World Reborn intends to be Gen Z’s take on Pokémon Go by mixing storytelling, real-world activism and location-based play.
It is slated for launch in 2025, and encourages players to take part in socially-aware real-world quests as they progress through the narrative.
Its developer Wicked Saints just announced a $3.5m seed round to make that happen, co-led by Riot Games and Oregon Venture Fund. That brings the studio’s funding to date up to $4.6m in total.
The US startup was incubated by Niantic and is led by CEO and cofounder Jessica Murrey, who previously helped train young activists within nonprofit organisations. COO Alicia Clifton is a behaviour change researcher, and CTO Daphne Larose-Molapo is a former technical lead manager at Pokémon Go maker Niantic.
Mitchell Smallman also just joined the team as chief product officer. He moves to Wicked Saints after a stint at Pocket Burger, a studio he cofounded, and was previously product manager at Space Ape and creative director at Netspeak Games.
“World Reborn is bigger in ambition than anything I’ve ever worked on,” Smallman tells us. “The days of nickel and diming your way up the charts may not be over, but they’re certainly harder, so now’s the time to do big things.”
“I always said Pokemon Go’s big metric wasn’t retention or monetisation, but ‘lives changed’,” he continues. “World of Warcrafts should be ‘players married’. You get the idea. Have an impact on the player they’ve never had before and the rest will follow.”
Though Smallman’s previous startup Pocket Burger didn’t work out – “The industry changed under our feet”, he says – he sees huge potential in the younger audience World Reborn is aimed at.
“Viral has been a dirty word in mobile for a decade now, and I’m bringing it back,” he says. “Everyone got gun-shy when the dirty tricks of Facebook games got rightfully shut down by mobile platforms, and lots of us PM-type people stopped thinking ‘how can we get players to get others involved?’”
“But between Twitch, Discord, TikTok, YouTube Shorts and the like, it’s actually easier for a player to share a game they love than it’s ever been. This audience that grew up with mobile is savvy, and even if platforms allowed Farmville-style virality again, it wouldn’t work. It’s got to be genuine and authentic. It’s ideally something created by the community and not the devs.”
With its slightly unusual origins, for World Reborn “Goal number one is for the game to make an impact on the player, and then help them make an impact on others,” adds Smallman.
“We’re planning for a 2025 launch. It’s a big game with big ambitions with a lot of unknowns to test along the way. Keep an eye out for it in your favourite soft launch countries before then though, you never know where it will pop up.”