The studio behind Journey and Sky: Children of the Light, thatgamecompany, is having an eventful week. VentureBeat reports that the team has raised more than $160 million in funding. Investors like TPG and Sequoia have played a considerable part in raising the capital. It was also announced that the co-founder of Pixar, Edwin Catmull is joining thatgamecompany as its “principal advisor on creative culture and strategic growth.” That might be a mouthful of a title, but the pairing is certainly full of financed ambition for the future.
Ed Catmull has twenty-plus years under his belt at Disney Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. According to Inside The Magic, his career started with George Lucas at LucasFilm as Vice President of the computer graphics division. From there Pixar was established after Steve Jobs purchased the division in 1986. The ACM A.M. Turing Award winner (often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Computing”) would go on to be an executive for acclaimed movies like Toy Story (1995), Ratatouille (2007), Up (2009), The Incredibles (2004), WALL-E (2008), Inside Out (2015), and Moana (2016) to name a few.
Catmull had this to say about his new partnership: “Thatgamecompany is a driving force for the advancement of games’ deeper emotional impact. I’m honored that Jenova and the studio have asked me to share my learnings on building an enduring creative culture befitting its ambition to provide enriching and accessible interactive experiences for a worldwide audience.”
In order to reach that global audience Jenova Chen, thatgamecompany’s CEO and co-founder, will make good use of the recent investments. Said investments came from TPG’s Tech Adjacencies fund and the venture firm Sequoia Capital. A managing director from TPG said that they are, “proud to have the opportunity to partner with a visionary leader like Jenova to support thatgamecompany’s next stage of growth.” This next stage involves growing the California studio from its approximate 100 member staff to 150 plus developers. The current level of staffing is just enough to keep Sky up and running, but with additional hands on deck Chen says,
Hopefully, Sky and our future games will all be you know, kind of part of the theme parks in the future, like in a connected metaverse.
Sky: Children of Light is, “an unforgettable social adventure [taken] together with loved ones.” It was initially released for iOS in 2019 and saw a subsequent Android and Nintendo Switch release in 2020 and 2021 respectively. This was thatgamecompany’s first game made for mobile after making three console games for PlayStation which were flOw, Flower, and Journey. Each game was an attempt to, “foster human connection through play,” which Chen plans to continue working towards in the future.
When asked about his theme parks of the future, Chen explained that, “I really feel like there isn’t that equivalent of a kind of Disneyland experience or a Pixar movie experience in the game industry even today…I haven’t really played a game with my wife from the beginning to finish. I haven’t really found a good game to do that. Not to mention I have kids now. How do we have that experience? That’s kind of my aspiration. Sky is certainly an attempt but we want to do better to make these types of experiences.” Beyond just being creating an equivalent experience to that of the animation giants, Jenova Chen has an even greater ambition.
Despite video games out-selling the movie industry and being recognized by museums, “people don’t respect games,” says Chen. To overcome this Chen believes there needs to be greater emotional content in games. He went on to say, “we have games for adults, we have games for children, we have games for men, and we have games for women. But we don’t have a game that could touch all of them. And I think that’s the last piece missing.” Once the last unifying piece comes into play then perhaps Jenova will realize his dream of,
Seeing video games to take over movies and become the greatest art in entertainment.