Medal.tv, a short-form video clipping service and social network for gamers, is entering the livestreaming market with the acquisition of Rawa.tv, a Twitch rival based in Dubai, which had raised around $1 million to date. The seven-figure, all-cash deal will see two of Rawa’s founders, Raya Dadah and Phil Jammal, now joining Medal, and further integrations between the two platforms going forward.
The Middle East and North African region (MENA) is one of the fastest-growing markets in gaming and still one that’s mostly un-catered to, explained Medal.tv CEO Pim de Witte, as to his company’s interest in Rawa.
“Most companies that target that market don’t really understand the nuances and try to replicate existing Western or Far-Eastern models that are doomed to fail,” he said. “Absorbing a local team will increase Medal’s chances of success here. Overall, we believe that MENA is an underserved market without a clear leader in the livestreaming space, and Rawa brings to Medal the local market expertise that we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” de Witte added.
Medal.tv’s community had been asking for the ability to do livestreaming for some time, the exec also noted, but the technology would have been too expensive for the startup to build using off-the-shelf services at its scale, de Witte said.
“People increasingly connect around live and real-time experiences, and this is something our platform has lacked to date,” he noted.
But Rawa, as the first livestreaming platform dedicated to Arab gaming, had built out its own proprietary live and network streaming technology that’s now used in all its products. That technology is now coming to Medal.tv.
Image Credits: Medal.tv
The two companies were already connected before today, as Rawa users have been able to upload their gaming clips to Medal.tv, and some Rawa partners had joined Medal’s skilled player program. Going forward, Rawa will continue to operate as a separate platform, but it will become more tightly integrated with Medal, the company says. Currently, Rawa sees around 100,000 active users on its service.
The remaining Rawa team will continue to operate the livestreaming platform under co-founder Jammal’s leadership following the deal’s close, and the Rawa HQ will remain based in Dubai. However, Rawa’s employees have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and it’s unclear if that will change in the future, given the uncertainty of COVID-19’s spread.
Medal.tv detailed its further plans for Rawa on its site, where the company explained it doesn’t aim to build a “general-purpose” livestreaming platform where the majority of viewers don’t pay — a call-out that clearly seems aimed at Twitch. Instead, it says it will focus on matching content with viewers who would be interested in subscribing to the creators. This addresses one of the challenges that has faced larger platforms like Twitch in the past, where it’s been difficult for smaller streamers to get off the ground.
The company also said it will remain narrowly focused on serving the gaming community as opposed to venturing into non-gaming content, as others have done. Again, this differentiates itself from Twitch which, over the years, expanded into vlogs and even streaming old TV shows. And it’s much different from YouTube or Facebook Watch, where gaming is only a subcategory of a broader video network.
The acquisition follows Medal.tv’s $9 million Series A led by Horizons Ventures in 2019, after the startup had grown to 5 million registered users and “hundreds of thousands” of daily active users. Today, the company says over 200,000 people create content every day on Medal, and 3 million users are actively viewing that content every month.
Horizon Blockchain Games is — as the name implies — a company building games on the blockchain, along with tools to help others do the same.
The company announced today that it has raised another $4.5M, bringing its total raised to a little over $13M.
Horizon’s first game is Skyweaver, a competitive digital trading card game which taps the blockchain to give players more realistic ownership of their virtual cards. Once earned through competition with other players, cards can be sold, traded, or taken out of the system and put in storage.
As I previously wrote about Horizon here:
Horizon is working down two paths in parallel here: On one path, they’re building an Ethereum-powered platform called Arcadeum for handling in-game items — establishing who owns any specific instance of an item, and allowing that item to be verifiably traded, sold or given from player to player. Once an item is in a player’s possession, it’s theirs to use, trade or sell as they please; Horizon can’t just take it away. In time, they’ll open up this platform for other developers to build upon.
On the other path, the company is building out its own game — a digital trading card game called SkyWeaver — meant to thrive in its own right while simultaneously showcasing the platform.
“Arcadeum” mentioned above has now been rebranded as “Sequence“, an easy-to-integrate wallet system that aims to hand-wave away the complexities of the blockchain. They want to let users buy and store their digital goods on the blockchain without either the user or an app’s developer really having to think about the blockchain. Horizon co-founder Michael Sanders tells me the rebranding comes with an overall broadening of its focus; the ‘Arcade’ in ‘Arcadeum’ suggested it was all about gaming, whereas the aim is to help manage all kinds of digital items, from virtual gaming goods to NFT art and beyond.
The Horizon team often mentions being built to support “Web3”, a term I’ve been hearing more and more lately. In short (or, at least, as best I understand it), Web3 is a category of online-but-decentralized apps, services, and games built around the blockchain (Ethereum, in this case) to give individual users more control of their data. The Ethereum foundation has a breakdown of the concept here.
A match in Skyweaver Image Credits: Horizon Blockchain Games
Horizon originally intended to open Skyweaver up more broadly in 2020; as of this morning it’s still in private beta, with plans to open widely later this year. Sanders tells me they’ve let in over 66,000 players so far.
The company says that investors in this round (a “pre-Series A round SAFE”) include CMT Digital, The Xchange Company, BITKRAFT Ventures, Khaled Verjee, and Zyshan Kaba.
“I wanted to discuss this now so that you can see the future that we’re working towards and how our major initiative across the company are going to map to that,” Zuckerberg said on the call. “What is the metaverse? It’s a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces. You can kind of think of this as an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.”
These comments echoed an interview he gave to The Verge last week, detailing some of the company’s future goals.
The metaverse offers Facebook an opportunity to draw a line between its moonshot efforts and its core business, building a wide-reaching hub that shines on augmented reality and virtual reality platforms but feels just as friendly on mobile and desktop. Zuckerberg’s definition of metaverse is more broad than some others, but comes down to building a version of the web that feels more like an MMO than a collection of web pages.
Early renders of Facebook’s Horizon platform. Image via Facebook.
It’s hard to imagine now, but Facebook was late to mobile. A decade ago, Facebook’s apps were buggy, crash-prone HTML5 experiences, even as smooth native mobile apps were quickly becoming the standard for major software makers. By 2012, Zuckerberg realized that apps were the future — quickly becoming the present — and the Facebook founder scrambled to turn the company’s attention toward mobile at every level. Facebook doesn’t intend to make the same mistake twice. That philosophy first became abundantly clear when the company bought the industry-leading VR hardware maker Oculus in 2014.
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” Zuckerberg said around the time of the two billion dollar acquisition. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
Becoming “a metaverse company” is a further evolution of this thinking. For many, Roblox has seemed to be the clearest embodiment of the metaverse today — a social world where users can jump between virtual experiences while creating their own experiences inside it. It’s notably not a virtual reality experience instead thriving largely on mobile and desktop. Roblox’s vision has resonated with investors, the now-public company is worth more than $45 billion — a fraction of Facebook’s value but more than almost any other games company in the West.
Facebook has been signaling its continued interest in this space. In June they bought a Roblox-like platform called Crayta for an undisclosed sum, and they’ve spent much of the last several years buying up a host of VR-focused game studios.
The company has tried to build its own VR-centric social hubs but most have fallen flat. Facebook’s metaverse-like Horizon platform garnered major headlines when it was announced nearly two years ago, but the company has had little to say during its exceedingly quiet beta period. This week, Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth detailed that Gaming VP Vivek Sharma would be taking over the effort under a new metaverse-centric product group led by Instagram’s Vishal Shah.
There’s a very particular distinction in Facebook’s choice of rebranding itself as a “metaverse” company as opposed to an AR/VR one. While some might have seen specialized hardware as essential to a spatial internet, it’s become increasingly clear that users aren’t clamoring to embrace early headsets even as other new gaming platforms greatly accelerate their growth. While the company’s Quest 2 headset has sold much better than its previous devices — according to Facebook which has yet to release any hard sales numbers — it’s unclear whether they truly need a world full of users with Facebook glasses and headsets strapped to their faces in order to embrace this metaverse ideal — or whether that would just be the cherry on top.