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IMVU has relaunched as Together Labs and raised $35 million from Structural Capital, NetEase, and other investors. Together Labs has also launched a new division called WithMe Entertainment to focus on user-generated content, including games.
Together Labs will continue to operate IMVU, a social platform where young folks create their own avatars. Now it’s moving to an adjacent space, targeting teens ages 13 to 17 via WithMe.
A common thread between the divisions will be VCoin, which is Together Labs’ new transferable digital currency that will allow users to buy, gift, hold, earn, and convert earnings to real money. The company launched VCoin on January 12, after a November ruling by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved a plan to enable virtual world payments through a blockchain-based cryptocurrency.
“This structure will allow us to be able to launch new brands, new products, even new business units, minimizing any brand confusions,” Together Labs CEO Daren Tsui said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We are very excited about the funding. The purpose of this growth capital is so that we can grow more aggressively and use it for product development across different business units. The reorganization of the corporate structure has created much more clear brands.”
The Redwood City, California-based company wants VCoin to power the virtual economy in the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One. IMVU will be talking about this development at our GamesBeat Summit: Into the Metaverse event on January 27 and 28. Together Labs could partner with other companies that might also use VCoin, which has received SEC approval.
VCoin is an important development for IMVU, which has 7 million monthly active users who exchange 14 billion Credits a month and engage in 27.5 million monthly unique transactions. More than 50 million products are available in the market today, with the catalog growing by 400,000 items a month.
“We had record-breaking traffic in 2020,” Tsui said.
All of this — as well as the strong growth of social media and games during the pandemic — helped Together Labs raise money from investors like NetEase, one of China’s big online game service providers.
The WithMe division will focus on strengthening friendships through shared experiences in virtual spaces, including user-generated games, Tsui said. IMVU will also hold a session called “Making Friends in the Metaverse” at our metaverse event.
“Our mission is to empower friendship, allow our users to connect in a very authentic way,” Tsui said. “There’s going to be a vibrant ecosystem with service providers and creators who can transact peer-to-peer and be able to get paid. WithMe is a natural extension of IMVU.”
Together Labs will focus on creating products that redefine social media as a catalyst for authentic human connections. Structural Capital managing partner Kai Tse said in a statement that the fund is impressed with IMVU’s growing business and new initiatives that position it at the intersection of social media and gaming.
With IMVU, users interact socially through avatars they create and can meet and chat in rooms they design. Many users focus on music, fashion, and other interests, and they can sell clothing and other items they create. IMVU and WithMe will have separate product teams.
Tsui said WithMe users will be able to create simple games, such as trivia contests, and share them with friends. People can use scripting logic and a 3D engine to create their games.
“Our games will be a lot more social by nature,” Tsui said. “Rather than a battle royale, our activities might be more like an escape room. You can collaborate with other people and communicate with each other. You could also draw together or watch YouTube together.”
Together Labs marketing director Lindsay Anne Aamodt said in an interview, “It’s more about solving problems together.”
That sounds a lot more like Roblox, the kids’ virtual world with 150 million monthly active users. But Tsui said his company will target users who are older than the average Roblox user.
“We want to grow more aggressively from the user perspective,” Tsui said. “We have been very good at monetizing our users. But we feel we can do a lot more.”
Aamodt said Together Labs is aiming to become a leader in the metaverse space, with each of its divisions focused on that goal.
IMVU was founded in 2004 and last raised money in 2008. The company has raised a total of $77 million. Together Labs employs around 250 people.
Meanwhile, last week the Blockchain Game Alliance — a group dedicated to promoting blockchain within the game industry — announced the inclusion of VCoin. As a member of the BGA, VCoin will join various other blockchain and gaming companies, including The Sandbox, Enjin, Animoca Brands, and Dapper Labs.
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