Dmitry and Igor Bukhman grew up in a remote Russian city sharing a bedroom and a Pentium 100 computer on which they coded their first game. Today, Wall Street has come calling for the business the 34- and 37-year-olds have built. The brothers are the masterminds behind Playrix Holding Ltd, the creator of wildly popular games Fishdom and Gardenscapes. Playrix games have more than 30 million daily users from the U.S. to China and annual sales topping $1.2 billion. That's good enough to make the company one of the top 10 iOS and Google Play developers, by revenue. That puts Playrix in league with Tencent and Activision Blizzard. As a result, each brother has a net worth of about $1.4 billion.
Their road to the billionaire club started in 2001 in the Russian city of Vologda, located almost 300 miles north of Moscow. It was there that Igor learned that he could sell software online from one of his university professors. He and Dmitry, who was in high school at the time, decided to give that a try.
The brothers developed a game in which players used a cursor to open pieces of a hidden picture before being hit by flying balls. They wrote it during summer break and made $60 the first month and $100 a month later – which was roughly half the average salary in Vologda. The brothers started to think that if one game made $100 they could write several dozen of them and make a ton of money. Their second game brought in $200 a month. A Tetris copycat brought in $700 a month – but they had to shut that one down after learning the game was protected by a license.
In 2004, their business reached $10,000 a month in revenue, so they registered a legal entity, rented office space, and hired staff. Back then, they sold games through sites like download.com and then moved on to Yahoo! and AOL. Over the past decade, games started moving to Facebook and then to smartphones.
Playrix makes most of its money from app purchases. The brothers found making the transition to free to play games. They managed that transition and over the past three years have dominated the market with Gardenscapes and Homescapes – games in which a player advances through an animated storyline in what is called the match-3 genre.
The U.S. is Playrix's biggest market, followed by China and Japan. The company now has 1,100 employees, many of whom work remotely. The company is headquartered in Ireland and has developers in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. The average U.S. player spends $32 a month playing Homescapes – Playrix's most popular game.
The company recently acquired a number of gaming studios to expand into new genres.
Successful game titles attract a ton of money. Activision Blizzard acquired King Digital for $5.9 billion in 2015. In 2016, Tencent acquired a majority stake in Supercell Oy, maker of Clash of Clans, for $8.6 billion. And of course, Fortnight has made its creator, Tim Sweeney, a billionaire eight times over.
Could Playrix and the Bukhman brothers be next?
The brothers are more focused on becoming a top tier gaming company than in cashing in on what they've built for billions. At least for now…