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Play-and-earn metaverse game and esports developer Atmos Labs recently raised $11 million in seed funding for Atmos, a competition-based virtual world set in a sci-fi universe.
The game is designed to accelerate the advent of metaverse-native sports, where you’ll feel like you’re in a sports broadcast with fans cheering you on. It’s like a blend of sports and esports.
You can think of the image of flying around zero gravity in Ender’s Game. In Orson Scott Card’s famous sci-fi novel, teams competed against each other in zero-gravity space. That’s one of the inspirations for Atmos, said Dylan Bushnell, Atmos Labs’ vice president of game design, in an interview with GamesBeat. And they want this experience to be better than a sport in real life.
“I don’t want to go watch a basketball game. I want to put myself in the battle room in Ender’s Game,” said Bushnell, who is the son of Atari cofounder Nolan Bushnell.
In this case, it’s not exactly Ender’s Game. It’s a kind of 3D racing and flying game with wearable exosuits that are like vehicle skins. In this kind of game, you should definitely be able to do some superhuman feats.
“When you’re not constrained by what a human being can do, then you shouldn’t be constrained by what a human being could do,” said Kevin Beauregard, CEO of Atmos Lab, in an interview with GamesBeat. “What we wanted to do was build games like Ender’s Game, and like Quidditch and Harry Potter. They are contextual to the world in which they are experienced, and there is a deep history and lore built around it. We think someone who is a sports fan, but who is not a current esports fan, could get into it and get excited about it because they understand what’s happening.”
In some ways, Atmos is building a game like the virtual reality title EchoVR, except not in virtual reality.
“We wanted to answer this question, ‘If you’re courtside at a Lakers game in the metaverse, where are you actually? What are you seeing? Who’s playing? And what are they playing?” said Beauregard. “Because it’s not basketball. And that was the jumping-off point for how we could build a world where contextual metaverse native sports can exist. And we ended up deciding to build a complete world around that.”
Sfermion led the round, which included investors Animoca Brands, Collab+Currency, FBG Capital, Alumni Ventures, RedBeard Ventures, DWeb3, LD Capital, GSR Markets Limited, CoinGecko Ventures, Avocado Guild, UniX Gaming, and more.
“Atmos is delivering a refreshing blend of stunning aesthetics, competition, and a real digital economy, all while maintaining that commitment to true ownership of in-world assets,” said Andrew Steinwold, managing partner of co-lead investor Sfermion. “The Atmos Labs founding team has brought together an incredibly talented group that one would expect for a company many times its age, from game design and mechanics to creative development.”
The funding will be used to build the foundation of the virtual game world of Atmos, grow its community, and expand the Atmos team.
To date, competitive sports in virtual environments have enjoyed limited global adoption and have failed to definitively counter criticism from skeptics, such as doubts about the legitimacy of viewership and exclusive definitions of the term “sport.”
However, with the advent of virtual reality spaces powered by blockchain technology, DeFi, and NFTs — the “metaverse” — legacy notions of gaming and sports stand to be upended, putting the gamer and even the spectator at the center of the ecosystem.
One of the things the team wants to do is bring the sophistication and fidelity of professional sports camera work into video games.
“We’ve obviously we’ve seen this big rise in Twitch and streaming over the last few years. And I don’t think our cameras have quite caught up,” Bushnell said. “I would love some more dynamic cameras.”
The company has 18 employees. While it’s small, the team is doing some interesting things. It has created a nine-issue comic book coming from Tommy Lee Edwards and other well-known comic creators. That captures the backstory and lore of the world.
“That’s one of the great angles of sports,” Beauregard said. “Those particular stories and moments in sports get created. We love this idea of emergent storytelling where we’re blending what users do within Atmos into these other media.”
Atmos, a new play-and-earn metaverse, is building an immersive experience that will pair an esports component with the fandom and sense of belonging that come with conventional sports in a new virtual universe.
With the goal of igniting the category of metaverse-native sports, the game and its story are built by experienced veterans from the fields of gaming, crypto, automotive, industrial design, comic books, film, and more. Through NFTs, DeFi, and the principles of the emerging metaverse, Atmos players will not only play, but actually own their gear, teams, identities, and moments.
The next evolution
For Beauregard, Atmos is the next evolution of gaming.
“People are going to congregate around the spectacle of competition in the metaverse just like they do in the physical world. We are building metaverse-native sports and entertainment,” he said. “A category we believe will bring excitement and substance to the metaverse concept writ large.”
I asked who the main audience would be.
“The honest answer is we want both people who are native gamers, and we want people who are crypto natives,” said Beauregard. “We want to make sure that we’re bridging that gap. We want to build high-quality gameplay first. Blockchain is a tool, something that enables us to build better.”
Bushnell added, “We’re committed to building a world in which players can generate value from gameplay, own and trade interoperable assets in non-exclusive marketplaces, and govern the ecosystems they helped create. Importantly, all blockchain-related integrations aside, the games we’re developing could stand on their own.”
Beauregard, who once played semi-pro hockey for the Southern Pro Hockey League’s Louisiana Ice Gators, has a passion for sports and competition. and he has a long involvement in blockchain and decentralized finance DeFi development. The company got its start in 2021 and was incubated within Bloq, a company focusing on infrastructure and applications for Web3.
Beauregard has been building non-fungible tokens (NFT) and decentralized finance since 2016.
“It comes down to protecting players and player ownership,” he said. “What NFTs and DeFi unlock is user protection. It’s property rights within our game in our ecosystem, and it’s making sure that the player has those. That doesn’t mean there are no rules. It means the user owns what they own in the game.”
Over the coming months, Atmos will launch a transmedia campaign to outline and explore canonical lore and drop an initial lot of playable items. The company is targeting a closed alpha for early adopters in the fourth quarter.
The creators hope there will be different buckets of experiences that draw people into the gameplay, whether you want to be a competitive gamer or a spectator. Or they could focus on crafting.
The title will be a competitive, flight-based racing game.
“Our goal is to replicate the experience of a triple-A driving game in 3D space,” Bushnell said. “We haven’t really seen that kind of world quite yet. In addition to that, our crafting system is super sophisticated. We’re basically taking the breeding systems that you find in a lot of crypto-based games, and adapting that into a more conventional asset customization system.”
The suits players build are comprised of modular fabricated parts. So players have a lot of freedom to customize their suits. Beauregard sees the exosuits as wearable vehicles.
“A lot of inspiration came from car design in terms of how those parts fit together,” he said.