The NFL approves
Of course, EA isn’t going to worry about a 15-person company. But the NFL sees potential here.
Rachel Hoagland, vice president, head of gaming and esports for the NFL, said in a statement that the NFL has always been aware that a large number of fans love to engage sports through video games. She said the NFL is looking to bolster its offering on mobile devices and is thrilled at the built-for-mobile clash-style gaming that Nifty Games will deliver.
“We view Golf Clash as a major inspiration,” Wanat said. “If you look at that game, it’s an outstanding product. There’s a proven audience for people who want to play head-to-head sports games in manageable, bite-sized chunks, with much quicker sessions. We look at all the “clash” titles, not just Clash Royale.”
March Capital Partners led the funding. Gregory Milken, managing director of March Capital Partners (and a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit Digital event), said in a statement that Nifty has a massive opportunity to deliver high-quality, fresh experiences with mobile sports games. He said he shares Nifty Games’ creative and business passion, and he is impressed with the experienced and talented team Nifty has assembled.
Previous investors Axiomatic Gaming and Defy.VC also participated in the latest funding round. New investors include Vulcan Capital, Courtside Ventures, Transcend Fund, Century Game and OneTeam Ventures, an investment vehicle created by RedBird Capital, the NFLPA, MLBPA, MLSPA, USWNTPA, and WNBPA.
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. Middleton said the company has been strategic in selecting game, tech, and sports investors. Nifty Games has now raised $15 million to date, and the latest round was oversubscribed, Middleton said.
“It’s a good amount of money to get the job done of delivering some really cool sports games,” Middleton said.
Nifty Games’s group of investors to date also includes ownership from the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, and esports.
A seasoned team
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 cofounded Massive In-Game Advertising, which Microsoft acquired 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.
He said the company will tweak and tune the game based on feedback from various beta tests.
“We’re going to make the best types of sports games possible,” Wanat said. “The DNA of Nifty is to know free-to-play games and to be passionate about sports.”