Smith & Tinker Financing

by Ryan McIntyre

In the spring of 2008, we announced our initial investment in Seattle-based Smith & Tinker, a company founded by veterans of the toy, internet and gaming industries. At that time, the company was heads-down in development mode and wasn’t quite ready to talk about the product they were developing, so our initial blog post was somewhat short on details about what the company was up to. Beyond repeating Smith & Tinker’s mission, “reinventing play for the connected generation”, we said little.

Today we can be much less coy. On August 3rd, after nearly two years of development, the company launched its first game, entitled Nanovor, an online-offline hybrid game targeted at boys aged 7 – 12. To quote the company’s description of the backstory behind Nanovor:

Nanovor is based in a rich fictional world where nanoscopic monsters, known as Nanovor, live and battle inside computers. These nanoscopic dust mites ruled our still-molten Earth, long before any other species could survive. As Earth cooled and the atmosphere became oxygen-rich, the silicon-based Nanovor slipped into deep hibernation for billions of years. In 1958, when silicon was embedded within a computer chip and electricity pulsed through it for the very first time, the Nanovor sprung back to life. Fast forward to present day. Lucas Nelson accidentally discovers these tiny monsters living inside his computer. With the help of his high school science professor, he uncovers the fact that the Nanovor must fight in order to produce the adrenaline necessary to avoid going back into a crystallized state. As fate would have it, Lucas has stumbled onto what Smith & Tinker believes will be the next boys’ mega-hit.

To us, some of the most compelling aspects of Smith & Tinker and Nanovor are the extensive backstory supporting the Nanovor universe and the company’s plans to make the world of Nanovor truly immersive by simultaneously releasing collectible figurines, internet video webisodes, comic books and graphic novels to enrich kids’ experience of the game.

Nanovor’s rollout begins with the Online Battle Game for the PC, The game lets kids collect and battle their Nanovor online. Nanocash, the game’s virtual currency, lets kids expand their collection by buying online booster packs of more monsters and by trading their Nanovor with friends. Nanovor encourages kids to improve their logic skills by playing an included puzzle game to evolve Nanovor into new species. Kids explore the game’s many facets as they discover and share strategies to battle their teams of nanovor to victory.

While the Nanovor Online Battle Game provides a superb kid-vs-kid gaming experience online at the PC, Smith & Tinker’s vision is to enable kids to take the Nanovor universe with them wherever they go, and that they be able to play both solo and head-to-head with other children when they are away from a computer. To enable this, Smith & Tinker will soon release the Nanoscope. Borrowing again from the company’s announcement of Nanovor:

The Nanoscope is a handheld digital gaming device that lets kids take their Nanovor play offline. With the Nanoscope, kids can battle face to face with friends, and play solo-games to further enhance their collection of monsters. Players can download their collection onto the device via a USB connection. Kids can also connect up to four handhelds for head-to-head combat, making it possible for battles to occur anytime and anywhere. Monsters literally jump between screens as each battle is played out with thousands of awesome combat animations. All play on the Nanoscope is recorded, allowing kids to upload their progress to an online account. This provides for a cohesive online and offline play experience for the first time.

The key to the Nanovor experience is the notion that the game can be played both online and offline, and that it enables kids to collect and battle digital artifacts both in the virtual world of the game and when they are face-to-face in the physical world. We view the platform Smith & Tinker has created as an important step for the toy industry, and as an example of another step in the evolution of human-computer interaction enabled by the availability of computing components sophisticated enough (yet cheap enough) to bring a compelling and unique gaming experience to a children’s toy with a sub $50 price point. As we’ve discussed previously in this blog, we believe there will be rich opportunities for companies that recognize and take advantage of the evolving nature of human-computer interaction, and we believe Smith & Tinker fits neatly into our human-computer interaction theme.

In the spring of this year, with development of the online battle game and the handheld Nanoscope device nearly completed, the company set out to raise an equity round to support the rollout of Nanovor and to build a war-chest to enable the marketing launch of the game in time for the all-important holiday retail season. Today, the online battle game (for PC) is available for download at nanovor.com, and the game and other related merchandise can be had at Amazon, Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us. The launch of the handheld Nanoscope device that enables offline and head-to-head battles will follow in October nationwide at these and other major retailers.

Today, the company announced a new round of funding, with DCM joining the financing, along with existing investors including us, Vulcan Capital, Alsop-Louie Partners and Leo Capital Holdings. At Foundry Group, we are particularly excited to have DCM join the investor syndicate, as it provides us with another opportunity to collaborate with them. In the past, we co-invested (via Mobius Venture Capital) with DCM in Sling Media, and we are excited to be working with them again. An article in today’s WSJ provides further details about the company and the financing, as does a detailed post over at TechFlash.

If you are interested in diving in to the Nanovor universe, you can follow Nanovor on twitter and subscribe to the YouTube channel to watch the weekly webisodes, or, better yet, go download the game and start playing at www.nanovor.com.

Check out the introductory video below: