and I played countless hours racking up monster kills in Unreal Tournament, an early fast-twitch shooter and Epic’s 18th title—the first in a series of Unreal games that would exhibit the power of its namesake engine. Unreal Engine would go on to change the trajectory of the company, from a decently successful gaming studio to the start of an empire.

Fast forward to 2018, when I partnered with Epic Games and founder Tim Sweeney as an investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners. By then, Epic had been scaling Unreal Engine for nearly two decades and had just launched Fortnite, which today is one of the largest and most successful games in the world. Epic had grown into a veritable force, with over 100 million active players, multiple franchises, the most powerful AAA gaming engine in the world, and a large cross-platform game distribution platform (Epic Game Store).

2. Games as a “place.” UGC platforms like Roblox and Minecraft amass some of the largest audiences in gaming

UGC, user-generated content, is one of the largest trends in gaming in the past few years, rising from humble origins in modding—where passionate game fans create bootleg alternative variations and additions to popular games. (Famously, League of Legends was born out of a Warcraft III mod in 2009.)

By the mid-2010s, UGC had become much more. It had become a digital playground for players, a place to hang out and make new digital friends. Minecraft, a survival game with a popular creator mode, was acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion in 2014 and remains hugely popular. Roblox, another UGC platform, reached over 30 million daily active players and more than seven million creators on its platform by its IPO in 2021.

UEFN, the evolution of Fortnite’s own creator mode first launched in 2018 but now powered by the most generous creator rewards of any UGC platform, is still in early days but could become gaming’s next wave. Fortnite is opening up its game development to creators who want deep ownership of their game, and empowering them with the tools to create AAA games of their own within the Fortnite ecosystem.

UEFN roadmap

The Barnyard Thesis: Social Gaming for Where Games Will Be

UEFN is at over 70 million active monthly players today and only continues to grow. The Barnyard team is able to launch a new map on UEFN in two to three months of development time, compared to the typical four-plus years’ development timeline it takes to launch the typical AAA game. The team can test increasingly deeper new ideas and game modes as the UEFN engine expands, while maintaining the optionality to build a map concept into a full-fledged AAA game on the complementary Unreal Engine.

At Menlo Ventures, we are excited to partner with Barnyard on their journey to building social games with UEFN and hope to play with some of you in their latest game launch, Mega Golf Fun Zone. With its first game, the team harnesses the unique physics of UEFN to create their twist on mini-golf amidst a playground where friends can also play games like Gunball air hockey, RC Scramble car racing, and more.

We’re excited to back exceptional gaming teams like the one at Barnyard, who possess a long-term vision, proven game launch expertise, and unique ideas in a sizable genre. As we continue to build out our games portfolio, follow us on Twitter @amytongwu @derekgxiao or Linkedin (Amy Wu, Derek Xiao), and if you’re a games dev, please give us a shout!