After raising $502 million in financing from investors including Japanese firm Softbank, British tech startup Improbable is now valued at more than $1 billion.
There are many fewer tech “unicorns” in Europe than there are in the U.S., so that places Improbable in an even more elite sphere than American unicorns.
Founded in 2012, Improbable aims to provide software to run hugely complex and interactive virtual worlds. Its software, SpatialOS, is currently being used to create a number of games that are under development, including Worlds Adrift, an MMO built around flying pirate ships, and MetaWorld, which is like Second Life but in a more virtual world.
“The global games market is already huge, and we believe that far more growth is possible. The kinds of games enabled by SpatialOS—multiplayer games allowing players to form meaningful relationships with games worlds and with each other—will be category-defining, and attract new audiences,” said Improbable Founder and CEO Herman Narula.
However, the most exciting potential use for Improbable’s software is that it could create simulations of even more complex systems. For example, it could be used to track the infrastructure needs of a large city, a virtual re-creation of a city’s subway system, the behavior of fleets of autonomous vehicles, or even the interactions of different drugs in the body.
“We believe that the next major phase in computing will be the emergence of large-scale worlds which enrich human experience and change how we understand the world,” Narula said. “At Improbable we have spent the last few years building the foundational infrastructure for this vision.”
Improbable is also exploring applications in telecommunications, cybersecurity, traffic control, machine learning, and the Internet of Things. The company has also seen interest in medical applications, economic modeling, and other use cases.
“AI gets all the press,” Narula told Wired, but “this idea of recreating reality is going to become something in the public consciousness that’s as important, as significant, as artificial intelligence.”
As part of the investment, Deep Nishar of SoftBank has joined Improbable’s board. Existing Series A investors Andressen Horowitz and Horizons Ventures are also making further investments as part of this round.
Solina Chau, founder of Horizons Ventures, said, “Having backed Improbable from the start, we continue to see huge potential in the application of its technology, both for solving real-world problems and in changing the future of the games industry. Improbable is an exciting, ambitious company that we’re honored to be a part of.”
Although Improbable’s vision of the future seems like that of science fiction author William Gibson, it’s not the only company that has its eyes on the virtual prize. Facebook bought virtual-reality gear company Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014.
At that time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow.”
It looks like that’s becoming increasingly true as society moves from desktop to mobile, and now perhaps all the way into virtual reality, with the aid of Improbable’s software or Oculus’s VR goggles.