Creating a future where the technology imagined in books like Ready Player One and movies like The Matrix actually exists is going to take a lot more than solid virtual reality headsets. It’s also going to require insane computing horsepower and new methodologies for the creation and exploration of computer generated worlds. This is a tough problem to tackle, but one startup has just moved 500 million steps closer to what they hope is a viable solution.
Improbable is a five-year-old young company that is working on a cloud-based platform for 3D graphics that would dramatically increase what we can do and build online.
The company’s main product is a new platform for networked 3D graphics called SpatialOS. According to the Improbable website, SpatialOS “gives you the power to seamlessly stitch together multiple servers and game engines like Unreal and Unity to power massive, persistent worlds with more players than ever before.”
This promise has caught the eye of investors in a major way. Today, Improbable has announced a round of fundraising that will bring $502 million of fresh capital into the London-based company.
The round was led by SoftBank at an undisclosed valuation. However, SoftBank has confirmed that its investment only provides it with an uncontrolled stake in Improbable. This means that the company’s valuation has to be at least twice that of the investment or right around $1 billion.
Parties that previously contributed to Improbable’s $22 million funding round in March, 2015 will also commit new funds as part of this series. These groups include the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Hong Kong’s Horizon Ventures, and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.
This is a massive round of investment for Improbable but starts to make sense when you realize that the type of tech that it wants to create would essentially lay the ground work for more expansive digital experiences than anything we have seen before.
Right now, the most common use case for networked 3D experiences is online video games. Most games take place in small, intentionally constructed environments or arenas. Even so, there’s still a lot of work to do for a server in order to receive and transport those environments and all of their active components between two computers.
For example, in an average online shooter every step you take, bullet you fire, or explosion you see has to be transmitted across vast distances without creating latency (the dreaded lag) or losing any information. Now imagine you want to make an experience that doesn’t take place in a tightly controlled arena, but a vast digital universe with multiple “planets” and hundreds, even thousands, of active inhabitants. The technology to make that universe and keep it active and enjoyable currently does not exist. That’s where Improbable plans to come in.
In a blog post released earlier today, Improbable’s CEO Herman Narula spoke to the his company’s future plans:
“We think that the games of today are an incredibly exciting medium, but also that they will evolve into massive worlds and offer meaningful experiences for a much broader segment of society than previously imagined. It’s our goal to solve the critical technical problems and unlock that future.
Now we have the resources to fully realize that vision over the long term with our growing ecosystem of partners. This investment further cements our long term commitment to working with the games industry to create the experiences of tomorrow.”
Earlier this year, Improbable announced the beta release of its platforms for creators to try out as well as a partnership with Google to share the power of the latter company’s massive cloud-powering server farms. Google is not listed as an investor in Improbable.
Improbable’s tech is not being positioned directly towards the VR space but we have already seen one content creator incorporate SpatialOS into a product called MetaWorld.
With half a billion in fresh capital, we expect Improbable will be powering many more VR experiences in the near future.