How Improbable convinced SoftBank to invest $502 million in its platform for massive online game worlds

VentureBeat Finance 4 months ago

London-based technology firm Improbable has had a very improbable week. The company raised a whopping $502 million from Japan’s SoftBank for its SpatialOS platform for enabling massive online gaming worlds.

Then Improbable announced that Jagex, maker of the enormously popular RuneScape, will use the SpatialOS platform for future game worlds.

We caught up with Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, for an interview about these events. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.


Above: Jagex MMO RuneScape.

GamesBeat: Congratulations on the big round there. I wanted to catch up on that, as well as Jagex. You must have had some interesting conversations with SoftBank about the big vision.

Herman Narula: Masayoshi Son’s vision is surprisingly similar to ours: massive worlds in which people can experience the future of gaming, the idea of creating a world in which you and I can live in more than world at once. That’s an exciting, important future. It’s just as important as A.I. and just as important as the work we’ve done in machine learning and other areas.

GamesBeat: That seems to open the door to a lot more than just games.

Narula: Absolutely. But games are still our core focus right now.

GamesBeat: With Jagex, are they interested in this for games or for other things as well?

Narula: Games, games, games. You can guess at what they’re probably working on without our help. I can’t actually say it, but you can guess it.

GamesBeat: For them, what sort of potential world is possible?

Narula: They’re consummate, brilliant storytellers and character creators. I remember seeing the early versions of RuneScape. The quests and the world they put together were just so exciting. We’re hoping that with our technology they can not only tell great stories, but bring worlds to life. That means creating a living world, adding more players into individual areas, making player interaction with the world more interesting, creating more complex NPCs. All the things that you’ve seen us experiment with in games like Worlds Adrift, now they’re being taken on by a triple-A developer at scale. That’s just one thing we’re announcing, too. There are other developers in the pipeline on a similar scale.

Above: Worlds Adrift runs on Improbable’s SpatialOS.

GamesBeat: You guys always seem very capital-efficient to me. Now you’ve got half a billion dollars. What do you possibly need that for?

Narula: The thing you have to remember with us is that our vision is 20 years out. We’re aiming to build massive population-scale simulations that we can all participate in. Realizing that — yes, we have a good product out now, but we want to make deeper investments in our R&D and ecosystem to be able to realize that endgame vision. This round is not about whether or not we’re a capital-efficient company. It’s about wanting to make the longer-term investments to make that happen.

There’s another side to it, too. Today, if I’m just name-dropping developers I love, like Rockstar or Bungie — you’re not going to work with a company like Improbable unless you’re confident that we’re going to be around for a while, and that the investments we’re making in tech are substantial and meaningful. Hopefully raising half a billion dollars is a signal to the industry as well.

Above: Worlds Adrift is using Improbable technology for a new MMO.

GamesBeat: What’s the best indicator of some value you guys have created? That indicates a lot of value that’s already there.

Narula: Although we’re not public about commercial relationships, you may have seen some things in the news about relationships we have in areas like government, and some of the games that have been launched as well. What I can say is that we have generated revenue. It’s not our focus right now. We’re focused on realizing the vision of our product and enabling our partners. But we’ve shown that the technology is applicable to areas of deep human importance. By showing that, and by always working with customers, we’ve demonstrated that we’re not a closed technology. Also, we’ve launched our platform into open beta and had a great reaction from the community. That reaction has helped this happen as well.

GamesBeat: How soon do you think the proofs of concept are going to be available for people to see, with any of these customers?

Narula: There are already a few things live, but we’re kind of at the mercy of the game development cycle fundamentally. I think you’ll start to see more and more as all the projects begin to mature and go public. This year they’ll be more to talk about very soon.

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