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Playable Worlds announced today that it has secured over $25 million in a funding round led by Korean video game publisher Kakao Games Corp., a subsidiary of mobile messaging firm Kakao.

This strategic investment will be used to drive Playable Worlds’ talent recruitment and fund its cloud-native sandbox massively multiplayer online (MMO) game currently in development.

Other investors included existing investors Bitkraft Ventures and Galaxy Interactive. New investors Lilith Games and Gaingels also joined the round, which follows a $10 million funding in 2020.

Game veterans Raph Koster and Eric Goldberg started the company in 2018 in San Marcos, California, near San Diego.  Koster is a repeat entrepreneur and designer of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies; and Goldberg is a four-time entrepreneur and designer of MadMaze, the first online game to draw one million players. The company is actively recruiting to join its high-caliber team, and various positions are currently open for application at: playableworlds.com/jobs

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The team had an office at one point, but now it has gone fully remote. And 48 people are now working for Playable Worlds.

Raph Koster is CEO of Playable Worlds.
Raph Koster is CEO of Playable Worlds.

Koster is a repeat entrepreneur and designer of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies and Goldberg is a four-time entrepreneur and designer of MadMaze, the first online game to draw one million players. The company is actively recruiting to join its high-caliber team, and various positions are currently open for application at: playableworlds.com/jobs. The hope is to have about 70 by the end of the year, Goldeberg said.

“We’re making investments that will fuel innovations in MMO games and bring new concepts to fruition,” said Kakao Games CEO, Kyehyun Cho, in a statement. “The technology stack that Playable Worlds has implemented and proven thus far significantly influenced the investment, and will certainly play a role in metaverse development. The caliber of the team behind Raph and Eric ultimately sealed the deal, and we’re confident in their ability to execute.”

The founders still aren’t quite ready to reveal their intellectual property and setting behind the game. But the concept art gives us some clues that we’re not in Kansas anymore. And Koster did have a lot to say about the game’s technology.

Cloud-based sandbox technology

More concept art for Playable Worlds.

Koster said that the company isn’t talking about the game yet, but it can shed some details on the underlying tech that the company built in its first year. “The big thing is that, at this point, the core of what we’re doing is proven and we are building a cloud-native platform,” Koster said. “We have that up and running, and it unlocks a whole bunch of new capabilities. Our goal has always been to build online game technology that is really quite a bit more future-proof. It is looking forward towards the cloud rather than backwards at the older ways of doing things.”

He added, “A lot of video game technology today is still based on practices from when we shipped things on disks. So a lot of what we’ve done is put together a client and server suite that allows us to take advantage of the cloud. And that boils down to a few separate things. Probably the most obvious is taking advantage of cloud compute. We are able to run far more detailed simulations than games typically do with basic levels of detail that enable us to tackle things that games don’t do right now, like modifiable environments, smarter AI, and procedural generation on a level that games don’t typically do.”

Koster said that cloud computing enables the company to fulfill some of “the dreams that we all had 25 years ago.” While the computation power is plentiful now, games aren’t necessarily taking advantage of the cloud even today, Koster said.

“We’re going to directly address that, as that is a core thing that our tech does,” he said.

The game itself has been in the works for about two years, and now it is in full production.

Koster said the team is pushing AI to new levels, as well as procedural environments. That means environments that build themselves based on formulas so they can be different than ground that a player has trod over before.

“It’s about having environments that are more alive,” Koster said. “Players can affect things that evolve and change rather than being static. Most games build their maps out of static meshes. Ours are dynamic and come down on the fly from the server. It’s about enabling worlds to feel more alive. That’s really what it comes down to.”

Hand-in-hand with that is the feature of having full persistence, where you log in and your same character exists as it did before.

Eric Goldberg
Eric Goldberg is cofounder of Playable Worlds.

“Offering truly and fully persistent shared environments and massive scale is something else that is really important to us,” Koster said. “These aren’t just theme parks that you ride through, right? Where the developers are the ones who are in control. Giving full persistence also unlocks the ability for players to have far more impact. If you chop down a tree, it is permanently gone from the world for everybody.

The world also won’t be filled with singular heroes and quests that everybody participates in.

“We’re much more interested in the dream of actual alternate worlds. Something that is living on when players aren’t there. And that means that it has to be persistent,” Koster said. “It’s persistent change for everyone. Meaning if you do something in the game, then it persists and matters to everybody else.”

The game will also enable rich social behaviors, customization, and building economic interdependence. Players will be able to adopt different play styles. These players should not be considered second-class citizens if they like roles like being a craftsperson, laborer, or trader — rather than someone engaged in combat all the time.

“Our tech is set up to do things like actually interact with the world of social media, interact with influencers, and so on,” Koster said. “We’re way past a world in which games are an isolated little pocket. Everything is interconnected today on the internet, and the game should be too.”

Of course, another way of saying this, Koster said, is that the company has built a metaverse platform technology suite, and it’s building a game on it. This is kind of a jumping off point for a multiverse, where you can jump around between different online experiences and worlds. It’s where you can see commerce, real world creativity, and serious applications like learning, working and such. And so it’s possible for the technology behind this game to be a foundation for an online world, multiverse, and a metaverse.

“A lot of what we’re doing here with this approach, and with the game as well later, is solving a bunch of really long standing problems and bringing together longstanding best practices,” Koster said. “Leveraging all of that experience to make something that is actually stepping into the future.”

One of the things that is central to the game is the player economy. The game will pay close attention to economic faucets and drains, so that players can buy currency without a lot of risks around inflation. The economy won’t be set up to drive speculation or naturally devolve into a bunch of monopolies, Goldberg said. The goal will be to design the game for players who will need each other economically over a long period of time.

As an example, an adventurer needs to be dependent on the crafter and the crafter needs to be dependent on the explorer. And the explorer needs to be dependent on the adventurer to protect them and so on, Goldberg said. The team is trying to build systems that also reward players for being social, Goldberg said.

Koster thinks about players who gather like a sports team on the weekend and go on raids in MMOs.

Working with Kakao

Playable Worlds is a new online games company.
Playable Worlds is a new online games company.

As for the investors, Goldberg said that working with the South Korean firm Kakao was appealing because they immersed themselves in the technology and asked a lot of key questions in their due diligence. They found the approach of Playable Worlds to be compelling for the focus on cloud-native games and the metaverse platform.

“We’re making investments that will fuel innovations in MMO games and bring new concepts to fruition,” said Kakao Games CEO, Kyehyun Cho, in a statement. “The technology stack that Playable Worlds has implemented and proven thus far significantly influenced the investment, and will certainly play a role in metaverse development. The caliber of the team behind Raph and Eric ultimately sealed the deal, and we’re confident in their ability to execute.”

And Goldberg said that Asia games bear more resemblance to what Playable Worlds is trying to do than a lot of other companies in the West.

“They live in a world where most activity occurs in the messenger layer,” Goldberg said. “Gaming is integrated with other things” like dating, banking, and ride hailing services. That meant that Kakao had an interest in tying the game to the real world.

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