Third Time Raises $3.5M for Mobile/Web Horse Racing with NFTs

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Independent game studio Third Time Entertainment has raised $3.5 million in funding to develop mobile and browser-based blockchain games.

Funding was led by games industry expert London Venture Partners (LVP), with additional funding from Reciprocal Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, 6th Man Ventures, Folius Ventures, Big Brain Holdings and Maven Capital.

Founded by former Madden NFL creative director Ian Cummings and former EA SPORTS, FanDuel and Zynga veteran
Developers Paul Fleetwood and Brian Fleming, Third Time will use the money to grow the team and its portfolio of games built specifically for players to earn rewards as they play.

The company offers non-exchangeable tokens (NFTs) to players so that they can own, breed and trade the racehorses they use in the game. Players can sell the NFT horses in a marketplace. The game is visually more appealing than rivals such as Zed Run, a rival crypto-based horse racing game that has had great success.

Third Time wants to recreate the thrill of being on the track.

Ian Cummings, CEO of Third Time, said in an interview that fun is a key missing element of blockchain games, and the company sees this part of its games as critical to developing an ecosystem for gamers that rewards them in multiple ways.

Third Time has built an extensive player community with the realistic horse racing simulator Photo Finish and the sports themed social hub The Suites, with multiple sets of NFTs (Stylish Studs, Fine Fillies and The Suites) already traded among the top collections on the Solana ecosystem.

“Third Time is uniquely positioned to provide engaging and immersive experiences for sports fans, combining Web 2 quality with the functionality of a decentralized economy,” said Harry Hamer, investor at LVP, in a statement. “Ian, Paul and Brian draw on decades of game development experience spanning mobile, social and player-driven trends, and know their genre thoroughly as they have produced some of the leading games in horse racing and sports. Their vision to build a sustainable yet rewarding economy for players – aided by their deep free-to-play expertise – immediately appealed to us.”

Photo Finish Live, the spiritual successor to the team’s previous mobile horse racing games, is on track to become the fastest growing and most authentic horse racing game in history – now with an ecosystem built on the blockchain. Later this year, players will be able to earn, breed, buy, sell, train and auction their NFT horses in the open marketplace. Just like in real life, races can be influenced by the horses’ strengths and weaknesses, the weather, track conditions, distances and a number of other factors. Photo Finish Live also includes two native replaceable tokens, $CROWN & $DERBY, which boost all in-game interactions and can be traded on exchanges.

Third Time made Photo Finish Live.

The Suites is an exclusive sports-themed metaverse of virtual social spaces. Suite owners can invite their friends and hang out with other fans, watch live streams of their favorite sports, esports and events, and participate in live competitions. Suites can also be customized with games and competitions, allowing fans to earn real prizes and $SUITE tokens.

Cummings said the Suites recreate the feeling of attending a special event in an exclusive private space and give brands and partners the opportunity to reach new customers within the metaverse. This product will be a launch pad to create and monetize differentiated content, unique gatherings and experiences for fans, athletes, celebrities and brands alike.

The move is interesting for an established developer with 12 employees.

Third Time had previously worked on a game called Photo Finish Horse Racing, and in 2016 it partnered with Tilting Point to recruit users for the game. Some things didn’t go as planned and so Third Time and Tilting Point split up through legal proceedings. Third Time re-incorporated in Delaware and still owns the intellectual property.

“It’s been great since we moved to web 3,” says Cummings. “We were testing the waters with an NFT launch in September and we sold 10,000 NFTs. Then we sold another 5,000 and increased the venture round, all by expanding our core horse racing business.”

NFT hate and learning experiences

Cummings said he knows many hardcore gamers are concerned about NFTs. But he has not yet come across it among the fans of his company.

“There is a lot of hatred of NFTs from different angles and traditional gamers,” he said. “For us, and for horse racing and the games that we’ve been running, it’s just a lot better. It made a lot more sense when we talked about it as a team.”

Cummings acknowledges that the market for NFTs has seen a lot of scams, which has put off many gamers. But in this case, the NFTs make sense and fans have welcomed them, Cummings said.

He said you can basically own the horse and breed the horse. The horses age over time and players have to buy them again with real money. This ensures that inflation in the gaming economy does not get out of hand. Players have a chance to breed the horses and score a winning horse that they can then sell on the secondary market.

“It is a much more sustainable system. It’s different from having to pay in the bottomless pit of free-to-play games,” says Cummings. “We were excited to try it out and it was a wild ride to find our way to Solana. We had to learn all these blockchain stuff. We had never built anything on a chain before so it was a crazy learning experience, but really exciting.”

The company has about 20,000 fans in its Discord where players talk about the game. For the initial launch, the company set up 1,500 NFTs and sold them in 20 minutes for about $20 to $30 each. Players who bought at those prices saw 20 or 50 returns in the early days, now the prices have settled down. All in all, the company has sold approximately 50,000 NFTs and gets 5% proceeds for resale.

“A huge difference for us is that we are much more modeled after real horse racing,” Cummings said. “And that’s what we’re trying to build. It’s almost a one-on-one virtual version of real horse racing. The money can be earned in horse racing by winning races, and it can also be earned through long-term breeding. And so we have all kinds of different races. So when the value of horses goes down, people enter lower stakes, races, competitions that are slightly lower, just like in real life. If you happen to have a horse and it just isn’t very good, there will still be series of races for them to participate in. And you kind of look like your way up and down the stakes swim lanes. †

To race the horses and win races and breed them requires skill, which is why the game is now legal in dozens of states where players can bet on the races. In such titles, skill-based gaming is not considered illegal gambling. Horse racing has also been carved into a number of states, but Cummings acknowledges that legalities are complicated and the company has to hire many legal experts.

“I don’t think it’s enough to set the studio on fire,” Cummings said. “It took months and months and months to make the same amount that we made on demand in one night, for example. But it’s the most durable part for me and I can’t wait for this to come out of the blue. I’m not sure exactly the model that will work perfectly. But as a developer, I’m so tired of squeezing people into loot boxes. I am done. It’s not fun like that. Whereas in this model, when it works, you just make great stuff, and then this royalty flow just comes your way, as long as there’s people playing it.”

He added: “This is so much more fun than sitting there and tuning how the animations are sticky on loot boxes or whatever, you know. I’m really looking forward to it and I hope it works out “I think it’s much better for the end user. For us, this is really about building a robust horse racing economy.”

In the meantime, the fans who came in early have become proselytes to the game, Cummings said.

You can breed the NFT horses and make one that can participate in races. Players can trade their horses and try to find the best matches. The game itself, Photo Finish Live, is still in development and will begin beta testing. It is the company’s third horse racing game.

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