It looks like the Palo Alto-based game development house, Artillery, may have something interesting going on with its code-named Atlas free-to-play real-time strategy project. At least, something interesting enough to attract some serious funding from one of the biggest gaming and investing firms in the world.
The huge Chinese Internet and investment holdings company Tencent has spearheaded Series A funding into Artillery, which the developer is using to get its real-time strategy project off the ground (no specific dollar amount was given). The other investors joining Tencent in this round of investment include First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Signia Ventures, General Catalyst, Charlie Cheever, Crunchfund, and several unnamed angel investors.
This funding round, however, didn’t just come out of the blue. Ankur Pansari, CEO of Artillery, points out, “We first started talking with them [Tencent] about a year-and-a-half ago. We immediately hit it off, and I think what originally attracted us to them was their deep experience in building games and game platforms that don’t just make a lot of money, but that also have a lot of passionate users,”
I asked Pansari what exactly Atlas is and what makes it so special, “So we’ve taken a look at all the core gameplay systems that made games like StarCraft, Warcraft, and even League of Legends and Dota  really fun … and learning from all those experiences, including our own game experiences over the past 20 to 30 years. The crux of what we’ve done is we’ve taken the familiar gameplay of a real-time strategy game, and we tried to make it a lot friendlier and easier to play. So some of the more taxing elements, such as building, is just a bit easier to manage.”
Note the League of Legends connection. Tencent is the parent company for Riot Games, which runs the world’s most successful MOBA — League of Legends.
Yet it also has a free-to-play element as well. Pansari explained how this will work, “It’s always tricky in these competitive online multiplayer games, because we don’t want to sell anything that gives a distinct advantage in the core gameplay, So, a lot of this will still be virtual good driven, but we’ll probably be following the traditional formula the MOBA-style games have set. You can play to unlock the squads [Atlas’ races element], or you can pay to unlock them. And then we’ll be selling cosmetic items as well.”
But what is it about Artillery and its project, Atlas, that attracted Tencent? Pansari says he asked Tencent the same thing. “They said they really liked working with passionate gamers, which our team definitely has no shortage of,” he said.
“We’re all very heavy StarCraft nerds from back in the day, and what we’re trying to do is push that genre forward.”
On top of being a team of passionate game players, Artillery also hired famous StarCraft personality Sean “Day” Plott two years ago. “We tried to copy the process that Valve set out, where they set up these cabals.”, says Pansari. “But we also wanted someone totally focused on design, which is why we brought [Plott in].”
This all sounds interesting, and if Tencent is backing the project, Artillery’s decisions must be producing something worth checking out. We’ll have to wait and see. Although the team is entering a private 1,000 player playtest in December, they claim the project is still in pre-alpha stages. So it may be a while before we get a glimpse at something solid.