StartPlaying raises $6.5 million so table players can hire Dungeon Masters

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Start playing raised $6.5 million so table players can hire professional Dungeon Masters.

The San Francisco company has created an online platform to help players find tabletop roleplaying games to join and hire professional Game Masters.

It may be a geeky venture, but it says a lot that Andreessen Horowitz, one of the biggest game investors, chose to lead the rounds through his general partners Jonathan Lai and Andrew Chen.

The money will go toward scaling marketing to reach new players, broadening StartPlaying’s network of industry partnerships, and hiring top talent. The company aims to double its teams by the end of the year, StartPlaying CEO Nate Tucker said in an interview with GamesBeat.

StartPlaying ensures that people start playing online table games.

“We’re investing in building a world-class team,” Tucker says. “We believe this will be key to maintaining StartPlaying’s momentum.”

Lai said in a blog post that “more than” 40 million people play D&D all over the world and sales have increased by double digits percentages for the last five consecutive years. No longer a fringe hobby, D&D is prominent in mainstream and famous person culture.”

A16z’s investment in the platform portends the consolidation of such games into the mainstream
and the emergence of a professional road for experienced players.

Devon Chulick is co-founder of StartPlaying.

“As well as growing a user base, this is about community,” says co-founder Devon Chulick. “Whether it’s helping Game Masters and players find each other or working with industry partners, we’re proud to bring people together through the power of games.”

Since its inception in September 2020, StartPlaying has seen more than 100,000 games hosted by more than 1,000 professional Game Masters on the platform to earn $2.5 million. StartPlaying’s continued growth points to a demand for professional Game Masters and an evergreen interest in tabletop RPG games. Of all new users who join StartPlaying, almost half have never played the game.

“The tabletop roleplaying community is at its best when it’s inclusive,” adds Chulick. “We want StartPlaying to continue to break down barriers for new players.”

Players can participate in StartPlaying with or without a group at any skill level. They can choose games based on their genre preferences, play style, whether they’re looking for a one-off session or a long-term campaign, and filter by what best suits their schedule. The experience is highly customizable – at its core, StartPlaying works to keep space for all players.

“We’re investing in building a world-class team,” Tucker says. “We believe this will be key to maintaining StartPlaying’s momentum.”

Origin

Nate Tucker is CEO of StartPlaying.

The start came from a common problem around March 2020, at the start of the pandemic.

“My friend (Jared Gollhardt) and I had a problem looking for a Game Master online to play a Dungeons and Dragons game for us,” Tucker says. “And we struggled to find one. We looked through a few Discord channels, we looked through this one place called D&D Beyond, and they had a forum where we posted, which was really inconvenient. And my friend posted on Reddit and we were still struggling to find someone.

They eventually found two people, and one of them fell apart completely. The other asked them to submit an application in the form of a one-page document stating why the Game Master should take the job.

“We decided not to do that because it was terribly inconvenient. But we learned that this was common,” Tucker said. “Obviously the personal stuff stopped when COVID happened. So we ended up calling some people who had websites that used to do in person, Dungeons & Dragons. And we were pretty confident that we could do a better job of what was on the web right now, which is Discord and Reddit and custom forums.

They eventually found Chulick, who was known as the San Francisco Dungeon Master, and contacted him. He became a co-founder when they found out they could start a business to meet this need. Chulick himself had a list of about 30 people who could handle the duties of Game Master.

Their list grew and grew, eventually building a platform for matchmaking players in online games with trained Game Masters in a variety of games.

“I think the payers in general are a good host,” Tucker said. “They need someone to coordinate the group, make sure people show up on time, and be willing to lead the session. For the most part, people just pay for a nice, courteous host to go ahead and help them play and run these games.

The company got to work and initially built a platform for groups of players. But they had to adapt.

momentum

StartPlaying helps you learn to play table games.
StartPlaying helps you learn to play table games.

The team has now grown to six people. Most players who come to the site come as individual individuals, who want to learn as well as find others to play with.

“We had to redesign everything we did around this idea that people come as individuals, put them together in groups, and then match them with Game Masters,” Tucker said.

They raised money in a little angel round and got to work. Most players enjoy the two to four hour sessions. Players will participate in campaigns lasting several sessions or days. Some campaigns can even last hundreds of sessions.

Today, the company has about 600 Game Masters on the site every week. Many of them play D&D, but they’ve expanded beyond that. Some people just enjoy watching the gameplay on Twitch streams. Game Masters set their own price of $15 or $20 per person per session.

“The vast majority of people play online,” Tucker says.

The commitment was sufficient to arouse the interest of investors.

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