Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Softbank bets big on VR designer

‘BEYOND GAMING’:The creations of Improbable Worlds, which is valued at more than US$1 billion, include VR games and in-depth simulations of a city

NY Times News Service, SAN FRANCISCO

Softbank Group Corp founder, chairman and chief executive officer Masayoshi Son gestures at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA

Masayoshi Son, the Japanese technology billionaire, has never been known to think small. That includes leading enormous investments in fledgling software companies.

Son’s company, Softbank Group Corp, on Thursday said that it is leading a US$502 million investment in Improbable Worlds Ltd, a British start-up focused on creating expansive virtual worlds.

The investment, which would be for a minority stake, would value the virtual-reality (VR) designer, which is five years old and has offices in London and San Francisco, at more than US$1 billion.

It is one of the biggest early-stage venture deals for a start-up in Europe, which is striving to produce tech companies that can compete with Silicon Valley’s.

Improbable focuses on creating virtual worlds through its SpatialOS platform, relying on the huge data centers afforded by cloud computing to build what are essentially enormous simulations.

Uses have included virtual-world games and in-depth simulations of a city that mimicked systems down to telecommunications networks and a power grid.

Improbable chief executive Herman Narula said SpatialOS allows developers “to build massive-scale virtual worlds or simulate the real world.”

Narula said in an interview that Improbable had always set high ambitions for fundraising targets, because it needed plenty of cash to build its systems.

Softbank, which last year bought British semiconductor designer ARM Holdings Inc for US$32 billion, quickly emerged as a candidate to lead the round.

The roughly month-long process included Narula flying to Tokyo to present Improbable’s technology to Son.

As part of the investment, Softbank senior executive Deep Nishar is to join Improbable’s board.

“Improbable is building breakthrough technologies that are becoming vital and valuable platforms for the global gaming industry,” Nishar said in a statement. “Beyond gaming, this new form of simulation on a massive scale has the potential to help us make better decisions about the world we live in.”

The investment in Improbable includes contributions from venture firms Andreessen Horowitz and Horizon Ventures.

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