Game Lab: A New Fund for the Open Web Game Ecosystem

Boston based venture capital firm Atlas Venture and consulting firm Bocoup have launched Game Lab, a new fund for companies building technologies that will advance the development of video games with HMTL5 on the Open web. These need not be game companies, just any company that will advance the technology that contributes to the open Web game ecosystem, including: “authoring tools, platform services, game discovery, content market places and actual games.” The fund was announced last month on the Bocoup blog by Boaz Sender, a software engineer at Bocoup and a member of the Game Lab investment team.

Bocoup is developing Abacus, an open source framework for building HTML5 games. “Essentially, it’s everything you’d need to build a game OTHER than the game engine,” Sender told me in an interview. Its features will include identity management, leaderboards and other components that could be reused in many games. Game Lab companies won’t be required to contribute to Abacus, but it will be encouraged.

Games and the Open Web

The fund hopes to capitalize on changes in the game industry. “Games is the largest segment in consumer technology and its transition to HTML5 is critical for the open web,” reads the Game Lab site.

“You have independent film companies, you have independent record companies and even individual artists recording and releasing albums,” Sender says. “But there aren’t that many indie game studios.” He believes part of that is because video game companies have a tendency to do everything in house. He thinks we’ll see more independent game studios thanks to Web services that make it easy to outsource activities like billing and identity management and open source projects that take away the burden of re-creating common components from scratch.

As evidence that this is already happening, Sender points social gaming company Zynga, which actively uses and contributes to open source. “But Zynga isn’t a video game company,” Sender says. He believes that HTML5 will help create a a whole new type of indie game studio.

Sender says the world of open Web gaming will need programming standards, distribution models and a marketplace for components. These are the sorts of things Game Lab will fund. He also hopes Game Lab will help game and Web developers learn from each other. Sender believes that Web developers have a lot to teach game developers about using and creating open source tools and open standards. On the other hand, Web developers can learn about user experience from game developers. “So much Web development is about customer conversions,” says Sender. “But in the game world, the customer has already converted.” So instead of short term, event-oriented development, game developers look at the overall experience. Game developers expect players to spend 100+ hours playing a game. Web developers think in terms of minutes.

Bocoup also helped found the Games Community Group at the W3C, which hosted the New Game Summit in San Francisco this month.

Game Lab’s First Company: Pouch

The first company funded by Game Lab is a stealth startup called Pouch, which was founded by open source luminaries Max Ogden and Mikeal Rogers. Ogden and Rogers are tight lipped about what the company does, but Sender notes that it’s related to identity management. Rogers says the company is NOT related to PouchDB, a JavaScript implementation of Apache CouchDB he built.

Ogden is known as a big thinker in open data and received a Code for America fellowship. He’s also contributed to numerous open source projects, including Couchappspora, a project he helped create.

Rogers was most recently a developer advocate at Yammer and the organizer of the first NodeConf. He has also worked for CouchOne (now called Couchbase since CouchOne’s merger with Membase) and on Firefox for the Mozilla Foundation.

Open Standards Web Services

This whole project illuminates the relationship between open standards and Web services. All sorts of work and features are being outsourced to Web services. There’s a wide range of “infrastructure apps” (not to be confused with infrastructure as a service) that provide a wide range of functionality via REST APIs, including Twillio, Tropo, SendGrid, Loggly and so many more. Each make it possible to replace some application component with a cloud service. And the best way for all of these services to interoperate is the establishment of open standards (for more on interoperability, check out my interview with Paul Herzog).

Game companies are just the latest type of tech company to benefit from the marriage of cloud services and open standards. It’s a trend that’s changing the way applications are built.

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