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Words with Friends co-creator is back with ‘Wildcard’ and $46 million

Meet the up-and-coming Web3 video game captivating venture capitalists

When Words with Friends co-founder Paul Bettner called up an industry expert to ask some questions about a new video game he was developing, the conversation quickly turned to how much funding he needed.

“I’m like wait, wait, wait, we’re not actually pitching. I don’t even have a deck, so I don’t think we can start that conversation,” Bettner recalled. “And he’s like ‘Dude, I don’t care about the deck. I just played the game.’”

The expert, whom Bettner had never met, was Dave White, a research partner at the multibillion-dollar Paradigm investment firm. Seventy-two hours after White played a test game, Bettner found himself holding a deal term sheet.


“Paul and his team have a proven track record building fun games at the frontier of what’s possible,” White said in a statement. “They are using Web3 tech in truly innovative ways to bring openness and accessibility to proven eSports mechanisms.”

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With an initial investment of $46 million in hand, Bettner and his wife Katy are co-founding Wildcard Alliance Inc., a new subsidiary within McKinney-based Playful Studios. Early investors include crypto-disruption chaser Paradigm, venture capitalist Sabrina Hahn and Griffin Gaming Partners.

After co-founding NewToy with his brother and co-creating the Words with Friends mobile app, Bettner sold NewToy to San Francisco game developer Zynga for $180 million in 2010. Then he founded Playful Studios, the developer that created Lucky’s Tale virtual reality game and Creativerse sandbox adventure. Now he’s branching off to create Wildcard Alliance with his wife Katy and develop a game much different from his past projects.

Wildcard includes several key game characters that battle and interact in a "new genre" of video game.(Wildcard Alliance)

What is Wildcard? ‘A Next-generation spectator sport’

Part card game, part strategy and part battle arena, Wildcard wants to be just as fun to watch as it is to play, and the market is ripe with eager video game spectators.


In the last decade, game lovers have developed quite an appetite for watching other people play their favorite games. Minecraft videos alone recently surpassed 1 trillion views on YouTube, and Twitch, a popular video game live streaming platform, boasts 140 million monthly active users.

The Wildcard Alliance team wants to tap into that audience and make it part of the game itself.

“In some cases, more people were watching people play our games than were actually playing our games,” Bettner said. “That was the inspiration for us to begin working on a game that we are hoping can be a next-generation spectator sport.”

Bettner wants Wildcard spectators to experience the same swells of emotion they might feel tuning into their favorite sports event.

“One day you’re going to be watching your grandkid in the Wildcard championships on TV, and it’s going to be just as exciting as when you go to one of their soccer games on the weekend,” he said.

The gameplay itself will be a Frankenstein of different genres, pulling inspiration from mobile games like Clash Royale, arena-based games like Rocket League and trading-card games like Pokemon.

“It’s kind of difficult to have a game where you can manage the strategy of the cards in your hand while you’re running around and punching things at the same time,” Bettner said. “If we pull that off, it will be the kind of game that is super fun to watch.”


What sets Wildcard apart even more is it will use Web3 blockchain technology to achieve its vision.

‘Finding the fun’ in the crypto formula

The game will be designed with Web3, an emerging internet technology built with decentralized tokens. More specifically, Wildcard will be built on Polygon, an Ethereum scaling platform. Polygon’s focus on sustainability factored into Wildcard’s choice.

Wildcard Alliance wants game cards to be collectible and players in different roles to be able to put money into the game and take value out into the real world. Bettner thinks Polygon is the technology to make it happen.


For popular video game content creators, the platform could mean a big payday.

“There’s some Twitch ad revenue or YouTube ad revenue, but it’s fractions of a cent. It’s just not a great business model for this talent and these athletes,” Bettner said. “I think Web3 is the tool that’s going to allow us to empower those communities to grow value.”

Web3 technology will also be leveraged to create a cross-platform game that doesn’t require participants to download before taking part in the fun. That means people will be able to interact from their phones, computers, game consoles, YouTube videos and more. Wildcard already has test games where users can interact from a Twitch streaming window.

“Wildcard is designed to be enjoyed as entertainment in a variety of different venues, not just as a competitor — as a fan, as a sponsor, as a team owner, as a streamer, and because of that, there will be so many ways to tune into the entertainment experience that is Wildcard,” Bettner said.


Bettner and his team are excited about Web3 technology. Wildcard isn’t interested in developing “a finance protocol with a game wrapper around it,” he said. Instead, he’s focused on making a fun game, not launching another Ethereum coin.

“It’s about a better, more fun video game, not a way to use the technology,” he said.

This game play capture shows game characters engaging in an arena-style battle.(Wildcard Alliance)

Bettner is the first to admit that he used to be a crypto skeptic, but then his team ran into a problem. They wanted to build a game world infrastructure with lots of different roles that could all interact and transact with each other. Advised by a friend to look into Ethereum, he realized he didn’t have to reinvent the blockchain.


“Wait a minute, this already exists. We don’t have to build this,” he said. “We had this problem for three or four years, and Web3 is the solution we were looking for.”

And it’s not just crypto technology that’s falling into Wildcard Alliance’s lap.

Who’s on the Wildcard Alliance team?

Storytellers and intellectual property creators from franchises like Star Wars, DC Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have jumped on the project. Everyone seems to want a piece of the interactive entertainment vision, including thousands of Web3 Discord users who have swarmed the game’s new messaging server in just a few days.


Much like the game’s Web3 technology, Wildcard’s more than 100-person team is decentralized, working together from different locations. Co-creators and married couple Katy Drake and Paul Bettner, however, have been working side by side on their first official project together.

Katy Drake Bettner (Wildcard Alliance)
Paul Bettner (Wildcard Alliance)

“Every project I’ve ever worked on since I’ve been married to her has been a co-effort, whether or not she was in the credits,” Bettner said.

Katy brings a filmmaker’s expertise to the Wildcard project. She has worked on 31 different films, including Paul’s favorite, Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, and recent release Shouting Down Midnight. Katy loves telling engaging stories about Texas women.


Now she’ll bring that storytelling talent to the video game world, where she and Paul can finally cement their shared belief in the future of interactive entertainment.

When can you play?

The Bettners have been working on the game on and off for five years. Paul Bettner expects it to take a few more years before the game launches in its final and complete version.

True to its decentralized and collaborative form, people will have the chance to interact with portions of the Wildcard entertainment platform as soon as today.