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The company is making cute digital pets, and it’s aiming to modernize them based on blockchain and metaverse ideas.
Susan Cummings and Lee Cummings, who have two decades of experience making games, started the Los Angeles company. They relocated to Newport in Wales in the United Kingdom.
Their goal is to build the Petaverse Network, which ambitiously aims to combine games, XR, and web3 to define an open standard for digital pets in the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
That means taking ideas like those in Nintendogs or Pokemon and bringing them to the blockchain era, where nonfungible tokens (NFTs) let players take ownership of their uniquely authenticated digital goods.
“There were 24 million people playing Nintendogs and loved them, bonded with them, played countless hours with them,” Susan Cummings said. “And then Nintendo moved on from the DS. So Nintendogs is gone. We’re trying to create these resilient pets that aren’t tied to whether we continue to support these games.”
Lots of investors
Fabric Ventures led the round. The investment also included participation from an impressive and long list of backers which include Animoca Brands, Dapper Labs, CMT Digital, Sfermion, Spin Master, Skyvision, Fenbushi, A41, Fourth Revolution Capital, Double Peak, Pirata, 6th Man, Ready Player DAO, Triangle Capital, and Sterling Capital.
“We’re backing Petaverse Network for quite a number of reasons, but we’re particularly excited by their commitment to being an Open Standard,” said Anil Hansjee, general partner of Fabric Ventures, in a statement. “Their pets and platforms will be available for other projects to build on-to or inside-of – which is aligned with the Web3 principle of decentralization and will grow the sector for all.”
The round also included angel investors like games industry veteran Nick Button-Brown (who joins the board of directors), Kristian Segerstrale (Super Evil Megacorp), Sebastien Borget (The Sandbox), and James Zhang (Concept Art House).
The new funding will be used to accelerate the deployment of pets across the metaverse, as well as to fund a variety of games and experiences, and to hire further key developer positions. The team has about 20 people and it is growing fast. Susan Cummings said the firm will likely support adapt its games to run on different blockchain platforms.
Like in other collectible NFT games, the pets of the Petaverse Network will eventually be usable across platforms — wherever and whenever you live your digital life, Susan Cummings said. Petaverse will offer pets to bond with, train, and evolve based on their specific DNA and the interactions users have with them.
“As the hardware and software for extended reality products continue to advance, open metaverse projects like the Petaverse Network will deliver a truly inter-verse experience blending digital and real-life environments,” said Yat Siu, chairman of Animoca Brands, in a statement.
The first drop of pets, which are cats, will occur in the second quarter of 2022. The team creating the Petaverse Network has over 70 years of collective games, AR and VR development experience. They have also been selected by Qualcomm as an early access partner for Snapdragon Spaces and by Deutsche Telekom for their iOS Innovation Hubraum Program.
“Our pets have been designed to give the sensation of having a real pet, while leaning into the freedom of creativity that emerging platforms are allowing us to have,” says Lee Cummings, creative director of Petaverse Networkin a statement. “We see them very much as having one paw in the universe and one paw in the metaverse… but most importantly, a pet you want to play within either.”
Ed Fries, head of the 1Up Ventures fund, said in an email to GamesBeat that met Susan Cummings in the mid-1990s when she was working as an agent in the game business and he has been a fan of her and her husband ever since. After he started 1Up Ventures three years ago, he reached out to her to see if investment opportunities were available, and 1Up became the first major outside investor in Tiny Rebel.
“Fast forward to now and Susan had overwhelming demand from investors to support her and Lee’s vision of the Petaverse Network,” Fries said. “There was so much demand that the round was oversubscribed and we agreed to sell part of our shares in the company to make room for more outside investors while still remaining the largest external investor in Tiny Rebel. Although our fund shows many paper gains from our investments over the last three years, with this deal Tiny Rebel became the first to return actual dollars back to the fund.”
Bring back that Nintendogs feeling
Lee Cummings and Susan Cummings have been partners for over two decades including long tenures with Rockstar Games and 2K Games / 2K Sports (which Susan co-founded).
Most recently, they have significantly expanded the size of their team following the successful delivery with Fictioneers of a major Innovate UK R&D funded series of projects which included Wallace & Gromit: Big Fix Up / Fix Up the City.
Susan Cummings acknowledged that NFTs aren’t popular among hardcore gamers. But that’s not who she is going after. “There is a perception that it’s all a scam, that it’s all about Ponzi schemes,” she said. “But the most interesting thing I saw was when someone said that for years gaming have been renting their stuff, and now they can own their stuff.”
But she remembered playing Nintendogs, the virtual pets game on the Nintendo DS. And when that platform became obsolete and Nintendo moved on, she basically lost her access to those pets or updated versions of them.
“I want all the characters I lost,” she said.
In other games, the multiplayer servers are gone and so those games have disappeared. That’s why the company is trying to define standards for virtual pets so they can be transported from one world to another, so that a cat in The Sandbox and be used in Minecraft or another world. The underlying data for the cat is there, but its look can be modified so that it is appropriate in the world where it will be used.
“If you start to think about it that way, then it starts to become really interesting what blockchain can do for these sorts of assets,” Susan Cummings said. “That’s our that’s our notion anyway. It’s not impossible. It just takes thinking about it a little bit differently than you normally would as a game developer.”
The casual game market
Susan Cumming said she believes the firm got the backing of 26 investors because it was one of the few game development studios that was trying to find a really rich and meaningful way of using blockchain, as opposed to the many people who are exploiting NFT opportunities to raise money.
“I think that, until there is a use case, gamers are not going to be convinced that it’s a good idea,” Susan Cummings said. “And I don’t think we need to convince them yet because free to play started with casual games and Candy Crush, and then eventually came to the hardcore. Now you can play Call of Duty as a free-to-play game on your mobile phone. And no one could have predicted that back in the beginning. And I think this is the same path.”
And, no, Susan Cumming doesn’t think it’s time for the blockchain edition of Call of Duty yet.
“That’s why we’re doing digital pets,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re trying to jump the gun straight to hardcore gamers.”
She said the company is creating its own pet creation tool.
“It lets us create and start with an infinite number of cats, what they look like, but also how they behave,” she said. “And so this underlying DNA of the pet defines, for example, like whether they’re curious whether they’re agile or clumsy, when they’re fast or slow.”
The company will launch that in the second quarter, with NFTs that have utility. You can share your pets on social media and later this year you’ll be able to play with your pets in a simulation that resembles Nintendogs. Later on, the team will incorporate augmented reality so you can see your digital pet in the real world. The pets will have their own AI and different attributes that will make each pet unique.
“The CryptoKitties kittyverse is the intellectual grandfather of what we’re doing,” Susan Cummings said. “You can create pet experiences and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But we want to define this as an open standard so that anybody who wants to put a pet in their game can do so. It’s a broad, ambitious strategy.”
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