ControlZee has raised $3 million to bring instantly playable multiplayer worlds to life. The company refers to its titles — which are controlled by masses of players at the same time — as “massively interactive swarm games.”
The San Mateo, California-based company has created a platform, or game engine, dubbed Dot Big Bang that enables people to play and create games with friends anywhere, on any device, instantly, and then share the games via simple web links. To showcase this platform, ControlZee created a game called Straits of Danger with a popular streamer.
In the embedded video hosted by influencer Sean “Day 9” Plott, you can see how the co-op swarm play works. Twenty players get on a barge and can control it by standing on top of the forward, back, left, or right buttons on the deck. Another player controls the gun. The players try to collectively navigate an obstacle course with dangers such as floating mines and walls that blow up the barge. If all of the players work together, they can successfully make it through the straits.
Creators or livestreamers can use Dot Big Bang to build their own games and play them with their communities during a stream, across any device, simply by sharing a browser link. The company is trying to take the frustration out of getting people to play a co-op game together, which often requires getting everyone to install applications and set up accounts in advance, said ControlZee CEO Rob Anderberg in an interview with GamesBeat.
“We’re calling Straits of Danger a ‘swarm game,'” Anderberg said. “It’s all about having large numbers of players cooperatively solve problems. And the platform enables that because you can just join with the link. So you can just click the link and be in there on any platform. You don’t need to purchase something, download something, or install something, or even have an account. You go straight into the game.”
Anderberg said Makers Fund understood the concept when the company explained it in 2018 and decided to back it, but ControlZee kept the funding quiet until now. Makers Fund partner Michael Cheung said in an email that it’s hard to do what ControlZee has done with Dot Big Bang, as it requires a backend capable of running game engine-produced shared experiences without requiring downloads for the thousands of participants. Makers Fund was the only investor in the round.
“Given the increasing desire from creators to deepen engagement with their audiences, we believe ControlZee is well placed to enable a new wave of growth,” Cheung said.
Dot Big Bang can bring thousands of players into a single game world in real-time gameplay alongside creators. ControlZee is collaborating with streamer Day 9 on the Straits of Danger game. While he started with 20 viewers participating, Day 9 could eventually do this with 50,000 viewers collaborating in the game.
“We think we can go higher than that in the future,” Anderberg said.
Anderberg cofounded ControlZee with Jon Stockwell, Jacques Menuet, and Porter Schutz. The company started in 2016, but the team really got going in 2018. ControlZee now has seven employees who have worked at places such as Linden Lab, CCP Games, Google, Paragon Studios, and Realtime Worlds.
ControlZee will launch more experiences with other content creators in the coming weeks. It has also started the Dot Big Bang Creator Incubator Program, which mentors creators on how to use the platform. The incubator has already received about 70 applications.
“It’s a new type of entertainment,” Anderberg said. “Streaming games is incredibly popular right now. Twitch is seeing huge success, and so is YouTube. We think that the games so far have been stuck in a mold. What we’re doing is building something that naturally lends itself to these new kinds of experiences. The properties of the platform allow people to experiment and iterate quickly, versus spending years on something. It’s massively collaborative.”
The streamer gets a different view, with a set of cameras that present a dashboard, and can direct viewers to do certain tasks that will help them move through the journey. Other viewers can affect the gameplay by dropping boulders from an overpass, forcing the players to correct the barge’s course. It takes about 45 minutes for players to steer the barge through the course.
ControlZee has toyed around with a battle royale game, where there’s a storm closing around combatants. The viewers could push the storm to close in on the participants.
“It’s about changing the game in real time somewhere between the viewer and the player,” Anderberg said.
The company is also working on user scripting, which makes it easy for players to create their own games. The key will be to enable players to create good-looking worlds without making the tools too complex.