Inworld, which makes AI-driven non-player characters (NPCs) for games and other applications, raised $50 million earlier this month from Lightspeed Venture Partners. The round values the company, which has raised $100 million to date, at over $500 million.

Since Inworld’s founding in July 2021, the company has raised a total of approximately $70 million, which includes the $50 million Series A, following pre-seed and seed rounds totaling nearly $20 million. The company will use the funding to accelerate research and development, hire top talent, invest in infrastructure, and launch an open-source version of its Character Engine.

“Inworld’s commitment to open source is a testament to our belief that collaboration fuels innovation,” said Michael Ermolenko, CTO and co-founder of InWorld a statement. “Working with the open source developer community, we’ll push forward innovations in generative AI that elevate the entire gaming industry.”

Unlike chatbots, Inworld powers multimodal character expression by orchestrating multiple machine-learning models that are designed to mimic the full range of human communication. The platform allows developers to link Inworld’s AI characters to their animation and rigging systems, including in 3D environments. The smart NPCs can learn and adapt, navigate relationships with emotional intelligence, have memory and recall, and are capable of autonomously initiating goals, performing actions, and following their own motivations that can drive the narrative and integrate with the broader player experience.

“The next generation of games will be judged by how immersive the experiences feel,” said Ilya Gelfenbeyn, CEO and co-founder of Inworld. “The Inworld Character Engine offers a transformational shift that brings characters to life with realistic emotions and dialogue, adding richness to the stories and worlds they occupy. Populating experiences with characters that behave with convincing real-time responses and actions will play a substantial role in getting us to the promise of truly interactive entertainment. ”

The Inworld Character Engine is integrated in game development engines, and is featured in Unity’s new AI Marketplace as a Unity Verified Solution. Last October, Inworld also received an Epic MegaGrant, joining a community of creative, noteworthy, and innovative projects built around Unreal Engine. Inworld’s developer platform provides a layer of artificial intelligence on top of Unreal Engine’s MetaHumans.

“AI-driven characters are new magic. They will power a paradigm shift (a form of renaissance) in storytelling, and escapism, where the audience can transcend the role of passive viewer to active participant,” said John Gaeta, Academy Award winner, and Chief Creative Officer, Inworld. “This type of interactive media will open up new avenues of creative expression, with narratives guided by the collective imagination of creators and the audience. Creatives will invent, spark, improvise, and guide these persistent role players, personas, relationships, scenarios, and dynamic worlds.”

Will AI-Powered Characters Be a Game Changer?

Inworld AI was founded two years ago by Ilya Gelfenbeyn, Michael Ermolenko, and Kylan Gibbs, who met working at Google. Their Chief Creative Officer is John Gaeta, a former Magic Leap SVP who most famously won an Academy Award for his SFX work on The Matrix. Last year, Inworld introduced a demo game called “Inworld Origins” in which players take on the role of a detective in a dark future city, where humans mingle uncomfortably with robots.

The new investment comes on the back of the company’s AI-driven non-player character (NPC) experiences with Team Miaozi (NetEase Games), Niantic 8th Wall, LG UPlus, Alpine Electronics, and in community-created mods of Skyrim, Stardew Valley, and Grand Theft Auto V. At the 2022 Disney Accelerator Demo Day, Inworld demonstrated a ‘Droid Maker’ prototype that the company created in collaboration with ILM Immersive.

Coming full circle to InWorld’s funding round, it includes additional investments from Stanford University, Samsung Next, and new and existing strategic investors such as Microsoft’s M12 fund, LG Technology Ventures, and First Spark Ventures, co-founded by Eric Schmidt.

Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

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