Big moves in L.A.'s gaming industry Thursday, as mobile gaming platform Artie closes its seed round of funding and gaming/ lifestyle organization FaZe Clan lands a new CFO. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for more updates.
- Artie Closes Seed Round at $10 Million
- FaZe Clan Brings on a New CFO
Artie Closes Seed Round at $10 Million
Artie, the L.A.-based startup aiming to change how mobile games are accessed and distributed, has completed the seed round that it reopened in September, closing at $10 million. Investors include mobile-games giant Zynga founder Mark Pincus, NBA star Kevin Durant, Scooter Braun's Raised In Space investment firm and the Winklevoss twins.
Mobile games are the biggest segment of a growing gaming market, and Artie's tech aims to change how players and creators connect through those games. The goal is to reduce friction by allowing gamers to open games directly from online platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook rather than force them to log in through the Apple or Google app stores. Circumventing the app stores also means game creators and developers would not have to pay the 30% fees those platforms charge.
Artie plans to release its first round of games later this year, and eventually to allow other developers to use its technology as a distribution platform. Its self-published games will be free to play; Artie will make money through in-game purchases. Once it opens to other developers via a software development kit, it will charge a fee, which chief executive Ryan Horrigan said will likely be 12%.
Amit Baraj Takes Over as FaZe Clan CFO
Amit Baraj is FaZe Clan's new chief financial officer.
FaZe Clan, the L.A.-based gaming brand that spans esports, content and lifestyle apparel, announced Thursday that it has a new chief financial officer.
Amit Baraj, most recently chief executive officer at 3-on-3 basketball league BIG3, will be responsible for overseeing FaZe Clan's finance, strategy and corporate development. Baraj was formerly an investment banker at Centerview Partners, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Bear, Stearns & Co.
"FaZe Clan has evolved from an esports organization to a true global media and lifestyle brand with tremendous potential. I'm looking forward to partnering with (CEO) Lee (Trink) and the team to execute on the vision and grow the business," Baraj said in a statement.
FaZe Clan was valued around $250 million as of its $40 million Series A round last April, led by music mogul Jimmy Iovine, Trink previously told dot.LA.
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Gaming is eating the world.
So says a new report issued Tuesday by L.A.-based investment firm MaC Venture Capital.
The report mentions the recent explosion of gaming companies – including Epic Games' $1.78 billion raise that valued it at $17.3 billion, Unity's $1.3 billion IPO that valued the Epic competitor at $13.7 billion and Roblox's $150 million fundraise that valued the kid's gaming "sandbox" at $4 billion — and that was before the pandemic boosted Roblox's user base.
But most of the analysis is devoted to the techniques and tools that gaming has popularized over the years, and that are fast proliferating into areas as diverse as retail, film production, medicine and national defense.
MaC, an early stage firm formed from a merger of Cross Culture Ventures and M Ventures, invests in tech companies it believes will benefit from shifting cultural trends and behaviors.
Underlying much of the firm's optimism around the gaming industry is its maturity, general partner Michael Palank told dot.LA. Multiple generations have now grown up with gaming, from early Nintendo consoles to mobile games and newly immersive platforms like Fortnite. That familiarity has pushed the mechanics of video gaming – taking action, leveling up, expanding your in-game persona – far beyond a traditional leisure activity, he said.
A graph from MaC Venture Capital's report highlights gaming's growth in 2020.Image from MaC Venture Capital
In addition to merging into other sectors, those tropes are starting to inform how people operate in new spaces, including what industry observers have termed the "metaverse." MaC sees this space as a virtual world "where we will not just play games but socialize with friends, shop, learn, earn a living, perform, transform, travel and escape.
"Many believe that the metaverse will not only be the next great computing platform — one that rivals the internet itself — but also a virtual world where billions of people come to transact trillions of dollars," the report says.
The ubiquity of gaming has created a stronger desire among consumers to be able to participate in their content.
And, especially among young people, the way one's digital self is presented to the world is closing in on its real-world analog.
"Your inventory of items, the character you play with, the skins you have, the avatars you choose – these things are becoming as important as wearing a Starter jacket was when I was in high school," Palank said.
MaC is currently raising capital for its next fund; Palank said he expects about 25% of it will be deployed to gaming.
The report, entitled "The State of Technology & Culture: Gaming Takeover," touches on gaming's darker side as well, including its issues with misogyny and a lack of diversity among developers and characters. This, despite the fact that people of color have a proportionately higher engagement with gaming, as the report details.
"There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that this new gaming-influenced world is the kind of world in which we want to live," the report states.
As for what MaC will actually do to avoid a world of underrepresentation and gaming addiction, among other potential problems, the firm's partners ascribe to a philosophy of "investing in the future that we want to see," Palank said.
For example, Cross Culture Ventures was an early investor in PlayVS, a company that enables high schools and colleges to run esports programs and participate in leagues and tournaments. Palank pointed to the priority that PlayVS places on increasing access to gaming as one reason the firm found it appealing. The company was founded by Delane Parnell, who is Black.
"If it were a team that didn't care or know about diversity challenges in gaming and had no passion about rectifying those issues, I think PlayVS would have been a less attractive investment," Palank said.
Los Angeles is likely to play a big role in the firm's investment strategy. Palank said he expects at least half of the fund's future bets will be L.A.-based.
MaC's L.A.-based investments in gaming also include Artie, which is seeking to change how mobile games are distributed; FazeClan, whose culture-shaping initiatives include retail, esports and content production; and Within, whose Wonderscope app is designed to give kids AR-enabled interactive story experiences.
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