Category Archives: Startups

Founders Fund-Backed Jawfish Games Goes For Real, Synchronous Multi-Player on iOS (Really!)

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Although playing against someone else in real-time has a kick that nothing else can quite mimic, turn-based multiplayer games have thrived on iOS and Android.

That’s partly because slower data connections prevented studios from having enough confidence that they could provide a fast, twitchy user experience. At the same time, it was questionable whether there would be enough of a critical mass of players to match them in real-time.

But one Founders Fund-backed company called Jawfish Games says it has a multiplayer platform that can pit up to 16 players against each other in a single tournament at the same time. They’ve partnered with Seattle’s Big Fish Games, a privately held casual gaming company that made more than $180 million in 2011, to distribute a game called Match-­?Up!

The title is really a collection of several well-worn classics like a word unscrambling game, a puzzle game that has players match items of three colors in a row and Mahjong. Players advance through a bracket that matches 16 players, then eight, then four, and then — you catch the drift. In keeping with short attention spans on mobile devices, each round is 30 seconds, so a full tournament is only a few minutes long.

At first, the title will be more of a proof of concept. Then the two companies will build it out with more games going forward. Since Big Fish has a library of more than 300 mobile games, there are plenty of titles they could work into Match–Up!

Jawfish took an $885,000 seed round in January of last year and then added a $2.8 million bridge note with participation from Founders Fund. (Yes, I was surprised that Founders Fund — as in Peter Thiel’s fund that wants flying cars, not tweets — backed a gaming company.)

But they did it because of Jawfish’ CEO’s track record. The startup’s CEO, Phil Gordon, has a colorful history. He was the first employee at Netsys, a company that Cisco later acquired for $95 million in the first dot-com era. Then he went onto a championship professional poker career that included stints as a broadcaster on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown and The World Series of Poker and five books on the game.

“We believe we’re the best in the world at supporting mobile gaming in real-time,” he said. He’s facing down a number of other companies eyeing this area. Zynga expanded its capacity for supporting synchronous multiplayer mode in its arcade games, while other startups like Israel’s Nextpeer partner with third-party developers to offer multiplayer support. Nextpeer often matches up players with a “replay” of their opponent’s gameplay, however.

Jawfish’s platform shows you your opponent’s screen and performance in real-time in a small “Spycam” in the corner of the game.

“It’s such an obvious idea, but it’s an extremely difficult technical challenge,” he said.

Gordon says he’s only partnering with Big Fish Games and isn’t looking to expand his platform to work with other big gaming companies.

Match Up! is naturally free-to-play. If a user wins a tournament, they’ll start accumulating virtual chips that they use later on. They’ll have special tournaments that more experience players can wager more in. “As you build up your chips, you can imagine where this is going,” he said, hinting that players might be able to top-up on extra chips through in-app purchases.



Military ID Verification Service, Troop ID, Raises $2.1 Million

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Iraq War veteran and Troop ID founder Blake Hall has scored a cool $2.1 million from notable investors, such as David Tisch and Mark McLaughlin. The former elite soldier has raised a total of $5.7 million for his identity service that verifies military credentials and partners them with brands.

“The concept of the business is simple. We noticed that brands were relying on offline channels — and largely neglecting their digital channels — to offer active military and veterans commercial discounts, employment opportunities, skill training vouchers, etc,” writes Hall to TechCrunch in an email. “When we talked to the marketing and corporate citizenry teams, we discovered that marketers were afraid of fraud and abuse if they offered an exclusive discount via their web and mobile apps — read a military discount URL getting shared on RetailMeNot or Fat Wallet — so we developed a Single Sign On that accesses authoritative data stores on the back end so that merchants can offer exclusive discounts, employment opportunties [sic], skill training, etc to service members, veterans, and their immediate family members via their digital channels. “

Hall’s success with brands, such as Under Armor, has even gotten a rare nod from the White House. “Companies like Troop ID answered First Lady Michelle Obama’s appeal to ‘Do what you do best’ in connecting service members, veterans and military spouses with the resources they deserve. Joining Forces applauds Troop ID, the companies with whom it partners to offer military deals, and all companies that find ways to honor the service of our military and their family members,” wrote White House Fellow at Joint Forces, U.S. Army Captain Archie Bates, on an official White House blog.

Beyond Troop ID’s consumer aims, “trusted identities” are an important part of the Administration’s approach to online verification. The United States has eschewed the creation of a single national online identification, instead attempting a decentralized approach through multiple, compatible private companies, the so-called “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” (NSTIC). Troop ID, or a company similar to Troop ID, could potentially serve as a model for the ecosystem of verification companies.

“People want to help and to take some of the burden off the less than 1 percent of Americans who wear the uniform, and we’ve created a channel that lets them do that through Troop ID,” concludes Hall.