Lil Snack raises $3.1M for snackable games built by devs with AI tools



Lil Snack has raised $3.1 million for snackable games on a platform that entices players to come back every day.

That’s a pretty hefty funding amount for a company that until recently had just two people: cofounders Eric Berman and Travis Chen.

Fortunately for Lil Snack, the company has already gotten a lot of traction during its six-month run through A16z Games Speedrun, an accelerator for game studios run by the venture capital firm headed by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz. The company said it has grown organically over 100% month-over-month for several consecutive months.

The funding came from Lerer Hippeau, Waverley Capital, A16z Games Speedrun and Powerhouse Capital. In any given day, there are six games playable. Four of them are base games, or mainline titles. Then there are two additional titles that Amazon Prime users get exclusive access to.

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“Our users are coming back every day and playing these games which align with what’s happening in the world. We like to say that like our games move at the speed of culture,” Chen said in an interview with GamesBeat. “When something happens in the world, you’re playing it on Lil Snack. And that’s kind of been a guiding light for the types of games we’re making.”

The team has just four people, and it isn’t planning on spending on marketing. Rather, it is working with distribution partners like Amazon Prime and BuzzFeed.

Game demo

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Lil Snack has a variety of daily games.

I’ve played the games with the Lil Snack leaders and they’re both cute and fun. In one category of “app store favs,” the theme varies with the news of the day. Liar’s Dungeon quizzed me about my knowledge of games and social platforms. The guards at each door in a dungeon quizzed me about “three truths and one lie” and I had to figure out which was the lie. The game cycled through four questions and I won.

Another game showed me a picture of a bunch of fans in a store. I was supposed to figure out the eight-letters in the blank phrase referred to “Only Fans.” The image of the store was created with generative art.

Another game made me rank the social platforms based on how many users they had. All of it made me laugh. One day featured Beyonce-related games as Beyonce released a new album. Another day was dedicated to the Academy Award winners.

The games are available on the web at the moment.

Daily gaming habit

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Lil Snack launches games every day.

Lil Snack releases new games daily in sync with pop culture trends, using AI tools to supercharge game production. It recently added two more people and doesn’t anticipate hiring people at the moment.

Berman and Chen have multifaceted expertise in games and streaming video and they’re using it to deliver an entirely new entertainment experience. Berman and Chen have served as executive leaders at companies such as Scopely, Hulu, Snap, Crunchyroll, Warner, and Dapper Labs,

The duo emerged from stealth mode during A16z Games Speedrun Demo Day at GDC and immediately closed their seed round.

Lil Snack has focused on daily games arena, something instigated in the past by companies such as HQ Trivia. Inspired by the mainstream resurgence of daily games, driven by The New York Times Games (with games like Wordle), the founders started making their own bite-size games, sharing with family and friends.

“One of the things that we learned in the emerging free-to-play space is how important meta mechanics are to retaining users and keeping them engaged and forming community,” Berman said. “That’s something that we saw was missing in this emerging daily ephemeral gaming space.”

Every month, there are new events where users can collect items that they can equip to their leaderboards. In the past six months of play, there are users who are highly engaged, with one at the top of the leaderboards who has won 721 games. That means some players are playing multiple games every day.

Lil Snack has also targeted YouTube influencers and streamers, who in turn get their fans to play every day. They talk about it on Discord and elsewhere, and they compete against each other in a kind of meta game via teams.

“We’re giving the product to consumers as quickly as we possibly can,” said Berman. “We started sharing the games to consumers before we were even a company. And that, like everything you’re seeing here is mostly driven from consumer feedback. We believe the you have to listen to your consumers and build relentlessly. That’s the guiding a lot of this.”

At the same time, they’re embracing AI as a way to “superpower everything we’re doing and just move quicker and lighter,” Berman said.

He added, “We’re keeping a team that is light and nimble that helps us make quick decisions, and just move and build and be very, very thoughtful with all of our team.”

Rapid growth

CTA LilSnackCo
LilSnack.co is where you can find snackable games.

So far, the audience grew organically, and players immediately embraced the approachability, fun, and uniqueness of these “Lil Snacks.” To keep up with demand, Lil Snack creates games in minutes, using new AI tools, allowing them to develop games that move at the “speed of culture.” Their formula has ignited engagement and retention within fan communities, attracting streamers with millions of followers, fueling competition among friends and family, and inviting partnerships with top brands.

“We believe consumers want to play–not just watch. Lil Snack is an entirely new entertainment experience, combining games with the cultural zeitgeist,” said Berman. “We are working with the entertainment industry to deliver a new way for brands to engage and retain audiences. Coupled with recent investments from Lerer Hippeau, Waverley Capital, and Powerhouse Capitol – we’ll grow our team and move even faster to reach larger audiences.”

The New York Times was particularly inspiring, and it led them to consider little snacks for people who need more accessible and approachable forms of entertertainment while still getting a daily dose of pop culture.

“We leaned into that category of entertainment as a massive unlock, adding fun puzzle games and other mental play,” Berman said.

Audience growth this month is likely to hit 15 times over the last month, he said.

Background

Travis Chen (left) and Eric Berman of Lil Snack.
Travis Chen (left) and Eric Berman of Lil Snack.

Berman has served in key leadership roles for some of the world’s largest media companies–scaling consumer products to millions of paying subscribers, from launching Hulu’s first apps and scaling the subscription service to over $1 billion to serving as vice president across the portfolio of Otter Media’s fan-focused companies Crunchyroll, VRV, and Fullscreen.

Berman led the teams responsible for the distribution, content, partnerships, and M&A–later sold to Warner Media for over $1 billion. He then supported the team that incubated HBO Max. Before founding Lil Snack, he worked with Chen as COO of the award-winning kids’ experience, OK Play – which they successfully sold to Dapper Labs in 2022. The two then led consumer-driven initiatives at Dapper Labs in partnership with the NBA, the NFL, Disney, and others.

“At Lil Snack, we’re creating snackable games at the speed of culture. When something happens in the world, you can play it,” said Chen. “Throughout my career, I’ve pursued faster ways to engage larger audiences through play. Lil Snack is the ultimate realization of this ambition.”

Chen shifted his focus from developing popular triple-A games such as Guitar Hero and Call of Duty to top-grossing mobile games at Scopely.

There, he was chief game designer at the studio, which was eventually acquired for $4.9 billion. He also led the team building augmented reality experiences at Snap. As CPO and sole developer of Lil Snack’s games and platform, Chen now focuses on “finding the fun” in ingeniously designed daily games that intertwine strategies, catapulting audience reach and engagement through pop culture and play.

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Can AI provide the art for a game like this?

“The emergence of like the tools like generative AI has allowed me to unlock in my mind a challenge that thesis that you need so many people for a company,” said Chen. “Do you need a full time native engineer? Or do you just really need someone that can wear a lot of hats and work with these amazing tools that we have today. So that has been a big switch for us, and we are challenging what we need to build this company. That’s why we’ve been able to come really far.”

Chen added, “We’re not an AI company, but we use the tools very deeply. One [front] is on the content creation and content pipeline. Three years ago, I couldn’t fathom creating a product that releases content every single day with the type of content that we’re delivering. Generative AI has been a huge part of that unlock.”

Generative AI can’t be trusted yet to make a game all by itself, Chen said.

He added, “To be honest, like I don’t think we really want to live in that place.”

They start with an idea like something funny for a Beyonce-inspired game. Then they send custom prompts to the AI to generate ideas for the type of game and then they go back and forth and tune it.

“There is definitely a human involved across the board where you are heavily utilizing the tools,” Chen said. “And then there are things that we could have never done without generative AI.”

I asked if it seemed like this kind of use of AI would wind up costing a lot of jobs in the game industry.

Berman said, “Building games that are beloved is a deeply creative and thoughtful process, which we believe will always require a human touch. The emergence of AI tools have empowered Lil Snack, a small developer, to find product market fit quicker than ever by activating an ultra streamlined consumer feedback loop.”

Berman added, “And with continued success, we intend to invest further to create more job opportunities in order to build an even better product for consumers. We have found the new AI tools also enable other creatives to step into the game development process, often for the first time, leading to new takes on game design. Fresh perspectives will be critical to our success, as we tackle a very big vision of bringing play into industries outside the traditional games space.”

Investor support

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Lil Snack raised $3.1 million from investors.

The company was able to raise its funding round thanks to the demo day in the last class of the A16z Games Speedrun accelerator. It was able to do a three-minute demo in front of 500 investors and other luminaries, Berman said.

“We’ve worked with a lot of teams at Lerer Hippeau, and Eric and Travis are hitting it out of the park,” said Ben Lerer, managing partner at Lerer Hippeau, in a statement. “Our experience operating and investing in many media and entertainment companies, as well as our continued affection for consumer-obsessed businesses, aligns beautifully with market timing and conditions for Lil Snack. The team’s ability to produce games at lightning speed and give players more topical content and less addictive, distracting noise found in other corners of the mobile gaming market makes Lil Snack extremely exciting for us.”

“Lil Snack creates immersive daily experiences for players, blending entertainment and gaming to redefine consumer experiences. Their forward-thinking vision aligns with Speedrun’s commitment to innovation,” said Josh Lu, A16z partner, in a statement.

“Given the rise of snackable, casual, culturally relevant AI games, Lil Snack is the right product in the right market at the right time,” said Daniel Leff, managing partner at Waverley Capital, in a statement. “Furthermore, with Lil Snack’s early commercial traction as well as co-founders Eric and Travis’ vision and leadership, LilSnack has quickly emerged as the category leader.”

Daily competitors

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Lil Snack has four people.

The New York Times is definitely competition with games like Wordle. But the experiences are very different.

Regarding the past work of HQ Trivia, Lil Snack’s team liked the daily part of that game show. But the result so far is pretty different from that experience, Chen said.

“I think one of the things that we think there’s a big opportunity for is diversity of play with in the daily combat experience,” Chen said. “With HQ Trivia, you get one type of play, which is kind of a four-answer trivia question. And that’s compelling. And we kind of see similar patterns happening across this kind of emerging daily game space where there is a site for this type of play, there’s a site for this type of play.”

He added, “We think we can bring all types of play together in one space through one ritual of play, one destination for play. You can answer questions in a Liar’s Dungeon, put trivia questions into a game, playing with images. One of the things that we’re really passionate on is just always being fresh and new and unexpected. We have about eight different game formats. We plan to launch a new format pretty much every single month and potentially retire old ones.”

Berman said that every platform is in the midst of launching games, including LinkedIn, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Netflix.

“We’re seeing that happen in categories where you wouldn’t expect to see games,” said Berman. “And we’re leaning into that in a pretty big way. While we’re going to be at this consistent place where you can come to do that, we are going to be working with a ton of other partners. And we’re already doing that six months in as a two-person team.”



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