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With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn

Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, as well as game producers Takeshi Otsuka and Teddy Cross. Although the Tokyo-headquartered company is only announcing its existence today, it’s already a unicorn — it says it’s raised $100 million in Series A funding, at […]

Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, as well as game producers Takeshi Otsuka and Teddy Cross.

Although the Tokyo-headquartered company is only announcing its existence today, it’s already a unicorn — it says it’s raised $100 million in Series A funding, at a valuation “just north of $1 billion.”

The round was led by Josh Buckley and Sequoia Capital, with participation from Sozo Ventures, Raymond Tonsing’s Caffeinated Capital, Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund, Taizo Son’s Mistletoe Singapore, Digital Garage, Will Smith’s Dreamers, Makers Fund and others.

Carter (Playco’s CEO) said the startup will be revealing its first games later this year. For now, he wants to talk about Playco’s vision: It’s trying to address the fact that “it’s very difficult to get two people into a single game in the App Store.” After all, downloading an app is a pretty big hurdle, especially compared to the early days of web and social gaming, when all you needed was a link.

“We’re going to bring that back,” Carter said — with Playco’s titles, sharing and playing a mobile game with your friend should be as simple as texting or calling them. “All it really takes is a hyperlink.”

He pointed to a number of technologies that can enable this “instant play” experience on mobile, including cloud gaming, HTML5 and platform-specific tools like Apple’s new App Clips. He claimed the team is “very good at this cutting edge technology” — and the company has created its own game engine — but he said technology is not the sole focus: “That’s just table stakes.”

Waldron (Playco’s president) argued that this represents the next big platform shift in gaming, and it will require “reinventing a lot of the most popular genres today” while also creating entirely new genres, in the same way that social gaming enabled new types of games.

The future (and past) of mobile gaming

“If you think about FarmVille, there were no farm games being advertised being in local console games store,” Waldron said. “They don’t market well; if you put up a poster for a farm game, no one wants to play.” But if your friends invite you by sending you some digital crops, then you absolutely want to play.

Carter added that enabling instant play also means that the games themselves have to be fairly straightforward, at least at first glance.

“Ultimately, as we build up the portfolio, we think about what makes the game accessible to anyone on the planet, any ethnicity, any language,” he said. “And the answer is: It has to be broadly appealing. That doesn’t mean we can’t build into it relatively interesting and deep features, but the initial impression has to be the right sort of experience that people can easily relate to.”

Carter also acknowledged that it’s unusual for a startup to raise so much money in its Series A (“It’s not your typical company, and it’s not your typical Series A”), but he said that being more ambitious with fundraising allowed Playco to quickly grow the team to 75 people.

“Bringing talented people together is the most important thing, and [thanks to the funding,] we haven’t had to make any really hard decisions,” he said.

As for how its games will make money, Waldron suggested that Playco will borrow from (but also potentially evolve) many of the existing business models in gaming.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “There’s going to be amazing things we can learn from my last company — we ended up inventing a lot of the ways these games are monetizing today … But these new technologies available today create new opportunities. The world has changed a lot since then, and I don’t think everything has caught up.”

Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

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