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Andreessen Horowitz led the round to further develop their community sandbox MMORPG, BitCraft, alongside a new unannounced database technology that powers the game.
David Baszucki, Roblox founder and CEO, also participated in the round as a private investor. A16z and Baszucki join an existing list of investors and games industry legends and leaders, including Supercell, CCP Games CEO Hilmar Petursson, and Unity cofounder David Helgason.
Clockwork Labs credits Skycatcher, a game-focused investment fund based in Texas, with providing the first major funding that helped jumpstart the project. This is all pretty for a company that has just 16 people.
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“We set out to make the game and it was definitely part of our calculus that we didn’t really have the ability to go and make a game in the style of traditional MMOs,” said Tyler Cloutier, cofounder of Clockwork Labs, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We are really focusing more on players creating content, and also procedurally generated content. So this is stuff that doesn’t require a huge team to create, but does require some pretty advanced technology. And that’s our angle on player content and procedurally generated.”
Overall, the game is more human directed when it comes to design.
“If you’re having to hand create a static world, it takes a lot of artists and a lot of actual level design to go do that. Whereas what we’re doing is we’re letting the players change and create the world themselves. So they are, in their own way, the level designers,” Cloutier said.
The company’s first game project, BitCraft, has received broad positive reception since it was announced in September of last year, the company said.
“The additional capital raised will enable us to scale the team considerably and we are now even better equipped to face all challenges attached to creating a game world as ambitious as BitCraft’s,” Alessandro Asoni, cofounder of Clockwork Labs said, in a statement. “Besides the obvious benefits of having additional funding, we are especially happy that so many accomplished industry innovators share our confidence in the BitCraft project.”
Clockwork Labs wants to attract engineering and game programming talent, while also expanding the team in other areas. The company, which is founded by engineers with strong computer science backgrounds, is actively recruiting compiler, database, and distributed systems engineers as it seeks to make the foundational technology for BitCraft available to other developers as a standalone product.
In an email to GamesBeat, A16z’s Lai said, “We were impressed by how the Clockwork Labs team is building both a compelling game in BitCraft as well as new proprietary technology in their underlying database architecture. That unique combo of innovation in both game design and infrastructure stood out to us, and follows in the footsteps of companies like Epic Games who have been able to innovate along both dimensions.”
Clockwork Labs was founded in 2019. The company previously raised $4.3 million in August 2021. The headquarters is nominally in San Francisco, but Cloutier said the studio is operating fully remote, with employees all over the world.
A deeper dive
I had a chance to go a bit deeper with Cloutier this time around. Other worlds are more combat-focused and static, Cloutier said. But this community sandbox is more like a dynamic world, where players create new things like a road connecting two cities or a sea trade route. It’s less about heroic roles like fighting monsters and more like roles where you are building or farming.
“Building and creating things like farming, fishery, trading, like free trade, and that kind of stuff, which often gets cut, is we wanted to make into the forefront. Focusing more on that means you have to build a dynamic world where players themselves are creating things.”
It’s similar to the elements of free trade in games like Runescape, or changing the world like you can in Minecraft. But it has long-term progression and it should have political systems like Eve Online, where there are struggles between civilizations. Valheim has also been an inspiration.
Once in a while, you may still get barbarians that can come in and slaughter everybody on the farms every now and then. There is enough wildness in the game to make it feel dangerious, but it’s less likely for something to come in and ruin everything.
Still, someone ” just making a little farm shouldn’t in a very peaceful area should not have to worry about having all of their stuff destroyed,” Cloutier said.
Some of this sounds like a blockchain game to me, but Cloutier said the company hasn’t made any announcements on that front yet. Nor has it ruled anything out.
“We’re interested in making a great game that people play because it’s fund, and we’ll use whatever means we have we have to make a fun game,” Cloutier said.
The game has had play sessions since last fall, with perhaps 1,000 people playing at a time. And that number will be increasing this year. The team is using Unity’s game engine as well as its own proprietary backend technology.
In the game, the setting takes place on earth, as it would be about 10,000 years after a cataclysmic event. The incentives of the game are set up so that you can specialize — in roles like carpentry, smithing, farming, fishing, mining — and reap the rewards for it.
“When you become sort of a master smith, you’re creating the things that people are using in the actual world to build up their civilization or to create some very special,” Cloutier said.
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