Studio Created by Words With Friends Co‑Founder Raises $46M for Web3 Battle Arena Game

McKinney-based Playful Studios and its Wildcard Alliance subsidiary—led by Words With Friends co-founder Paul Bettner—raised the funding for Wildcard, which combines arena-style battles with a collectible card game.

“With Wildcard, we're focused on fun first, building a next-generation 'spectator sport' to welcome the entire community of competitors, collectors, sponsors, and fans to play together," Better says.

A McKinney video game studio created by a Words With Friends co-founder is entering the Web3 space—with a game designed to be fun for players and spectators alike.

The Wildcard Alliance, a subsidiary of McKinney-based Playful Studios, has landed $46 million in Series A funding led by Paradigm to help further fuel the development of a game it says combines arena-style battle with a collectible card game.

“Web3 platforms present a tremendous opportunity to build entertainment that can include, empower, and onboard millions of new players,” said Paul Bettner, co-founder and CEO of The Wildcard Alliance and Playful Studios, in a statement.

Battles on the blockchain

In the game, called Wildcard, players enter a fantasy-world arena, battling it out with special attacks and creatures that can be used in a style similar to a Pokémon fight, according to VentureBeat. Something that sets the Wildcard apart from other multiplayer online battle arena games is that spectators in the virtual arena will be able to influence the outcome of battles by being able to throw down benefits to certain characters.

Playful said the team behind the game’s development includes storytellers and IP creators from franchises like Star Wars, DC Comics, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While not discussing specifics on how blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies will be used in Wildcard, Bettner told VentureBeat that Wildcard would not be a play-to-earn-type game. Paradigm, which focuses on the web3 and crypto space, said its investment highlights its belief that “interactive entertainment” will be a driver in the industry.  

“The current focus of Web3 game development tends to be on finance over fun, economy over engagement, currency over community,” Bettner said. “With Wildcard, we’re focused on fun first, building a next-generation ‘spectator sport’ to welcome the entire community of competitors, collectors, sponsors, and fans to play together.”

Playful goes 100% remote

Gameplay of Wildcard. [Image: Playful Studios]

Wildcard is powered by Polygon, a platform for scaling and infrastructure on the Ethereum network—the second largest by market value, which has seen its value of its token drop by nearly 75% since hitting a record high seven months ago amid a downturn in the crypto market.

Paul & Katy Bettner [Photos: Wildcard Alliance]

Playful Studios was founded by Bettner and his wife Katy Drake Bettner, after the former sold Words With Friends, which he co-founded alongside his brother David Bettner, to Zynga for $53.3 million in 2010. The studio has been talking about the development of “games enabled for the spectator era,” since at least 2019, when it raised $23 million from 300 supporters.

At the beginning of 2020, the company announced it was “significantly” reducing its staff in an effort to move toward a production model focusing on one project at a time. Playful Studios is also the creator of titles including the Lucky’s Tale series and Creativerse.

Playful sold its HQ in 2021, is now fully remote

At the time it announced the staff reductions, the company had more than 100 developers. According to the VentureBeat report, the company has been able to bring much of the team back on. A spokesperson for Playful Studios said the company has transitioned to a fully remote team, after it sold its physical headquarters in 2021.

Bettner didn’t give a specific timeline on when the final touches on Wildcard will be complete but hinted at a three-quarter stretch to VentureBeat.  

“Paul and the team have a proven track record building fun games at the frontier of what’s possible, and they are using Web3 tech in truly innovative ways to bring openness and accessibility to proven esports mechanisms,” said Dace White, research partner at Paradigm, in a statement.

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