December 8, 2021

Episode 5: The Metaverse, NFTs, and Games Part 1

In this two-part episode, we speak to Shawn Toh of Battlebrew, a multi-award-winning game studio based in Singapore, about the metaverse, NFTs, and games.

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Transcript

Multiverse Podcast Episode 5: The Metaverse, NFTs, and Games Part 1

The transcript is also available at Temi.

Wan Wei: (00:00)
Welcome to the Multiverse. This is the official podcast of Multiverse AI. Hi, this is Wan Wei, the Head of Ecosystem at Multiverse. Today's first half of episode five is titled "the metaverse, NFTs, and games". At Multiverse, we celebrate startup founders. Our special guest today is Shawn Toh, the CEO of Battlebrew, a multi award-winning game studio based in Singapore. Joining us on this podcast are also Multiverse team members, Cliff, John, Michael, and Troy. If you have any thoughts, comments, or feedback, feel free to share them on your social media channels. Enjoy the podcast.

Michael: (00:48)
Hi, I'm Michael. Before we get going, here's a little more info about Battlebrew's game studio. They picked up four awards for their first game in 2018 and had Battlesky Brigade Harpooner in the first 100 game lineup for the worldwide launch of Apple Arcade- Apple's gaming subscription service. They're currently working hard on a multiplayer cooking game called Noodle Superstar. Noodle Superstar has already won two awards last year in its prototype stage.

Shawn: (01:14)
Hi, I'm Sean from Battlebrew. We're still working on that, and looking for a partner, a publisher, and an investor partner. We also actually have a second project that is due to announce very, very soon-maybe at G-Star- one of the big game shows in the world, this one is in Korea. So I guess we're mostly a multiplatform game developer. I think we are mostly known for mobile, but, um, we've worked for, I guess, console and the next unannounced title is actually PC first, probably, uh, myself and a crew. We've been, we've been gamers all this life, all our life. And I think there's a lot of very many interesting things happening, including in the NFT and crypto space. I won't say we are like big time investors, but a bunch of the crew definitely owns some crypto here and there, as for our work and how it relates back to the metaverse and crypto. We've actually not jumped on the bus formally at this point, but we've definitely flirted with the idea. So I'm really happy to talk about that, on metaverse side and metaverse related things. Again, I won't go into too much specifics, maybe without some of the crew. But I think, some of us also experimenting with things like, virtual avatars and the Vtube scene. Soo that's where our interests are.

Cliff: (02:38)
I've always wondered, like for someone who works in the industry, how much time do you spend playing games outside of work? Like, it's kind of like asking a chef to cook for someone when they get home from work, because I have a good friend who's a, you know, top chef in SF. And when we go over to his house, he makes us cook because he's like "I cook all day guys. So get to work, put on an apron".

Shawn: (03:05)
You know, same thing it's like, playing games is not making games, right? So now I'm eating, I'm not cooking, right? So yeah, the honest answer here is I think, a little bit too much, uh, we are all definitely daily gamers. I, for example, have, spent way too much time and money on Genshin Impact, which is a great game by the way, you know, YFU for LIFU and all of that. But yeah, I think every single member of the crew, especially myself, I mean we play games together as well. So a lot of us are, or were friends outside of the company, even before the company. So gaming, I think, is what we call more of a lifestyle and a calling in some ways. It's not a nine to five for us. But yeah, the downtime or free time is not spent as much making games... That will be kind of stressful. Although some people do. I think a couple of the crew have their own small private projects.

Cliff: (04:06)
Oh, oh, that's great.

Shawn: (04:09)
But yeah... Gaming for fun, we definitely do that.

Cliff: (04:13)
I think everyone on this call is a pretty heavy gamer, except Wan Wei who I think has played some of the older games, like Pokemon? I can't remember. Wan Wei, what was the game that you admitted to playing and then were, like, "no, you are a gamer" then?

Wan Wei: (04:31)
Neopets.

Shawn: (04:32)
Yeah. Neopets. Whoa, classic stuff.

Cliff: (04:37)
And then of course, John, I mean you've a background in AR, VR, Google.

John: (04:42)
Yeah. Well, I'm more of an old school gamer, as you can tell from my all time favorite games...Which I guess there's only one recent one. But my list of all time, favorite games that I wrote down were like StarCraft, Final Fantasy Seven (not the remake), Homeworld, Unreal Tournament, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Those would be like my favorite, just, you know, standout games and all the genres that I like to play.

Cliff: (05:08)
We almost, just in the interest of full disclosure, we almost called planets homeworlds. So whoever talked us out of that, thank you, I guess? Troy, what is your favorite? I know that you have like an alienwear and we have to pry it out of your cold, dead hands to give you a MacBook. What is the game of choice, the weapon of choice for you?

Troy: (05:38)
I can't play alot of games. I think my favorite game is like, um, one of the Japanese games. Um...

Cliff: (05:53)
Is this safe for work, or?

Troy: (05:56)
I think Final Fantasy would be best.

Cliff: (05:58)
Let's see. I guess I can go through my favorites. I have not played Neopets, but I think my two favorites that I think of all time are not very super interesting from like a fantasy standpoint, but it's actually the Gran Turismo series and a very specific game called Rock Band 3, which is kind like a gamified way to trick your friends to play real instruments. It's kind of weird. So I actually have like a bunch of guitars that I can hook up into that game and an entire like Yamaha, like actual drum set, so I definitely poured more money to that than anything else. And then I guess in the VR side, it would be Skyrim and Fallout VR. Those are pretty amazing. Mainly not because of the game itself, the game itself is good, but surprisingly has a bunch of holes, but the modding community is amazing. And I think that really transforms the experience. So, I'd love to ask. Sincw Sean, You're an experienced founder, an experienced CEO, and have probably thought about this more than any of us will ever... I think on our platform for founders, you know, we're looking at how they can potentially gamify their apps, right? So they may not be, I think some of them will get to actual game development I think, but a lot of 'em are interested in the idea of gamification, the idea of making something more enjoyable or a little bit more sticky to use, and doing it in a way that's, I think positive? Maybe let's say, less like addiction and more reinforcement and kind of enjoyment. Do you have any thoughts on that? Any kind of tips to provide to the community who might be thinking about adding these features to their products?

Shawn: (08:03)
Sure. So I think it's actually more of a base approach, it's not even tips here. It's sometimes tough to take an existing project per se, and then gamify that. Basically what you're doing is you are extrinsically motivating them, if you're taking that route mostly. I think the best route is using intrinsic desires. So it's more like you're looking at the same community. You're looking at overlaps with what you've got, be it an IP or a service or something. And then trying to push their intrinsic desires more; intrinsic desires that are already overlapping with the world or app or whatever service that you're building. One of the shortcuts here maybe would be, um, I mean, this doesn't work as well for like what you call single player or like solo player user type apps. But if you have a community and there's a community of people, then I think it's a lot easier to gamify that. Basically you're just encouraging communication amongst the community. I think you got to be careful about that as well, because some people will go the pro gamer mindset and then do things for points rather than do things for people. But I think that's a generally better start I guess. So again, it's hard to talk about this without specifics I think sometimes. Because every app or game even, is unique unto itself. The dark patterns of design are easier to design like you pointed out for you know, addiction or retention loops, et cetera. But the intrinsic nature requires a look at; at what the app and what the community and what the players/users are actually like, and why they use that app/service, or play that game in the first place. So it has to be in a way bespoke and from the ground up. I think that's the way it works.

John: (10:11)
For a multiplayer kind of community gamification, do you have any thoughts on like competitive versus collaborative dynamics?

Shawn: (10:18)
Um, okay. So I guess what I say might be controversial. I think one of the ones that I do like actually is a mix of both. You're looking at PvE, PvP. That'll be player versus environment, player versus player. Meaning if you want the game to generally be more community minded, you're having the players versus the environment- they're working together. But if you wanna make it personal and you wanna encourage, um, you know, really key focus, if you will, then it might be groups of players versus groups of players, and that's where things like guilds come in and then you're making the guilds compete. I think the most toxic iteration you could make of that would be more every man for himself, like a free-for-all battle royale. I'm not talking about the genre per se, but more like, you know, if, if there's no collab at all, like a pure PvP, that breeds a very different mindset. I think I would enjoy or rather, what tends to work nicely, I think is to have groups of players working together and for the most part, the entire player base is collaborative. So again if I have to look at like a game which has done very well, which is in its own way, vaguely metaverse, and definitely using AR, it would be Pokemon...You know, the one on mobile, Pokemon Go? When you watch your parents play, I don't know if your parents play but my parents play. It's kind of funny and interesting, you have your parents using gamer terms and they're going out, like "yeah, I gotta go for this raid". And you're like, "wait, what? Mom going for a raid? Okay, cool", and you know, claiming gyms and stuff like that. So I think that's like a good example in the wild of literal. I mean, it's a game, right? But it's gamification of their behaviors. So now my mom will go for walks, and as she does, along the way she'll go "I've gotta stop by this Pokestop", stuff like that. And like fight at this gym or something. And then my mom can name all the Pokemons now. So it's kind of weird and kind of cool. When she gets home, I have to be like "mom, please stop playing the game and eat your dinner". So like, things have been reversed. It's really funny.

Cliff: (12:46)
Yeah, it's like an inversion of roles.

Shawn: (12:49)
Yeah, I mean it's good. So I think she's made some friends...I was about to say "oddly enough", but I don't think it's odd at all because I think that's what it was partly engineered to do- get people out and interact, oddly with a virtual world using the real world. So I just thought that was like a really interesting application of what's going on right now and on a wide scale.

Cliff: (13:18)
It was such a positive impact, you know, I think that there's definitely the stories of people, you know, "get off my lawn" type stories, but it was maybe more in the US, but I think there definitely was a lot of impact on people actually getting out and being forced to interact with the real world through a virtual world.

John: (13:38)
So some of our founders are interested in building. Some of their ideas that they have are surrounding games that they wanna build. What advice would you give to someone who's starting out, has a great idea for a game, but hasn't really, you know, put pen to paper yet. And hasn't really gotten started on their project.

Shawn: (13:56)
That's actually a really large topic on its own because there's so many unknowns there. One of the huge questions here would be the practical production part- can you code, how well can you code? Are you a technical founder? If you look at it that way, right. If not, do you have someone who's willing to work with you and for how long? I think my answer here will honestly be one of the more boring ones because it's mostly about logistics at the end of the day. You all could be friends. But the question here is also, let's start with the first: What is your team or what is your capability? I don't necessarily recommend soloing this stuff. Mostly because it's tough, partly on the practical production skills side, like, are you going to be a one person army at this point? Can you code? Can you design, then do the art, then the marketing and then have the business stuff settled? Probably not, right? So I would recommend having a small team that you trust. And then the second part would be how do you keep that team on. My next piece of advice would actually again, be boring because some people will go like "yeah you know, just YOLO it, do it!". But no, actually don't, maybe keep your day job, and then see how things go. My advice would be to keep your day job, especially if you haven't fully figured out your stuff, and then maybe do it part-time. This does not constitute legal advice for like legal contract. If you, you know...

Cliff: (15:35)
Shawn says to keep your day job!

Shawn: (15:39)
Yeah, I think my advice will be boring. Don't necessarily take that leap of faith and convince your friends to do so while you're at it, unless you've got your contingencies set up. So it's kind of like the reverse, the boring advice, go and take some time to see whether you, in fact, even have the drive, commitment, and backing to do this part-time. If you can't do it part-time, you can't do it full-time. It's actually a great testing ground. I'm not even saying do it for like a long time, but like just try three months even. If the team of friends you've assembled, can't stick around for three months and can't push a small, I would say prototype, but like, you know, you've gotta have an idea of what you wanna build, right? If you can't even get to that point, then stuff is gonna get real tough later on. On the other hand, if you did get to that point, then that's good news, but it's still not like settled, settled. I guess one huge question would be like, assuming you all do this full time, how long are you gonna do this without pay? That's an actual question you should discuss. Not everybody has equal resources, savings, commitments, or independence, right? It's a lot easier to do this when you are young and have no kids or something, versus say, you have three kids, you kind of need a stable income. The situations are totally different. So I guess my advice here would be, you'll want to measure a bunch of stuff, you want to test a bunch of stuff, you wanna make sure you can pull off your plan. So number one, go find a bunch of folk you want to work with, you should be testing yourselves as a team. See if you can get to that prototype stage, if you can't, then that was the first hurdle. Sorry, realistic advice. If you don't even pass that first hurdle, things are gonna get even tougher from that point. If you do pass that first hurdle, congrats, you might have a first prototype and then you're ready to go pitch or raise funds or start your project, whatever it is. This doesn't just apply to NFT projects, or crypto projects. It applies to literally everything. Whether it's crowdfunding, whether it's investors, whether you're bootstrapping, having a sort of an MVP, I think would be better. In fact, for team morale, for further recruitment, for fundraising, than just having a bunch of slides. I'm not saying the VC route is wrong, it totally works, but most people will have some difficulty pulling that off, I think.

Cliff: (18:25)
Yeah. One thing I've always wondered... For a lot of tech startups, you know, there's tons of stories about how, you know, Instagram started out as like a check-in app for restaurants or something. And I think Google started out as a search engine I guess, and now it's essentially an ad network, um, you know, companies change and they evolve quite a bit. How often does like a game company change the concept of its like first title? Like is that something that's kind of core to the entire endeavor or is it kind of like a bunch of people who are like "I just wanna develop games. I don't necessarily know the concept of the first game will be". Or is it the other way around? Like "I just have to make this game and it's gonna be, you know, about toads that get in fights" or something? You know, and that's gonna be the corn that's never gonna change. How often is that kind of the essential ingredient? How often is it something that is, is it more like your desire to make your game?

Shawn: (19:32)
I think that the short answer here is it's actually both. The short answer here is that game making, is iterative. So there are people who definitely go, like "I'm gonna finish this game, my dream" or whatever. And some people finish it. And nothing changed from start to execution, but also the moment you launch and you encounter players, then stuff changes. Like "did I make this game too tough? Did people love another part of this game greatly?" So I mean, yeah, you finished the game, but the sequel also will definitely be changed. So I think it's in a strange way. I would use the word "alchemy". The moment your game comes in contact with volatile environment, which is basically your players, stuff changes. uh, for a lot of people, I wouldn't even use the word companies, for alot of creators, that process starts even earlier. The core concept in your head doesn't translate as well to your first prototype, the moment even you test it. So you might go like "oh, okay this slingshot mechanic is great". And then you go, like, you're still making a slingshot game, but it's now more of a catapult game? Sort of thing. So there's still tossing stuff through the air, but, you know, know it's changed along the way. Or it's like a shoot them up game. And then it changed into like a different sort of shoot them up game. Maybe like the ratio of like dodging versus shooting became drastically different. So I mean, all games, because the process is iterative, evolve as they're being built. You know there's your all-tier type creators. Like, you know, it's like "I'm an artist, this is my vision, et cetera". But I think even those types, you do take into account the environment and you thoughts change as well. You as a person will think about things, and I think that's great. So as you're building the game, maybe more of your current situation leaks into the game, is that a bad thing? No, I don't think so at all. Uh, is there any less soulful? Certainly not as well. In the end we are designing experiences and they are for people, made by people. You cannot help but put some of yourself, and the people you interact with, into the game. And I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing. I think the best games are the ones who are not just vision driven. I think having a strong vision is very important. But having that vision and experience tested with players makes it better. If the vision is great, it should hold up. But I don't think criticism from players makes it worse; I think it's about sometimes also maybe finding the right audience. So like we talk about like, it's, it's practically a meme at this point, but the Dark Souls series. So the Dark Souls series is, you could say, rather unforgiving in certain ways, the combat is at a very specific pace. And some action gamers are not quite used to that. Casual players are not quite used to that. It's unforgiving basically, dodge or die, roll or die. But for people who love that experience, it's heaven. I mean, well, it's hell, but yeah. you know, it's a very specific experience.

Cliff: (22:55)
It's a good hearse.

Shawn: (22:56)
Yeah, it's a good hearse, right. But you know, you're trying to... I think they were steadfast in their vision, but let me just say, I'm like really bad when I'm on this and at some point they were like "okay, uh, so, you know, we've built this world and this game and it's great, et cetera, how could we make it better?" And I mean, yeah. You know, the game has added features as they went by, but eventually they also built something called Bloodborne, which has, you know, it's the same company, same sort of feeling. You still gotta dodge, but the ratio is different. So like it does feel faster paced, it's a little bit looser. I'm not gonna say which game did commercially better. Cause I actually don't know. But I can see that they were targeting maybe a slightly different audience and again, the IP was different. They had a change up for that. So I think as creators, we evolve and, and some people use the word "selling out" but I don't think so. I think it's a communication with players. You're also trying to provide for the original players of whatever vision that you had that they latched onto and loved.

Wan Wei: (24:09)
We have come to the end of part one. Did you enjoy the discussion so far? Stay tuned to part two of our episode with Shawn Toh of Battlebrew.

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