Polygon Labs gaming chief more bullish than ever on blockchain gaming

Colin Campbell, Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023 8:44 am

As vice president of games at blockchain technology company Polygon Labs, Urvit Goel is a key link between publishers and their Web3 aspirations. Polygon’s Ethereum-based services are being used by game companies like Square Enix, Nexon, and more.

In a conversation with GameDaily, Goel said that he does not view himself as an evangelist, seeking to convert game companies to Web3. “My team’s focus hasn’t been to convince established publishers to integrate with blockchain. Our focus is to find the companies that have signaled to the market that they’re very interested in leveraging [Web3] technology, and then bringing Polygon’s solutions to the forefront to help bring their vision to life.”

Prior to joining Polygon in March last year, Goel spent almost a decade at Amazon, working with game companies to leverage that company’s range of tablets and gaming devices as well as its app store. “I had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of developers over the course of multiple years,” he says, noting that this was during a massive shift towards free-to-play, most especially in the mobile sector.

His view is that there are clear parallels with the state of Web3 gaming now, and the burgeoning ftp market of a decade ago. “During that time, developers were bifurcated. Some were leaning into free-to-model, while others were convinced by the premium model.” He argues that in its earliest days, free-to-play was often portrayed (sometimes accurately) as predatory, or was viewed as a threat to the existence of game publishers.

“A lot of companies didn’t think it was a good model. I quickly realized that it wasn’t up to me to convince developers to move to free-to-play, it was up to me to help developers that were already convinced by this new model to help them succeed.”

Moonshot projects

He believes that – as in the mobile ftp market – companies that are committed to blockchain are likely to stay the course. Some of those that have recently attracted venture capital funding will become “the behemoths” of tomorrow.

In contrast, it’s much more difficult for established companies to shift to unfamiliar models, especially if they seem to threaten the current order. Even when those companies do make an investment, it’s often a “moonshot project” that is first to be cut when problems arise, or when budgets are tightened.

“There’s so much demand in the space to build blockchain games right now,” he says. “Billions of dollars in venture capital has been deployed. It’s not fruitful for a small team like ours to go out there and try to evangelize blockchain or convert folks.”

Of course, Web3 critics point to recent market failures, and to the undoubtedly poor quality of many blockchain games currently available. But Goel says it’s still early days. Most of the VC investment in blockchain gaming is still in development. “As bullish as I am on blockchain gaming, we don’t have an example of a success case. But examples are going to show up in the next 12 to 18 months. They will serve as success case studies.”

He adds: “Web3 or blockchain doesn’t change the gravitational laws and challenges of game development. In fact, it just makes it more complex. If anyone thinks they can bring a game to market in six months, they’re probably not going to be successful.”

The recent cooling in speculation in blockchain gaming is a “washing out” he says, of games that worked like Ponzi schemes, and companies that “came in to make a quick buck in the bull market … now you’re left with high quality high conviction builders”.

He adds: “In the last three, four months, we have seen a little bit of a slowdown in terms of volume. But on the flip side, we’ve announced some of our largest partnerships to date. It has actually helped us because there’s a lot less noise that we have to sift through.”

Design fundamentals

Sifting through noise is a key part of Goel’s team’s purview. Developers and publishers seek technology solutions, which Polygon provides, but also navigational guidance in a rapidly shifting market.

“We are having dozens of conversations every week with developers, and we’re getting signals every day,” he says. “A single developer could never get those signals. There’s an information sharing gap that we can fill.”

The best advice he has for game developers is to focus on the fundamentals of game design. “It has to be fun and engaging. There has to be very low friction onboarding new players. The user experience for using wallets has to be positive, but doesn’t have to be required.

“I might come in and play a blockchain game and I might choose to never trade my assets. I come in, I play. I enjoy my time and that’s okay. There might be other folks playing for whom earning and trading assets is their gamification of the game.”

Goel says he’s no evangelist, but he’s clearly a believer in the consumer-based proposition of digital asset ownership. “Over the course of many years, I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars on in-game assets like cosmetics. A bunch of those games, I don’t play anymore. I’d love to be able to share my assets with friends who still play those games. I’d love to be able to sell them to third parties.” He mentions the potential of using assets across multiple games, a difficult problem to solve, but one which many companies are keen to exploit.

“We’re on this long journey,” he says. “It’s not going to happen overnight. But if you have two equivalent games, I believe that users will choose to play the one that gives them ownership versus one that does not, even if they choose not to exercise the benefits of that ownership. That’s what drives my bullishness, not to mention all the companies that are building blockchain games right now.”

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell has been reporting on the gaming industry for more than three decades, including for Polygon, IGN, The Guardian, Next Generation, and The Economist.

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