Game Studio Proletariat Raises $6M, Eyes “World Zombination”
Most startups are in a near-constant battle to stay alive, stretching out their operating cash just long enough to do something worth remembering.
So it’s a little poetic that Proletariat, an independent game studio based in the Boston area, is building a massive multiplayer game where zombies and humans fight each other for control of the world.
As of today, however, Proletariat has a longer lease on life—the young company has raised $6 million from venture investors, a bankroll that will allow it to finish its first flagship game, “World Zombination,” and get to work on its next title.
“It’s rare in the game industry that you have the kind of runway that we do now. Usually, it’s just to the next game,” Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak said. “We have enough time for at least one more, and hopefully more than that.”
Proletariat was founded by five former employees of Zynga who were laid off in 2012 when the social-game company closed its Boston office, one of the low moments in Zynga’s wild ride from fast-growing startup to troubled public company.
They poured their severance checks into the new company, and released a small-scale word puzzle game, “Letter Rush,” on mobile devices while preparing for their first big project, “World Zombination.”
The game has been in a public test phase since May—it’s available through mobile app stores for players in Australia, as a preparation for the eventual release in the U.S. Sivak says the game is scheduled to make its full debut for iOS and Android in the spring, with PC, Mac, and Linux versions to follow.
“We have, I think, really turned a corner in the past couple of months,” Sivak said. “Games always end up like this when the final art and the final sound and all the polished bits start to come toghether. You don’t realize how much of a difference that makes, when you stop shoving new bits in and just polish the ones you have.”
The new investment, a Series A round, was led by Spark Capital. The Proletariat crew worked with Spark Capital’s Nabeel Hyatt at Conduit Labs, the game studio that was acquired by Zynga and became Zynga Boston.
FirstMark Capital and Atlas Venture also invested in the new round. Proletariat had previously raised a seed round of about $2.25 million in early 2013.
The game industry, like any other entertainment business, is driven by consumer hits. That means a successful game can be equal parts art and science—you can do everything right by the book, and pull every marketing lever available, but if people don’t have fun they won’t stick around.
Proletariat has tried to get ahead of that question by opening up its development process to online gaming fans via live-streaming sessions on Twitch, the gamer-centric video channel recently acquired by Amazon.
Proletariat was one of the first half-dozen or so game studios to try out the idea of letting enthusiasts watch and ask questions about some of the work that was happening on an in-development game.
The startup was surprised by the response from game-streaming fans, Sivak said. Proletariat now does regular live-streaming updates three times a week, and plans to keep that schedule going as a way to build an audience and connect with players.
“People love it. Even people who have never heard of `World Zombination’ and Proletariat, because there’s a whole channel now dedicated to game development,” Sivak said. “I think there’s just more and more interest in general of people wanting to know how things are made, and who the people are behind things they like. It makes us more human.”
The 18-person company has grown up a lot in the past two years, moving from a small group of employees in a corner of the Intrepid Labs co-working loft to sub-leasing office space from veteran game studio Harmonix.
It’s turned aside plenty of contract work along the way in favor of finishing its own title and put off raising investment cash, too. There are no guarantees in the world of startups—and gaming companies in particular—but today, this independent studio looks to have a much better shot at resisting the pull of the undead.
“We have a lot of work to do still at Proletariat,” Sivak said. “But this funding really just gives us a lot of room and a lot of security to keep trying to go for it.”