HomeTechStartPlaying raises $6.5M so tabletop players can rent Dungeon Masters

StartPlaying raises $6.5M so tabletop players can rent Dungeon Masters

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StartPlaying has raised $6.5 million so tabletop players can rent professional Dungeon Masters.



The San Francisco company has created an online platform to help players find tabletop roleplaying games to join and rent professional Game Masters.



It may be a geeky enterprise, but it says a lot that Andreessen Horowitz, one of the biggest game investors, chose to lead the round via its general partners Jonathan Lai and Andrew Chen.

The funds will go towards scaling marketing to reach new players, broadening StartPlaying’s network of industry partnerships, and hiring top talent. The company aims to double the teams’ size by the end of the year, said Nate Tucker, CEO of StartPlaying, in an interview with GamesBeat.

StartPlaying is getting people to play tabletop games online.

“We’re investing in putting together a world-class team,” said Tucker. “We believe this will be the key to maintaining StartPlaying’s momentum.”

Lai said in a blog post that “more than 40 million people play D&D around the world and sales have grown by double-digit percentages for the last five consecutive years. No longer a fringe hobby, D&D features prominently in mainstream and celebrity culture.”

A16z’s investment in the platform forecasts the consolidation of such games into the mainstream
and the rise of a professional avenue for skilled players.

Devon Chulick is cofounder of StartPlaying.

“Beyond growing a user base, this is about community,” said cofounder Devon Chulick. “Whether it’s helping Game Masters and players find each other or collaborating with industry partners, we’re proud to have the opportunity to bring people together through the power of games.”

Since it was founded in September 2020, StartPlaying has seen over 100,000 games hosted by more than 1,000 professional Game Masters on the platform to earn $2.5M and counting. StartPlaying’s continued growth points to a demand for professional Game Masters and an evergreen interest in tabletop RPG games. Of all new users that join StartPlaying, almost half have never played the game.

“The tabletop roleplaying community is at its best when it’s inclusive,” added Chulick. “We want StartPlaying to continue breaking down barriers for new players.”

Players can join StartPlaying at any skill level with or without a group. They can choose games based on their genre preferences, play style, whether they’re seeking a one-and-done session or a long-term campaign, and filter based on what best fits their schedule. The experience is highly customizable– at its core, StartPlaying works towards holding space for all players.

“We’re investing in putting together a world-class team,” said Tucker. “We believe this will be the key to maintaining StartPlaying’s momentum.”

Origins

Nate Tucker is CEO of StartPlaying.

The start came from a common problem around March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.

“My friend (Jared Gollhardt) and I had a problem looking to find a Game Master online to run a Dungeons and Dragons game for us,” said Tucker. “And we struggled to find one. We looked through a couple of Discord channels, we looked through this one place called D&D Beyond, and they had a forum where we posted, which was very awkward. And my friend posted on Reddit, and we still struggled to find somebody.”

They eventually found two people, and one of them flaked out entirely. The other one asked them to submit an application in the form of a one-page document describing why the Game Master should take the job.

“We decided not to do that because that was horrendously awkward. But we learned this was common practice,” Tucker said. “Obviously, the in-person stuff stopped when COVID happened. So we ultimately called around a couple of people that had websites that used to do in-person, Dungeons & Dragons. And we were pretty convinced we could do a better job of what was currently on the internet, which was Discord and Reddit and custom forums.”

They eventually found Chulick, who was known as the San Francisco Dungeon Master, and they reached out to him. He became a cofounder as they figured out that they could start a company to fill this need. Chulick himself had a list of 30 or so people who could handle Game Master duties.

Their list grew and grew, and they eventually built a platform for matchmaking players into online games with trained Game Masters in a variety of games.

“I think really what payers pay for generally speaking is a good host,” Tucker said. “They need someone who coordinates the group, makes sure people are coming on time, and is prepared to run the session. For the most part, people are just paying for a nice courteous host to go ahead and help them play these games and to run these games.”

The company got started and initially built a platform for groups of players. But they had to adapt.

Momentum

StartPlaying helps you learn how to play tabletop games.
StartPlaying helps you learn how to play tabletop games.

The team has now grown to six people. Most players who come to the site come as single individuals, looking to both learn and find others to play with.

“We had to re architect everything that we were doing around this idea of people coming as individuals, coalescing them together in groups, and then pairing them with Game Masters,” said Tucker.

They raised money in a small angel round and got going. Most players enjoy the sessions for two hours to four hours. Players will engage in campaigns that last for multiple sessions or days. Some of the campaigns can even last for hundreds of sessions.

Today, the company has around 600 Game Masters playing on the site on a weekly basis. Many of them play D&D, but they have expanded beyond that. Some people just enjoy watching the gameplay on Twitch streams. Game Masters set their own price of $15 or $20 per person per session.

“The vast majority of people are playing online,” said Tucker.

The engagement was enough to draw the interest of investors.



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