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Interview: Smith & Tinker Boosts Funding To $29 Million

Jordan Weisman-headed firm Smith & Tinker has added new VC funding, reaching $29 million to date, and president Joe Lawandus updates us on its Nanovor product, talking future plans and a possible Asian expansion.
FASA founder Jordan Weisman, creator of Battletech and Shadowrun, has a new venture in Smith & Tinker, which wrapped a new round of funding in July -- reaching a total of $29 million -- just ahead of the recent launch of Nanovor, the company's free-to-play online game. Nanovor continues to roll out retail products nationally, and plans to keep them coming through the holiday season. At the same time, Weisman also intends to revitalize his MechWarrior property under Smith & Tinker. To learn more about Nanovor, which encompasses a free-to-play, PC-based monster battle game, toys, a web video campaign, and a planned handheld gaming device called a Nanoscope, you can read Gamasutra's earlier story, which has the full details from the launch earlier this month. The new round of funding comes primarily from venture firm DCM, says Smith & Tinker president Joe Lawandus, who sees his company "trying to build a team that's very diverse in its skill set and has many pieces of the puzzle... the dudes that have given us money have pretty similar backgrounds to [Smith & Tinker], and in many ways are an extension of our team internally, in terms of their experience." "Building market leaders in the Pacific Rim is one of DCM’s core strengths," DCM partner Gen Isayama says in a statement. "We look forward to supporting Smith & Tinker's seasoned management team to launch the Nanovor franchise in the U.S., and later bring it to Asia where we have great track record of partnering with portfolio companies to create long-term value." The funding will be used primarily for continued operations, Lawandus tells Gamasutra. "We knew that when we started the process that we'd need to do a B round when we got the A. The expense for us continues to go into continued development." He adds: "This is an online game... it needs to evolve and change and adapt to consumers, and there needs to be great content that shows up every day to go back into the game," he adds. The company also has money tied up in its retail products, and online and TV marketing initiatives through the holiday season will also be possible thanks to this round of funding: "We'll turn on marketing in September and there will be TV advertising of the game," Lawandus says. The retail launch adds a dimension many of Nanovor's free-to-play competitors do not require, but it also adds a layer of complexity. Though the game launched during the first week of August, "retail is kind of a funny bird in that it takes a few weeks to get full distribution," Lawandus says. "We're still in the midst of that process, but product is selling at this point, and we're starting to get early point of sale reports." Figures of the Nanovor monsters, which come packaged with the game on CD-ROM, have made their way into the Toys R Us retail chain, while Best Buy has begun to report sales of cash cards -- which have started to be redeemed by players, Smith & Tinker verifies. No conversion rates are yet being released publicly by Smith & Tinker, however. Says Charles S. Merrin, Smith & Tinker's senior vice president of marketing, "We've done a small amount of advertising to bring people in, test the final, test conversion. Without getting into specifics we're seeing a lot of kids coming to the website and downloading the game, and we're seeing conversion as well." "It's positive and it represents a solid foundation." The company's web based marketing efforts are also showing results: users are sharing videos, and "We've got four major fansites that are growing," says Merrin. Other Smith & Tinker investors include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital, and Leo Capital Holdings, whose founder Randy Rissman was also the founder of Tiger Electronics, which most famously produced popular children's handheld games in the '80s and '90s.

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