Gaming veteran Chris Heatherly has raised $3 million for his new casual party game studio Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.
Heatherly is the former head of NBCUniversal’s gaming business, and he was the general manager of Club Penguin when Disney was still making games with its own internal game developers.
Heatherly has been delving into game startups and Web3 games since NBCUniversal shut its game publishing business in 2019. He took one game that NBCUniversal had commissioned, Funko Pop! Blitz, and saw that through its launch with N3twork.
Among Us meets Clue
The company’s new game is The Mystery Society. Heatherly said in an interview with GameBeat that it is like Among Us meets Clue.
GamesBeat Summit Call for Speakers
We’re thrilled to open our call for speakers to our flagship event, GamesBeat Summit 2024 hosted in Los Angeles, where we will explore the theme of “Resilience and Adaption”.
Apply to speak here
Shima Capital led the round. Also joining the seed round are Sfermion, GSR Markets, Arca, Lyrik Ventures, Flying Falcon, Press Start Capital and 32-Bit Ventures. The game also is supported by a grant from Polygon Labs and will use the Polygon blockchain.
The Mystery Society starts its beta test today, and Heatherly hopes to attract people who are curious about Web3. The goal is to try to expand the appeal of Web3 to casual audiences, helping Web3 spread to more mainstream players.
Heatherly is the former general manager of the pioneering virtual world Club Penguin, and later
became senior vice president of mobile games at Disney and then executive vice president of
Games at Universal.
He’s joined by a team of former Club Penguin colleagues utilizing their combined experience in live social games. Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow also has a development collaboration with Beamable, who are building web3 capabilities such as custodial wallets and the ability to mint into their industry-leading live operated games platform to support the team’s aims.
The Mystery Society
The company’s first title, The Mystery Society, is a social deduction party game inspired by the success of titles like Among Us, Clue and Goose Goose Duck while incorporating web3 elements such as virtual item ownership via non-fungible tokens (NFTs), player-to-player trading, and secondary marketplaces. In the game, you solve mysteries and puzzles and collect things.
Party games have become a hot genre over the past few years as casual gamers have become increasingly interested in real-time multiplayer and social experiences. Not only has Among Us become a phenomenon played by over 600 million gamers, but titles like Scopely’s Stumble Guys and Netease’s Eggy Party have demonstrated the global appeal for the casual party genre.
“Club Penguin and games like it really shaped the gaming tastes of a generation of players who have now grown up but are still looking for games with strong community and more collaborative ways to play with friends than the typical highly competitive dynamics of shooters and RPG-style games,” said Heatherly. “The dynamics of the party game genre are perfect for introducing millions of potential players to web3 through a combination of really fun, accessible social game play combined with the vibrant collecting and trading that web3 enables.”
To play the beta, players should go to https://www.themysterysociety.xyz/. Players who participate in the beta will receive a limited edition NFT which qualifies them for special rewards in future in-game events. The game will launch initially in browser on Mac and PC but plans to launch on iOS and Android mobile devices are already in the works.
Moving into Web3
While searching for his new thing, Heatherly talked with people like Jon Radoff, CEO of Beamable, about the opportunity in Web3 gaming. Heatherly got hooked.
“I’ve been in Web3 for three years,” Heatherly said.
Heatherly started a side project where he thought about how big Among Us was becoming. It reminded him of Club Penguin’s viral success. But he thought in hindsight that Club Penguin had too many minigames and it was hard to keep it all interconnected. Among Us, by contrast, is so repeatable and lasts only 20 minutes. On top of that, Heatherly was always a Clue fan.
“It was just driving me nuts that like no one was making a murder mystery game. I grew up on Agatha Christie and Poirot,” Heatherly said. “I thought somebody has to do the Clue version of this. It was just itching in my brain.”
He started out with two developer friends from his Disney and Universal days, Tim FitzRandolph and Chad Cable. They helped get things started and moved on to a new gig. Heatherly felt it was perfect for Web3, as it was a casual game that could onboard a lot of players — something Web3 desperately needs.
“Everyone kind of ignores casual players. I’ve never been a shooter guy, and I’ve always liked social games and more collaborative play. In Web3, I saw, once again, everybody was out there trying to make shooters and RPG games. That’s hard to compete against some of the biggest and best teams in the world. The bar is just incredibly high.”
He noted that tons of people have played Among Us. So he started looking at the “social deduction” genre, and he realized that people tend to play games that they know how to play. If he could put his own twist on social deduction, add live operations, and then it could really scale and bring more players into Web3. Then you can expose them to Web3 concepts like ownership and secondary trading.
“No one has really done that with the social deduction formula,” he said. “One of the things I like about social deduction is it is very viral.”
That takes down marketing costs, as you’re often getting groups of players by word of mouth, not just one player. You can also let the players run with it and create their own user-generated content maps or run their own servers. If you could reward those people with tokens that have utility, they could get even more excited. Heatherly hoped this could give a small game a fighting chance against big games.
“And instead of giving all this user acquisition money to Facebook and Google, I share that revenue with my audience,” he said. “I can I employ my community to help me build and grow a game in an authentic way. I see it as a real way to change the relationship we have with the community.”
Getting to the finish line
The work has been going on for a couple of years. In the prototype stage, Heatherly funded it himself. He also got a grant from Polygon. Heatherly’s son Charlie was an early programmer on the game as an intern.
“Founders always say I wish I could clone myself,” Heatherly said. “Then I was like, oh man, I have cloned myself, only he’s better. My joke was that we needed some professional separation. So at work, he would be known as Gameboy and if he did a good job by the end of the summer, I would promote him to Gameboy Advance.”
The younger Heatherly did a good job and got the promotion. Heatherly also used Beamable for live services in order to reduce the amount of development work.
As for funding, Heatherly found that the crypto investors were more committed to the Web3 space, while the game VCs funds could move away from Web3 to other hot sectors when Web3 was slow to take off with mainstream gamers. With the rise of Bitcoin’s prices again, crypto fans feel like they have money again. That makes the timing for a launch better.
The company name came from a song from the carousel in Disneyland.
“It is a vessel for my hopes and dreams,” he said. “It is a nice optimistic sounding name and I even had investors say they wanted to invest in the company because they liked the name.”
VentureBeat’s mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.