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Independent games studio Third Time Entertainment has raised $3.5 million in funding to develop mobile and browser-based blockchain games.

The financing was led by games sector expert London Venture Partners (LVP), with additional funding by Reciprocal Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, 6th Man Ventures, Folius Ventures, Big Brain Holdings, and Maven Capital.

Founded by former Madden NFL creative director Ian Cummings and former EA SPORTS, FanDuel, and Zynga veteran
developers Paul Fleetwood and Brian Fleming, Third Time will use the money to grow the team and its portfolio of games, built specifically for players to earn rewards as they play.

The company is offering nonfungible tokens (NFTs) to players so they can own, breed, and trade the race horses that they use in the game. Players can sell the NFT horses in a marketplace. The game is visually more appealing than rivals such as Zed Run, a rival crypto-based horse racing game that has seen a lot of success.

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Third Time wants to re-create the thrill of being at the track.

Ian Cummings, CEO of Third Time, said in an interview that fun has been a key missing element from blockchain games, and the company see this part of its games as critical to developing an ecosystem for gamers that rewards them in multiple ways.

Third Time has built an expansive player community with the realistic horse racing simulator Photo Finish and the sports-themed social hub The Suites, with multiple sets of NFTs (Stylish Studs, Fine Fillies, and The Suites) already being traded amongst the top collections on the Solana ecosystem.

“Third Time is uniquely placed to deliver engaging and immersive experiences for sports fans, matching web 2 quality with the functionality of a decentralized economy,” said Harry Hamer, investor at LVP, in a statement. “Ian, Paul and Brian draw upon decades of experience in game development across mobile, social and player-driven trends, and know their genre intimately having produced some of the leading games in horse racing and sports. Their vision of building a sustainable yet rewarding economy for players — aided by their deep free-to-play expertise — instantly chimed with us.”

Photo Finish Live, the spiritual successor to the team’s prior mobile horse racing games, is on track to be the fastest growing and most authentic horse racing game in history — now with an ecosystem built on the blockchain. Later this year, players will be able to earn, breed, buy, sell, train, and auction their NFT horses on the open marketplace. Just as in real-life, races can be affected by the horses’ strengths and weaknesses, weather, track conditions, distances, and a variety of other factors. Photo Finish Live will also house two native fungible tokens, $CROWN & $DERBY, that drive all interactions in-game and can be traded on exchanges.

Third Time has made Photo Finish Live.

The Suites is an exclusive sports-themed metaverse of virtual social spaces. Suite owners can invite their friends and join other fans to hang out, watch live streams of their favorite sports, esports, and events, and take part in live competitions. Suites can also be customized with games and contests, giving fans the ability to earn real prizes and $SUITE tokens.

Cummings said the Suites recreates the feeling of attending a special event in an exclusive private space and empowers brands and partners with an opportunity to reach new customers inside the metaverse. This product will become a launchpad to create and monetize differentiated content, unique gatherings, and experiences for fans, athletes, celebrities, and brands alike.

The move is an interesting one for an established developer, which has 12 employees.

Third Time had previously worked on a game called Photo Finish Horse Racing, and back in 2016 it worked with Tilting Point to acquire users for the game. Some things didn’t go as planned and so Third Time and Tilting Point broke up through a legal proceeding. Third Time reincorporated in Delaware and it still owns the intellectual property.

“It’s been amazing since we moved into web 3,” said Cummings. “We were testing the waters with an NFT launch back in September and we sold out 10,000 NFTs. Then we sold another 5,000 and we raised the venture round, all by extending our core business of horse racing games.”

NFT hate and learning experiences

Cummings said he knows a lot of hardcore gamers are concerned about NFTs. But he hasn’t encountered it with his company’s fans.

“There’s a lot of like hatred of NFTs from various angles and traditional gamers,” he said. “For us, and for horse racing and the games we have been operating, it’s just way better. It made much more sense when we talked about it as a team.”

Cummings acknowledges that the market for NFTs has had a lot of scams, and that has turned off a lot of gamers. But in this case, the NFTs make sense and fans have welcomed them, Cummings said.

He said you can basically own the horse and breed the horse. The horses age over time and players have to buy them again with real money. That keeps inflation in the game economy from getting out of control. Players stand a chance of breeding the horses and scoring a winning horse that they can then sell in the secondary market.

“It’s a much more sustainable system. It’s different from having to pay into the bottomless pit of free-to-play games,” Cummings said. “We were excited to try it out and it’s been a wild ride to find our way onto Solana. We had to learn all this blockchain stuff. We had never built anything on chain and so it’s been a crazy learning experience but really exciting.”

The company has about 20,000 fans in its Discord where players talk about the game. For the first launch, the company set up 10,000 NFTs and sold them out in 20 minutes for around $20 to $30 each. Players who bought at those prices saw 20 times or 50 times return in the early days, now the prices have settled down. All told, the company has sold around 20,000 NFTs, and the company gets a 5% take for resales.

“A huge differentiator for us is we’re much more closely modeled towards real horse racing,” Cummings said. “And that’s what we’re trying to build. It’s almost a one-to-one virtual version of real horse racing. The money can be made in horse racing by winning races, and it can also be made by breeding in the long term. And so we have all kinds of different stakes of races. So if the value of horses are coming down, then people are entering into lower stakes, races, competitions a little lower, just like in real life. If you happen to have a horse and it’s just not very good, there’s still going to be tiers of races that they can compete in. And you’re sort of like moving your way up and down the swim lanes of stakes.”

Racing the horses and winning races and breeding them takes skill, and so the game is legal in dozens of states now where players can wager on the races. In such titles, skill-based gaming is not considered illegal gambling. Horse racing has also been carved out in a number of states, but Cummings acknowledges that the legalities are complicated and require the company to hire a lot of legal experts.

“I don’t think it’s enough to run the burn of the studio,” Cummings said. “It took months and months and months to make the same amount that we made in one night on-demand, for example. But it’s to me the most sustainable part and I can’t wait for this to shake out. I don’t know exactly the model that will work perfectly. But as a developer, I’m so over having to squeeze people on loot boxes. I’m done with that. It’s so not fun. Whereas in this model, if it works, you just make great stuff, and then there’s just this royalty stream headed your way, as long as there are people playing it.”

He added, “This is so much more fun than having to sit there and tune how the animations are sticky on loot boxes or whatever, you know. I’m very excited about this and I hope it works out. I think it is way better for the end user. For us, this is really about making a robust horse racing economy.”

In the meantime, the fans who got in early have become proselytizers for the game, Cummings said.

You can breed the NFT horses and make one that can compete in races. Players can trade their horses and try to find the best matches. The game itself, Photo Finish Live, is still in development and will begin beta testing. It is the company’s third horse racing game.

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