Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers – TechSwitch

    Fully autonomous vehicles could (or could not) be simply across the nook, however within the meantime, a startup that’s constructing in-car apps to assist human drivers move the time when behind the wheel has raised a spherical of funding.
    Drivetime — which makes voice-based trivia quizzes, video games and interactive tales that folks can play whereas driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation from Amazon (by way of the Alexa Fund) and Google (by way of its Assistant funding program).
    The startup in the present day has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of video games and tales that you could entry both inside a restricted free-to-play tier or by way of a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a 12 months). The plan is to make use of the funding to proceed increasing that catalog, in addition to investing in deeper integrations with its new big-name strategic buyers, who themselves have longstanding and deep pursuits in bringing extra voice companies and content material to the in-car expertise.
    Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori instructed TechSwitch that his final ambition is for Drivetime to develop into “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for vehicles, with lots of of various channels of content material.
    In conserving with these plans, together with the funding, Drivetime is in the present day saying a key content material deal.
    It has teamed up with the long-running, fashionable recreation present Jeopardy to construct a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers take a look at their very own abilities and in addition play in opposition to different drivers and folks they know. The Jeopardy channel will supply content material from the TV present’s trove of IP and include one other acquainted element: it is going to be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a brand new quiz getting printed each weekday for premium customers.
    That social component of the Jeopardy recreation shouldn’t be a coincidence. The San Francisco-based startup is based by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson additionally working collectively at one other startup known as Rocket Games since leaving the social video games large and exiting that to gaming large Penn National for as much as $170 million. That observe file goes some technique to explaining the robust listing of buyers within the new startup.
    “Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” mentioned Makers Fund founding associate Jay Chi, in a press release. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”
    “Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” mentioned Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, in a separate assertion. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”
    In addition to the three buyers on this newest spherical, previous to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that embody Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.
    Vuori declined to say what number of installs or energetic customers the app has in the present day — though from the appears of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing respectable if not blockbuster success on iOS and Android to date.
    Instead, the corporate prefers to give attention to one other stat, its addressable market, which it says is 110 million drivers in North America alone.
    Meanwhile, including a Jeopardy channel is constructing on what has labored greatest to date. The hottest class for the time being is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” recreation) coming in second and storytelling a 3rd.
    Drivetime’s premise is an fascinating one. Drivers are a captive viewers, however one which has to this point had a comparatively restricted quantity of leisure created for it, focusing primarily on music and spoken phrase.
    However, the rise of voice-based interfaces and interactivity utilizing pure language — spurred by the rise of non-public assistant apps and in-home hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a brand new alternative, growing interactive, voice-based content material for drivers to interact with extra proactively.
    You would possibly assume that this feels like a recipe for a automotive accident. Won’t a driver get too distracted attempting to recollect the fourth president of the United States, or who was often known as the daddy of the Constitution? (Hint: It’s the identical man.)
    Vuori claims it’s really the reverse: Having an interactive recreation that requires the driving force to talk out loud can focus her or him and hold the driving force extra alert.
    “We are double-dipping in safety,” he mentioned. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”
    While the content material in the present day could function a means of conserving drivers from doing issues they shouldn’t be doing whereas in a automotive, there’s one other apparent alternative that may come as drivers develop into much less crucial and can want different issues to occupy themselves.
    Longer time period, the Jeopardy deal might usher in different channels primarily based on fashionable recreation reveals. Sony Pictures Television Games, which owns the rights to it, additionally owns Wheel of Fortune and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
    “We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring Jeopardy, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” mentioned Vuori mentioned in a press release.
    Interestingly, regardless of the expansion of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Home and different house hubs, and the general reputation of those as a means of interacting with apps and sourcing info, Vuori says that he hasn’t seen any competitors emerge but from different app builders to construct voice-based leisure for drivers in the way in which that Drivetime has.
    That provides the corporate ample alternative to proceed choosing up new customers — and extra offers with publishers and content material firms searching for extra mileage (sorry) for his or her legacy IP and new enterprise.
    “Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, famous in a press release. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”

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