They will be the stars of the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which opens on Tuesday, January 8th. Franck and Damien Botta as well as Florent Guitton will indeed receive, in Las Vegas, one of the twelve awards of innovation of the event, category "gaming". The console they invented proposes to reconcile board games and videogames. The three partners in the Breton start-up, Wizama, hope to take advantage of this moment to offer this "tablet" of a new kind the maximum visibility and seduce investors. The challenge for them is important. If they want to be able, one day, to compete with Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft, they must be able to raise, at least, 2 million euros. For the moment, their SME, located in Châteaugiron, near Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), has raised less than 750,000 euros and has only six employees.
"The idea of a connected board game came to me the day I suggested to my daughter, Bleuenn, who was seven years old at the time, to drop her tablet to play with me at Monopoly", explains Franck Botta, CEO of this small start-up. "She refused everything, claiming that the board games were less attractive than its touch screen," says the 42-year-old engineer, then employed in the research and development cell Technicolor (formerly Thomson) where he participated in the development of computer systems for accessing video on demand (VOD). "My daughter's answer made me cogitate. If I wanted to share fun moments with her, I had to invent a product as attractive as her iPad, "he concludes.
In March 2017, he joins his brother, Damien, 35 years old (with whom he played Risk, every Sunday, as a child) and a former Technicolor colleague, 40-year-old Florent Guitton, to create his own company and create two prototype consoles to play interactively with others. A 19-inch touch screen serves as a game board. The controllers are replaced by cards, dice and pawns … all connected by NFC technology, faster than BlueTooth connectivity. "Every accessory, movement, effect and interaction is calculated and shown in real time by the console," says Damien Botta, chief operating officer of Wizama.
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When placed on the console, the cards are detected and automatically launch the corresponding game. With each roll of the dice, the machine calculates the number of points collected and proposes, thanks to an artificial intelligence module, their next trip to the players. "Our interactive support modernizes the game of society by allowing people riveted to their screens to break their isolation by making digital a social engine," completes the thirties, yesterday consultant in IT in the field of human resources. The SquareOne tablet, whose prototype will be unveiled in Las Vegas, adapts to the age and the number of participants. "Between two and eight", specify its promoters.
When artificial intelligence becomes a player
Five games have been developed, to date, by about twenty subcontractors programmers. The first of these, "Oya Stones", consists of a variation of the game of goose, hence its name. "Chromacy" comes in the form of a strategy game. Each player must conquer a territory. "Krubera" revisits the principle of treasure hunting, combining luck and tactics. Participants explore a dreamlike world in search of precious stones. "Cosmo Squabble" is akin to a digital Afghan billiards by immersing players in a space universe, worthy of a cartoon. As for "Fisfull Screw", he plays with the codes of the role play, proposing to his participants to dive in a dump populated with fantastic animals …
"We are currently expanding partnerships to allow our customers to access the digital version of traditional games well known to the general public," says Florent Guitton. An online store, built into the console, will allow players to acquire new games. "The richness of our catalog will be decisive if we want to be attractive", analyzes Franck Botta who dreams of finding partnerships with major brands in the sector: Hasbro, Scrabble, Ravensburger or Asmodée. Agreements are about to be signed with the Swiss company Tourmaline Studio which develops the game for toddlers: Oniri Islands, where two figurines explore the waters of a river. Another is being negotiated with the Volumique company which has developed concepts ofEscape-games online: Unlock.
"But we rely heavily on the CES to meet the giants of the market and license some of their flagship games," says Franck Botta, who dreams of bringing the game up to date Constantinople which he played a lot during his childhood with his parents and grandparents. With the support of the Rennes metropolitan area and the Brittany region, start-up Wizama will sell the SquareOne console in the third quarter of 2019. "We expect a backlog of 2,000 units at first," says the CEO. . The consoles, marketed around 480 euros, will then be put into production. Expected delivery date: early 2020. The adventure is just beginning.