Today, we have a pair of big announcements: Congratulations to Jonathan Lai, and welcome James Gwertzman — our newest General Partners on the consumer investing team. Together, we’re doubling (er, tripling?) down on the firm’s critical and ongoing effort to back the next generation of games startups. Already, as a firm we’ve made dozens of investments in the sector, backing the industry’s most compelling creators and cofounders — the people behind League of Legends, Oculus, World of Warcraft, VALORANT, Teamfight Tactics, EVE Online, Roblox, Axie Infinity, and many more. We’re investing in nascent game studios, new infrastructure, and platforms for building the games and games-adjacent social apps that aim to connect gamers.
But together we’re kicking off a huge effort to do more — a lot more.
Why? Games are, on one hand, a major creative and artistic medium on par with music, movies, and TV. They are built on PC, console, mobile, VR/AR, web3, and they are often the first “killer apps” for new computing platforms — and thus hold a special place in every early adopter’s heart. On the other hand, games also offer a new kind of social networking paradigm: 3D environments instead of feeds, avatars instead of profiles, and natively supported real-time communication with friends. The games industry is innovating on completely novel business models too, from sales of avatars and special items, to “Season Pass” subscriptions, and more recently, NFTs and founders packs. We believe these innovation threads will continue merging together, ultimately bringing us the next cohort of products that engage billions of people and generate billions of dollars of impact.
To invest in this future, we need a team with deep operating experience in the games industry. Jon and James are best in class.
Jon hails from the product team at Riot Games where he worked on the company’s flagship franchise, League of Legends, enjoyed by over 100M players worldwide. As an early employee, he shipped the Riot Games API and saw the game’s rise as a premier esports property and cultural force. Next, Jon moved over to Tencent in 2015, where he led the North America games investments team long before games investing was cool, working with companies such as Epic Games, Discord, Klei, Proletariat, and more. Funny enough, Jon and I first met each other as rivals: we’d issued competing term sheets for a game studio based in Los Angeles. Once I had the opportunity to get to know Jon, I was so impressed by his encyclopedia-like games industry knowledge and sharp investing eye, that I turned the tables, immediately recruiting him to a16z. As one of the only games investors with deep product, operating, and investing experience, he’s already played a pivotal role in expanding the a16z footprint into the games industry over the last two years. Today, you’ll often find him writing about the industry and the many ways it’s evolving. He serves on the board of Mountaintop, Raid Base, Singularity 6, and more.
James brings a unique perspective based on decades of wide-ranging experience in games, as a repeat founder, executive, and angel investor. James founded PlayFab, a venture-backed games infrastructure startup that serves as the cloud backend to some of the best-known games in the world, such as Minecraft, Roblox, Doom Eternal, Rainbow Six: Siege, Sea of Thieves, and No Man’s Sky. After a successful acquisition by Microsoft, PlayFab became part of Azure and today hosts billions of player accounts for thousands of games.
Before PlayFab, James worked on the creative side. He has founded two game studios, one of which was acquired by PopCap, where he worked on one of my favorite games — Plants versus Zombies, where I’ve spent hundreds of hours. At PopCap, James developed their Asian operations and opened a large studio for the company in Shanghai focused on developing free-to-play variations of PvZ and other PopCap games for the Asian market. Under his leadership PopCap was one of the most successful Western game companies to crack the Chinese market. Eventually, PopCap was acquired in a successful exit by Electronic Arts, after which he began his next entrepreneurial journey.
There’s been no better time to start a company in games. If you’re working on a new project, or thinking about it, please reach out to Jon, James, or myself! The a16z games team is excited to support your vision.
Again, welcome James, and congratulations to Jon — I’m thrilled to be partnering with you on this journey.