‘Cloud-first’ game studio Mainframe raises $8.1M led by Andreessen Horowitz

Posted by | a16z, Gaming, Mainframe industries, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

With most new social media startups seeming to dial in on specific communities to thrive in a still Facebook-dominated sphere, some of the more broadly focused social investments from top VCs are going into online gaming.

The latest is Mainframe Industries, a Nordic game studio building a massively multiplayer online title. The team doesn’t have much to share of what their title will actually look like gameplay-wise, they’re just saying it’s a sandbox MMO designed for cloud streaming built on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.

The startup, which has offices in Helsinki and Reykjavik, isn’t building cloud gaming tech but is instead building an MMO title that’s designed from the get-go for streaming platforms like Google Stadia or Microsoft xCloud that beam a title to a user’s device from a cloud-hosted GPU. What does being a cloud-native game entail? Mainly, it seems to mean that they’re creating a social title that is as fully playable on mobile as it is on PC/console.

Building a robust mobile game that meets console/PC gamers expectations has been one of the more tenuous pursuits of the past decade, and one that has more often than not led to watered-down experiences. Mainframe CEO Thor Gunnarsson acknowledges that titles have sometimes catered to the “lowest common denominator,” but he believes that as game-streaming advances lower technical barriers, his team can focus wholly on solving the user experience challenges.

A big focus seems to be leveraging cross-play with more consistent experiences on differently powered devices thanks to cloud streaming. Gunnarsson believes his company’s approach to what occurs on the “social layer” of the title will be what differentiates them the most, though he is mum on details regarding what that will look like in the eventual release.

The startup has some big names supporting them in their quest. The startup announced today that they’ve closed an $8.1 million (€7.6 million) Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Riot Games, Maki.vc, Play Ventures, Sisu Game Ventures and Crowberry Capital also participated in the round.

Andreessen Horowitz, already having bet big on Roblox’s $150 million Series G last month, has been quite active in placing bets on smaller gaming startups in the past year or so, most of which have been made by GP Andrew Chen.

Early last year, Chen directed a16z’s investment in Sandbox VR’s $68 million Series A, a startup aiming to make shared virtual reality experiences more common by building out physical retail locations in malls and shopping areas across the globe. This past August, Chen was also behind the firm’s investment in Singularity 6, another MMO gaming startup that’s looking to build a “virtual society.” Chen was also behind the investment in Mainframe Industries .

“We believe that cloud-native games are poised to revolutionize the entertainment industry in the coming years, yielding entirely new gameplay experiences and business models,” said Chen in a press release announcing the startup’s raise.

In some part, these investments highlight the belief of venture capitalists that online games like Fortnite may represent the future of social networks. They are also, however, platform bets that are rooted in early content plays, which can be notoriously difficult to pick winners in.

While Gunnarsson was quick to discuss how important he believed their title’s social platform would become, he was also just as quick to admit that building a great game was the most critical. “All of the platform stuff is ancillary to the prospect of creating a fun game, but we have really strong game design team.”

Games these days, particularly MMOs, are far from “finished” by launch. Gunnarsson plans to use this round of funding to reach a closed alpha of their title. He didn’t offer any timelines for launch, as they’re only in pre-production now, but did say it certainly won’t be coming out this year.

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Singularity 6 raises $16.5M from Andreessen Horowitz to create a ‘virtual society’

Posted by | a16z, Andreessen Horowitz, Gaming, Singularity 6, TC | No Comments

When Fortnite reached stratospheric popularity early last year, there were undoubtedly an awful lot of VCs on the sidelines looking enviously at the massive platform and wondering what opportunities could be gleaned from its rapid rise.

Epic Games went on to raise later that year at a nearly $15 billion valuation so some of those investors decided to invest directly in the Fortnite creator’s continued ascent, but others have been looking to get in on the ground floor of new operations that are aiming to rethink the line between video games and social networks.

Today, Andreessen Horowitz announced that it’s leading the $16.5 million Series A of a stealthy gaming startup called Singularity 6. The startup’s ex-Riot Games co-founders claim their venture is less focused on building a button-mashing competitive shooter than it is a “virtual society” where users can develop relationships with in-game characters powered by “complex AI”.

Singularity 6

Singularity 6 co-founders Anthony Leung (left)and Aidan Karabaich (right)

London Venture Partners (LVP) and FunPlus Ventures also participated in the Series A round. LVP led the company’s $2.5 million seed round last year.

“The near term focus is our first product, building a world that begins to tackle the community simulation space, and that’s really combining a strong virtual community with deep and compelling gameplay,” CEO Anthony Leung told TechCrunch in an interview.

He says that the company’s influences for its first title include “Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

While the co-founder did specify that Singularity 6 is a “game and tech company” he didn’t have too much to say about what that tech was. “We actually have to roll out a lot of custom tech, because there aren’t really any off-the-shelf solutions for the MMO aspects or the virtual community features,” Leung told us.

A16z has already invested in a company building the underlying tech for MMOs, Improbable, which has raised $600 million+ for its server-stitching SpatialOS platform. Investors like Andreessen Horowitz are largely ambitious that the gaming market will continue to grow as major players invest heavily in platforms that make the titles more accessible to new user bases.

“Interactive entertainment has become more mainstream and approachable than ever before, as technology use is no longer for fringe or techy groups – this new generation of ‘gamers’ is becoming more inclusive of everyone – as immersive, digital experiences will become as accessible and commonplace as the social forums we know and love today.” wrote a16z Partner Andrew Chen, who is taking a seat on Singularity 6’s board as part of this deal, in a blog post.

Singularity 6 isn’t sharing a release date for its “virtual society” quite yet, but Leung tells me the title is “still a ways out” from launch.

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LimeBike raises $12 million to roll out bike sharing without kiosks in the US

Posted by | a16z, bike sharing, Collaborative Consumption, funding, Fundings & Exits, LimeBike, Mobile, mobility, Series A, smart bikes, Startups, TC, Transportation, Venture Capital | No Comments

 A startup called LimeBike has raised $12 million in venture funding to make Chinese-style bike sharing mainstream in the U.S. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, joined by IDG Ventures, DCM Ventures and other investors who declined to be named. Read More

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