- British software startup Improbable will use its huge cash pile to fund the creation of a new game for the first time.
- Improbable will fund the development of “Scavengers,” a new survival shooter from independent game studio Midwinter Entertainment.
- Improbable raised $US502 million from Japanese tech giant SoftBank in May, which chief executive Herman Narula said frees the firm to fund “risky” content that can run on its SpatialOS software.
Fast-growing British startup Improbable, whose software is intended to power virtual worlds, has figured out what to do with the massive $US502 million (£359 million) cash pile it raised last May.
Improbable will use some of that war chest to fund a new game from Midwinter Entertainment, an independent game studio led by Josh Holmes.
Holmes oversaw the blockbuster “Halo” franchise for seven years while an executive producer at 343 Industries, but left in 2016 to pursue indie game development.
“We’ve always believed the greatest innovation will come from people like Josh Holmes, who are breaking away and doing their own thing,” Improbable chief executive Herman Narula told Business Insider. “They have none of the restrictions of a large company and it made sense for us to back him because there was a total merging of minds on what we could create together.”
Midwinter has, up until now, been operating in stealth. It has no other financial backers, Holmes told Business Insider in an email, and its only focus right now is to produce the new game, called “Scavengers.”
Holmes described “Scavengers” as a survival shooter where teams of players compete to explore and escape from a “hostile frozen wasteland.” The game will be built on Unreal Engine and run on Improbable’s SpatialOS platform.
The major promise is a vast, detailed, simulated world populated with a large number of artificially intelligent enemies who, unlike pre-scripted enemies, can respond to individual players and their actions.
“Some of the most popular games in the arena space, games like ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ … they tend to be large numbers of human players playing against each other,” said Narula. “There’s always been a dream of being able to incorporate larger numbers of AI entities, more complex dynamics into those worlds… but there’s always been computational limits.”
SpatialOS should, in theory, do away with those limits.
Improbable hasn’t disclosed how much it will spend on “Scavengers,” or what the conditions of the agreement are. Business Insider understands the funding will be made in tranches, and that the company has already fronted some of the money. It will also embed some of its own engineers at Midwinter Entertainment’s Seattle studio.
“With ‘Scavengers’ he’s really pushing boundaries, it’s stuff he couldn’t have done with ‘Halo’,” Narula said of Holmes. “For us to be doing that feels like the logical next step. It’s likely that in terms of content like this, choice content that is taking risk, we may choose to do more of this based on how this stuff goes.”
“Scavengers” is still in the early stages of development, Holmes said, and there’s no release date as yet. The game will be available on Steam, but may be available on consoles at a later date.
This is the first time Improbable has funded a game and it will probably do more
It’s a big change for Improbable, which has so for not produced or funded any content to run on SpatialOS.
Instead it has relied on third-party partners such as Bossa Studios and Spilt Milk Studio to build games on its platform. Games running on SpatialOS include “Worlds Adrift,” a user-generated world of “endless” islands, and “Lazarus,” a multiplayer sci-fi game. Improbable also has a sizeable contract with the US military.
According to its 2017 financials, Improbable is seeing huge revenue growth but is not profitable.
The SoftBank funding is a game-changer in terms of freeing up Improbable to fund what Narula describes as “riskier” games. It is, Narula said, a major reason why the firm wanted the funding.
“We realised the right way to enable these new experiences was working with a combination of partners big and small and being able to seed some of the most risky, innovative things,” he said.
“It’s super usual for platforms to do a degree of content funding,” he added. “Many different platforms, from consoles to cloud providers, are involved in content funding in different forms.”
One example is Oculus, which funds developers to make content for its virtual reality Rift headset, to help speed up adoption.
But the bulk of Improbable’s business will still come from third-party developers making titles that run on SpatialOS, Narula said.
Asked if Improbable would ever create its own games, Narula said: “Focus is really important for a company, and SpatialOS is already a vast and complex technology that is taking an enormous amount of effort and time to fully realise, to take us into the future we want to go to. We don’t rule out building our own content, but it’s not something we’re focusing on at the moment.”