Dec. 24--CEDAR FALLS -- Fifteen years after four local entrepreneurs launched a small video game development company in the Cedar Falls Industrial Park, Phantom EFX is hitting heights none of the founders likely visualized.
The firm has been swept up in two buyouts since the summer of 2012 and the infusion of corporate capital is starting to pay tangible dividends around the Phantom offices in the "Phantom Park" area of the industrial park.
Most notably, Phantom is getting set to open a 10,000-square-foot addition to its office space at 900 Technology Parkway, Suite 300. A ribbon-cutting on the addition is scheduled for Jan. 16.
The new space will house a growing population of workers, who have multiplied since Waukegan, Ill,-based WMS Industries purchased privately owned Phantom in June 2012 for an undisclosed sum and then, in September 2013, New York-based Scientific Games Corp. bought WMS for $1.5 billion.
Phantom's workforce, meanwhile, has grown from 35 to 100 in about the last 10 months, said Brad Flanagan, marketing director for social gaming.
Hence, the expansion.
"The new addition is more or less the same type of space we currently have -- very open, primarily desk spaces," he said.
He said he wasn't sure who would move into the new space, but the extra square footage will come in handy.
"There is a new break room and several meeting areas," he said.
Aaron Schurman, the company's managing director, co-founded the company in 1998 with partners Danny Stokes, Marty VanZee and Darin Beck. Beck sold his interest in the company in 2012, but Stokes and VanZee remain, as director and director of mobile products, respectively.
"It's been a whirlwind," Schurman said.
Intensified interest in casino-style games for mobile devices helped to fuel that whirlwind -- and led to the sale of the company in 2012, Schurman said.
"We were a leader in retail casino games, and we gained a lot of attention from Facebook," Schurman said.
Scientific Games is 38 percent owned by New York investor Ron Perelman, who is ranked 27th on the Forbes 400 with a net worth of $14 billion. The lottery systems provider, announced, at the time it bought WMS, that it would create two industry groups -- gaming and lottery -- with much of WMS falling into the gaming division.
Phantom went with it.
"That was an incredibly interesting ride," Schurman said. "We had about five companies all competing to acquire us (in 2012), including WMS and Scientific Games. We ended up working together."
The biggest change in the aftermath of the acquisitions has been monetary, Schurman said.
"I'd say the biggest thing is having the access to capital," he said. "Of course, being local owners, we always had only limited access; now, being a publicly traded company, it changes a lot. That allowed us to grow, more than anything."
Phantom released Jackpot Party soon after the WMS acquisition.
"It has been just straight up since then," Schurman said. "That particular game, we put that on Facebook and it quickly became a top-10 grossing game for Facebook."
At last count, Jackpot Party had more than 10 million players and about 1 million players every day, Schurman said.
That's just the start of bigger things to come, including the number of employees at Phantom, Schurman said.
"The new expansion is going to be full by the time we get there, which is, of course, going to lead to additional expansion, which is already in talks right now," he said. "We have game designs ready to go now. We're forming teams just as quickly as we can find high-quality people."