SoftBank Backed Game Revolution is Failing but Blockchain Isn’t
In 2017 Improbable Worlds Ltd raised $502 million in an investment round led by SoftBank. The gaming startup, founded seven years ago in the UK, appears to be struggling and this could be a setback for SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund.
It’s increasingly likely that blockchain technology and cryptocurrency will be what revolutionizes the gaming industry in 2020 and beyond. And, that might not be a bad thing for SoftBank which has also demonstrated its commitment to the new technology and to digital assets.
Improbable Worlds’ World Adrift was pitched as a multiplayer game to rival any out there. As per Bloomberg recently, something between Minecraft and Second Life. In the game, players would be able to build ships and explore a world of floating islands created by other game users and developers.
The game was released to some users in 2018, but Bloomberg sources say developers may have been frustrated with frequent updates that forced them to keep fixing their coding. The startup, created by Cambridge University students, has seen a high turnover in staff and CEO Herman Narula has been criticized for his leadership style. The Improbable platform, as per Bloomberg, is unprofitable and only has one game development running on its platform.
After leading the 2017 funding round, SoftBank potentially has a stake of between 25% and 50% in the business alongside another shareholder with significant control. Though Improbable Worlds has taken on an ex-Disney executive to become its new CFO and it is working with other game studios to develop its own games it could be that Worlds Adrift is a non-starter.
Improbable Worlds company spokesperson Daniel Griffiths has reportedly said that it’s not unusual for game developers to cancel a commercial launch after a products-trial period. Griffiths has also defended the rumors of frustrated developers and unhappy employees.
For SoftBank and its Vision Fund, the news the revolutionary startup might be struggling is likely disappointing. A number of the Japanese companies have seen challenges lately. WeWork stopped its planned IPO, and Zume Pizza Inc has cut jobs.
It might not be all bad news for SoftBank or the gaming industry, however. Blockchain-based virtual world creators and non-fungible token users like Decentraland and Cryptovoxels recently saw a week in February where its users traded the equivalent of nearly $1 million.
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies could create a world of opportunity for gamers and game publishers. As gamers adopt these blockchain-based and crypto-using games the adoption of blockchain technology and the use of cryptocurrencies will naturally increase.
SoftBank hasn’t missed the opportunity of blockchain either, it has teamed up with IBM to develop cross-carrier blockchain solutions to allow smartphone users to make local payments wherever they are in the world. In December, it released debit cards with built-in cryptocurrency wallets for users to store their digital assets.
If blockchain and cryptocurrency boom due to gaming adoption, SoftBank’s blockchain projects can only benefit.