Hiro Capital: Building Games Unicorns from Warhammer to the Metaverse

London — October 2021 | Hiro Capital was founded in 2018 to invest in Games and the Metaverse. The fund is named after Hiro Protagonist, the sword-wielding, Metaverse-hacking samurai hero of Neil Stephenson’s seminal Snowcrash, a novel about video games, VR, digital assets and the neocortex. Prior to Hiro, the founding partners built 6 Games companies worth >$500m each (so far) as creator entrepreneurs. Since 2018, Hiro has been investing in sci-fi, story-telling and the deep future of games and games technology. Hiro believes strongly in Games as a force for good.

Hiro has had a big 2021. Last week the Fund closed its 18th investment, a legendary Game IP to be announced soon and Hiro’s 10th deal in 2021 so far. Meanwhile, Tencent is in progress on a $1.3 billion dollar acquisition for the UK Game leader Sumo Group., chaired by Hiro co-founder Ian Livingstone. And across the Hiro portfolio, the Game studios (eg Polyarc, Twin Suns, Snowprint, FRVR, Lightfox etc.), Streaming platforms (eg Loco.gg, liv.tv) and the Gamified Sports investments (Zwift.com, FitXR.com) are powering ahead.

The Sumo deal is also epic because it represents both the sixth $500m+ Games exit which Hiro co-founders have led and the third (3rd!) unicorn-scale Games exit Ian has been connected to just in 2021, following on from mobile games studio Playdemic (Golf Clash), which Ian angel-backed as Chairman being sold in June to EA for $1.4bn, and Mediatonic (Fall Guys) which Ian also angel-backed and acted as an advisor before the company was acquired by Synova Capital in 2020 and sold (as Tonic Games) to Epic in March 2021.

Hiro Founder and Managing Partner, Luke Alvarez, founded Inspired Entertainment, a >$500m EV Nasdaq-listed Virtual Sports games technology leader. Luke is also co-founder of Sknups — a games NFT skin content platform — and previously of The Cloud Network, an early public access cloud platform backed by Accel and acquired by Sky.

Hiro Founder and Partner, Cherry Freeman, co-founded the global community and e-commerce brand LoveCrafts and has spent 10 years working with venture-backed tech companies including Elvie, Mimecast and New Voice Media.

Cherry and Luke first worked together at a Web 1.0 social ecommerce startup in 2000 and Ian and Luke met in China in 2014 and worked together on mobile games.

Ian Livingstone is (obviously) an old-school videogames legend: co-founder and former chairman of Eidos plc (Lara Croft:Tomb Raider), co-founder of Games Workshop (Warhammer) and co-author of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series. Ian is also the founder of the Livingstone Academy, a creative, games and compsci focused UK Academy school. He’s passionate about games and technology playing a key role in educating the next generations of kids.

Cherry Freeman, Ian Livingstone and Luke Alvarez (avatar) , the founders of Hiro Capital

The team’s involvement in many unicorns over 100+ combined years in Games, Tech and Games tech shows what can be achieved if you focus on great gameplay, product and IP. Hiro’s expects that a number of the Hiro portfolio investments will achieve similar unicorn-scale success.

Gaming Origins: Hiro’s direct line from the 1980’s to today

In 1981, writing for White Dwarf, an early gamer and fantasy fanzine Ian Livingstone founded, he wrote the following about our then-future Metaverse world.

Fast forward through Ian’s roles in Warhammer and Tomb Raider and into 2021, Ian’s approach to gaming has not changed much. He still finds the social elements of games the most rewarding whether they are played around a table on or screen with your friends. Here is what he had to say about how games bring people together and the core approach behind Hiro’s fundamentals:

“It is a social experience, board games, whether you are like minded or not like minded people sitting around a table having fun. They are negotiating deals or stabbing each other in the back as smiling assassins (laughs). It is all in good fun. Role Playing games took that to another dimension by being theatre on the fly. Overall, it was a very enjoyable social experience enhanced by not knowing what would happen next. Everyone was making it up as they went along within the structure of the dungeon that was created. That is something we all aspire to as game players. That social experience.”

When games in a digital sense came along, the machines did not have the horsepower to allow that full experience. As graphics grew, everything got bigger and better, rather than little bits of squeaky noise for music we now have full orchestral scores. You even have mood and lighting. We built up to a world where not just one player could, but with the future metaverse, millions can be connected. The better you move a game to what we are as human beings, to have empathy and enjoyment together, the better we all become. No one wants to see the best sun rise on planet earth alone, they want to share it with others. It adds that extra level of enjoyment that is created by sharing and enjoying it together.”

“With games now being multiplayer, online, and persistent you can play with friends and build a community. Being able to create content within these massive social games or even have live events. The crowd is influencing what is happening inside those games. This connected universe of play is what gets everyone excited. The human part of that, we have our avatar, then we have our online world or community, add in the crafting empowering all of us to create content. The more these worlds fit well within who we are as human beings, the more excited I get about the concept. When Hiro looks at a company of course we ask about the game, the IP, and a whole bunch of questions. But it is the human connection in a playful manner that drives a lot of our decision making about where we want to be.” Ian Livingstone, Founding Partner

Hiro’s Approach to Business

Cherry Freeman has been named one of the U.K.’s top women in business. Her successful launch of LoveCrafts has become one of the top sites in the home crafting creator commerce marketplace. Cherry is passionate about inclusion in the games industry and has driven a strong approach to ensure a positive culture across all of Hiro’s investments. Her acumen can be summed up by: seeing a studio or company’s long term vision, how it plays into the community’s hands, and where the games or products will be years into the future. Cherry defines Hiro Capital’s roadmap:

We are totally content and product obsessed. Whether it’s a creative IP or a technical IP, to be honest even process IP. First and foremost when we screen a company we are interested in, what do they make? We want to experience that creation, however it is manifested. We usually do that before the other things most VCs do which is, you know, look at the KPIs, look at the numbers, look at the team. Our gating question is always, what is it? Also, are we excited about it?”

“We have seen products with good growth or metrics, but we are just not fundamentally excited about the product. To really believe that a business has true long term potential for decades and the chance to change our lives, that has to be the starting point.”

My insights within the space around investing is that there is just so much hype and excitement around games and tech at the moment. So much discipline is required to ignore the noise and form your own judgements. That is why we try to start with the product and the Intellectual Property. We immerse ourselves in that first, that is the truest experience of the business being presented to you. What does it feel like to play it to use the technology, to be in the network. How does that feel compared to all these other experiences we have tested? Do we think we will want this experience in two or even five years? You almost need to divorce yourself from the numbers and the hype, from what everyone else is doing, then you can step back and digest the immersive experience. We try to be blinkered when we first meet a team and look at an opportunity. Our first goal is to focus on the content.” — Cherry Freeman, Founding Partner

Hiro’s Approach to the Metaverse

The Metaverse has become a buzzword in business right now with all kinds of tech gurus throwing around the idea. Luke Alvarez has been grokking the Metaverse since reading Snowcrash in the early 90’s and gave his thoughts on the physical and digital Metaverse here:

We have been believers in the Metaverse since we created the fund back in 2018. We are not recent arrivals to the Metaverse as a concept even though it has blown up in the last few months. We strongly believe we are at the beginning of the next big human computing platform. We are all old enough to have seen earlier tech revolutions — Cherry and I were building internet 1.0 companies in the late 90’s. Ian began with board games in the 70’s and console games and game books in the 80’s. I founded a mobile games company in 2001 back before there were proper smartphones — it was actually amazing what you could do with a tiny LCD screen.”

“We feel that in 2021 we are in as pivotal moment as we were in the late 1990s when the internet began to go consumer-facing. We are already at the point where mobile internet is ubiquitous and maturing. But we are very, very early in the Metaverse, in VR and AR, in Web 3.0 and in the Blockchain — this evolution will take at least a decade. The Metaverse is a focus for us as a fund and we really are at the beginning of a decade of innovation and growth. We have started with investing in Game studios because we believe much of the innovation will happen there first. Games are always the sharp end of new consumer tech.

The Metaverse is poorly defined right now, but in summary what it should become is the ubiquitous, persistent fusion between the physical and digital world.”

FITXR, boxing in VR, a Hiro investment

“We believe games and digital sports are where the tech for next-generation human societies is being built. Games are changing the world, and that includes the physical world and the human body as well. If the digital world and the physical world are going to merge, that cannot just be by implanting VR goggles or neurolinks into people’s brains. We are not brains in a bottle. We do not just want to sit in a purely simulated reality. We have bodies that move and experience all sorts of sensations and the physical world is beautiful and amazing. So digital experiences have to encompass the human body and the outside world and interact with them. Hence, at Hiro we also care about the gamification of fitness and sports and wellness and health, so a part of our investment thesis focuses on that and on the Metahuman Body.”

“What does a happy, healthy human being look like and how do they spend their time in the Metaverse future of 2040? Some of her time will be spent playing multiplayer RPGs, maybe in an immersive VR or AR display. Some of it will be running around the park outdoors with her friends, measuring steps, gait, form and VO2Max combined with AR overlays of drooling monsters popping out of the trees. That would make exercise even more fun. Some of it will be kids physically co-located, with their grandparents teleporting into their front room in AR, all together playing D&D in a mashup of Cloud AR and holograms. Since I first saw Holochess (or Dejarik for those in the know) in the first Star Wars as a young kid in the cinema, I’ve wanted to play that game — as investors, we know that that stuff is coming, people are really working on these things right now. Imagine all of these types of games, interacting with people around the world both in their homes and outdoors 24x7. It is not about a kid in front of a screen playing games addictively and toxically for hours a day. We think it is a combination between the digital and physical which is where the Metaverse should be going. That is why we have made investments in both Games and Fitness tech and in studios that we feel will be shaping the world for the better.” — Luke Alvarez, Founding Partner

As creator entrepreneurs themselves, the Hiro team feel fortunate to work with some amazing founders on their own creative journeys. And as a sector-focused, early-stage investor at the heart of the fastest growing sectors of the new economy, this is an incredibly exciting time.

Hiro will be announcing many more investments in 2021 and beyond — and will be sharing more on plans, thoughts and the future interplay of the Digital and IRL worlds on this Medium page over the coming months.

Hiro Capital: Investors in the Future

Hiro Capital is a London / Luxembourg technology Venture Capital fund which invests in UK, US and European innovators in Games, Metaverse Technology, Esports and Digital Fitness. Hiro Capital generally invests at the post-seed Series A and B stages. We invest both in front-end Content creators in Games, Esports and Digital Sports and in deep tech Metaverse applications of Cloud, Mobile, Streaming, Big Data, AI, Wearables, AR and VR technologies.

We back experienced entrepreneurial teams, building innovative technologies and content with a strongly differentiated proposition and with the scaling opportunity to become very large. We are Games, Esports and Sports investors who are also Games, Esports and Sports entrepreneurs. We are entrepreneurs who back entrepreneurs. Our core belief is that Games, Esports and Digital Sports will be a central pillar of Entertainment, Economic and Social Life in the mid 21st century. We invest in the innovators who are building that future. https://hiro.capital/

Investors in the future