Nifty Games has raised $3 million in funding to make high-quality sports games on mobile and digital platforms. Game veterans Jon Middleton and Pete Wanat started the San Francisco company to make head-to-head sports games for passionate sports fans.
The founders said in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat that they feel a gap exists in the market for sports, beyond Electronic Arts’ big simulation games such as FIFA, Madden, and others.
“We’re not going after the big sim style games that have been out there for 15 or 20 years,” said Middleton. “We are more going after games on the go, with short sessions and head-to-head gameplay. I feel sports has been underserved across gaming. Madden, FIFA and 2K have done well working with the big leagues, when fans want a 45-minute experience. But there isn’t a lot of alternative gaming.”
The company is working on two titles now, with a headquarters in San Francisco and production in Los Angeles. The team has has been encouraged by the success of smaller games like Golf Clash and Tap Baseball.
“I grew on games like Madden, FIFA, and NBA,” Wanat said. “We loved them. But for us, the game devices we are using the most are mobile, and they demand a quicker experience. We are trying to expand the genre.”
“We’re excited about Nifty Games’ vision for delivering high-quality, sports-based mobile games,” said Bruce Stein, CEO of Axiomatic, in a statement. “This strategic partnership will combine the Nifty Games team’s extensive experience in gaming with our group’s expertise in traditional sports, esports, and entertainment.”
Middleton said that Nifty Games will make mobile games, but it will also spread out to other platforms like Steam on the PC or digital consoles, such as the Nintendo Switch.
“We’re thrilled to invest in Nifty Games as they aim to capture the attention of traditional sports fans who have become disengaged and frustrated with the current state of sports simulations in video games,” said Gregory Milken, managing director at March Capital Partners, in a statement. “We see the tremendous value in offering an engaging mobile gaming experience that features short session arcade play along with the sports that players love.”
For 20 years, Middleton has held executive leadership roles in digital content (Madefire) within game publishing (Pulse Entertainment) and game hardware (Mad Catz Interactive).
He was formerly founder and CEO of Boom In-Game Music, which was acquired by LiveGamer in 2008. Prior to that, he co-founded Massive In-Game Advertising which was acquired by Microsoft in 2006.
Before forming Massive, Middleton was CEO of Eight Cylinders, a game and broadband content authoring tools company acquired by On2.com in 2000 and subsequently Google.
Wanat, chief product officer, was formerly vice president of production at Universal Games. In that previous role, he helped deliver Despicable Me: Minion Rush, the fifth most-downloaded game of all time, and top ten grossing games for major brand franchises such as Jurassic Park.
Wanat has also been making games for 20 years, and he worked on many of the top sports video games of all time, including NBA Jam, Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball, NFL Quarterback Club, and All-Star Baseball.
Nifty Games management also includes Dan Wasson, head of production, with former roles at EA, Konami, LucasArts, Kabam, and Wargaming; Jenny Lin, head of marketing and formerly marketer and brand manager at EA, Disney/ABC Television Group, THQ, and Jam City; and Kathy McElwee, interim chief financial officer and former CFO at 3DO, Telltale Games, and Campo Santo.
Altogether, the company has less than 10 people, and it was founded earlier this year.
Axiomatic’s leaders include Peter Guber, Ted Leonsis, Jeff Vinik, and Bruce Karsh. In 2016, it acquired a controlling interest in esports organization Team Liquid.
“Our focus is on real fans who are passionate about individual sports,” Middleton said.