Home / Gaming / PortalOne raises $15M from Atari and more for a new hybrid gaming/TV show app

PortalOne raises $15M from Atari and more for a new hybrid gaming/TV show app


Gaming and streamed video have been two of the biggest pastime winners during the last year+ of pandemic living. Today a startup that has created an app that brings those two entertainment formats together is announcing a notable seed round of funding as it prepares to come out of closed beta.

PortalOne, a hybrid gaming startup, is announcing a $15 million seed round of funding as it prepares to come out of closed beta with an app that lets people play on-demand games and also watch live shows in which users can play against a special guest.

The startup and its funding are notable in part because of who is doing the investing.

It includes Atari and camera maker ARRI, Founders Fund, TQ Ventures (the firm led by Scooter Braun and financiers Schuster Tanger and Andrew Marks), Coatue Management (specifically Arielle Zuckerberg), Rogue Capital Partners (Alice Lloyd George’s new fund), Signia Venture Partners (via Sunny Dhillon); Seedcamp, Talis Capital and SNÖ Ventures out of Europe.

Other investors included Kevin Lin, the co-founder of Twitch; Mike Morhaime, co-founder of Blizzard and Dreamhaven; Amy Morhaime, co-founder of Dreamhaven; Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games; Xen Lategan, former CTO and executive advisor at various companies such as Hulu; and Eugene Wei, former Head of Video at Oculus and Head of Product at Hulu.

PortalOne is part tech startup, and part media company. On the one hand, it has spent the last three years building a full stack of hardware and software that can be used to build games, record live shows, and integrate the two into an experience that blends both on-demand and real-time gaming and entertainment.

“One of the benefits of building first is that what we are doing is extremely hard to do on a technical level,” said co-founder and CEO Bård Anders Kasin. “The way we do it is the key. It is our secret sauce.”

On the other, it is using that tech to create a gaming and live events platform and brand — providing a place for itself and third parties to build games and bigger live experiences around them. It believes that it’s managed to do something here that has eluded others for years.

“We come from the entertainment industry and have also been in games many years,” said Stig Olav Kasin, Bård’s brother, CXO, and the other co-founder. “We’ve talked to all the big companies and know that hybrid gaming combining games and TV is difficult,” not least because of the silos in companies where different groups “own” TV and gaming.

The Oslo-based company has so far been running a pared-down, early version of its service in the US and Norway — two games in so far, one called Blockbuster that, well, involves you throwing a massive ball and knocking over blocks, and another a reimagined version of Centipede — with corresponding talk shows set out of a living room that’s actually all computer-generated on a green screen.

Users can play and watch all this either through a VR headset or over a phone, and they win “prizes” for placing well in gaming competitions. Alongside that PortalOne will sell virtual goods much as companies like Fortnite do today.

The plan is to more widely launch the first iteration of its service — PortalOne Arcade, a selection of 80s-themed, old-school arcade games reimagined as multiplayer, immersive experiences combined with interactive talk shows — in the US and Norway later this year before extending to other markets.

Bård Anders Kasin — who previously built a VR company and worked as a technical director at Warner Brothers, making movies such as the Matrix trilogy — and Stig Olav Kasin — who worked with his brother on VR and before that was a media exec on shows like The Voice and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — founded PortalOne back in 2018.

Between then and June 2020, when PortalOne launched its closed beta, the startup’s focus was on building out its technology and its content strategy and early partners.

From the sounds of it, it was no small task. Its tech stack incorporates virtual reality, computer vision, gaming technology, and software and hardware to capture and stream video that drastically reduces the resources required for both, among other IP. Some of it PortalOne built itself; other areas it worked with Arri, a major player in motion picture camera equipment, which built a new kind of 3D camera for PortalOne.

Part of the challenge that PortalOne has been tackling has been the very process of creating content for a hybrid platform like the one it envisioned.

Typically, recording immersive experiences is complex and expensive because of the volumetric equipment that is used, the set-up of studios necessary to capture the experiences, and more, which involve Hollywood-movie-studio size, staffing and costs.

PortalOne’s breakthrough has been to turn that process into something that can be produced more easily and at a much lower cost, necessary “since we have daily shows and we want to scale and mass produce more daily shows for each game,” said Bård.

In the PortalOne setup, in addition to the host — an affable Norwegian with a mostly American English accent called Markus Bailey — and his guest, there are only two other people involved, technician-producers triggering effects and controlling when the action switches from talk to game and back again.

From previously needing large sets and dozens of people, “now we can do all of this in a YouTube-sized studio,” said Bård.

On the content front, PortalOne is building its own games, but it is also tapping into an old-school gaming aesthetic, it said.

Atari is not only investing, but has inked a seven-year deal with PortalOne, giving the latter exclusive global distribution rights to some of its most popular arcade game franchises, which PortalOne is reimagining and rebuilding for its hybrid platform.

Bård said that the company wants to work with brands in music, sport, travel and education to build other games, too. (Braun’s reach here might not extend to Taylor Swift, but he’s pulled in Justin Bieber for the promo video, and possibly more.)