DICE Summit 2022: The Play-to-Earn Culture and Its Potential
In this conference, Beryl Li, John Linden, Jonathan Lai and Min Kim discuss the mechanics and capabilities of NFT games and the community supporting the play-to-earn space.
The Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain (D.I.C.E.) 2022 Summit, a conference for video game industry leaders, and executives, took place last February 22 to 24 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Organized annually by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS), a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of interactive arts, the summit brings together top video game developers and designers from around the world and business leaders from all major publishers to discuss the state of the industry, its trends and the future.
“The NFT Discussion” roundtable, which was moderated by AIAS chairman and co-founder of independent game development studio Bonfire Studios, Min Kim, featured a diverse panel of industry leaders including YGG co-founder Beryl Li. Joining Beryl were Mythical Games CEO John Linden and Andreessen Horowitz general partner, Jonathan Lai.
Min is a developer and handles community and operations at Bonfire Studios, an independent game development studio. He was formerly an investment banker before he moved to the gaming industry where he spent nine years in Nexon, a South Korean video game publisher that specializes in online games for PC and mobile.
Beryl is the co-founder of the play-to-earn gaming guild Yield Guild Games. As a fintech entrepreneur, she co-founded CapchainX, an asset tokenization platform that was acquired by SMKG in 2019, and was on the founding team at Coins.ph, a leading crypto exchange in the Philippines that was acquired by Gojek in 2019. She also has vast experience working with financial institutions such as BlackRock London and UnionBank of the Philippines.
John is the CEO of Mythical Games, a game company focused on building player-owned economies with top game developers and publishers in addition to their portfolio of games. Prior to Mythical Games, he was the President of Seismic Games (acquired by Niantic Labs) developer of Marvel Strike Force and Magic the Gathering: Valor’s Reach. Before Seismic Games, he was a Studio Head at Activision Blizzard on the Call of Duty and Skylanders franchises.
Jonathan was a senior director at Tencent and prior, he was a product manager at Riot Games, developer of League of Legends. Now, he is a consumer team general partner at venture capital Andreessen Horowitz investing in games, crypto, and social. Jonathan serves on the board of Singularity 6, Elodie, Mainframe Industries, Overwolf, Mountaintop, and StarStock.
The group discussed misconceptions, criticisms, and issues surrounding the play-to-earn space, as well as how the NFT space is funded, and the potential of blockchain technology to revolutionize the gaming industry.
The following is an excerpt from the roundtable. Watch the full discussion here.
Min (44:52): Let's move a little to the people that are playing the games who are starting this kind of revolution. So play-to earn is a completely new concept, or I think your company's kind of been pioneering that. Can you tell us a little bit about that? And who are these people, the play-to-earn community?
Beryl (45:11): Oh, so you're asking about what the community of play-to-earn is?
Min (45:16): Yes. Because usually people are playing for fun. So play-to-earn is a completely new thing that I think a lot of people that are the incumbents don't truly understand.
Beryl (45:24): Play-to-earn is very, very new. It's a really new concept, but it started thriving and it happened during the pandemic where people actually just ended up downloading this game and they earn in-game rewards, which could be converted into fiat currency, for example. They get to pay for food and milk for the kids, they have extra savings, and because of that, it spreads like wildfire. It's very much like word of mouth or within the community. There is actually one province in the Philippines, where every single one of them in the neighborhood was downloading the game and playing it. Because of that, for play-to-earn games, it's very much like building that community around them.
So there's an emergence of new roles, like a new economy, where you have brokers, for example, who are selling real estate. Then you have influencers emerging, and then you have these managers that are doing tutorials to teach new players. And then once this new player ends up earning, they're able to become a manager on their own. After managing 5, 10 people, 20 other players, they end up investing as well, becoming investors in the NFT space, where they end up buying other NFTs. They end up learning how to use these other DeFi platforms, for example, using it as collateral to get a loan and or being able to swap them.
To think about it, these are guys in the Philippines that are unbanked — they never really had a bank account before — and they learn new skills just by playing games. They start earning, and then for them the experience is really gamified. They learned finance in a gamified environment, and that is the culture of what play-to-earn imposes within the community.
Min (47:44): Are those players also having fun?
John (47:48): I think there's two types of play-to-earn right now. I think what Beryl is doing is amazing — these early play-to-earn economies.These countries around the world, it's changing their lives, which I think is pretty cool. I think a lot of them still think of it as a job right now, it’s earn-first. I think we will see two types of play-to-earn later over time. One is earn first, which is great, and I think it's amazing to be able to participate in these economies to make money. But I think there's another one that's coming called play-first, which is, how do we incorporate these ideas to where it's still gameplay and you can still earn things and you can sell them? But the focus is not on earning. The focus is on being part of it, being part of that community. It's the creator economy.
We talked about the creator economy, we talked about the metaverse, all this type of stuff. It's letting people be part of that. I think what you guys are doing is awesome, and I think there's new mechanics in terms of lending assets, and how do you have the whales and the non-whales play in harmony? That's a really cool concept that could change gaming, in terms of, you're the kind of the haves and the have-nots right now — people that are just grinding games and people that are spending a ton of money. How do you create a new balance between the two? How do you let them feed off each other? How do you let people that want to spend their time in the games playing make some money off of the people that are spending?
Those are the concepts that I think YGG is doing that's really, really cool. It's transformative to where we could do that. But we do get to watch it right now, it's not really fun — it's just the game. I come in and play an RPG game and I just kind of hit some buttons and I make some money, and I think that’s right for a lot of games now. But when you take the concepts they're doing and you apply it to all these other games, they do become fun, and you can make money on it too in the background. I think we're quickly heading in that direction very quickly.
Jonathan (49:30): Yeah. I just wanted to double-click on that point that you made, John. I think it's been fantastic that the holy grail here is that we have two distinct player populations now — people that are earning and people that are playing for fun. If you can combine them in one game and actually have game loops where they directly support one another, I think that's actually really powerful.
I think the example that you gave, one that I think about all the time is, let's take GTA Online. There's a bunch of roleplay servers where people basically go on and they roleplay. “Hey, I'm going to be a bank teller,” and another person is roleplaying being the bank robber and another person outside is roleplaying the police officer that comes and tries to stop the bank robbery from happening. You can imagine a world where the player is a free-to-play player who's playing for fun, and then the teller and the police officer are people that are being paid to perform that job inside of the GTA Online server.
That's something that's very synergistic, because the people that are earning wages in the game as a virtual bank teller — it’s actually probably a better job for them than the real-world alternative, especially if you're in one of these countries that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Then, as a player, you have this rich, vibrant world around you that you can interact with. So I think those are the types of games that are being designed right now, that we have some really great game teams working on. Like how do we combine free-to-play players that are playing for fun with the segment of the player base that is playing for earning?
You can watch the full discussion here.
Subscribe to the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences on YouTube to watch other roundtables from previous D.I.C.E. Summits.