Play Ventures duo step up as the hunt for crossplatform, tools and AI startups continues


Phylicia Koh and Anton Backman are now partners at early stage VC firm Play Ventures, we can confirm. And they’re on the lookout for startups working in AI, tools, crossplatform games and ‘untried and unsexy’ areas of mobile.

Koh and Backman were employees one and two at Play Ventures after it was founded by Harri Manninen and Henric Suuronen in 2018. Koh worked in growth, marketing and consulting before joining the firm, and Backman is a former lawyer who cofounded a VC firm before joining Play.

In their new roles, both are on the lookout for early stage investments in all areas of the games business, including the current hot category: AI.

AI investments include generative art firm Scenario, conversational AI company Carter Labs and adaptive audio outfit Plus Music.

“AI is growing very quickly,” Koh tells us. “The feedback we hear from devs is that when AI integration is done right, it supercharges their development efficiency in many ways and can help free up people’s energy and time to focus on high value or more creative work.”

Investor attention might have shifted from crypto to AI in the last six months, but Play Ventures isn’t backing out of web3, says Backman.

“The technology’s fundamentals still hold the same promise as before, and the underlying infrastructure works as intended,” says Backman. “The frothy market of 2021-2022 was an important catalyst for the future impact of crypto as part of the underlying infrastructure for games.”

Away from buzzy investor categories, the firm is still active in mobile free-to-play, of course.

Play’s prolific early stage investments take in all flavours of mobile game studio.

Koh is currently looking to invest in studios pursuing ‘blue ocean’ genres, for example. “Sometimes those opportunities are evergreen genres that some developers feel are unsexy, sometimes they’re innovations on existing genres and sometimes they’re entirely new categories that no-one has tried,” she tells us.

Post-IDFA, though, mobile studios will need to consider other platforms too, says Backman. “Frankly, if cross-platform is not on the team’s roadmap, it begs the question why. Going cross-platform potentially allows the developer to acquire and retain users in a much more varied way than what they were used to in a pre-IDFA world.”

Play’s tools investments include modding company, audio ad specialist Odeeo and measurement platform Incrmntal.

A tougher market overall doesn’t mean Play will stop taking risky, big bets though – sometimes Play cuts deals before the founding team has even set up their company, adds Koh:

“In more than a few past deals, we’re closing the investment docs in parallel to founders registering the company and getting the bank account sorted…so yes, we’ve definitely invested on the basis of a compelling dream and opportunity painted on a deck, and backed by a solid founding team.”

“As investors, we’re generally optimists, why else would we invest in the earliest, most risky stage otherwise?”

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