Gaming and streaming video have been two of the biggest hobby gainers in the last year + of pandemic life. Today, a startup that has created an app that brings these two entertainment formats together is announcing notable seed funding as it prepares to exit closed beta.
Hybrid games startup PortalOne announces $ 15 million seed funding as it prepares to exit closed beta with app that lets people play games on demand and watch also live broadcasts in which users can play against a special guest. .
The startup and its funding are remarkable in part because of who invests.
It includes Atari and camera maker ARRI, Founders Fund, TQ Ventures (the company run by Scooter Braun and financiers Schuster Tanger and Andrew Marks), Coatue Management (in particular Arielle Zuckerberg), Rogue Capital Partners (the new fund of Alice Lloyd George), Signia Venture Partenaires (via Sunny Dhillon), Seedcamp, Talis Capital and SNÖ Ventures outside Europe.
Other investors included Kevin Lin, the co-founder of Twitch; Mike Morhaime, co-founder of Blizzard and Dreamhaven; Amy Morhaime, co-founder of Dreamhaven; Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games; Xen Lategan, former technical director and executive advisor at various companies such as Hulu; and Eugene Wei, former head of video at Oculus and head of product at Hulu.
PortalOne is both a tech startup and a media company. On the one hand, he’s spent the past three years building a complete stack of hardware and software that can be used to create games, record live broadcasts, and integrate the two into an experience that combines both games and software. on-demand and real-time and entertainment.
“One of the advantages of Build First is that what we’re doing is extremely difficult to do technically,” said the co-founder and CEO Bård Anders Kasin. “The way we do it is the key. It’s our secret sauce.
On the other hand, it uses this technology to create a platform and brand of live games and events, thus providing a place for itself and others to create games and greater live experiences. around them. He believes he has succeeded in doing something here that has been overlooked by others for years.
“We come from the entertainment industry and have also been playing games for many years,” said Stig Olav Kasin, Bård’s brother and the other co-founder (and director of content). “We’ve spoken to all the big companies and know that hybrid gaming of games and TV is difficult,” not least because of silos in businesses where different groups “own” the TV and games.
The Oslo-based company has so far launched a first streamlined version of its service in the US and Norway – two games so far, one called Blockbuster which, well, involves throwing a massive ball and flipping blocks, and another reimagined version of Centipede – with corresponding talk shows in a living room that’s actually entirely computer-generated on a green screen.
Users can play and watch it all through a VR headset or on a phone, and they win “prizes” for placing well in gaming competitions. Along with this, PortalOne will sell virtual products, as companies like Fortnite are doing today.
The plan is to roll out the first iteration of its service more widely – PortalOne Arcade, a selection of old-school ’80s-themed arcade games reimagined as immersive, multiplayer experiences combined with interactive talk shows – in the United States and Norway later this year ago. expanding to other markets.
Bård Anders Kasin – who previously built a virtual reality company and worked as a CTO at Warner Brothers, directing films such as the ‘The Matrix’ trilogy – and Stig Olav Kasin – who worked with his brother on reality virtual and before that was a media manager on shows like “The voice” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” – founded PortalOne in 2018.
Between that date and June 2020, when PortalOne launched its closed beta, the startup focused on developing its technology, content strategy, and first partners.
From the sounds of it, it was no small task. Its technology stack integrates virtual reality, computer vision, gaming technology and software and hardware to capture and stream videos that dramatically reduce the resources required for both, among other IPs. Some of them PortalOne got built; in other areas, he worked with Arri, a major player in motion picture camera equipment, who built a new type of 3D camera for PortalOne.
Part of the challenge PortalOne tackled was the very process of creating content for a hybrid platform like the one it envisioned.
Typically, recording immersive experiences is complex and expensive due to the volumetric equipment used, the studio setup required to capture the experiences, and more, implying the size, personnel, and costs of the facility. hollywood film studio.
PortalOne’s breakthrough has been to turn this process into something that can be produced more easily and at a much lower cost, necessary “since we have daily shows and we want to expand and mass-produce more daily shows for. every game, ”Bård said.
In PortalOne’s setup, in addition to the host – an affable Norwegian with a predominantly American English accent called Markus Bailey – and his guest, there are only two other people involved, technicians-producers triggering effects and controlling the moment the action moves from conversation to game and back again.
Previously needing big sets and dozens of people, “now we can do it all in a studio the size of YouTube,” Bård said.
Content wise, PortalOne builds its own games, but it also exploits an old-fashioned gaming aesthetic, he said.
Atari is not only investing, but has signed a seven-year deal with PortalOne, giving the latter exclusive global distribution rights to some of its most popular arcade game franchises, which PortalOne is re-imagining and reimagining. to rebuild for its hybrid platform.
Bård said the company wanted to work with music, sports, travel and education brands to create other games as well. (Braun’s reach here might not extend to Taylor Swift, but he drew Justin Bieber for the promo video, and maybe more.)
“Massive opportunities continue to emerge in the interactive entertainment space as distribution and business models evolve,” Kirill Tasilov, principal at Talis Capital, said in a statement. “PortalOne is redefining mobile by opening up new hybrid experiences at the intersection of games and video, and we’re excited to be part of their journey.”
Blur the lines
In some ways, what PortalOne does isn’t completely new, as the lines between what is a game, what is interactive, and what is linear entertainment have blurred for decades.
You could say that even game shows, one of the earliest television formats, were an early stage of hybrid interactivity, although more modern programs like the ones Stig helped develop, with interactive audience voting to home using phones, have definitely pushed the concept in new ways.
The coronavirus pandemic and the fact that so many live in-person events have been canceled, meanwhile, has definitely paved the way for content players to think outside the box when it comes to creating new types of events. ‘live’ broadcasts. As Marshmello got a huge response to his Fortnite ‘show’ in 2019, the game saw 12 million people flock to its Travis Scott concert last year; and Roblox said in December that his show with Lil Nas would pave the way for future events.
“When we see virtual concerts inside TikTok, Roblox and Fortnite, it’s great, but PortalOne offers an evolution of interactive metaverse entertainment – true real-time one-to-many interaction between players around the world. , all in a hybrid native mobile gaming format, ”said Dhillon, partner of Signia Venture Partners.
Still, if well-established platforms really pick up on this trend, it’s an endorsement of what PortalOne has built. But they could also create their own live-action game shows and have PortalOne jump out of the water the moment it digs its toes.
This is also where the time spent building technology could prove to be a boost or a failure. The game is notoriously hard to call when it comes to resonating and taking off with audiences, as are the experiences built around these games.
“The next big social platform will likely be a convergence of media with gaming at its core – a truly new immersive interactive experience – and PortalOne is a major candidate to become such a platform,” said Kevin Lin.
Indeed, if PortalOne finds an audience for what it manufactures, it will have the tools to serve them more efficiently and at a lower cost. But if that doesn’t hit the right note, the question will be how and if this technology will be used otherwise.
For investors right now, it’s more about the opportunity.
“As PortalOne continues to grow, it seamlessly integrates the worlds of gaming and entertainment to create a unique interactive experience and endless possibilities for content creation,” said Braun. “Creators and artists want new and innovative ways to bring their craft to life, and PortalOne is meeting that demand in a way no other company has done. I am delighted to be working with the entire team to realize their innovative vision. I’ve never seen anything like it before. “
Delian Asparouhov, director of the Founders Fund – in the news today for another reason, his role in drawing much attention to Miami as a new tech hotspot – also believes that building infrastructure and technologies combined with the media element will give the boot a lot of track.
“We support companies that we believe have strong potential to become world leaders in their category,” he said in a statement. “PortalOne creates a new category and simultaneously the platform that is clearly defined to dominate this new category. The market is ripe, the opportunity is clear, and the potential is limitless. PortalOne is poised to create a before and after in the industry. “