Mobile Gaming Startup Playco Raises $100 Million From Investors Including Will Smith

Tokyo-based Playco is now valued at $1 billion

Mobile gaming startup Playco raised a $100 million Series A to create an app lets players instantly load games that run on web links on any platform.

Following this round, Playco’s estimated valuation is $1 billion — putting it at “unicorn” startup status before the company even launched.

The $100 million Series A was led by technology investor Josh Buckley and Sequoia Capital Global Entities. Funding was also contributed by Will Smith’s investment firm Dreamers VC, venture firms Sozo Ventures, Caffeinated Capital, the Makers Fund, the Angel Fund and Digital Garage.

Professional soccer player Keisuke Honda’s investment group KSK Angel Fund and Mistletoe Singapore, founded by Korean-Japanese gaming investor Taizo Son, also contributed funds.

The company was created by mobile gaming veteran Justin Waldron, who co-founded mobile gaming giant Zynga in 2007. Waldron left Zynga in 2013 and was a private investor as well as an advisor for controversial tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s Thiel Foundation for several years before stating Playco.

Playco is led by Waldron, chief executive Michael Carter, web gaming development veteran Teddy Cross and Takeshi Otsuka, who was most recently the managing director of Japanese mobile gaming studio Mobile Create USA.

In a statement released Monday, Playco said it will use the funding to continue “building partnerships with the largest social and messaging companies globally,” which likely includes Facebook and its chat subsidiaries WeChat and Messenger, as well as other popular social platforms like Snapchat.

Browser-based games experienced a sort of fall from grace in the early 2000s when console gaming became more popular, but Playco is betting that players will soon be returning to web-based games — which at this point includes gaming on social platforms like Facebook or Snapchat, Playco said.

Playco’s funding also comes at at time when gaming executives are hotly debating the overall importance of app stores and if the industry could survive without them. Several developers including Epic Games have asked whether Apple’s App Store model of charging developers 30% of each initial purchase is fair and if there could be other more equitable platforms to host games.

“There are a lot of different technologies that can power what an instant game is, whether it’s cloud streaming like xCloud or Google Stadia,” Carter told VentureBeat. “Every single major tech company– Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Google — is investing in this type of technology in a big way. And there’s no company that is focused on answering the question of what is the killer game for this new shift (so) we decided that we’d go after this as a content company.”

Carter noted that Google’s Instant Play service lets you play a game before its completely installed — a feature that the next-generation consoles including the PlayStation 5 have touted as a new and novel mechanic.