What the hell is Improbable and why did Softbank just pumped $500M into it


It is official VR and AR are the new buzzwords. You simply can’t get access to massive pre-launch investments from so called ‘vision funds’ of the world to the tune of 100s of millions of dollars  unless you have those magical buzzwords in your about us page. Magic Leap is a startup in similar space, but it is more of hardware play with developer and content ecosystem slapped on top of it. Magic Leap under the cloak of beta secrecy has raised almost $1.4 billion from google, Alibaba and string of other investors at a valuation of $4.5 billion. But in the words of its founder and CEO , their technology will soon replace mobile phones and they need such amount of money because they are like a mini apple. Well probably when you are building new computing platforms this kind of money in your bank is probably good to have, but history of computing evolution says it is neither the necessary or sufficient condition to do so. Most new ecosystems are built with an approach which is transparent, incremental with thousands of hobbyists and developers contributing to it instead of some big bang explosive vallyesque launch backed by dizzying amount of money.  Silicon Valley’s new fascination of raising massive war chests at early lifestage of a company can be argued in alignment with the concept of 0-1 innovation needs to blitzscale. You don’t want to be like airlines or uber which created lot of value but didn’t end up capturing it because they simply didn’t have moat and if they did it was easily copied by dozens of new local players.

So coming back to Improbable and why did Softbank pumped $500 M dollars into a company which seems to be working on creating next gen virtual worlds. Improbable essentially offers product called SpatialOS which allows game developers to create more persistent virtual worlds. If a quick look is taken into their sample code and tutorials, most of them talk about integrating their tech in game dev engine like unity. So their tech allows small developers to create massive simulations without much infrastructure of their own. But isn’t that really a cloud company and not really a VR company? But again its 2017 and ‘cloud’ is not cool anymore, but you know what is cool ? VR and $500M pre launch funding. And if you take a look at their API docs it mentions stuff like Entity-Component-System straight out of gamedev terminology + some C# serializations so that you could have Systems (aka “functions”) run on different nodes on a network

But taking a closer look would reveal that their twist on the problem is some kind of dynamic sharding of game entities across a cluster of servers which different games seem to try to deal with this in different ways:
– WoW – Several servers hosting copies of the main game world, dedicated party servers for instances
– Second Life – A server maps to a specific volumetric “box” that is estimated to be able to handle whatever activity and whatever entities end up in that box
– Eve – A server maps to a star system, local game time can slow down to accommodate more activity
What Improbable does is that  they determine sets of entities (players, NPCs and non-player entities) that are likely to interact and shard off the controlling logic to a server. As the world-state changes, the clustering and mapping of entity groups to servers changes and they have some kind of way to move likely interacting clusters of entities seamlessly within the infrastructure.
This has the possibility of supporting huge persistent game worlds with tens of thousands of players at a time without the kinds of ill effects we see with the other approaches. But it still makes them a cloud computing company which deploys workers like game dev engines to create a virtual worlds, game devs should be able to produce similar feat with using boxes on AWS with persistent storage!

And one of their founders Herman Narula is son of Indian multi billionaire Harpinder Singh Narula of DS constructions. Masa of Softbank has history of investing in sons of billionaires – Kevin Mittal son of telecom billionaire Sunil Mittal being another one where Masa invested some $60M in his messaging app Hike which seems to be down the drain despite showing its own version of usage numbers which noone seems to agree.

Japanese investor is struggling with its local sluggish economy and is desperate to make bets on  potential avenues of growth. Softbank despite being irrationally optimistic about Indian ecommerce ecosystem has been haemorrhaging money through its investments in local e commerce marketplace Snapdeal ( which got sold to Flipkart today ) and its struggling local uber competitor Ola . So lets see how some of its new future bets will take off, after-all future arrives slowing initially then all once and Japanese are known for their 1000 year business plans.



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