Industrial Toys Raises $5M From Accel To Build Tablet Games For Serious Players

Industrial Toys, the tablet and mobile gaming startup led by Bungie Studios co-founder Alex Seropian (Bungie was behind the enormously successful Halo franchise), is announcing that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding from Accel Partners.

Accel’s Vas Natarajan, who’s joining the Industrial Toys board, said that when there’s “a big platform shift” in gaming, it creates new opportunities to build “big, independent game companies.” In this case, even though the firm has already made big bets on Angry Birds-maker Rovio and Clash of Clans-maker Supercell (among others), Natarajan suggested there’s still room for a tablet-focused developer that’s less focused on casual gamers and more on the “core” gaming audience.

“I wouldn’t say that core gamers have been left on the sidelines,” Natarajan said. “I would say, in some ways, they’ve been a little bit underserved.”

Industrial Toys plans to release a beta version of its debut title Midnight Star this summer. It’s a science fiction shooter developed for tablets and smartphones, with a story by author John Scalzi and art by Mike Choi. (I studied briefly with Scalzi when he taught at the Viable Paradise science fiction workshop, and I wrote about his serialized novel The Human Division last year.) They’re also working on a related, interactive graphic novel, Midnight Rises.

Industrial Toys President Tim Harris described Midnight Star as a “reimagining” of the shooter on tablets, as opposed something that just moves existing titles and game mechanics over from other platforms. Seropian (the company’s CEO) compared the process to developing the first Halo game for the Xbox. “Your mechanics, your level design, your AI system, and all your core gaming systems” end up being very different, he said. However, those changes may not be apparent to players, since the goal is to create gameplay that feels natural and intuitive.

One difference: The Industrial Toys team didn’t try to emulate the joystick. Instead, you touch the screen to fire and zoom. (You can read a little more about Midnight Star‘s gameplay here.)

This will be a free-to-play game, with the company making money through in-app purchases. That model has taken off in social and mobile gaming, and Seropian said it appeals to him as a developer, since “the onus is to create lots of cool stuff that you want to do and spend money on” rather than trying to “cross some threshold to make it worth 60 bucks.”

The company has funded itself for two years with seed money, but Seropian said that by raising this round from Accel, “We could do a lot more and be in this for the long term.” Beyond the initial Midnight Star release, the company’s plans include additional content for the game, as well as more titles.

Natarajan said that aside from some seed investments, this is the first gaming company he’s backed at Accel. He attributed that to broad interest across the firm. Nine of Accel’s partners have made gaming investments, so he joked, “When a great gaming deal comes in, it’s a bit of a knife fight” to see who can take the lead.