As part of a new hybrid app that combines gaming and TV shows, PortalOne raises $15 million from Atari and other investors. Atari, Founders Fund, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, and others raise $15M in seed funding for PortalOne’s hybrid game/TV show app, which will soon come out of closed beta and become live.
Aside from gaming, streaming video has emerged as one of the biggest pastime winners during the last year-plus of living through the Pandemic. An app that brings these two forms of entertainment together has been created by a startup company, and the app is now being prepared to emerge from closed beta, and the company is announcing that it has secured an impressive seed round of funding.
In order to launch its app that lets people play on-demand games and also watch live shows in which users can play against a special guest to watch while playing on-demand games, PortalOne has announced a $15 million seed round of funding as it prepares to come out of closed beta.
It is worth noting that part of the reason why this startup and its funding are noteworthy is due to who is investing in it.
Among them is Atari, ARRI, Founders Fund, TQ Ventures, Coatue Management (specifically Arielle Zuckerberg), Rogue Capital Partners, Signia Venture Partners (via Sunny Dhillon), Seedcamp and Talis Capital out of Europe, TQ Ventures, and Scooter Braun.
There were also several investors that invested in the company, including Kevin Lin, a cofounder of Twitch; Mike Morhaime, a cofounder of Blizzard and Dreamhaven; Amy Morhaime, a cofounder of Dreamhaven; Marc Merrill, a co-founder of Riot Games; Xen Lategan, a former CTO and executive advisor to various companies such as Hulu; and Eugene Wei, a former Hulu product manager and head of video at Oculus.
In addition to being a tech startup and a media company, PortalOne is also a technology company. In the last three years, it has invested heavily in the development of a full stack of hardware and software that is capable of being used to build games, record live shows, and combine the two into one immersive experience that combines both on-demand and real-time gaming and entertainment.
In addition to building first, one of the benefits we are enjoying is that what we are doing on a technical level is extremely difficult for us,” said co-founder and CEO of Bird Edition, Anders Kasin. Our way of doing things is what makes the difference. Our secret sauce is the key to our success.”
Meanwhile, it is using that technology to build its own gaming platform and brand around it as well – providing a platform so that third parties and it can create games around it as well as build bigger live events around it in the future. There was no doubt in the mind of the company that it had been able to achieve something here that has not been possible for other companies in a long time.
As one of the two co-founders (and chief content officer), Stig Olav Kasin also comes from the entertainment industry. The silos in companies where different groups “own” TV and gaming make hybrid gaming difficult, as we’ve talked to all the big companies.
At the moment, the Oslo-based company is running a limited, early version of the service in both Norway and the U.S. There have been just two games available as of now — one called Blockbuster that involves you throwing a massive ball and knocking over blocks, and one called Centipede that is essentially a reimagined version of Centipede, along with corresponding talk shows that take place in a living room that is actually all computer generated on a green screen.
This all can be done either through a VR headset or over a phone, and users can win “prizes” for placed well in gaming competitions by playing and watching all this either through a VR headset or over a phone. The company will also sell virtual goods as part of its business model, just as Fortnite does today with its virtual goods.
There is a plan for the first iteration of PortalOne Arcade to be more widely released in the U.S. and Norway later this year, reimagining old-school arcade games into multiplayer, immersive experiences that incorporate interactive talk shows — in addition to the U.S. and Norway. Other markets will follow shortly thereafter.
A VR company was built by Anders Kasin – who previously worked at Warner Brothers, making movies such as “The Matrix” trilogy – as a technical director. Stig Olav Kasin – who, before working with his brother on VR, was a media executive working on shows such as “The Voice” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” before joining the team… In 2018, he founded PortalOne with his brother, James Kasin.
In the period from that time to June 2020, when PortalOne is set to launch its closed beta, the startup focused on building out its technology, its content strategy, as well as securing early partners as soon as possible.
According to what I have heard, it was not an easy task. As part of its technology stack, the company incorporates virtual reality, computer vision, gaming technology, as well as software and hardware to capture and stream video in a way that drastically reduces the resources that are required for both, among other things. As part of the PortalOne project, some of the equipment was built by the company; other parts were developed in conjunction with Arri, a major player in motion picture equipment, which developed a new kind of 3D camera specifically for PortalOne.
There is no doubt that PortalOne has had many challenges to overcome, but one of the main challenges has been the very process of creating content for a hybrid platform such as the one it intends to use.
There is a lot of complexity and expense involved when recording immersive experiences, mainly because of the volumetric equipment that needs to be used, the set-up of studios that need to be used to capture the experiences, and more, which involve Hollywood movie studio sizes, staff, and costs.
This success has been the result of PortalOne’s ability to convert the process into a form that can be produced more easily and at a much lower cost, which is essential since the company has daily shows and wants to scale and mass produce more daily shows for each game he develops.
One of the features of PortalOne is that there are just two other individuals involved in the show besides the host, who is an affable Norwegian with a pronounced American accent named Markus Bailey, and his guest, the technician-producers who trigger the effects and decide when the show switches from talk to game and back to talk.
It is now possible to do all of this in a YouTube-sized studio as opposed to needing large sets and dozens of people in the past, explained Bird.
According to PortalOne, when it comes to content, the company is not only developing its own games, but also embracing the style of old-school gaming that was popular in the past.
It is not only Atari that is investing, but they have also signed a seven-year deal with PortalOne under which the latter will be granted exclusive global distribution rights to some of Atari’s most popular arcade game franchises, which PortalOne will be reimagining and rebuilding for its hybrid system.
Bård said that the company was looking to build other games by collaborating with brands in the field of music, sport, travel and education to create other games. In the promo video, Braun pulled in Justin Bieber, who is probably the biggest star in the country, and possibly many others, as well.
Despite the fact that distribution and business models continue to evolve, the interactive entertainment space continues to offer a significant amount of opportunities, according to Kirill Tasilov, a principle at Talis Capital. I believe that PortalOne is going to reshape the mobile industry with its innovative hybrid experiences that are bringing games and video to the intersection, and I am delighted to be a part of their journey.”
Blurring the lines
In some ways, what PortalOne is doing isn’t completely new, as the lines between games, interactive content, and linear entertainment have long been blurring between what is a game, what is interactive content, and what is linear entertainment for quite some time now.
It could be argued that even game shows, which were among the first TV formats, were early examples of hybrid interactive television, although more modern programs, such as the ones that Stig helped create, with interactive voting from at-home audiences using phones, certainly pushed this concept forward in new ways.
As a consequence of the Coronavirus pandemic and the cancellation of so many in-person live events, content players definitely had to think outside the box in order to create new kinds of live shows. The game saw 12 million people attend its Travis Scott concert in 2018; and Roblox announced in December that its show with Lil Nas would open up future opportunities in the game. After Marshmello got a huge response to his Fortnite “show” in 2019, Roblox says that its next show will be in December.
In terms of virtual concerts, when we see them on TikTok, Roblox, and Fortnite, these are awesome, but PortalOne offers a next generation of interactive metaverse entertainment, which is one of the most powerful ways to interact with gamers around the world, in real time, one-on-one, all in a hybrid mobile-native format,” said Dhillon, a Signia Venture Partners partner.
In any case, if well-established platforms are able to pick up on this trend, then it is an endorsement of what PortalOne has built. However, they may also be able to build their own live game shows, too, and pour water all over PortalOne right as it dips its toes into the pool.
As a side note, the time that the studio has spent building its tech could turn out to be either a boon or a bane for the company. Gaming is notoriously tough to predict when it comes to resonating and taking off with audiences, and as such, the experiences that are built around the games are likely to be equally as hard to predict.
The next big social platform will likely be a fusion of digital media with interactive gaming at its core, resulting in a truly new immersive experience of interaction, and PortalOne is a major contender to become such a platform, according to Kevin Lin, CEO of PortalOne.
I am sure that if PortalOne is able to find an audience for what it is making, it will have the tools to provide it with more content quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. But if the technology does not strike the right note for the audience, it remains to be seen what kind of use will be made of it.
Investing right now is more about opportunities for investors, rather than risks.
In addition to providing endless opportunities for content creation, PortalOne is seamlessly integrating the gaming and entertainment worlds. PortalOne is meeting the demand of creators and performers alike to bring their craft to life in a way that no other business has before. I look forward to working with the entire team to realize this trailblazing vision. It’s something I’ve never seen before.”
In addition to being in the news today for another reason, Delian Asparouhov, a principal at Founders Fund, believes that the development of infrastructure and technology combined with the media element will give the startup a lot of runway, as he has been instrumental in bringing attention to Miami as a new tech hot spot for several years to come.
He said in a statement that he backs companies that he believes have a strong potential to become global leaders in their respective categories in the future. I believe that PortalOne has created a new category as well as created a platform that is clearly set to dominate this new category in the near future. In the present market, there is a ripeness, an opportunity, and an untapped potential that is far beyond what we can imagine. “PortalOne creates a before and after in the industry that will set a new standard for the future.”