Following his recent move from Pokémon GO Product Manager at Niantic to Sky Mavis, as Gaming Product Manager for Axie Infinity, Philip La spoke to PocketGamer.biz about moving from one of the most authority in the world, experimentation in AR and blockchain, and the sustainability of the Axian economy.
PocketGamer.biz: What prompted Niantic to switch to Sky Mavis?
Phillip La: I loved my time at Niantic and I still believe in a bright future for the AR platform and the experiences that will come out of the company. At the same time, once I first experienced blockchain gaming with Axie Infinity in mid-2021, I realized this was going to be a fundamental paradigm shift in gaming.
As a long-time gamer, the feeling of finally owning the assets I acquired in a game was a drastically positive experience. The collective ownership and development of games with players and developers is also a fundamental shift that I have already seen tremendous value in my early days at Sky Mavis, where I had many discussions with the community to inform our thinking.
Niantic has also committed significant resources to exploring blockchain gaming and the metaverse. What attracted you to Sky Mavis’ approach?
Sky Mavis is the pioneer and face of blockchain gaming and has already made history with its innovations. I decided that the most effective way for me to learn and contribute to the blockchain game was to join a space-native company with a proven track record of shipping quality and successful products.
Is there anything you wish you could have implemented while working at Niantic? In which direction do you see AR games evolving?
Getting to work on Pokémon GO was a dream job given my love for the franchise, and there are tons of other features I would have liked to work on and implement. Building more experiences that connect gameplay to the real world in unique ways is a key area I wish I had delved into more. For example, making different PokéStops meaningful to game progression depending on whether it’s a statue, restaurant, park, museum, or stadium.
I think there’s still a lot of experimentation and innovation to be done in the AR gaming space to figure out what works. Pokémon GO had a unique combination of factors that contributed to its huge success. Many other games trying to skin its mechanics with a different IP will not work. I expect to see a lot more unique game mechanics come out with AR games that cater to different kinds of player motivations, especially as the underlying technology evolves in tandem.
What do you think are the main challenges facing mobile games that blockchain is best at solving?
Blockchain has value not only for mobile games, but for the gaming industry as a whole. Game developers currently take all of the profits and have limited community involvement in crafting their game experiences. Having players involved in game design does not make sense with traditional models because the incentives of players are not necessarily aligned, game developers may try to extract more revenue while players just want to have more fun and get cool stuff in the game.
Blockchain enables the alignment of these incentives, since gamers can have skin in the game by owning assets, and gamers can understand why developers need to balance the economy in a certain way so that the ecosystem can thrive. as a whole, which benefits both players as well as developers.
We don’t need to convince everyone to embrace blockchain to have a thriving and growing industry
You described Sky Mavis’ early directions on social media, including the Builder program and pay-to-win conversations. What other directions are you exploring?
Since we are a startup, I will help with many areas of the business. Key areas include managing the economy, driving Land/Origin game development, and determining overall game roadmaps.
I can share another particular area that I am currently exploring which is Collection. With my background in Pokemon, it’s probably no surprise that I’ve also been thinking about collection mechanics and how we can make it more fun and interesting to collect a variety of Axies.
Axie Infinity’s durability is a recurring topic that is frequently extrapolated to represent that of blockchain and NFT games. What do you think of said durability?
Coming from traditional games and the experience of managing in-game economies, Axie’s sustainability is simply a function of balancing an economy and providing core value as a game. It actually doesn’t have much -thing to do with whether it is a blockchain game or not.
For any given economy, there must be balanced sources and sinks to maintain its health. Pits are driven by players’ desire to acquire various assets or achieve particular goals. Blockchain or non-blockchain games should provide gameplay that is fun and meaningful enough for players to want to tap into resources to reach those for intrinsically satisfying motivations.
This will be a focus of my approach to game design and development at Sky Mavis. This kind of motivation has been demonstrated in droves recently as players released over a hundred thousand of their Axies in Sky Mavis just to get exclusive, beautiful, and unique cosmetics to show off and have in their collections.
What do you see from competitors – gaming or otherwise – that you think should be widely implemented in blockchain gaming?
There is a lot of amazing work going on in the blockchain gaming space. There is no specific tactic that I would point out that all games should implement as each game is unique, but I think focusing only on intrinsic value and enjoyment should be the primary focus, economic components and financialization being the result of bringing real value.
To put it lightly, the divide between blockchain gaming proponents and dissidents is becoming incredibly pronounced. At what stage do you think blockchain gaming entities need to convince the general public, and what form do you think that conversation will take?
This is a difficult question. I think the acceptance of blockchain as a whole will come gradually over the long term, especially as younger generations are more interested in digital asset ownership. We don’t need to convince everyone to buy into blockchain to have a successful and growing industry, but growth will happen organically over time through people who experience the core value and are capable to attract others.