Yuga Labs, owner of three of the largest NFT brands in the market, has raised $450 million in funding at a $4 billion valuation, the company announced today. The team behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club plans to use the money to build a media empire around NFTs, starting with games and their own metaverse project.
The team describes their metaverse project, called Otherside, as an MMORPG meant to connect the wider NFT universe. They hope to create “an interoperable world” that is “gamified” and “fully decentralized,” says Wylie Aronow, co-founder of the Bored Ape Yacht Club who uses the pseudonym Gordon Goner. “We believe that the actual Ready Player One experience will be run by the player.”
The announcement comes just weeks after Yuga Labs made a big move to consolidate the NFT space, acquiring CryptoPunks and Meebits from Larva Labs. The acquisition put three of the most lucrative NFT collections under one roof, and gave Yuga Labs a larger list of IPs to tap into when crafting your metaverse and game plans. The company also launched a cryptocurrency, ApeCoin, last week; the token will be independently governed and will be used as the primary currency on Yuga Labs properties.
Yuga Labs is partnering with “a few different game studios” to bring Otherside to life, says CEO Nicole Muniz. The game won’t be limited to Bored Ape owners, and the company plans to create development tools that allow NFTs from other projects to work within their world. “We are opening the gate to a walled garden and saying ‘All are welcome’.”
Metaverse projects are all the rage right now (he sees Facebook changing its name to Meta), but Yuga Labs thinks other companies are getting their metaverse ideas wrong, giving the startup a chance to stand out. People won’t bond over spending time together in a shared virtual space with nothing happening, says Greg Solano, a co-founder of Yuga Labs who goes by the pseudonym Gargamel. Instead, he says, people come together by being put in positions where they have to collaborate.
“You only play with people and make friends because you’re getting your ass kicked,” says Solano. “Basically, we don’t think the deep social experience essentially comes from a Zoom chat and walking around saying ‘hello.'” Yuga Labs declined to provide a timeline on the release of Otherside. A play-to-win game is also planned for later this year.
The funding round, one of the largest for an NFT company to date, was led by firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has been investing heavily in the Web3 space. It previously funded OpenSea, Dapper Labs, and Coinbase. The game studio Animoca Brands and the crypto companies Coinbase and MoonPay, among others, also join the financing round. Chris Lyons, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, will join the Yuga Labs board. The funding talks were first reported last month by the Financial Times.
“For me, Yuga Labs, combined with these other [Web3] startups, are an important counterbalance to companies like Meta,” Chris Dixon, who runs Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm, tells The Verge. “There’s a dystopian future where Meta is this kind of dominant digital experience provider, and all the money and control goes to that company.” (Interestingly, Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Marc Andreessen is on Meta’s board of directors and was an early investor in Facebook.)
Yuga Labs has been financially successful to date. A leaked pitch deck indicates that the company made $137 million last year, primarily taking a cut of transactions tied to its NFT brands, with a staggering 95 percent profit margin. (Yuga Labs declined to comment on the deck numbers.)
But the company has built quite a bit on this point. Its NFT collections have at most 40,000 users, according to OpenSea data, and the company has only released one game for a limited time. That means Yuga Labs is essentially being given hundreds of millions of dollars to build a game company, or at least the 2022 version of Web3-ified, from the ground up, on the back of a hugely lucrative art project.
That success is what investors are thinking about when they fund Yuga Labs. “They built this very energized community and this cultural phenomenon,” Dixon says. But ultimately, the company is making the same big bet that so many others are making right now: that some metaverse project format will become the next banger. Now, they just have to build it.