Istanbul’s Dream Games snaps up $50M and launches its first game, the puzzle-based Royal Match

On the back of Zynga acquiring Turkey’s Peak Games for $1.8 billion last year and then following it up with another gaming acquisition in the country, Turkey has been making a name for itself as a hub for mobile gaming startups, and specifically those building casual puzzle games, the wildly popular and very sticky format that takes players through successive graphic challenges that test their logic, memory and ability to think under time pressure.

Today, one of the more promising of those startups, Istanbul-based, Peak alum-founded Dream Games, is announcing the GA launch of its first title, Royal Match (on both iOS and Android), along with $50 million in funding to double down on the opportunity ahead — the largest Series A raised by a startup in Turkey to date.

While Dream Games will focus for the moment on building out the audience for puzzle games with more innovative ideas, it also has its sights set on a bigger goal.

“We’re building this as an entertainment company,” CEO Soner Aydemir said in an interview, where he described Pixar as a key inspiration not just for size but for quality in its category. “What they did for animated movies, we want to do for mobile gaming. We are focusing on casual puzzle games first because everyone plays these, but we will also move forward with other genres. We want to be a huge interactive entertainment company that builds high quality games.”

The Series A is being led by Index Ventures, with participation also from Balderton Capital and Makers Fund. The latter two backed Dream Games previously, in a $7.5 million seed round in 2019. Index, meanwhile, is a notable VC to have on board: other successful gaming startups it has backed include Discord, King, Roblox, Supercell and Angry Birds maker Rovio.

Interestingly, this is not Index’s first investment in a gaming startup founded by Peak Games alums: in December it led a $6 million round for another Istanbul mobile casual puzzle gaming startup founded by ex-Peak employees: Bigger Games.

Dream Games is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

Dream Games raising $57.5 million ahead of launching any games — or proving whether they get any traction — may sound like a risky bet, but there is some context to the story that sets up the odds in this startup’s favor.

The founding team all come from Peak Games, the Istanbul gaming startup that was so nice, Zynga bought it twice — first, in the form of one small acquisition of some specific titles, and then the whole company some years later.

CEO Soner Aydemir is Peak’s former director of product who built the company’s two biggest hits, Toy Blast and Toon Blast. Ikbal Namli and Hakan Saglam were Peak’s former engineering leads. And Peak product manager Eren Sengul and an ex-Peak 3D artist Serdar Yilmaz round out the rest of the founding team.

(Aydemir notes that the team left and formed Dream Games in 2019, about a year before Zynga’s full acquisition.)

The other indicators that Dream Games is on to something are its metrics for its limited test run of Royal Match.

Royal Match — in which players are tasked with helping King Robert restore his royal castle “to its former glory” by rebuilding it through a series of match-3 levels and obstacles, with new rooms, royal chambers and gardens making up the different levels of the game — was launched first as a limited test on iOS and Android in the U.K. and Canada in July leading up to this launch. In that time, Aydemir said it saw 1 million downloads and 200 daily average users.

“We think the numbers are very promising compared to previous experiences,” he said.

While Aydemir likes to describe Dream as an “entertainment” company, there is a lot of technology going into the product, from the graphics and the mechanics of the puzzles themselves through to the data science behind them.

“If you want to create an iconic game, you need to combine engineering, art and data science together with high quality user acquisition and a strong marketing approach,” he said.

And he believes that when you focus on these it will inevitably lead to quality, which means you no longer have to focus on simply trying to find a hit.

“We don’t like that approach,” he said. “We don’t want to find a hit.”

That was also the mix that Index also wanted to back.

“Building iconic titles requires a harmonious mix of craft, science and flawless execution,” said Index Ventures partner Stephane Kurgan, who led the round together with Index’s Sofia Dolfe. “The Dream Games team has perfected this mix over many years of working together, and has put it on full display in Royal Match. We could not be more excited to work with them in their journey to build the next global casual champion.”

While Dream Games’ long-term ambition is to build out interactive experiences around different audiences and genres, Aydemir said that casual games, and puzzles in particular, have proven to be a huge hit with consumers.

The strength of that trend has up to now meant that puzzle games generally have proven to have more staying power than other genres in mobile games, which have soared in popularity but also somewhat fizzled out.

“Every year we see the bigger market of users growing by 20%,” he said. “It will remain for decades.”

Interestingly, the focus on casual gaming startups in Turkey seems like a perfect storm of sorts. Undeniably, the proven success of Peak has brought in more punters, but it has also shown the way to developers: you can build a successful and global consumer tech startup out of Turkey, and perhaps puzzles — which focus on shapes — are especially good at transcending different language barriers.. Alongside that, Aydemir pointed out that the country is strong on engineers and developers but slim on opportunities with bigger tech companies.

“Mobile gaming is a younger industry, so that presents an opportunity,” he said.

Chinese mobile games are gaining ground in the US

Over the past year, the coronavirus crisis has spurred app usage in the United States as people stay indoors to limit contact with others. Mobile games particularly have enjoyed a boom, and among them, games from Chinese studios are gaining popularity.

Games released on the U.S. App Store and Google Play Store raked in a total of $5.8 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter, jumping 34.3% from a year before and accounting for over a quarter of the world’s mobile gaming revenues, according to a new report from market research firm Sensor Tower.

In the quarter, Chinese titles contributed as much as 20% of the mobile gaming revenues in the U.S. That effectively made China the largest importer of mobile games in the U.S., thanks to a few blockbuster titles. Chinese publishers claimed 21 spots among the 100 top-grossing games in the period and collectively generated $780 million in revenues in the U.S., the world’s largest mobile gaming market, more than triple the amount from two years before.

Occupying the top rank are familiar Chinese titles such as the first-person shooter game Call of Duty, a collaboration between Tencent and Activision, as well Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But smaller Chinese studios are also quickly infiltrating the U.S. market.

Mihoyo, a little-known studio outside China, has been turning heads in the domestic gaming industry with its hit game Genshin Impact, a role-playing action game featuring anime-style characters. It was the sixth-most highest-grossing mobile game in the U.S. during Q4, racking up over $100 million in revenues in the period.

Most notable is that Mihoyo has been an independent studio since its inception in 2011. Unlike many gaming startups that covet fundings from industry titans like Tencent, Mihoyo has so far raised only a modest amount from its early days. It also stirred up controversy for skipping major distributors like Tencent and phone vendors Huawei and Xiaomi, releasing Genshin Impact on Bilibili, a popular video site amongst Chinese youngsters, and games downloading platform Taptap.

Magic Tavern, the developer behind the puzzle game Project Makeover, one of the most installed mobile games in the U.S. since late last year, is another lesser-known studio. Founded by a team of Tsinghua graduates with offices around the world, Magic Tavern is celebrated as one of the first studios with roots in China to have gained ground in the American casual gaming market. KKR-backed gaming company AppLovin is a strategic investor in Magic Tavern.

Other popular games in the U.S. also have links to China, if not directly owned by a Chinese company. Shortcut Run and Roof Nails are works from the French casual game maker Voodoo, which received a minority investment from Tencent last year. Tencent is also a strategic investor in Roblox, the gaming platform oriented to young gamers and slated for an IPO in the coming weeks.

Area 120 is beginning to use Google’s massive reach to scale HTML5 GameSnacks platform

Hundreds of millions of users, especially in developing markets, don’t own high-end smartphones and can’t afford fast data plans to enjoy much of anything on the web.

Google has been exploring multiple ways to better serve this segment of the user base. It has tried partnerships to make the internet more affordable to tens of millions of users. It has worked with smartphone makers to bring reliable Android experience to cheap smartphones. In fact, it’s currently working on a project with telecom operator Jio Platforms in India to further lower the price point for decent Android experience.

For mobile games, however, Google has a slightly different idea to reach users. Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator for experimental projects, last year launched GameSnacks. It’s an HTML5 gaming platform, where titles are bite-sized and they load much faster and consume far less resources because of the way they have been designed.

And that idea appears to be working.

Google said on Tuesday that over the past year it has made inroads with GameSnacks, and is now ready to scale the platform and test monetization models to make it worthwhile for game developers.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Ani Mohan, General Manager of GameSnacks, said the platform has amassed over 100 titles and millions of users.

“HTML5 gaming has been growing, especially outside of the United States. HTML5 is a great way to get games to users who have just come online and probably haven’t played games online before. These games are cross-device, work on low-bandwidth connection, and are instantly playable as they don’t require users to install any files,” he said.

These single-player games, that work on any device with as low RAM as 1GB and 2G to 3G data connection, are available to users through GameSnacks website. They can be played on desktop as well as Chrome on an iPhone or iPad (if you wanted to give it a whirl.)

Now the company is using its scale to expand the reach and discoverability of GameSnacks. Mohan said in recent weeks GameSnacks games have been made available from the New Tab page in Chrome for users in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Kenya.

In India, Google’s biggest market by users, GameSnacks games are also arriving to Google Pay. The company is also experimenting with bringing GameSnacks games to Discover feed.

Mohan said the company is starting these integrations is select countries because that’s where many users face the challenges the platform is trying to address. “We view this as an early stage of experimentation. If it goes well, we will love to expand it,” he said.

Additionally, Mohan said the company is experimenting with bringing GameSnacks games to the Google Assistant.

“Now that few of these integrations are live, one of things we are hoping to do is talk to developers, and tell them that there is an easy way to get on Google,” he said.

Developers on GameSnacks currently monetize their games via a licensing or a contracting model where they sell some or all of their game rights to the company. Mohan said the team, which comprises six people (though more people from Google contribute to it), is working on helping these developers monetize their games using next-generation AdSense for Games ad formats.

“We want to help them build viable businesses over time so we’re going to start experimenting with advertising on the platform,” he said. However, this will be for a select number of GameSnacks games for now.

Emerging markets such as Africa and Asia are not new to the world of HTML games. In India, for instance, a gaming platform called Gamezop raised $4.2 million last year to expand its HTML5 games to reach more developers and embed them into over 1,000 apps.

In 2018, South African telco, MTN Group, launched the Bonus Bucks HTML5 game portal for its subscribers in the Southern African country. Facebook operated HTML5 Instant Games on Messenger for years until taking it off the messaging service. A quick search on our own archive returns scores of firms that work on HTML5 games in the past, though we have seen fewer examples in recent years.

Mohan remains bullish that there is a big opportunity for HTML games and this extends beyond Africa and Asia. “We don’t see these markets as our only option. These are just the markets we’re starting with because the need for HTML5 games… is especially compelling. We think the market size for this is much broader because HTML has users all around the world,” he said.

Artie raises $10M for app-less mobile games

Artie, a startup looking to rethink the distribution of mobile games, announced today that it has raised $10 million in funding.

There are some big names backing the company — its latest investors include Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Thirty Five Ventures, Scooter Braun’s Raised In Space, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, Susquehanna International Group, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment + The Sixers Lab, Googler Manuel Bronstein and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley.

This actually represents a pivot from Artie’s original vision of creating augmented reality avatars. CEO Ryan Horrigan said that he and his co-founder/CTO Armando Kirwin ended up building distribution technology that they felt solved “a much bigger problem.”

The problem, in part, is game developers “looking for ways outside of Apple’s App Stores rules and restrictions.” (That’s certainly something Fortnite-maker Epic Games seems to be fighting for.) So Artie’s platform allows users to play mobile games without installing an app, from the browser or wherever links can be shared online.

Artie Beer Pong

Image Credits: Artie

Artie isn’t the only startup focused on the idea app-less mobile gaming, but Horrigan said that while other companies are limited by JavaScript and HTML5, Artie supports Unity, meaning it can build casual (rather than hyper-casual) games, and eventually games that might even go deeper.

“Similar to cloud games, we’re running Unity games on our cloud, but rather than rendering their graphics on the cloud and pushing the video to players, we’re not running graphics on the cloud,” he said. “We’re streaming assets and animations that are highly-optimized and rendered in real-time through the embedded web browser.”

In other words, the goal is to get frictionless distribution outside of app stores, while avoiding some of the issues facing cloud gaming, namely significant infrastructure costs and lag time.

The startup is developing and releasing games of its own, with an Alice in Wonderland game, a beer pong game and more on the schedule for later this year, then a massively multiplayer online game planned for 2022. But the company also plans to release an SDK allowing other developers to distribute through its platform as well.

Horrigan said Artie’s initial games will be free-to-play, monetized through in-game purchases. They’ll use cookies to remember where players were in the game, but players will also be able to create logins.

Artie is also developing games with a major music star and a superhero IP-owner, and he argued that by combining no code/low code authoring tools with Artie’s distribution platform, this could become a bigger trend.

“We want to be working with the next generation of influencers to make games using these low code or no code solutions, then publish to their audiences directly on YouTube,” he said. “Imagine what a branded game would look like from your favorite hip hop star. We think that’s coming, and we think Artie is the platform to make that happen.”

 

Microsoft offers new accessibility testing service for PC and Xbox games

As gaming has grown from niche to mainstream over the past decades, it has also become both much more, and much less accessible to people with disabilities or other considerations. Microsoft aims to make the PC and Xbox more inclusive with a new in-house testing service that compares games to the newly expanded Xbox Accessibility Guidelines.

The Microsoft Game Accessibility Testing Service, as it’s called, is live now and anyone releasing a game on Windows or an Xbox platform can take advantage of it.

“Games are tested against the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines by a team of subject matter experts and gamers with disabilities. Our goal is to provide accurate and timely feedback, turned around within 7 business days,” said Brannon Zahand, senior gaming accessibility program manager at the company.

It’s not free (though Microsoft did not specify costs, which probably differ depending on the project), so if you want to know what the reports look like without diving in cash in hand, talk to your account rep and they can probably hook you up with a sample. But you don’t need final code to send it in.

“As game accessibility is much easier to implement early in a game’s development, we encourage game developers to submit as soon as they have a representative build that incorporates core UI and game experiences,” said Zahand. “That said, developers who already have released their products and are keeping them fresh with new updates and content may also find this testing valuable, as often there are relatively small tweaks or feature additions that can be made as part of a content update that will provide benefits for gamers with disabilities and others who take advantage of accessibility features.”

The guidelines themselves were introduced in January of last year, and include hundreds of tips and checks to include or consider when developing a game. Microsoft has done the right thing by continuing to support and revise the guidelines; The “2.0” version published today brings a number of improvements, summarized in this Xbox blog post.

Generally speaking the changes are about clarity and ease of application, giving developers more direct and simple advice, but there are also now many examples from published games showing that yes, this stuff is not just theoretically possible.

Image of an options screen for a Forza racing game where many aspects of the game have their own difficulty setting.

Seems obvious to do this now. Image Credits: Microsoft

Everything from the UI to control methods and difficulty settings is in there, and they actually make for compelling reading for any interested gamer. Once you see how some games have created granular difficulty settings or included features or modes to improve access without affecting the core of the game, you start to wonder why they aren’t everywhere.

There are also more nuts and bolts tips, such as how best to structure a menu screen or in-game UI so that a screen reader can access the information.

Some argue that adding or subtracting some features can interfere with the way a game is “meant” to be played. And indeed one does struggle to imagine how famously difficult and obtuse games like the Dark Souls series could integrate such changes gracefully. But for one thing, that is a consideration for very smart developers to work out on their end, and for another, these options of which we speak are almost all able to be toggled or adjusted, as indeed many things can be even in the most hardcore titles. And that’s without speaking to the lack of consideration for others in different circumstances evinced in such a sentiment.

Microsoft has made several moves towards accessibility in gaming in recent years, the most prominent of which must be the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which lets people plug in all manner of assistive devices to work as joysticks, buttons, and triggers — making it much easier for much wider spectrum of people to play games on the company’s platforms.

Zynga CEO says he’s on the lookout for more acquisitions

If you’re wondering why Zynga issued $875 million in convertible notes at the end of 2020, CEO Frank Gibeau said the company was fundraising to build up a “war chest” for more acquisitions.

“As you know, we’ve been a consolidator inside of this business for a while, and we’re going to continue to be on offense [looking for] great companies, great cultures, great teams that we can bring into Zynga,” Gibeau told me.

In the last year alone, Zynga acquired two game studios based in Istanbul —Peak Games for $1.8 billion and Rollic for $180 million (in the latter case, it only acquired 80% of the company initially).

“There are now four or five examples of us having done this successfully,” Gibeau said. “When we started, nobody was picking up our phone calls. Now when we call, we are a bit of a destination of choice for a lot of developers out there.”

Gibeau and I were speaking about Zynga’s fourth quarter earnings, in which the company reported all-time high revenue of $616 million and a net loss of $53 million (though another measure of profitability, adjusted EBITDA, was actually positive at $90 million). Daily active users were up 77% year over year, to 36 million, while monthly active users were up 103%, to 134 million.

Looking ahead, Zynga is forecasting revenue of $2.6 billion (a 32% year-over-year increase) and adjusted EBITDA of $450 million for 2021. And while another acquisition could significantly grow the business, Gibeau noted that the company’s forecasts have “no acquisitions assumed,” adding, “We’re in a great position, because we would prefer to do acquisitions in 2021, but we don’t have to do any deals.”

There are new games lined up for 2021, including Puzzle Combat, Farmville 3 and a Star Wars title. The company also plans to continue developing hyper-casual games, to develop more cross-platform games, to expand internationally and to continue building out its ad network — in fact, he suggested that Apple’s upcoming privacy changes could be good for Zynga.

“A lot of traditional marketing services are not going to be able to survive very well,” he said. “Because we’re a first-party data company — all the data we generate is coming to our services from our games — and because we’re at scale … IDFA is an opportunity for our company.”

Epic shows off Unreal’s nearly real ‘MetaHuman’ 3D character creator

One of the most difficult tasks in the increasingly high-fidelity world of gaming is making realistic-looking people — especially faces. Epic today showed off a new character creation tool in Unreal Engine that lets you make a near-infinite variety of near-photorealistic digital people with far less effort than it might have taken before.

MetaHuman Creator is an application for designing characters that lets people mix and match presets then dive into the tiniest details. It’s a cloud-hosted service, since the amount of computing power and storage needed to render these characters at this resolution and level of lighting and so on is more than most people will have on hand.

Anyone who’s used a high-quality character creator will recognize the pieces — a few dozen hairstyles, ear types, beards and lip shapes, which can be added, subtracted and adjusted like a digital Mr. Potato Head. Bet you didn’t see that reference coming!

Close-up of CG faces showing details of skin reflectivity and wrinkles.

Image Credits: Epic

The difference between MetaHuman and, say, a state of the art consumer-level creator like Cyberpunk 2077’s is fidelity and flexibility. As you can see in the videos, the quality of the hair, skin, eyes, teeth and so on is extremely high — the older fellow on the left has quite realistic wrinkles that shadow and deform properly when he moves his face, and the way the light interacts with the center lady’s light skin is very different from that of the dark-skinned man on the right.

The “center lady” also started as a middle-aged man and was sculpted piece by piece to her current look rather than just switching to a “feminine” preset, demonstrating that the faces don’t “break” if you manipulate them too much — a risk in other creators for sure. You can see the process in fast-forward in the video below:

Naturally it also integrates with the usual creator tools, allowing for animation by various means, fiddling with meshes and exporting for use in other tools.

This level of detail isn’t exactly unprecedented, but the amount of work that goes into rendering a main character good enough for extreme close-ups and microexpressions is huge. Epic’s approach is not just to increase the potential quality of the assets and lighting and so on but to make it easy and efficient to implement. If only AAA studios can muster the resources to make characters like this, it’s not healthy for gaming as a whole.

Epic was humble enough to give credit right off the bat to companies like 3Lateral and Cubic Motion, both specialists in the field it has acquired. The Unreal Engine is presented as a sort of monolithic advance in computer graphics and design, but really it’s a very cleverly assembled amalgamation of dozens of improvements and advances made by individual (now acquired) companies and divisions over the years — more like an operating system with a bunch of integrated applications at this point.

MetaHuman Creator isn’t quite ready for use by just anyone, but Epic is running an early-access program you can sign up for, and they’ve provided a pair of models for you to play with in your existing Unreal Engine environment in the meantime (check the “Learn” tab).

CD Projekt hit by ransomware attack, refuses to pay ransom

Polish video game maker CD Projekt, which makes Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher, has confirmed it was hit by a ransomware attack.

In a statement posted to its Twitter account, the company said it will “not give in nor negotiate” with the hackers, saying it has backups in place. “We have already secured our IT infrastructure and begun restoring data,” the company said.

According to the ransom note, the hackers said they would release the company’s stolen source code and other internal files if it did not pay the ransom, since the company would “most likely recover from backups.”

But the company said for now that no personal data was taken. “We are still investigating the incident, however at this time we can confirm that — to our best knowledge — the compromised systems did not contain any personal data of our players or users of our services.”

It’s an increasingly hostile tactic used by ransomware actors: Hackers target high-value businesses and companies with file-encrypting malware and hold the files for a ransom. But since many companies have backups, some ransomware groups threaten to publish the stolen files unless the ransom is paid.

CD Projekt Red did not immediately respond to TechCrunch’s questions, including what kind of ransomware was used to attack its systems.

It’s thought to be the second time in recent years that the company has been hit by ransomware. The game maker confirmed in 2017 that a hack resulted in the compromising of early work related to the Cyberpunk 2077. Weeks following the game’s launch Sony and Microsoft offered gamers refunds, citing bugs and poor performance on older consoles.

Hyper casual game publisher Homa Games raises $15 million

French startup Homa Games has raised a $15 million seed round led by e.ventures and Idinvest Partners. The company has built several in-house technologies that can take a game from a prototype to an App Store success. It partners with third-party game studios and has a few in-house game studios as well.

OneRagtime, Jean-Marie Messier, Vladimir Lasocki, John Cheng and Alexis Bonillo are also participating in today’s funding round. This is quite a big funding round, but Homa Games already has some impressive metrics.

For instance, the startup’s games have been downloaded 250 million times overall since the creation of the company in 2018. It has signed an IP partnership with Hasbro to launch a Nerf-themed game that has been working quite well. Other games include Sky Roller, Idle World and Tower Color.

Home Games has developed three products in particular to optimize mobile game creation. Homa Lab helps you learn more about the competitive landscape with market intelligence and testing tools. Homa Belly is an SDK that helps you iterate and manage your game. And Homa Data optimizes monetization using data for both in-app purchases and ads.

Third-party developers can submit their games and choose Homa Games as their publisher. Both companies agree on a revenue-sharing model.

In addition to third-party games, Homa Games has also acquired IRL Team in Toulouse and has in-house game development teams in Skopje, Lisbon and Paris. Overall, there are 80 people working for Homa Games.

Benoist Grossmann from Idinvest Partners and Jonathan Userovici from e.ventures are both joining the board of the company.

AI Dungeon-maker Latitude raises $3.3M to build games with ‘infinite’ story possibilities

Latitude, a startup building games with “infinite storylines” generated by artificial intelligence, is announcing that it has raised $3.3 million in seed funding.

The idea of an AI-generated story might make you think of hilariously nonsensical experiments like “Sunspring,” but Latitude’s first title, AI Dungeon, is an impressively open-ended (and coherent) text adventure game where you can choose from a wide variety of genres and characters.

Unlike a classic text adventure like Zork — where players quickly become familiar with “you can’t do that”-style messages when they type something the designers hadn’t planned for — AI Dungeon can respond to any command. For example, when my brave knight was charging into battle, I typed “get depressed” and he quickly sat on a rock with his head between his hands.

“How does the AI know what’s a good story?” said co-founder and CEO Nick Walton. “Because it’s read a lot of good stories and knows the patterns involved in that.”

AI Dungeon actually started out as one of Walton’s hackathon projects. While the initial version didn’t win any prizes, he kept at it, assisted by improvements in OpenAI’s language generator, of which the most recent version is GPT-3.

AI Dungeon screenshot

AI Dungeon, Image Credits: Latitude

“The very first version of AI Dungeon I built was coherent on a sentence level, but on a paragraph level it made no sense,” Walton said. “Once you get to GPT-2, it makes a lot more sense. Once you get to GPT-3, it’s a lot more coherent on a story level. And so I think to a degree, these issues with coherency, the story not making sense, get solved as the AI gets better.”

Latitude says AI Dungeon is attracting 1.5 million monthly active users. The startup plans to create more AI-powered games, and eventually to release a platform allowing other game designers to do the same.

Walton noted that without AI, video games are always constrained by the imagination of its creators. Even when you get to games like The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall or No Man’s Sky, with randomly generated towns or planets, he argued that they’re really offering “the same spin on a similar concept.”

For example, he said that in Daggerfall, “When you go to all these towns, they’re all basically the same. That’s the problem with procedural generation: You’re not coming up with unique things.” AI, on the other hand, can come up with “something completely unique that’s so, so different every time.”

Latitude CEO Nick Walton

Latitude CEO Nick Walton. image Credits: Latitude

From a business perspective, he said that this could lower the cost of developing AAA games from more than $100 million to less than $100,000 — though Latitude has a ways to go before it reaches that level, since it hasn’t even released a game with graphics yet. Walton also said this could lead to new levels of immersion and interactivity.

“With this technology, you could have a world with tens of thousands of characters with their own hopes and wants and dreams,” he said. “You can have worlds that are dynamic, that are alive, rather than something like World of Warcraft, where you’ve got 10 million people who are doing the same quest.”

The startup’s funding was led by NFX, with participation from Album VC and Griffin Gaming Partners.

“Latitude is revolutionizing how games are made, creating a whole new genre of entertainment gaming fueled by AI,” said James Currier of NFX in a statement. “The best AI minds and engineers are gathering there to produce games that the world has never seen before. Latitude is already by far the leading AI games company.“