October 9, 2023

Pokémon Go Meets Activism: $3.5M For Black Woman-Owned Game Studio

Wicked Saints, a Black woman-led video game studio, has secured $3.5 million in seed funding. The funding round, co-led by Riot Games and Oregon Venture Fund, brings the studio’s total funding to $4.6 million

Jessica Murrey, Wicked Saints’ founder and CEO, also joins the small group of Black women founders who have raised over $1 million.

Learning Real-World Skills Through Gaming

World Reborn is Gen Z’s take on Pokémon Go, offering a unique blend of storytelling, real-world activism, and location-based play.

The studio’s flagship game, “World Reborn,” merges the digital and real worlds, encouraging players to participate in real-world activities to progress through the digital game.

“American teens care very deeply about the planet, equality and mental health, but the problems often feel so big it’s paralyzing,” Murrey told TechCrunch. “We wanted to activate them to take whatever the world throws at them, and the best way to do that was with games.”

Jess Murrey: From Peacebuilding to Gaming

Murrey is an Emmy Award-winning storyteller and former international peacebuilder. Her extensive experience at organizations such as Search for Common Ground, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated NGO, catalyzed her journey into the gaming world. 

Through working with young movement leaders in countries that had suffered genocide, coups, and civil wars, Jess Murrey realized gameplay’s potential for empowerment. 

“Games are built with a core game loop, so every time you go around it you get a little better, and as you begin to master the game, you start to feel powerful,” she said in an interview with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

“We believe that’s why Gen Z spends 40% more time in game environments than any other form of media – to feel powerful and in control.”

As a result, Murrey sought to create a platform where the self-confidence gained from gaming could translate into real-world change.”

So, in partnership with behavioral change researcher Alicia Clifton, Wicked Saints was born.

“World Reborn”: Where Gaming and Reality Converge

“World Reborn,” Wicked Saints’ flagship game, is currently in beta testing with a select group of users in Canada.

Designed to teach Gen Z valuable life lessons, the game’s interactive post-apocalyptic narrative is told through graphic novel-style visuals and augmented reality elements.

What sets “World Reborn” apart is that the player can’t win unless they take positive actions in their life outside the fantasy world of the game.

Completing tasks, answering questions, reading articles, or watching videos are just a few examples. Some actions require players to provide evidence by creating TikTok-style videos that document their deeds, such as helping the homeless or launching anti-bullying campaigns.

Collaborations with brands also play a role in verifying real-world actions, ultimately reinforcing the game’s connection to positive change.

Read: Jesse Williams And Glenn Kaino’s Homeschooled Is The New Trivia Game App For The Culture

Niantic’s Black Developers Initiative

Wicked Saints is the first company to emerge from Niantic’s Black Developers Initiative, an incubator by the company behind Pokémon GO.

This seed round marks a significant milestone for the studio, which also received support during a pre-seed round.

Wicked Saints welcomed Daphne Larose-Molapo, a former senior software engineer from Pokémon GO, as its Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Larose-Molapo’s expertise will be crucial as “World Reborn” explores augmented reality features powered by Niantic’s Lightship developer kit.

Mitchell Smallman, co-founder of Pocket Burger and former product manager at Space Ape and creative director at Netspeak Games, assumes the role of Chief Product Officer at Wicked Saints.

Rather than relying on traditional advertising, Wicked Saints aims to monetize through corporate and nonprofit partnerships that sponsor in-game missions. The goal is a seamless gaming experience without intrusive ads.

Wicked Saints plans to conduct a teaser “World Reborn” launch in the US next year, with a full-scale launch slated within 18 months.

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)