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Fourth Wall Studios, a Culver City company that creates massively multiplayer online games, augmented-reality worlds and other forms of experiential entertainment, has secured an investment worth as much as $215 million from Los Angeles’ richest man, billionaire entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.
The deal, announced Tuesday, includes a $15 million direct investment and access to $200 million in funding, allowing the company to launch its Alternate Reality Entertainment studio.
Fourth Wall’s new studio will focus on developing properties for a variety of platforms — with several projects expected to be announced during the next year. The firm will create original content and partner with film, television, and video game companies to develop other properties, said Jim Stewartson, chief executive of Fourth Wall.
“We feel we are just at the right time, right at the crux of where this kind of entertainment will come into its own,” said Stewartson, who co-founded Fourth Wall in 2007. Previously, he founded 42 Entertainment, where he worked on branded entertainment projects, including several alternate reality games. “To be able to partner with Patrick to have the resources to build the properties, it is just a very good time for us.”
Soon-Shiong, a South African surgeon and founder of biotech firm Abraxis BioScience, has been an active investor in recent months. In October he purchased Earvin “Magic” Johnson‘s minority ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers for an undisclosed sum. And Celgene Corp. completed its $2.9 billion acquisition of Abraxis in the same month, netting Soon-Shiong roughly $500 million.
The businessman’s net worth was estimated at $7.1 billion by the Los Angeles Business Journal last year, making him the wealthiest person in Los Angeles County, ahead of the likes of Kirk Kerkorian, David Geffen and Sumner Redstone. Soon-Shiong’s investment in Fourth Wall comes from his California Capital Equity investment vehicle.
“The best ideas often occur when different industries intersect,” said Soon-Shiong, the newly minted chairman of Fourth Wall, in a statement. “As I work with new technologies for healthcare and medicine, I see more and more parallels with what’s happening in entertainment; for example, the rapidly accelerating use of mobile devices and social media platforms, and the use of novel algorithms to create machine vision. As pioneers in the field, Fourth Wall Studios is the ideal team to help take advantage of these synergies through the development of augmented reality.”
One of Fourth Wall’s best-known projects is Sadie’s Story, a hidden radio drama game that is embedded in the 2009 Xbox 360 video game Halo 3: ODST. Many of the properties developed by Fourth Wall, which also develops viral marketing campaigns, span multiple platforms and use the Internet, social networks and mobile phones to create immersive entertainment experiences.
“It is always amazing to me that 12 years ago it was sort of cool to have a cell phone,” Stewartson said. “It has been taken for granted that people are connected to one another all the time, but it has become such a part of the fabric of life. One of our favorite lines is that this is how the 21st century wants to tell stories.”
Some of Fourth Wall’s forthcoming projects include Shanghai, a massively multiplayer war game that will allow for globe-spanning digital skirmishes; and Cathedral, a contemporary fantasy game that will use augmented reality to transform the real world. Players will be able to use their phones to interact with others — battling enemies and joining forces with friends to tackle missions in the real world.
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