London-based on-demand ‘artificial voices’ provider Sonantic has secured €2.3 million in seed funding with a lofty goal to upend the global game and entertainment voice industry.

The round was led by EQT Ventures with prior backers such as Entrepreneur First, AME Cloud Ventures and Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures chipping in.

Founded by two speech tech experts – Zeena Qureshi (CEO) and John Flynn (CTO) – Sonantic enables game developers to access “expressive, realistic voice acting”. The startup claims R&D partnership discussions are being held with close to a dozen well-known game studios, stopping short of sharing names or detailing the current status or nature of those pending deals.

Sonantic aims to grow its team, of course, but also to use the funds to attract additional talent for its library of voice assets.

The startup was poised to demonstrate its technology, which it claims can bring “deep emotions across the full spectrum” through artificial voices, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, but that event has been postponed amid growing concern about the international coronavirus outbreaks.

From the pitch:

“Voice acting in game development remains slow, expensive and labour intensive. It requires casting, contracts, scheduling, recording, directing and editing. Games developers go through several iterations of the voice workflow, often due to poor quality text-to-speech (TTS) tools used in the early stages, and changing just a single line of dialogue is time consuming and costly. Currently, AAA game studios spend millions on voice processes alone.”

The UK startup wants to fix this by letting developers craft and customise the exact type of character they’d like to voice – gender, personality, accent, tone, emotional state and whatnot – via a programmable API and a graphical user interface tool.

“We believe in the saying, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” said Zeena Qureshi, co-founder and CEO of Sonantic. “Many TTS providers sound robotic because they don’t focus on the details that make voice truly human — breath, pitch, intonation, pacing, intensity, emotion, and variety.”

Check out the startup’s website for a (rather impressive) demo of how it aims to fix this.

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