How HyperPlay is fixing native web3 game distribution

In the latest episode of his Blockchain Gaming World podcast, editor-in-chief Jon Jordan talks to HyperPlay founder JacobC about his career in blockchain, including working on MetaMask at Consensys, and the thinking behind blockchain game distribution platform HyperPlay.

Other topics covered include competing with web2 platforms such as Steam and mobile app stores, the incentives offered by blockchain in terms of user reputation, and how HyperPlay looks to create a flywheel by providing common tools for game devs, and achievements and community for gamers.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can also listen to the podcast via the Fountain app and earn Bitcoin. How did you get into blockchain?

JacobC: So I was an old school Bitcoiner. I got into it in the very early days, more as an ideological thing and a protest against the financial crisis. But at the time, it was really something I was just fascinated with and a weird hobby on the side. In 2015 and 2016, I saw some of the early Ethereum whitepaper and early dapps being built, like the DAO, which didn’t turn out so well. But the idea of building decentralized applications was really similar to the early internet that I grew up with. I grew up with BitTorrent and I was in the scene of modifying and creating homebrew for Xboxes. The internet was supposed to be weird. It was supposed to be this place for weirdo hackers like me. 

But we got an internet that was just five companies which run our lives. I wanted an internet that was more decentralized and empowering and had more ethical business models and so I became obsessed with Ethereum. I joined ConsenSys in 2018. I worked on some early grant funding DAOs and then I served as lead of operations for MetaMask. I wanted to improve the user experience around web3 and do so in a way that leverages the value propositions of web3.

I was in the MetaMask team for about three years and had come to see that half or more of Metamask’s massive user base was people who have gaming in their web3 reputation. Yet the web3 user experience for people playing video games, it’s really sucky. 

A lot of these users were starting with games. They were coming from diverse countries around the world, commonly countries locked out of the legacy financial system. They were coming and playing video games, earning tokens and getting early amounts of ownership in the protocols they participated in. Then they were taking that and going into decentralized finance and they were getting access to this entire world of other decentralized protocols and leapfrogging the traditional financial system and becoming owners of the financial system themselves. 

To me realizing this was a really profound moment. I had thought a bit about building a gaming product inside of Consensus and I pitched it to people, but it was a little bit outside of the wheelhouse of what Consensus has done historically. Instead we built HyperPlay with a deep partnership with Metamask. So we built this web3 game store and a new distribution platform for games that’s focused on solving the user experience problems around gaming for web3. 

My view is that a lot of those problems stem from the legacy web2 platforms, because the reality is game developers are spending more time trying to comply with bizarro policies from these monopoly stores than they are building great games. I felt web3 native experiences need web3 native distribution so we set out to build things in a different way. Our app is an aggregator of multiple game stores. We have our store, which is the HyperPlay store. We also aggregate the Epic Games store and we aggregate GOG and we have some other major gaming stores coming soon.

We pass your wallet into the game using an overlay, which is really similar to how Steam will overlay chat windows or notifications, achievements on top of games. We allow the user to take their wallet, their reputation, their assets into all these games and interoperably carry that wallet between every game that the player plays and to transact permissionlessly. 

For the game developer to be able to build their game in a way that is the way they want to build it and to still have access to great distribution. And by giving them multiple game distribution channels, we’re creating a scenario where the game developer can choose one, two, many different game distribution channels without a fear of being deplatformed by this or that channel. So we’re creating a competitive market that moves the economics of gaming, away from these monopolistic platforms like Steam, Apple, Google Play, and instead moves the power to the game developer and the player, and creates business models where those two communities are aligned.

What’s your history as a gamer?

So I am a lifelong gamer. I’m mainly a JRPG gamer. I play an unhealthy amount of JRPGs. I would say the two games that were really formative for me were Final Fantasy VII, but the other one that really profoundly impacted me as a kid was Suikoden 2.

The Suikoden games were, for anyone that doesn’t know, these are like Game of Thrones mixed with Pokemon, mixed with like risk and chess. And so it has like the adventuring of Final Fantasy VII and the party battles, but it has like 108 recruitable characters per game. And they did these things where your game reputation in one game was portable to the next game. They would read the save file from the previous game and your decisions would persist across the five different games that were in the mainline series and that you would unlock additional content for having historical save files. It just had this richness of game worlds, and the game in a lot of ways mirrors what’s possible with web3. I think that probably gave me some inspiration around imagining what web3 games could be.

But the game was also profound in its story and its impact on me as a person. It makes you want to be a hero and to do good for humanity. It depicts the grayness of the world we live in where everything isn’t binary. There are really difficult decisions that we make and things that we do for the people that we love. The 12-year-old me came out of playing that game wanting to change the world.

Why do you think distribution is so important for web3 games?

There are a few challenges with the legacy platforms, like Steam, Google and Apple, which route everything through their web2 payment rails. Companies like Google, they’re trying to say ‘It’s allowed in Google Play, as long as you have the user pay using fiat, and then you basically overcharge the user 30% above what the transaction is. After you buy that asset, is the user allowed to continue transacting with that asset and do things in web3? That’s the very bare minimum cynical version of what’s possible in web3. And people fought a war to get Google to that point and Google still views it with a tremendous amount of cynicism.

I think that the level of disruption web3 represents for these distribution platforms has been underestimated. And even those platforms that allow web3 content, they view web3 content as like their redheaded stepchildren. Games on these platforms don’t have access to the same promotion inside the platforms. And they’re confined by the store policies of the platforms, which dramatically reduce the amount of web3 composability that’s allowed.

We make it so the user can connect their wallet to our store. They can connect MetaMask and we persist that connection to all of the games you launch within our store. We’re going to have a pretty interesting launch around quests and achievements and incentives and creating a layer for that across all of the games – that’s coming very soon.

There’s also a lot of game developers, who know how to build games, but don’t know how to deal with web3. Our developer portal and tooling helps to demystify some of the processes of building web3 games, help people deploy common smart contracts. We want to be a partner for them in the way these web2 platforms were in the web2 era but which now have taken an antagonistic relationship with the game developers. 

How do you think about competing with platforms such as Steam? Is that even possible?

Reputation is a really powerful moat in the web2 world. You build up this reputation but you don’t own it, the platform owns it. They use that reputation to trap you and to extract more and more value through you, through these 30% transaction fees. 

Web3 is different. We want to connect to the user’s historical reputation and we want to bring that on chain. We want it to be owned by the user. We want it to be portable, including outside of our own platform and for the user to be able to use that reputation in a really permissionless way across the whole decentralized web. We want your assets to live in your wallet and you can use that wallet inside of HyperPlay, but you can take that wallet to Chrome and you can go to OpenSea or you can go to any of the huge diversity of hundreds of thousands of decentralized applications and use those same assets that originated from games you played in HyperPlay across them. We’re also really excited about games that share assets, such as the Aavegotchi universe.  

Do you think web3 gaming ends up winner-takes-all or a long tail distribution?

The incentives in web3 are different. We haven’t seen the same consolidation of monopolies in web3 that we saw in web2. Over time the incentivization of blockchains and tokens has decentralized power and ownership to the users of those platforms and protocols, not the consolidation of them. We had Uniswap as the sole major DEX with product market fit. Today we have so many decentralized exchanges that have sprung up that serve different use cases. Games have their own decentralized exchanges built into them. In DeFi Kingdoms, they have their own fork of Uniswap built into that game.

Uniswap is still the biggest by volume, though?

That’s definitely true, but I think the pattern we see is that in web2, an increasingly small number of people get immensely rich and monopolize everything. The way the incentives work in web3 is that as soon as you start doing something that is against the interests of your users, someone else can take the onchain reputation, find your users and use tokens to attract them to a different protocol and platform and incentivize that. So we’ve seen a lot of people making money, but the balance of ownership and power is much more decentralized in web3 than it is in web2. 

What’s the early feedback on HyperPlay?

We are a multi-sided platform. It really matters that we attract game developers and that we do everything we can to serve the game developer, to solve their hardest problems and to provide them with the best game distribution channel. They refer their users to our store to come and play their game inside of our store.

And the more users we get from each game, the more users there are for the other games. That creates a compounding value. Those users help attract more game developers, and we serve those game developers and keep expanding our offerings to the game developers who send us more users and so on. It’s very similar to the flywheel of MetaMask. I did a lot of work on the business model of MetaMask. I worked on the Swaps product and how it was monetized. I’ve seen it work and I know that it works, and we’re seeing it work for HyperPlay too. We’re having pretty fantastic growth right now. It’s been really, really wonderful.

What’s adoption been like in terms of game developers?

When we first started, we thought we would launch with five games. We ended up having 21 games on launch day. I will say, however, that in the launch day lineup, +90% were early access games; games that had less than an hour of playable content. That was the state of web3 gaming one year ago. There were a handful of other games that had richer content, but their gameplay was pretty sucky – mainly farming some token. 

Today, we’ve got games like Shrapnel and Pirate Nation, really rich games and there’s a lot coming. Decentraland used to be a really simple game where you walked around and chatted with people. Now there’s casinos, there are first-person shooters in Decentraland. People have their own vending machines and have built thirdparty businesses on top of the game. I see the same expansion of these game universes happening across the board. The content is getting so much better. And the better that the content gets, the easier it becomes for us to get users.

How does the rest of 2024 look for HyperPlay?

We have so many launches our PR company told us we need to launch them slower so people can digest them. We’re going to announce a new investment from a major player in the ecosystem [since announced as Square Enix]. We’re announcing a new store inside of HyperPlay. A new triple-A mainstream gaming store is coming to HyperPlay as a fourth store. And we’ve got a fifth one in the pipe shortly after.

We’re doing some really cool stuff with achievements, quests, and reputation that you and I kind of hinted at on this call today. And then we have a number of major partnerships that we expect to be driving a lot of growth and users into the platform.

Find out more and download HyperPlay here.

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