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Azra gamesa blockchain game company focused on building mainstream collectibles and fighting RPGs for the Web3 era has raised $15 million in funding.
The company is led by Mark Otero, who previously led the development of Electronic Arts’ mobile hit Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes while at Capital Games. (Last year, the Star Wars game reached 100 million downloads).
Andreessen Horowitz (of both the newly announced games fund and their crypto fund) led the round, with participation from NFX, Coinbase Ventures, Play Ventures and Franklin Templeton.
In an exclusive interview with GamesBeat, Otero said Azra Games is on a mission to create deep, immersive game universes, with a specialized in-game economy and virtual collectibles, powered by Web3 technology such as non-fungbile tokens (NFTs). . This seed funding will be used to accelerate the development of Azra’s first game – an epic, fantastic collectibles and massive combat RPG titled Project Arcanas.
“As a kid, I spent countless hours role-playing with all my different toys,” Otero said. “At Azra, we’re creating a game to recreate this joy, to rekindle the adult imagination with the ultimate collectible fantasy, combined with the ultimate fast-paced mix-and-match combat that is accessible yet deeply strategic. Imagine playing gigantic monsters, robots and creatures, leading your favorite heroes and villains into battle – and in addition to satisfying gaming sessions, a vibrant market and sustainable economy based on real value that only web3 can unlock to deliver the most immersive and complete playing experience.”
Otero works with fellow entrepreneurs Sonny Mayugba and Travis Boudreaux. The company has also hired Capital Games veterans. Their new title should be exciting as Electronic Arts recently announced that those who have stayed with Capital Games are working on a pretty exciting mobile game based on The Lord of the Rings franchise.
“CEO Mark Otero is a seasoned game director who pioneered free-to-play mobile games with the popular franchise Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes,” said Jonathan Lai, general partner at A16z, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Mark and the Azra team as they apply their expertise to web3 games in creating new types of gameplay and economic design.”
Otero said Azra Games is reimagining the joys of collecting limited edition toys and items through a special NFT ecosystem. Azra’s first game will be the prolific game maker Otero’s ninth in collectible and combat RPGs as he is joined by an accomplished game team with a deep history in the genre.
“We are incredibly impressed with what the team is building,” said Gigi Levy Weiss, general partner of NFX, in a statement. “I believe Azra will be the first games company to unlock the happy mix of games and digital ownership and bring ultimate value and entertainment to players.”
Azra Games’ backers represent selective and successful key figures in games and crypto companies and investors, and also include industry leaders such as YGG co-founder Gabby Dizon, Twitch co-founder Justin Kan and Dapper Labs co-founder Roham Gharegozlou.
Michael Chang, founder of Mavent Partners, is an advisor to Azra Games, as he knew Otero and his team from the time Electronic Arts acquired Otero’s former company, KlickNation, which became Capital Games. (Chang, formerly of EA, met Otero at a GamesBeat event).
“We closed this pretty quickly. We have started raising this round [in mid-February]† And we closed this round about a week ago,” Chang said. “These groups recognized very quickly that there was something interesting here, and they moved appropriately.”
After leaving Capital Games some time ago, Otero took a break from gaming. Then he started trying to do some programming on the blockchain, and he felt like he had an “aha moment” when he fell in love with the concept that gamers can own the game items they have purchased. Normally, players essentially rent the stuff they buy, and if the publisher ever closes, the players lose their entire investment. With NFTs, Otero felt like players could authenticate their unique items and actually own them.
“Others have already talked about this, but it really just amazed me that the players can own the assets, and ownership allows them to do so many things with it,” Otero said. “They can recombine them with other assets, they can rent them out, they can sell them. So this was the first real property, and I just knew it was going to be gaming in a way that didn’t exist in a free-to-play world before. When players buy virtual goods, they don’t actually own them. They can use the assets. And that’s the point.”
This idea motivated Otero to start the new company and start working on his ninth collectible and combat RPG games.
“It’s a genre that I’ve honed over the years. And you know, I made a lot of mistakes, then learned what worked and what didn’t, and basically just pushed me to innovate with each mistake.”
Otero also worked on Heroes of Dragon Age, Supreme Heroes, Age of Champions and Superhero City. During his time at KlickNation/Capital Games, the team grew to 76 people and produced the huge hit Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.
About the new game, Otero said: “I won’t go into too much detail today. I’ll save that for another conversation. There was one big thing I wanted to solve in the RPG world, and I believe we solved it. And it’s a chance for us to rethink what RPGs need in terms of how the player experiences the game. And what I mean by that is that I grew up as a kid and I think you can relate to this story, that I had a box full of broken toys and misfit toys like GI Joe, Star Wars and more. And I remember just mixing and matching these epic fights.”
He added: “And I never felt like I could capture this in any of the games we’ve done before. And so I was really inspired by these childhood memories. And now that I’m a father of two sons, I can just watch them play with their toys, and they don’t have rules like games. And so I can just look at their unlimited capacity to role-play and mix and match. And really, that’s the inspiration of what brought me back.”
The new studio is about a mile from the original game studio, and about 70% of the new Azra Games team previously worked at Capital Games. Azra Games now has 24 people.
“We’ve put together a team here that is super impressive,” he said. “I’ve worked with them for years, released multiple games with them. We brought the band back, you know, to build an incredible RPG experience.”
Otero, who grew up in South Korea with Dungeons & Dragons and eventually immigrated to Sacramento with his family, said he will love being a Dungeon Master again. (I noted that gave me an idea, as he clearly didn’t say he would be a Jedi master again). On turning down the chance to make a game based on The Lord of the Rings, Otero said, “In a few months, when we can reveal a lot more about the game, I think it will get gamers excited. “
Otero said the round was oversubscribed and investors are joining the vision.
As for the specific type of blockchain technology the company will use, Otero said in an interview, “We are taking our time and we are not in a rush. [to identify the tech stack]† That’s because we focus on quality gameplay first. And we strive to build a genre-defining game for the RPG space in general. And blockchain is really going to amplify that experience. We need the technology that enhances the experience rather than makes the game, so we are religiously focused on the gameplay.”
Asked about the concerns some developers and hardcore gamers have about blockchain technology, Mayugba said many developers rushed into the blockchain gaming space with the wrong approach.
“They’ve really made games with unsustainable economies,” Mayugba said. “After reading so many different white papers, I can say that [the bad reputation] is certainly well deserved. And when we enter the space, we do it very, very carefully and thoughtfully. And so, first of all, we don’t feel any pressure to do anything but build a great game. And so, first of all, we’re going to build a great game. And then it just so happens that the blockchain will enhance our gameplay.”
Otero hopes the team’s credibility will help it succeed with the NFT-based game. That is why the company started its funding with credible game VCs rather than an NFT token sale.
Otero said he has his own philosophy about having fun and building great games. He noted that some NFT game entrepreneurs have never built games before.
“That becomes very clear. And so there’s a bit of a backlash to that. And again, that’s very fair,” Otero said.
Otero said the hardest part is building a fun game, but once you do it will keep users and make them want to keep playing the game.
“That’s why the assets in the game itself are immediately usable. And so really, the usefulness of the asset is really the function of the quality and fun of the game. And so that’s the part that most people miss, because I think they don’t know how to design a fun game,” Otero said. ‘And so that’s one. Two: once you’ve designed a fun game, the assets immediately have a variety of utilities. Some are very, very obvious things, like after you use something, you can rent it out to other people to enjoy, or you can resell it on the market. And so you have immediate, very clear, immediate use because your game is fun and players want to have trumps.’
He added: “The second is this. The blockchain and ownership also offers a new type of player type where players can build many of their own assets, players can specialize in building assets within a game that are of interest to other players.
Mayugba said the company is not yet revealing what technologies it will use. But he said the company will be looking closely at how the technology affects the user experience. And it will evaluate the different trade-offs between the technologies available in terms of types of blockchains or partners.
“We want to make sure we have a partner who can work with us and scale with us,” Mayugba said.
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