Horizon’s Michael Sanders on scaling web3 gaming with Google Cloud partnership and key hires

It’s been 12 months since we met up with Michael Sanders’ team at GDC 2023. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sanders is co-founder and chief storyteller at Horizon. Horizon is the home of Sequence, the all-in-one blockchain developer platform and smart wallet, and the associated game Skyweaver, which we chatted about at length in 2023.

This year saw San Francisco bathed in sunlight, in contrast to last year’s downpours and storms. Beneath the bright blue skies last week, BlockchainGamer.biz joined PocketGamer.biz in hosting Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco, a two-day conference dedicated to knowledge-sharing and networking for the global games industry.

Michael Sanders was a panellist at Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco, taking part in the discussion, “Is 2024 Finally the Year Blockchain & Web3 Games Break Through?” Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco took place on Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th March, alongside the start of GDC but a few minutes’ walk southwest at the Hibernia building. The panel, moderated by Bobby Kunta of Yoda Labs, saw Sanders chatting with James Seaman (Hit Box Games), Cathleen Lyu (Immutable) and Peter Pham (Auto Legends) about how web3 games might finally have a serious chance of mass market appeal.

GDC itself welcomed nearly 30,000 attendees, and a surprising number of blockchain projects around the exhibition halls, where Sequence also had a space.

Horizon announces partnership with Google Cloud

This was the perfect opportunity to take the temperature of the web3 games world. Despite his packed schedule, Sanders sat down with us in the bustling lobby of the Marriott Marquis, which always morphs into an unofficial meeting point during San Francisco conference week, and told us more about Horizon’s partnership with Google Cloud, the company’s recent notable hires, and how web3 platforms like Sequence can address games industry challenges like rising UA costs.

“Google has seen demand from some of their gaming partners,” he tells us as we sit down. “A lot of triple-A studios, double-A. Indies as well. It’s obviously one of the biggest cloud providers for games in the world. And there’s been demand from some of their partners for web3 gaming infrastructure. And Google wanted a partner, and they chose Sequence as their preferred partner to provide web3 gaming infrastructure for games. That’s obviously incredible for us because it’s Google. And they are the back end for a lot of the internet.”

It’s clear that Sanders’ team sees this as a huge validation for web3 gaming. “Not that we really needed to be convinced further.” he says. “But they’re seeing demand from their partners, and they weren’t going to build it internally. So they’ve vetted all different web3 gaming infrastructure providers that exist. And then they chose us. We’re incredibly excited about it.”

What does this mean for Horizon and Sequence in the long run? “It’ll definitely help us scale,” confirms Sanders. “Because now, we’ll be part of the conversation. In every game that they work with. Pretty much every game in the world is building either on Google Cloud or AWS. So it should help us scale, with an order of magnitude more games over time.”

About Google’s vision, Sanders says, “Our go-to-markets are very aligned. Us being in Google Cloud is just all about enabling better experiences for players that allow game developers to attract more users and unlock new monetization models. And that’s what we provide with Sequence.“

The growing mainstream value of blockchain games

Harking back to both the conversation we had last year at GDC and the most recent panel at Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco, we ask Sanders about whether he feels the last 12 months have seen web3 really gaining traction in mainstream games. “Well, I think it’s starting,” he says. “Because the gaming industry broadly is having challenges. User acquisition costs are skyrocketing. It’s insane. User acquisition costs have increased between the last two and four years. Most games are not profitable, right? It’s very hard to succeed, in large part because it is so hard to attract users because you have to compete with massive brands.”

At Pocket Gamer Connects SF, Bobby Kunta (left) leads Michael Sanders (centre) and Peter Pham (right) in conversation with Cathleen Lyu and James Seaman (off-screen).

Challenges aside, what have Sanders’ highlights been in the last year of web3 games? “The creativity of games. And new kinds of game design coming online that are using web3 to serve their players,” he says. “And specifically for us, our team’s grown, we’ve released more products and released a no-code portal to our entire stack [which] makes it even easier for developers to leverage. And we’re serving more and more partners. More games integrate with Sequence now, whether they’re already live, in the process, or about to launch. Integrating them and helping them grow and monetize better. The success of our partners dictates our success; if our business model and economic models are aligned.”

New senior hires to help Horizon scale up

The company has also made some hires since we last met. “We brought on Taylan Pince as our CTO,” explains Sanders. “He was the creator of the original Robinhood app. Massively successful financial applications. He also created the leading wallet in the Algorand blockchain ecosystem and many incredible consumer products, finance products, web3 technologies.”

Horizon also announced in January that it has brought on Greg Canessa as president and COO.

“I would say he is arguably the most impressive executive to come from traditional gaming into web3,” muses Sanders. “He was the creator of Xbox Live Arcade, which was the first digital distribution business on console. He was Activision Blizzard’s first vice president of mobile. Activision Blizzard, I think, is the world’s number one game publisher, and he basically started their mobile division as their vice president. He was head of PopCap games. Ran a studio that got acquired by Sony, another that got acquired by EA. He’s been involved in StarCraft, World Of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Call of Duty… And then for the last six years, he was leading strategy for Google Cloud’s gaming business. And he came and joined us as president and COO. So that’s a massive upgrade for us. He’s an incredible collaborator and [demonstrates] amazing leadership across ecosystem development, publishing, games. He’s really helping us go to the next level.”

These are heavyweight hires, bringing significant credibility to Horizon. Pince’s experience in creating successful financial applications demonstrates a commitment to innovation in the fintech and web3 space; meanwhile, Canessa’s impressive background in traditional gaming showcases the firm’s ambition to establish itself as a major player in the entertainment industry.

The year ahead for Horizon and Sequence

So, as another GDC comes to a close and we look ahead to the next 12 months, what are the Sequence team’s plans? How will things change between now and the next GDC? Michael Sanders says, “It’s about scaling adoption for our platform, serving different blockchains. Blockchains need infrastructure to enable the development of games and applications. They’re a database, and they need the tools to empower their developers. So [our plans are] partnerships with various chains; serving game developers and our existing partners to help them grow their games; attracting more users; driving more revenue; empowering players… and just creating better game experiences.”

You can hear more from Michael Sanders and Horizon in this video from Pocket Gamer Connects Toronto last year. The panel discussion from San Francisco will soon be available in the official Pocket Gamer Connects Video Vault. In the meantime, look out for more web3 talks and panels at the Dubai GameExpo summit, which is also home to the new MENA Games Industry Awards, which features a category dedicated to web3 gaming in the Middle East. The most recent news from Sequence before GDC was its announcement of an Embedded Wallets product, which you can read about on BlockchainGamer.biz.

GDCGoogle CloudHorizonMichael SandersPGConnectsRecruitmentSequence