December 9, 2021

Episode 5: The Metaverse, NFTs, and Games Part 2

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 2

The transcript is also available at Temi.

Wanwei: (00:00)
Welcome to the Multiverse. This is the official podcast of Multiverse AI. Hello, again, this is Wanwei. The head of ecosystem at Multiverse. Today's podcast is the second half of our episode five, titled "the metaverse, NFT, and games". If you have any thoughts or comments on this episode, or just want to express that you love Shawn as much as we do, feel free to share them on our social media, enjoy the podcast.

John: (00:34)
Or I guess you can reframe it as like, what are some common pitfalls or traps that happen to games as they go from idea to launch?

Shawn: (00:44)
Okay, sure. I think I'll happily answer that one. Soo I think that's definitely happened to us, right? So congrats, welcome to part two of the previous question. What can go wrong will go wrong sort of stuff. So we, our first game actually never launched. We were gonna make a strategy game and it was actually well received; it got featured in Taiwan's two biggest gaming sites for gamers and Bahamas. So the BattleSky Brigade IP actually started off as a strategy game- cute bunnies piloting barrel punk max. And I think we got half the game built, but, you know, as like a new company back then, and we were and still are, I guess, primarily creators. We weren't fundraisers. We weren't business people. All of us had production roles in our like previous jobs at triple A et cetera. Raising funds wasn't what we were good at, like we know how to make stuff. So the honest truth is we didn't have enough money to finish that ambitious strategy game. Half of it's still lying around somewhere. So that's definitely something... I mean, that's what went wrong, right? We pivoted, made an idle clicker version from like the assets we had and launched that, which turned into the mobile game which saved our lives. I guess, as a company, but it wasn't originally what we had set out to build and launch. Thankfully I think people recognized the quality that could be found even in that. And then that led to, I guess, the apple arcade project, which is something that we are quite happy and proud of. That one was a shooter, a vertical shooter/fishing game. So I think that did quite well and is doing quite well. I guess we are kind of running into that problem again, cause we are looking for a partner for the multiplayer cooking game. That's still multiplatform. Again, we might not have the full funds to finish that one. So that's why we pivoted a little bit and we are finishing a small isometric action RPG, if you will. And we're having fun with this one, this one we can finish on our own steam. So yeah, I guess that's, what's going on. Basically, we definitely had pitfalls of our own, I'll say that.

Cliff: (03:29)
It seems like a feast or famine kind of situation sometimes with games.

Shawn: (03:34)
Oh it is! Because it's a hit based business and industry, right? So more like you make a large sum of money, more large, you know, being relevant, rather relational, et cetera. And  you don't think of it as "oh yeah, we are rich". You think of it more as like, "okay, we have now generated runway for the next amount of time". "What can we finish in this time?" That's kind of how it goes. Of course things are different if you're like doing, say, games as service, which we generally are not at this point. But I guess we'd be happy to go back to that one day. But yeah, the next game I think is premium for various reasons.

Cliff: (04:17)
Mm-hmm. There's this kind of somewhat recent, I guess, phenomenon of the blending of, I guess, reality or the blending of gaming. And in reality, I think some people have been calling this metaverse, some people have been calling this other things. It's been, it's kind of increased in it's kind of prominence in media, you know, hard to know what to think of that. But in your opinion, what does it really mean to you and what do you think? I guess this is a great question for John and Troy and Wanwei, you know. When you hear that- this idea of metaverse, I think it means alot of different things to different people. I don't know if you guys wanna go around and just kind of share a couple thoughts on that.

Shawn: (05:08)
I think my opinion is actually we are already in a nascent version of the metaverse. To me, the metaverse is more or less connected worlds. It's internet part two; it's about freedom and communication. If we look at more micro instances (they're still huge in their own sense, right?), would be, I guess you could say, modern day MMO lights or even things like Fortnight. Fortnight is definitely not an MMO, but they're holding for virtual concerts and they have been doing so since I believe a few years ago? Maybe even 2018? I mean, I could get the date wrong, but, it's not like happening this year alone, it's been happening from some time back. So I think games, or large games are already also nascent metaverses. Alot of people use games and associated platforms as new hangout spaces. I mean right now we are, we're still in a pandemic. And I've seen discord, you said shoot right up. This is anecdotal, of course. But a lot of friends who weren't on Discord are now in Discord. Some friends, I mean if their company allows it et cetera, have decided to hang out together virtually on Discord. Sometimes with cam, sometimes without, and try to replicate the feeling of being in the same room. So I think no matter what people are human and we want to reach out and we want to communicate. And games or associated platforms are some of the most immersive experiences we have. And that obviously lends itself naturally to that communication and to bridging of people across worlds. It also helps that I think games again, intrinsically are a refuge or an escape, possibly both, for a lot of people, right?

Shawn: (07:09)
The real world can be scary or stressful, et cetera. Why not go to this fantastic world where you can recreate who you are and have a sense of control over this smaller world? So again, I think that's a key factor of why people play games or MMOs. Some of them have a lot more control, have a lot more power, are able to fulfill fantasies and explore new worlds and meet new people. And for a lot of them, they have been empowering experiences for these people. Of course, maybe taken too far, they also are an escape or are an addiction, I get that. But I think, the empowering aspect of games is something that has been true even in my own personal life. So yeah, I think, as games get more online and interconnected, basically a lot of them to me, are nascent metaverses right now. For me, I don't just view the game itself, but again, like we talked a little bit about it earlier, the ecosystem outside of the games, but still connected. So your Discords, your Reddits. Even I have like some friends who have, like, I don't know, we talked about Pokemon Go earlier. They're like Pokemon go WhatsApp groups. You know, so they trade information and stuff over there and sync up schedules. So I just think it's born out of the human need to communicate and to bond and games are now a super mainstream part of that. And it's a good thing for me.

John: (08:45)
Should I go next? All right. So for me, metaverse as a term, I think will be like "cyber space is now"? And that it's something we all understand what it is, but we don't really use that term anymore because we use a broader, more generally understood and less, I guess, snazzy old-school-cyber-punk sounding term. But for me, metaverse, I like to define it as any multi-user digital experience that is persistent and synchronous for its users. And it's also on a spectrum; I think there are two other elements that can make it feel more metaverse-y. And that would be how immersive it is and how connected or affected by the real world outside of that experience. And those would be like the four ingredients. Two of which are like core to even being a metaverse and two of which kind of make it feel more metaverse-y. And so I think, even like Discord chat rooms, you know, a lot of social networks. Twitter itself is by that definition, a metaverse. But I think there are, you know, emerge with the gradual evolution of like more internet access, you know, higher bandwidth. It's just a gradual evolution where things are gonna be more and more. These experiences will become more immersive and more connected to our real world, therefore becoming more metaverse-y. And so, you know, almost all, if not all of our experiences that we, when we go online, will be in metaverses. So that's my take. Yeah that's how I feel and that's how I define the metaverse.

Cliff: (10:41)
So one thing you mentioned that is pretty specific is the synchronous nature of it. Where I guess another way to put it is that people are online at the same time to interact with each other. Kind of given like, you know, things like meercap, Periscope, and kind of the topping out, I guess, so to speak of. Things like Clubhouse, these kind of synchronous platforms. Do you see that same problem happening in the metaverse? Or is it is kind of a counterpoint, like something like, um, I guess like Fortnite, which is also synchronous of course, but does not seem to have any problems with kind of empty rooms.

John: (11:20)
So I guess what I mean synchronous, it's not that like you can only experience it in real time. I think it's more about when you're on it. Does the experience happen for you in the same way it happens for anyone else who's also on it? Like does time pass in the same way for you as it does for everyone else who's on it? Versus like, I guess I like to define things in the way they are not. So like, what is not synchronous would potentially be like, I don't know, this is kinda borderline, but I guess, instead of Discord chats, you can contrast it with like old school forums where you post something and then you go away, and then you log back in and there's new posts and they happen while you were gone. And I guess if you were there, if you had refreshed, it would have been synchronous, but you weren't. So there's a little bit of like this, almost turn based asynchronous aspect to it. But I think like, as I mentioned before, you know, as more access to high bandwidth internet rolls out... You know the synchronous experience is always more immersive and more compelling than like a asynchronous experience. So, you know, like Twitter started off as relatively asynchronous. But now you can literally see the dots when people start tweeting. So it feels very synchronous and like, same with like text message groups. Those are kind of like a mini metaverse. You can have like three or four friends in a text message group, and, you know when someone's, you can literally see them typing. And so you're sitting there, waiting to see what the message is. So I guess that's what I mean by synchronous. Not like you have to be you know, everyone, every user, has to be like involved, you know, block out this amount of time in order to share that experience.

Shawn: (13:16)
I think actually we are moving to a point where I think I was just brought up earlier, like even, yeah, our chat apps or the formally asynchronous stuff is actually very synchronous, and it blends itself even more. So for example,  we talk about even the streaming platforms. So we are how to say very loopingly self reflective at this point in our media. So like say if I miss someone's livestream, so the livestream itself is synchronous, right? People will clip it and then people will go back and respond to the clips. And there might be another livestream where they reference the clippers responding to the clip of the previous livestream. And I think that's interesting because it's media reflecting on media reflecting on media. Even though it's technically asynchronous, the loop is wound so tight I think, that a lot of the stuff is almost as good as it being synchronous.  

Cliff: (14:23)
Wanwei or Troy, do you guys wanna give a crack at this massive question?

Troy: (14:26)
To me, I think metaverse is like a new world built by, built on like a digital environment. And recently I'm shifting the idea that I think metaverse should be online to offline or offline to online, to maybe metaverse is just something that's online in the future. Cause it's like a totally new world. And by like using blockchain technology, I think you can create a relatively permanent digital world. For example, if you play like the game, and if miHoYo closes its servers, the game is gone right? And in this world, if everything is random and with some AI technologies, it's like a new world, for me. And also recently there's an idea that's very hot. It's called an NFT. And I think with some like NFT features, I think the NFT idea is a very simple and common idea in the real world. Cause in the real world, everything is already like non-copyable. But in the digital world, we face a big problem- people can copy everything they want. You can create two avatars that looks exactly the same and maybe has the same characteristics, but with NFT, you can fundamentally change that. Which will also help us to build a real digital world, the so called maybe metaverse for me. Yeah.

Cliff: (16:46)
I think that the question that comes to mind given all these great examples, is something that I've always wondered about- this idea of centralized versus decentralized metaverses. Which is kind of gonna win in the end. And I can think of all sorts of kind of random examples of kind of centralized versus decentralized. So I guess one is like encyclopedia botanica versus Wikipedia, right? And when Wikipedia started, it was kind of a joke. It's like wikipedia botanica, they charge you, I guess there's thousands of dollars. I never had it growing up. We just had world book because it's a lot cheaper. And then now you have like this massive repository of information that's open sourced, that's decentralized, in its content. Online versus offline, you know, Bill Gates bet against the internet. He bet on multimedia content on CD ROMs versus the internet. And I guess obviously you can see who won that one. I think another big one was AOL. I don't know how many people actually remember AOL, but they had kind of like a fake internet or kind of a walled garden, like "oh yeah, you can get the New York times in AOL. Why do you need the rest of the internet?" And then there's other people who are just connecting directly to the internet and it started out again kind of less rich than AOL, it had less content. It was kind of less compelling. But very, very quickly because it was decentralized internet obviously, it grew much, much faster than AOL. And eventually it just became like an ISP um, like a kind of email provider combined with ISP.

Shawn: (18:27)
We have other much more polished again, metaversal environments that already exist. Like we talked about Fortnite. We talked about the various game companies MMOs, I mean, I've lots of friends who just use Genshin Impact to hang out and chat. I mean the text system in the game kind of sucks right now, but you know, people are using voice chat. So they're using multiple programs simultaneously. Like we chat on Discord, um, whilst being in Genshin and then hanging out and having a picnic. So to me, I think if that's not Multiversal, I don't know what is. Like, that's sort of it. Could it go further? Yes, it could. But I think people also enjoy flirting with the edge. There's enough realism, AKA, that's a voice of someone else, but you have a visual avatar that represents you differently or that you can change, et cetera. So again, it really brings me back to I guess you could say the glory days of MMOs. I hesitate to use that term, but that's what it was when there was a huge proliferation of MMOs. And there was a of time spent there wandering worlds, literally that do not exist, with friends that I never met in the flesh, but I knew every thing about their lives. And some of them, I knew their voices, some of them I didn't, but you know, I knew what they were worried about, I knew what their day was like, I knew their speech patterns or their typing patterns. You know different people will say different amounts of real life revelatory stuff. But even for the people who don't, like say they wanted to keep the formal details out, like, you know, I knew which country they were in. I didn't know whether they were, you know, married or not, or had kids, but I knew exactly what their worries were, whether they were worried about their job, you know... One of them had a creative rut, et cetera, what they liked. So it was, it really was a friendship. And in a way it was freer to me, mostly because you weren't bound by things like physical location. You had no obligation in some cases to them. Some of them weren't even guild mates, and I do regret this now because some of those friendships were lost, but I think also because of their transience?

Cliff: (20:54)
I was gonna say, I thought maybe it was because you had to kill them. Is that why the friendship was lost? Because you had to kill them?

Shawn: (21:00)
Uh, no. No. It's just you know, some of them stop playing the game for various reasons. So I think there was a friend in the same country, Singaporean as well. And I never, I guess I never met her in real life. And I guess when I stopped playing, I didn't actually trade contacts or anything. So that friend is lost to the ether. I could walk past them and not know who they were. And then I've obviously friends overseas. Some whom I've played with also daily and I've lost contact. And then on the flip side, I have some friends that I've made and traded contacts with. And we meet up for Christmas and on New Year's every year. And some of them became really good friends. Sounds funny, but some of them also bleed a lot more into real life later on. One of the guild mates actually was a potential investor at one point.

Cliff: (22:04)
Wow.

Shawn: (22:04)
Without saying too much, he's a VC. So that was, that was kind of funny.

Cliff: (22:13)
Interesting. One thing, Shawn, you're probably better versed in this question than any of us ever will be. I think something has always kind of wondered, I've wondered about, with this kind of combination of metaverse and NFTs... What do you think are the odds of these kind of cross...So I think we're okay at this point with just saying Fortnite is a metaverse and something like Genshin is another metaverse. What do you think are the chances of these developers, these big companies that make a ton of money selling virtual goods, embracing  this idea of NFTs that can grow, go across different metaverses? You know, like you have a sword, or a gun or something, or a skyline GTR inside one of the games, and then you can like, kind of port it out to the other one with the NFT, and reuse it in the other world. Do you think that's gonna happen? Or is that something that kind of goes against the economics of, and the fundamental fabric of game economics?

Shawn: (23:16)
I think again, sorry if this is an unsatisfying answer; I think the answer is both because the large games do a lot of collaborations. So for example, you have in Genshin you can play as alloy from horizon zero dawn. And you know, there's lots of collaborations. Fortnight is famous for its collaborations, right? I don't think the companies necessarily feel the need to have NFT-like objects basically because they have control over their own systems. They're very open to working for other companies. Are they open to building true metaverses, and collaborate on a, both a technical and a financial standpoint? I think that's also true, but they would have a different product for that. This is my answer for that. For example, I do know that miHoYo, which made Genshin Impact, is also working on something called Lumi, I believe? Which is like a virtual friend, girlfriend, sort of thing. It's not connected to the rest of their products, but, it's just interesting that they're doing some heavy research into that. And it's also not really surprising considering what they're known for is I guess great storyline, great writing and some great characters. So why not go a step further and see how that can grow? I think, yeah, the answer really is both because I can definitely see some companies building something together, but I guess when it comes down to it, the tech and the financial structure would matter to various companies' ownership, basically. Not just on a user level, but on a corporate level.

Cliff: (24:59)
Yeah. I think I could see it also being an issue with balancing items across games. You know, you don't wanna be super OP in one and incredibly nerfed in the other, or maybe just cosmetic. Yeah, I've always just wondered about that. Like I think anyone who's gamed for a while has a kind of a pile of virtual goods that they've accumulated in one metaverse, and then it's kind of completely useless in the next version of that game. And so you wonder, you know, after slogging through tons of Dungeons, was it worth it? You know, I had fun, but let's be honest. A lot of it was for accumulating loot and now this loot is kind of, of questionable value. So I think, um, or zero, I guess if you can't bring into the next world, so...

Shawn: (25:49)
Well without saying like too much, cause I think we are running low on time... I think part of the joy of that is the journey. It's the journey of earning it and it's the joy of exploring new worlds. I think for me, the beauty of metaverse would, this will sound very cliche, but it's the friends we made along the way that we jump with from world to world.

Cliff: (26:11)
Hmm. And the ones you had to kill.

Shawn: (26:14)
Yeah, some of them too. Yes. Haha. Yep, that's true. That's true.

Cliff: (26:21)
That was profound and beautiful.  Unfortunately, we do have to let Shawn get on with his day and build amazing things for us to play. So, um...

John: (26:34)
Yeah, same. Thank you, Shawn, so much. I also really enjoyed that. I think you actually shifted my mindset when it comes to friends you make through games. I always felt like, oh, that seems so weird, and artificial and random. But then when you spoke about it, I just thought like, is it really less artificial than just like going to a bar and making a friend there, or making friends with coworkers? Like at least you have more in common with someone you play the same game with than someone you happen to drink alcohol with, at the same building.

Shawn: (27:03)
No, definitely. I mean, you know, it's real hanging out, right? So...

John: (27:08)
Yep. Yep. So thank you. Thank you so much for your time and it's always a pleasure to talk to you.

Shawn: (27:13)
Hey, all good, all good.

Cliff: (27:16)
Yeah, definitely. Shawn, thanks for, I would say fighting the good fight. We talked about this before. I think games are one of the highest forms of I guess, software development, I think? Because you don't have to make Microsoft Word fun because people need to use it. And so therefore, usually sucks. But when  a game is, you know, purely optional, and it's something that is elective...You do it to unwind, to have fun, to connect with people. So it's definitely a really high art form in my mind. You're making something that has to be so enjoyable that people choose to do it instead of something else. And so yeah, kudos to you and best of luck to this next chapter, and your future endeavors. Well, hopefully we'll catch you on another podcast.

Shawn: (28:12)
Hey, sure thing, man. Always happy to be back.

John: (28:18)
All right. Well thank you for joining us for this podcast and please check out Battlebrew and their social media accounts online. We'll see you in the Multiverse.

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