San Diego Business Journal

San Marcos-based Playable Worlds gaming studio announced it has closed its $10 million Series A funding round, for development of their cloud-native sandbox massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.

The round was led by Galaxy Interactive, additional investors include Block.one and BITKRAFT Esports Ventures. The funding came two years after receiving $2.7 million in seed funding from BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, 1UP Ventures and other angel investors.

The investment will be used to expand its team, and expects to have 18 full-time employees by the end of June. 

Founded in 2018 by online gaming veterans Raph Koster and Eric Goldberg, Playable Worlds aims to create next-generation online worlds by combining the latest technology with expertise in service operations, community building, and online game design.

“Our primary focus is to build a game first,” Koster said. “Now that we have our foundational technology, we’re moving into production on our innovative lead title and original IP.”

CEO Raph Koster, is the designer of “Ultima Online” and “Star Wars Galaxies,” two commercially successful MMO games. Koster also served as an executive at Sony and Disney, after a successful exit of his venture-backed startup Metaplace. 

Metaplace was funded by tier-one venture capitalists Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Crescendo Ventures and Charles River Ventures, and was acquired in 2010.

Identifying a Gap

Playable Worlds was created after identifying a gap in the video game industry, Koster said. It seeks to develop games that extend beyond typical shooting games and focus more on community building. 

Tapping cloud technology, modern cloud architecture, simulation, and AI, the nascent studio promises to bring together proven features from some of the world’s most popular games in a unique combination that hasn’t been seen before.

Such developments confer notable advantages in operating games-as-a-service, boost engagement and retention, and deliver compelling player experiences.

A big ambition, the studio will attempt to follow up on the success of MMO games like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox which has garnered billions of dollars in game sales in recent years. 

“We’re interested in building rich alternate worlds. This absolutely is a game. It’s not just a social space. We’re really interested in long term retention,” Koster said. 

Playable World’s game will enable a broad range of players to find a home, whether their preferred playstyle is exploring, adventuring, socializing, crafting, or player versus player combat.

These diverse communities can each play the game in their own way, or cross over with one another, delivering diverse play experience and enriching the world.

Gaming is here to stay, Koster said. A global industry, trillions of games have been played across mobile phones, personal computers and gaming consoles which allow individuals to play with others across the globe. 

Historically, Gaming hubs were found in high-tech metropolitan areas like Silicon Valley which is home to Atari, a legacy arcade game company. Today, gaming hubs are now propped up in cities including San Diego, Austin, Seattle, and even minor hubs such as Boston.

Koster said San Diego has become a booming gaming hub, yet it is rarely mentioned in the conversation among industry legends and media.

“San Diego has a larger presence than most people give credit to. We also have this cross-pollination effect that runs throughout Irvine and Orange County, thanks to game developer Blizzard,” Koster said. “San Diego has great home-grown talent with great schools and suburban areas. It’s not very hard to recruit people or convince them to relocate here.” 

To date, San Diego is home to several notable gaming companies ranging and medium-sized gaming players in the ecosystem such as, Sony Entertainment Interactive, Rockstar Games, DayBreak Games, Amazon Gaming, and Warners Bros. as well as smaller indie gaming studios and mobile game creators. 

The most recent local success was gaming studio, called Psyonix, which developed a soccer-like title Rocket League and was acquired by Epic Games last year for an undisclosed amount.

MMO The Hardest Genre

Massively multiplayer online games are arguably the hardest genre of games to make. They take the longest, require the highest capital, and the most tenacity because the timeline on average is three to five years before the game is complete. 

Many smaller firms tend to shy away from these types of projects, however, Playable Worlds believes its strategy and cloud technology will allow the team to build the game at a fraction of the time and size compared to legacy studios.

Koster isn’t describing what the game is called, but he did say it would be an original title rather than a licensed universe. It may be quite a few years before consumers see an official release. 

The team includes a distinguished team of developers with many decades of collective online game experience from Disney, Marvel, Sony Online Entertainment, and venture-backed startups.

Alongside Koster, is former senior technical leader at Amazon and Disney, Dorian Ouer, chief technology officer. Brian Crowder, lead server engineer who brings more than 30 commercially published games, among several others.

Additionally, cofounder Eric Goldberg is head of business, strategy, and corporate development for Playable Worlds. Goldberg has served as a strategic advisor or board member for over 60 companies including Playdom, PlaySpan, and Pixelberry.

In total, the company has 15 local staffers and is headquartered in San Marcos.