A Melbourne games startup has raised $9m in funding while developing a mobile game aimed at mental wellness that doesn’t try to keep you on for hours a day, in what is said to be the largest venture capital seed investment for a game studio founded by women in Australia.
Lumi Interactive has been developing Kinder World since 2020.
The premise of a mobile game of houseplant maintenance within a community focused on mental wellbeing was conceived during the six pandemic lockdowns in Melbourne between 2020 en 2021. Co-founder Lauren Clinnick said during the lockdowns, random acts of kindness made the world a better place.
In addition to taking care of plants – which the game stresses you cannot kill and won’t die if you leave the game for too long – there are emotional check-ins where you can write down how you are feeling, or express daily gratitude, and then pass on message-in-a-bottle type kindness messages for other players who log into the game.
'[Dit was] a really conscious design decision [for the plants to live] so that it wouldn’t feel like something you could fail or feel really pressured and never come back to,” Clinnick said.
She said the wellness aspect was developed on the advice of behavioural researcher Dr Hannah Gunderman, and had been embraced by women and non-binary users on TikTok who joined the community and provided feedback on the development of the game.
It is not designed to replace other ways people could improve their mental health, Clinnick said, nor is it designed to lock people into the game all day.
“It’s just another experience in the basket. A big amount of our players are actively in therapy, actively doing other work," sy het gese.
“They just want something that feels like a nice community space, and a lot of them will show up because when you do your wellbeing activity, you then put your little plant on a windowsill and you will get a message from another player almost like a fortune cookie that’s just a message like ‘I hope you can drink or eat something you really like today’.”
The app is free to play, without ads, but the company is developing in-app purchases and a subscription option.
Clinnick said a major roadblock to get funding was that the app pushed back against the traditional expectation of social media and mobile game apps designed to keep you using the app for as long as possible.
“It was very important to us that we designed for pretty much a five-minute session in the morning and a five-minute session in the evening," sy het gese.
After initially crowdfunding, Lumi Interactive last week raised US$6.75m for the startup with a range of investors including 1Up Ventures and Galileo Ventures, in what Clinnick said was a daunting process.
“I’m serving up my hopes and dreams. This is my baby … it really can be a very emotional experience. Especially as a female founder, I had some very disrespectful and confronting experiences for pitching," sy het gese.
“It is tricky being in Australia, especially just because of the timezone. We were pitching to people in Europe and Israel, but it meant it was a very late night, or people in the US and it was a very early morning.”
The app is still in testing on iOS and Android, before an expected launch towards the end of 2022.