Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

The success of Roblox and other user-created gaming experiences like Overwolf have democratized the concept of game making and brought it into the mainstream. A startup founded by veterans of Unity, Microsoft and EA that is building a new platform for creators to build immersive games, and related communities around like-minded people, is preparing to launch later this year. In anticipation of that, it is announcing a healthy $50 million in funding.

Yahaha Studios, an Espoo, Finland-based startup with R&D in Shanghai, has yet to launch a commercial product. But it describes what it’s building as a no-code “games metaverse,” where people can come together in communities to build and play games that combine virtual and real elements.

The $50 million it raised, to be clear, isn’t new funding: it was raised over six months, over three rounds, almost two years ago, all in 2020.

The company tells me that “round 1” was led by 5Y Capital; “round 2” was led by HillHouse and “round 3” was led by Coatue. Early investors entered subsequent rounds and other lenders include ZhenFund, Bertelsmann Asia Investments, BiliBili and Xiaomi. The funding, we’ve confirmed, values ​​Yahaha in the $300 million to $500 million range (“several hundreds of millions” is the phrase used when we asked).

While Yahaha Studios may still be months after launch, in the meantime it has quietly been running a Discord community with a small group (about 220) early adopters. The company tells me that an alpha version of the product will be launched in the second quarter of this year. It does not plan to raise funds sooner, a spokesperson said.

“Metaverse” has quickly become a commonly used word, with a number of companies claiming they are paving the way in this nebulous space, with its promises to combine augmented and virtual reality technologies to create entirely new kinds of digital experiences, gaming and otherwise. It seems that Yahaha has managed to stand out from the crowd and caught the attention of investors early on for a number of reasons.

First up, there are the company founders – Chris Zhu (CEO), Pengfei Zhang (COO), and Hao Min (CTO) – who all worked together as engineers at the cross-platform gaming engine Unity, with years of experience behind them.

Zhang has lived in Finland for 15 years and that’s how the company started there, but that’s not the only reason to set up Yahaha in Espoo: with companies like Supercell also hailing from the Helsinki suburb, there is a strong ecosystem in the region for building teams and tapping into new gaming innovations.

The company has confirmed that the Yahaha platform was built in collaboration with Unity, a link that in turn will help more creators and more cross-platform gameplay and communities.

Second, there’s the concept behind Yahaha itself, which currently focuses on two popular themes in tech: user-generated content and no-code development. UGC has been a popular part of online entertainment for decades now, but platforms like TikTok and Instagram have really brought a new focus to “creators,” people who build large audiences and businesses around the content they generate.

While platforms like Twitch and Discord have turned gamers into celebrities, we haven’t really had many platforms yet that make it easy for creators to build huge communities around real games (Roblox partially solves this, but doesn’t feel like a social platform). This is what Yahaha seems to hope to become, and if it works, it could be something really interesting.

Meanwhile, the platform is built on a “no-code” framework which will ensure that Yahaha is potentially used by more people. While much of the no-code adoption is in the enterprise IT realm (where people can easily build integrations between CRMs and accounting software, for example), it’s interesting to see more of it making its way into consumer-facing services, especially to serve creator communities.

“Realizing a $50 million investment is incredibly exciting for us,” CEO Chris Zhu said in a statement. “hahaha Studios plays a key role in ushering in the next generation of entertainment as the metaverse continues to grow. Connecting users around the world through virtual entertainment, YES HAHA offers a unique creative and social experience for both game developers and gamers. Through YES HAHA we empower creators at all levels, from established developers to those making their first game. Anyone can be a creator in our virtual world. We are really looking forward to fully launching this year, growing our team and bringing the first phase of our vision for the future of content creation to life.”

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