- Ukrainian-American AI-driven social platform for gamers GameTree raised USD 1.7M from a whole constellation of investors, led by the renowned Corazón Capital
- The platform’s proprietary AI helps improve matchmaking and minimize the toxicity in the gaming community
- The startups reports a user base of 600,000 users, mainly from North America and the UK
- The investment will help GameTree develop a fully-fledged desktop app, which will foster b2B partnerships with game entities
This December, the Ukrainian-American AI-powered matchmaking platform for gamers GameTree announced the raising of a sizable Seed round of USD 1.7M. Corazón Capital leads the round, joined by 32-Bit Ventures, Expert DOJO, Full Stack Ventures, Goodwater Capital, alongside such notable angels as Coddy Johnson (ex-Activision-Blizzard), Felix LaHaye of United Esports, Phil Schwarz (ex-Tinder), Nicolas Stehle of Scalefast, Sam Yagan (ex-Match Group), and Viktor Yushchenko, former President of Ukraine, among others. The round additionally includes a grant from Overwolf.
The Team’s History with Gaming Culture
GameTree’s co-founder and CEO Dana Sydorenko is a lifelong gamer. Before diving into the tech industry, she served as a paramedic in the Ukrainian Army in 2015 and later transitioned her experience to business and created one of the largest military supply companies in Ukraine. Following her highly traumatic war experience, MMO games became her safe space and main activity to help her cope with depression and isolation. Too often, however, instead of a safe and friendly community, she faced toxicity and harassment.
The startup’s co-founder John Uke has a somewhat less dramatic story. After graduating from Babson, a top-ranked entrepreneurship college, he moved to a small town where he didn’t know anybody, for a lucrative job opportunity. Like a hamster on a wheel, he was just going to work, returning home, playing online games by himself, then going back to work.
Despite doing what he was ‘supposed to,’ he eventually became depressed as gaming began to feel like a noisy and toxic waste of time. Online games created a toxic society where he could no longer find connection with people in meaningful ways, and soon enough he stopped playing video games altogether. Then he realized that this loneliness and losing real-life friends was a problem that many people face, and it should be solved.
‘We view the loneliness epidemic as a major cause of societal issues and believe playing games together is an increasingly popular way to form platonic relationships and build friendships — something Gametree is well-positioned to address. We invested due to our firm’s knowledge coming from the dating industry – Tinder, OkCupid, etc., as we see Gametree as a business working similarly but with social matchmaking at its core,’ Corazón Capital’s senior associate Víctor Westerstrand comments.
…Supported by the Statistics
The co-founders’ first-hand experience is indeed supported by a study by Unity that found out that 7 out of 10 players have experienced some form of toxic behavior, including sexual harassment, hate speech, threats of violence, and doxing. At that, nearly half of the players say they at least ‘sometimes’ experience toxic behavior while playing, while around 21% of them report experiencing it ‘every time’ or ‘often.’
In addition, research by Reach3 Insights revealed that a stunning 88% of online harassment that female gamers have encountered was gender-based. Thus, the problem is even more acute for female players.
The Beginning and the In-House-Built AI
Founded in 2019, GameTree has built a free looking-for-group (LFG) app. It helps gamers connect and meet, plan their gameplay sessions, and get personal game recommendations.
Mr Uke’s experience includes founding a couple of startups, architecting some coding boot camps, teaching technical summer camps at Stanford, Berkeley, UCSD, and UCLA, as well as downright mentoring people around the world in coding. He also spent more than 10,000 hours in the personality psychology space doing research, running workshops, consulting, and designing algorithms.
This enabled GameTree to assemble a team of developers that put together the platform’s proprietary AI. This is how this AI aligns with the platform’s specific objectives and user-focused algorithms, ensuring control, customization, and – most importantly – adherence to the company’s values, particularly those concerning data privacy and protection of the data.
GameTree’s AI employs expansive psychological tests, incorporating over 100 criteria for matching. Aside from psychological tests, it also uses Gamer-DNA and Value Analysis, as well as the information from the user profile: friends list, games list, type, time and frequency of social interactions, and many others, to provide the ultimate user experience. GameTree’s objective here is to go in depth to understand gamer psychology and relationships in order to help users with it.
‘I knew on our first call with Dana and John that this was going to be one of our top investments. It’s so rare that I find a company where the founders are pure executors of a strategy aligned with a product that solves such a large human problem. It was a very easy decision,’ Expert DOJO’s founder Brian Mac Mahon recalls.
As mentioned, detecting and dealing with toxic behavior is a prime priority for the founders.
‘The general principle is that people can express opinions, or use swearing, but it’s a bannable offense when users are doing it to be mean or bully. While specifics weren’t explicitly outlined, our AI analyzes behavior patterns, interactions, and community feedback to potentially identify, mitigate, and ban toxic behavior, ensuring a safer and more enjoyable environment for all users. We don’t just analyze but predict potential conflict to minimize the negative and toxic experience of the group,’ Ms Sydorenko explains.
At the same time, the platform has many volunteer moderators with community guidelines.
‘We chose to support GameTree because they are utilizing fantastic, well-researched tech to tackle one of the most acute issues in gaming — the ability to connect socially and find companionship, real friendship through play, while also minimizing the toxicity inherent in current social gaming environments,’ 32-Bit Ventures’ general partner.Jason Perkins states.
The Geography and the Reach
Overall, the user base of over 600,000 users have facilitated over 2,000,000 gamer connections through GameTree as of now. The largest user bases are from North America and the UK.
‘Gaming culture is pretty different from country to country and our product, our fundamental messages allay very well with gaming cultures in the UK and North America. The SEO team right now also prioritizes the English Language. We are #1 in search by ‘find gamer’, ‘find gamer friends’, and ‘find people to play with.’ Also, for any social network platform, it’s crucial to build natural friend-invites behavior. As you establish that, then you naturally will start to grow in a particular region,’ Ms Sydorenko clarifies.
The majority of gamers play more than one game, while apps for gamers usually focus on just one game. The support of over 200,000 games for PC, Mobile, Switch, Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Tabletop, and even board games makes GameTree the definitive source for all games. Practically, it means that one can add any game to one’s profile, and create a discussion or game session on any game. One can search people and groups by specific game, rate and read other people’s public comments, insights, and rates on any game. Essentially, GameTree integrates through cataloging, recommending, and synchronizing friends list, game list, etc.
Fully-Fledged Desktop App for B2B Partnerships
As of now, GameTree is available for iOS, Android, and web. The current investment is meant to fuel the development of the fully-fledged desktop app. According to Ms Sydorenko, it seeks to foster B2B collaborations – specifically, with gaming entities, offering features like free user-behavior analysis for game studios and potentially opening roads for revenue streams, in the end also enhancing user engagement and gaming experiences.
‘We are in the final stage of testing plugins for games. This will be a solution that MMO games can embed as quickly as within an hour and use our algorithm for free to improve matching for their users. Game developers will no longer need to spend time creating their matching solutions. Our plugin will complete this task outstandingly because this is not just a random recommendation, but algorithms trained on millions of gamers’ connections,’ the CEO shares. GameTree invites games to test this solution and cooperate.
The ambition is to expand globally, improve AI matchmaking, deepen community engagement, and continue advocating for inclusive and toxicity-free gaming spaces. The platform is also starting more proactive marketing and monetization in 2024, aiming to enhance accessibility and increase GameTree’s user base.
‘Our vision is to constantly evolve, ensuring every gamer finds their next favorite games and their community and studios with communities will find their audience on GameTree,’ Ms Sydorenko concludes.
Kostiantyn is a freelance writer from Crimea but based in Lviv. He loves writing about IT and high tech because those topics are always upbeat and he’s an inherent optimist!