Polygon’s Michael Blank on Leaving EA for Web3

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the game and media industry. This Tuesday we have an exclusive interview with Polygon Studios chief operating officer Michael Blank about his decision to leave Electronic Arts for the blockchain gaming industry. Also: why Zero Latency relies on older gamers and what everyone will be playing in 50 years.

Why Michael Blank left traditional gaming for Web3

When Michael Blank left the Electronic Arts publishing house of Apex Legends and Madden in March, he was about to work on his 20th birthday for one of the oldest and greatest game makers in the world. At EA, Blank had done it all: he’d been a producer in the trenches of game development in Vancouver; led major initiatives at EA Sports and the company’s California Origin platform; and until this year, he was the senior vice president of the company’s player network, overseeing a team of more than 400 people.

But earlier this year, Blank left the traditional industry for a role as Chief Operating Officer at Polygon Studios. The Web3 company oversees blockchain gaming, NFT, and related metaverse projects on the Polygon network, an Ethereum side chain that aims to help blockchain networks collaborate and scale. Blank told Protocol in an interview that Web3’s promise, for gaming and beyond, is far too great to ignore.

Leaving EA was hard, Blank told me. “I’ve spent most of my adult life at EA,” he said. “I felt like I was part of a family. I love games and I loved the people I worked with, and it wasn’t easy to make this switch.”

  • The decision to take the plunge came as Blank tried to envision the next big shift, not just in gaming, but for the entire internet.
  • “How do I help a gaming company, be it EA or anyone else, think about the future of gaming? There are a lot of companies, including EA, that are constantly struggling with what’s next,” said Blank.
  • “I felt like at Polygon I had the opportunity to take this beyond gaming… to help shape the future of the Internet – this broad view of a company that made it possible not only for gaming, but also for movies, music and financial markets in the whole experience of what people do on the internet,” he added. “That’s the direction I started migrating.”

There was never a “now or never” moment. Instead, Blank said his work at EA, reflecting on the early stages of the metaverse, and what it might mean to develop entirely new platforms and definitions for gaming led him to Web3.

  • “I was drawn to Web3 based on reading I was doing about what was going on with NFTs at the time,” he said. “I thought these were new vehicles of engagement. I was excited, and the excitement snowballed, and I felt like I had to try to do something not quite different, but different.
  • Blank turned to a friend, Phyl Terry, who runs an organization called Collaborative Gain, a type of professional community focused on business leadership. Blank said Terry helped him go through the deliberation process to arrive at his decision to leave EA and join Polygon Studios.
  • “I started following Polygon because it was making significant strides in blockchain technology and blockchain technology adoption in partnership with both Web 2.0 and Web3 companies,” said Blank.
  • “Polygon was one of the natural companies you would look at if they wanted to take a leap into this world and frankly it has only accelerated over the past six months despite what we are seeing in the crypto market.”

Blank is not concerned about the current crypto battle. While 2021 was a breakthrough year for NFTs and the crypto market in general, 2022 was a hard wake-up call for Web3 enthusiasts.

  • “I think there are a lot of things we need to do better. Things have been done that are not good for the world of crypto and the world of blockchain,” Blank told me. “We’re creating something new here, and in creating something new, there’s so much to learn and game companies need to drive those lessons.”
  • “With every new innovation there are peaks and troughs, just like mobile and free to play,” he added. “Today we see gaming companies across the board, Web3 and the largest Web 2.0, thinking about how to participate in the world of blockchain gaming… they sometimes succeed and sometimes they fail, but we learn a lot.”

For Blank, the role of blockchain gaming is not to revolutionize the gaming industry and replace the old guard, but to turn more people around the world into players and define what it means to play a game. expand.

“All these innovations in distribution and delivery and connectivity and social… they expanded the market, they created more play opportunities,” he said. “I expect what we see in blockchain will be another tool to help expand and create new experiences for players in games, just like mobile and free-to-play and just like streaming and subscriptions will do. I’m super excited and can’t wait to see what game companies are making.”

— Nick instead

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Zero Latency’s CTO on why location-based VR appeals to older gamers

Location-based VR startup Zero Latency is bringing another well-known video game to its more than 50 locations in 24 countries: the company is adapting its 2011 title Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine for free-roam VR. Zero Latency is developing the title in-house with the help of Focus Entertainment, which provides some of the game’s original features.

Using well-known, slightly older IP works well for Zero Latency. The startup previously adapted Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3, which was first released in 2012. The title was a big part of Zero Latency’s recovery from the pandemic.

  • The company saw ticket sales rise 191% in the past 12 months, according to CTO Scott Vandonkelaar. The number of games played on the platform even increased by 288%.
  • Zero Latency launched Far Cry about a year ago, and Vandonkelaar told me that the company has seen many older gamers flock to its locations since then.
  • “A real common thread is that people used to play games when they were younger, and they’re still looking to come in and interact with these games again,” Vandonkelaar said.
  • “They’re people who haven’t used a controller or who may have sat in front of a PC for a long time and played a game,” he said. “They remember when they had free time, they could sit down and play a game.”
  • Part of the reason why location-based VR is so appealing to these gamers is that they don’t have to memorize the exact controls of a game to have fun.
  • Instead, they can just walk around the game and fight enemies with their friends. “That really resonates very strongly with that older gamer audience,” said Vandonkelaar.
  • Bringing these titles back to location-based VR will also allow gamers to share them with their kids and have fun together as a family.

At least some of these gamers are also likely to buy their own VR headsets. Vandonkelaar told me, however, that he wasn’t too concerned about it from a business point of view. “Because more people have bought headsets, it has not harmed our business at all,” he said.

Vandonkelaar argued that location-based VR is not like theaters, which struggle with people watching movies at home. Instead, he compared it to basketball courts. If people buy their own basketballs to practice at home, it only increases the chances that they will visit a court one day. “Playing VR at home is just very different than in a special location,” he said.

— Janko Roettgers

In other news

Take-Two confirms Grand Theft Auto VI leak. Hackers have gained access to the company’s internal systems and have leaked dozens of development videos of the unreleased game, Take-Two Interactive announced yesterday.

Pico is announcing its new VR headset this week. The Pico 4/Phoenix device will be unveiled this Thursday at an online event.

Apple and Amazon didn’t want LIV Golf. The controversial Saudi-backed golf company is reportedly struggling to find a media partner to stream its tournaments.

Why does China hate the MCU so much? A fascinating deep dive into China’s decision not to release new Marvel movies, the types of movies that do well in the US and why they might not be best suited for global markets.

Netflix’s “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is making people replay the game. Interest in Cyberpunk 2077 has skyrocketed since Netflix debuted the anime adaptation on its service. Kind of proves the point behind Netflix’s gaming franchise strategy, doesn’t it?

Streaming accounted for 35% of TV viewing in August. That is according to Nielsen, who reports that YouTube for the first time linked Netflix for the most used streaming services on TV sets.

Forget pickleball, here comes drone racing. The Drone Racing League aspires to be the new frontier of sport – thereby advancing drone technology for everyday use.

G2 Esports puts its CEO on unpaid leave. Carlos Rodriguez is stepping back for eight weeks after sharing videos of him partying with Andrew Tate, an influencer who was kicked out of “Big Brother” for alleged assault and banned from multiple social platforms for hate speech.

Going viral, 60 years later

Speaking of pickleball, this weekend someone told me that the game that no one can talk about these days was invented by parents whose kids got bored over the summer. That turns out to be true, with caveats that these weren’t just parents, but actually a congressman and his friends, and it all happened nearly 60 years ago. That’s a long time for a game to go viral, but it also gives me hope: if it follows the same trajectory, our grandkids will all be playing The Cones of Dunshire in 50 years!

— Janko Roettgers

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to entertainment@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Thursday.

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