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Thatgamecompany raises $5.5 million from Benchmark Capital

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Who says art and commerce don't mesh?

Thatgamecompany, a Santa Monica developer of games that have been featured in a recent Smithsonian exhibit, on Thursday said it has raised $5.5 million from Benchmark Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

The money will give Thatgamecompany enough funding to independently release its future, unannounced games on multiple platforms, said the company's founder, Jenova Chen, in a company blog post.

Founded in 2006 by Chen and Kellee Santiago, two graduates of USC's game development program, Thatgamecompany has published four games noted for their unusual designs and minimalistic aesthetics. (Santiago has since left the company.)

Its latest game, "Journey," tries to eliminate the sense of competition so prevalent in modern video games. Like the studio's other games, there's nothing to blow up, no puzzles to solve and no enemies to defeat. Instead, players progress through a flowing, desert-like landscape on a journey of discovery, meeting up with other players online but not able to speak with them.

Despite its departure from traditional game design, "Journey" received some of the highest reviews from game critics who, on average, gave the game a score of 92 out of 100, according to Gamerankings.com.

"Journey" also did well commercially, becoming the fastest-selling title on Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Network online store, where it was exclusively sold. Neither Sony nor Thatgamecompany have said exactly how many copies of the game were sold.

The game also concluded a three-title publishing contract that the company had with Sony. The other two games Sony had published include "fl0w" and "Flower."

The influx of capital from Benchmark will let Thatgamecompany explore making games for other platforms, including Microsoft's Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii or Apple's phones and tablets.

"Together we share a vision for bringing emotionally compelling interactive entertainment to players worldwide," Chen wrote of Benchmark's investment.

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