Patrick Comer, who sold his market research company, Lucid, for over $1 billion last year, says it was an early love of Dungeons & Dragons that led him to his latest investment in a New Orleans startup that marries the fantasy roleplay game to his latest obsession: blockchain technology.
Comer is one of a group of New Orleans investors who have been joined by national venture capital firms to invest $2.5 million in Gripnr. A New Orleans-based startup, Gripnr is creating a digital platform that will allow Dungeons & Dragons fans to use NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to store their gameplay details on the blockchain.
Dungeons & Dragons, a strategy board game that spawned an entire industry of tabletop and online role-playing fantasy games since its creation a half-century ago, has a committed following of players around the world.
Blockchains and NFTs are emerging technologies that allow networks of computers to establish ownership and allow the exchange of online assets. The draw for the new platform, Comer explains, is that the NFTs will allow gameplay histories to be stored. The NFTs could also potentially grow in value over time.
Let the games commence
Gaming has been a focus of economic development agencies like GNO Inc. and Louisiana Economic Development looking to attract tech companies to the area. The decision last year by Jeff Strain, a big name in video game development, to start his latest business in New Orleans was seen as a milestone for the sector’s development.
“Gripnr is laying the foundation…(and) will be a seminal product” in the blockchain wave of gaming development, as it facilitates the development of other games based on their platform, said Michael Hecht, CEO of GNO Inc.
The new venture is part of what Comer sees as an opportunity for New Orleans to be at the forefront of the development of blockchain-based companies, especially those based on entertainment and creative arts.
Other investors in Gripnr include musician and entrepreneur Brent McCrossen, who will be the company’s CEO. Kyle Mortensen, a musician and advertising creative director will be Gripnr’s creative director. Dungeons & Dragons game creator and former Wizards of the Coast game developer Stephen Radney-MacFarland, also is an investor.
Springtime for “The Glimmering”
Gripnr plans to launch its first game, “The Glimmering,” and first NFT collection in May.
“Gripnr was created to support the players, game masters, artists, and game designers that have made (tabletop roleplaying games) for the last 50 years,” said McCrossen in a release announcing the funding. “We are focused on building an active, respectful, and super awesome community of tabletop gaming fans and NFT collectors who want to join our vision of bringing (5th edition) gameplay to the blockchain,” he said.
As well as the local angel investors, others investing in the $2.5 million round for Gripnr were XBTO Humla Ventures, a prominent Web3 venture fund, Sopris Capital, Voodoo Ventures, Better Angels, Abstraction Ventures, and Carl Sparks, Managing Partner of Interlock.
Comer also is part of a new blockchain-focused initiative by Tim Williamson, former CEO of Idea Village, called the Nieux Society. That is a membership club which has taken over the old Eiffel Society building on St. Charles Avenue and will launch formally in a few weeks with the sale of 504 founding memberships in the form of NFTs.
Williamson describes the concept of Nieux Society as a place where entrepreneurs, investors, artists and musicians can meet to share ideas and find backers for blockchain-related projects like Gripnr.
“It’s a physical space where people looking to connect with this new technology and get financially rewarded can meet, while thinking how the city can be a forward looking part of its development,” Williamson said.
The Eiffel Society building, located across from the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Lower Garden District, is a unique 12,500 square feet structure that was built in the 1980s from a deconstructed restaurant that had been part of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Members include Comer and other tech entrepreneurs who have recently sold their companies and are looking for new investment opportunities. Also, artists like Big Freedia and the jazz funk band Galactic, who together have created a launch song for Nieux Society, will be members, as well as writer and historian Walter Isaacson.
Comer admits the new technology can be baffling to the uninitiated.
“We went through the same kind of digital transformation from 1995 to 2000, with a similar vibe, a lot of money coming into the space, and a lot of confusion about what it all meant,” he said.
New Orleans didn’t see any real internet-based businesses coming off that wave until the mid-2000s. Of the latest, blockchain-based wave, Comer said: “The only way you can mess up is to not get involved.”