September 15th 2023.
Black female-led video game studio Wicked Saints recently raised a total of $4.6 million in a fresh seed round. Co-led by Riot Games and Oregon Venture Fund, the financing included a collective of angel investors as well as funds with creativity and deep gaming expertise. CEO and co-founder Jess Murrey joins a small group of Black women in her industry to raise over $1 million.
The money will be used to launch Wicked Saints’ first title, World Reborn, to market and start a new genre of mobile games that bridges in-game mastery to real-world self-efficacy so Gen Z players can change themselves and their world. This approach and its connection to Gen Z has sparked interest from both global nonprofits and top brands.
Wicked Saints is a video game studio that employs behavioral technology to empower Gen Z to build real-life skills. They are the first of many teams to join the Black Developers Initiative, created by Pokemon Go maker Niantic in 2021. Based in Medford, Oregon, the firm reports its C-suite is 75% female, 50% Black, and 75% Queer.
Jess Murrey, an Emmy Award-winning storyteller and international peacebuilder turned game designer, and COO Alicia Clifton, a behavior change researcher whose work includes programs with Search for Common Ground, are the co-founders of Wicked Saints. “We are very encouraged by our small group of super fans from our Canadian pilot. They love the game and feel like we designed it for them…and we did,” said Clifton.
Raising the funds was not an easy task. Murrey told TechCrunch the gaming industry is only 2% Black. “It made raising that much harder as well, because investors tend to invest in what they know,” she said. “I didn’t look anything like the game founders that they’re used to seeing. Not only did I have to overcome preconceived notions of what a game is and what a game can do, but I had to first jump the hurdle of preconceived notions of myself and what I would be able to accomplish with my background.”
Startups founded by women raised 1.9% of venture capital funds last year, down from 2021, TechCrunch reported. And the numbers were measly as well for Black founders overall, who raised only 1% of VC funds.
World Reborn is an interactive story game with real-life quests facilitated by augmented reality. The game was offered for limited testing in Canada, with plans to offer a teaser next year in the United States. A full launch is planned in 2025. Wicked Saints is working to create an experience that empowers players to believe in and hone their own abilities through immersive storytelling, gameplay, and community.
The success of Wicked Saints is a testament to the strength and resilience of Black female entrepreneurs in tech. Women of color founders, like Jess and Alicia, are breaking barriers and redefining the industry. With the support of funds and angel investors, these women are leading the way for the future of gaming.
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