Melbourne startup raises $9 million for houseplant-based mental wellness game

A Melbourne gaming startup has raised $9 million in funding by developing a mobile game aimed at mental well-being that doesn’t try to keep you going for hours a day, in what is considered the biggest initial venture capital investment for a game studio founded by women in Australia.

Lumi Interactive has been developing Kinder World since 2020.

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The premise of a mobile game of houseplant maintenance within a community focused on mental well-being was conceived during the six pandemic lockdowns in Melbourne between 2020 and 2021. Co-founder Lauren Clinnick said that during lockdowns, random acts of kindness made the world a better place.

In addition to tending to the plants – which the game emphasizes that you can’t kill and won’t die if you leave the game too long – there are emotional check-ins where you can write down how you’re feeling or express daily gratitude, and then move on. message-in-a-bottle-type messages of kindness to other players who join the game.

“[It was] a really conscious design decision [for the plants to live] so it didn’t feel like something you could fail or feel really pressured about and never come back to,” Clinnick said.

She said the wellness aspect was developed on the advice of behavioral researcher Dr.

It’s not designed to replace other ways people can improve their mental health, Clinnick said, nor is it designed to keep people in the game all day.

“It’s just another experience in the basket. A large number of our players are actively in therapy, actively doing other work,” she said.

“They just want something that feels like a good community space, and a lot of them will show up because when you do your wellness activity, you put your little plant on your windowsill and you get a message from another player almost like a fortune cookie that is just a message like ‘I hope you can drink or eat something you really enjoy today’”.

The app is free to play with no ads, but the company is developing in-app purchases and a subscription option.

Clinnick said a major hurdle to getting funding was that the app went against the traditional expectation of social media and mobile gaming apps designed to keep you using the app for as long as possible.

“It was very important to us that we designed a five-minute session in the morning and a five-minute session in the evening,” she said.

After initial crowdfunding, Lumi Interactive last week raised $6.75 million for the startup with a range of investors, including 1Up Ventures and Galileo Ventures, in what Clinnick said was a daunting process.

“I am serving my hopes and dreams. This is my baby… it really can be a very emotional experience. Especially as a founder, I had some very disrespectful and confrontational experiences to release,” she said.

“It’s hard being in Australia, especially because of the time difference. We were pitching it to people in Europe and Israel, but that meant it was too late at night, or people in the US and it was too early.”

The app is still in testing on iOS and Android, ahead of a planned release in late 2022.

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