YC and a16z back virtual reality basketball app Gym Class – TechCrunch

Though Zuckerberg & Co. spends billions of dollars on virtual reality technology each fiscal quarter, the broader VR startup ecosystem has had a rough few years after surging past 2016 highs as investors poured money into the sector invested and only expected Oculus-sized returns to see most of their investments slowly wither.

This makes it pretty remarkable news whenever a major institutional investor backs a VR startup these days — even if it’s just a seed round. Earlier this week, I sat down with the folks at basketball virtual reality app Gym Class, which just completed an $8 million seed round from Andreessen Horowitz. Other contributors include Founders, Inc., Todd and Rahul’s Angul Fund, and Balaji Srinivasan.

Gym Class is what they call a pure VR game – the experience depends on the hardware, and the mechanics only make sense in VR. In theory, then, a bet in the company is not only a bet on the skills of the team, but also on the short-term viability of the space in which they operate. It’s a safer bet in a world where Meta and Apple are heavy investments in the sector but still risky given the uncertainty over the timing of further headset launches.

Even among other VR titles, the game itself is still early – Gym Class isn’t even available in Meta’s Quest Store yet. To date, the nearly 1 million downloads of the free app have taken place on Meta’s App Lab Storefront, a hub for games that have early promise but may still have a lot of development to do before they’re ready for prime time. So far, Gym Class has garnered quite a bit of attention before it even made it onto the official Quest Store, mostly due to TikTok bits and pieces of gameplay footage.

Photo credit: physical education

Gym Class product lead Paul Katsen told TechCrunch that the startup views the experience as a social hub rather than a simple game, one that allows people to jump into a virtual space and learn about the sport and culture to connect around basketball. Gym Class is heavily focused on basketball for now, according to the company, and has no short-term plans to build a broader range of sports experiences.

The upcoming official launch of the Quest Store is a big moment for the company, but it cements how important Meta’s platform remains to all virtual reality developers. Late last month, Meta caused a stir by announcing a price increase for its long-release Quest 2 headset, citing the need to recoup investments in the low-margin device.

“If you depend on these platforms for distribution, don’t build your own distribution platform,” says Katsen, “If we see prices go up $100, yes, that’s a bummer, but still – the Trajectory it grows on – it sells consoles better.” YC and a16z back virtual reality basketball app Gym Class – TechCrunch

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