When you’re taking on a billionaire, you have to bulk up. That’s what Titan Gaming is doing as it readies to challenge Virgin Gaming, the recently announced affiliate of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Titan is forming new partnerships and adding video game veterans to its board and management team to build itself a stronger position. The Los Angeles-based company is one of a number of companies competing in the online video game tournaments market.
John Maffei, chief executive of Titan Gaming, said in an interview that he has added game industry veterans Keith McCurdy and Brock Pierce as board members and appointed other veterans David Christensen and Michael Steuer to the management team. Last month, the company also announced it had raised $1 million in angel funding and lined up strategic distribution deals with ZAM Network and Quepasa. Both are social networks that will use Titan Gaming’s technology to offer cash or prized-based game tournaments.
While Virgin Gaming has begun staging its own video game tournaments for consumers, Titan Gaming is a business-to-business company, partnering with video game publishers and others who want to stage game tournaments on their own sites. Maffei believes that Branson’s entry into the space — as heralded by Branson’s own appearance at a press conference during the E3 video game trade show two weeks ago — validates the market for online tournament gaming. But Maffei believes that game publishers would prefer to operate their own sites rather than make games available to Branson’s Virgin Gaming.
McCurdy was formerly head of Electronic Arts’ online game division and a vice president of technology at game company EA. Pierce was the founder of Affinity Media, formerly IGE, a virtual currency business. Christensen is a 12-year game executive who ran international business development for Sony Online Entertainment and a former Affinity Media executive. Steuer will be vice president of product development and was previously vice president of games at Twistbox, which made skill-based mobile games.
The competition among these startups will be interesting. Virgin Gaming is betting on the larger Virgin Group brand to get gamers to come to its site to play online tournaments for cash and prizes. But Maffei is going to companies such as Quepasa, a big social network with 14 million followers in South America and other places, to provide them with the ability to host their own game tournaments. Titan Gaming has technology to match players of comparable skills. In places where it’s legal (it is not legal in 12 U.S. states), players can duel each other for money. Titan supplies features such as leaderboards and points competitions.
The first partner will go live with a site in July, while ZAM Network, a site for fans of massively multiplayer online games, will go live in the fourth quarter. ZAM has more than 11 million unique monthly visitors and Maffei formerly ran it. Game developers could potentially reach a network of 25 million gamers by the time those launches happen. Maffei said his platform will support all sorts of game titles: hardcore and casual, console and PC games.
“We think the next hot model is competitive video games,” Maffei said.
Of course, competitive video games have been around for a while. Major League Gaming is one of the survivors of the many startups that tried to get gamers to engage in tournaments. MLG focuses on hardcore superstars and tournaments for them, but both Titan Gaming and Virgin Gaming are focused on the larger masses of less-skilled gamers.
Maffei believes that his company can make a lot of money much the same way online poker companies have done so, taking a cut of the game stake no matter who wins.
Titan was founded in 2006 and has 30 employees. Titan’s game providers include Wicked Interactive, Digital Bee, Goods Pants, and Mode 7 Games. Most of these are relatively unknown indie game developers. Besides Virgin Gaming, rivals include King.com, BringIt and WorldWinner. Titan has raised $1.3 million altogether from investors including West Coast Angels.