Apple often cites its tight integration of hardware and software for its success. Startup Illumix is looking to do the same thing for AR gaming by building an AR platform for its apps.
Emerging from stealth mode on Tuesday, Illumix has closed a seed funding round of $8.6 million, which the company will apply towards developing its products and partnerships, as well as building its game development team. The company also announced plans to release two AR games in 2019, one with original intellectual property and another licensed from an established franchise.
Both games will use Illumix's own AR platform, which applies computer vision and machine learning to enable environmental understanding and real-time interaction with the player's physical space. The company claims its AR technology can achieve these capabilities in real time without the need for moving mobile devices back and forth to pre-map the environment.
"AR will drive the next transformation in how we view the world and our role in it. Illumix will give people freedom to break through to a larger, more unlimited reality. Illumix takes AR games beyond tabletop or geolocation by understanding and using the space around players more completely than ever before. More than developing only technology, our team is creating meaningful, compelling, and engaging AR user experiences," said Kirin Sinha, founder and CEO of Illumix.
While her professional experience is scant, Sinha has some impressive education credentials. She earned her undergraduate degree in theoretical math, electrical engineering, and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 and continued her studies at the University of Cambridge, earning a Master's Degree in Mathematics in 2015. She also holds master's degrees from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she focused her studies on machine learning, and Stanford University, where she studied business administration. Before starting Illumix in 2017, she founded SHINE for Girls, a non-profit that nurtures interest in mathematics among young women by pairing math with dance, while at MIT.
Venture capital firms Maveron and Lightspeed Venture Partners led the seed funding round, with other participants including Radar Partners, Unusual Ventures, and 451 Media, an entertainment company co-founded by film director Michael Bay (and a likely but unconfirmed candidate for the Illumix's licensed game).
"In Kirin, we met a brilliant entrepreneur who is passionate about building a world-class gaming studio while redefining what is possible on mobile devices and with augmented reality. With the rapid evolution and adoption of augmented reality technology, we believe that Illumix is perfectly positioned to build the defining consumer brand in creating transformative mixed reality games that integrated into people's daily lives," said David Wu, partners at Maveron.
In a blog post, Lightspeed compares Illumix to Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore as well as AR Cloud platforms Ubiquity6 and 6D.ai, but emphasizes vertically-integrated approach as an advantage in building AAA-quality games.
"First and foremost, we are a game company and not a tech provider," Sinha told Next Reality. "A key advantage is that technologically, we have focused always from the user point of view, asking ourselves what makes a great AR game and building backwards to the technology from there. Additionally, vertical integration with our games is a differentiator."
"Our 'product' at this time will be two games for mid-core gamers who we expect will respond to a more meaningful form of AR gaming, and we are laser-focused on that. I see a world where we open up our technology to other developers, but that's not our immediate focus," she said.
Without mentioning Pokémon GO developer Niantic by name, the investor also noted that the developer will differentiate itself from by building games in the style of traditional role-playing games (RPGs), instead of location-based gaming with AR elements added. Like Niantic, Illumix will also license popular media franchises (which is arguably the secret sauce behind Pokémon GO's success).
"At Lightspeed, we look for companies that will redefine the way we live and work. Illumix's team and vision, coupled with its custom technology, has the power to transform AR beyond novelty or companion experiences and define a new category in interactive entertainment," added Nicole Quinn, partner at Lightspeed.
So far, the gaming industry has yet to produce a blockbuster AR hit on the level of Pokémon GO, but that doesn't mean there isn't an addressable market to pursue.
According to the Newzoo Global Games Market Report, mobile gaming will claim half of the total gaming market, growing by more than 25% year over year to account for $70.3 billion. Considering that the consumer segment of AR is a mobile game, at least for the time being, backing a company that controls its own destiny with regards to the underlying AR technology as well as the games it produces appears to be a savvy play for the participating investors.