Why Mythical Games is so bullish on web3 games via app stores
In the latest episode of his Blockchain Gaming World podcast, editor-in-chief Jon Jordan talks to Mythical Games’ CEO John Linden about its decision to build on Polkadot, the formation of the Mythos Foundation and why its three games – NFL Rivals, Nitro Nation: World Tour and Blankos Mobile – are all going to be distributed through Apple and Google’s app stores.
Note: this podcast was recorded before Mythical Games was awarded #1 position in our Top 50 Blockchain Game Companies of 2024.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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BlockchainGamer.biz: Why have you decided to build on Polkadot?
John Linden: In 2018, 2019, I really thought the blockchain was going to be the secret sauce. We felt it’s something we have to control; we have to own. But I think what we’re seeing now is it’s not really the secret sauce. The secret sauce is what you do on top of it. It’s how you interact with the consumers. It’s how easy is it for them to use it and frankly what you can do with it.
We started off on EOS.io, then we moved over to an EVM chain, more of a side chain but we didn’t really want to be in the chain business. That’s not our goal. So we decided let’s pick a home that we really believe in. Not from hype, not from marketing, not from all that, but really truly, what is the right play for an ecosystem that could last the next decade or longer.
And we started getting connected with a lot of different groups. One thing I find amusing in the blockchain gaming space is there’s always ‘This is the gaming blockchain, this is gonna be it’. And it’s shifted a lot, it’s gone from EOS back in the day with WAX building on it, then it was Ethereum mainnet, then it was Polygon, now it seems Solana is the fan favorite.
We wanted to have a chain that had the right governance, security, but really more importantly a fully decentralization stack and I think we found it with Polkadot. I’m actually surprised more people don’t talk about it. I’ll talk to people about Polkadot and they laugh a little bit. Polkadot is kind of notoriously bad at marketing and I don’t mean to slam them, but it’s not their strength.
As we’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with Parity [Polkadot’s developer], their mentality is always about the fundamentals, governance, security, decentralization. And I love that. I love that’s where they spend their time, that’s where they spend their effort. It’s not about the marketing and airdrops. It’s really about the fundamentals and we love that. We’re working very closely with them to bring out the Mythos chain. It’s not Mythical Games. We’re helping support it. We’ll be the first games on that chain but it’s a fully decentralized, full L1 essentially backed by the myth token, which we’re really excited by.
What’s the relationship between Mythical Games and the Mythos Foundation?
We put a lot of effort into really understanding this and our contribution is to try and help get the Mythos Foundation off the ground and then step away. And I think 2024 is the year we step away, which is fantastic, right? It’s going to be self-sufficient very soon. It’s going to be running its own thing. Mythical will obviously be a contributor but we’re at the point where the Mythos Foundation can take a life of its own.
Partnering with Polkadot has been the catalyst to get us there. I think you’ll see a whole lot of announcements this year about what comes out of Mythos. Again, it’s its own beast at this point and we’re excited to see what happens as it grows.
And the timing is very good in terms of market sentiment at the moment!
I’m pretty excited by that. I hope the market eventually decides the best gaming chains are the ones being used rather than the ones being promoted? And that’s what we can contribute. We have close to 700,000 active wallets already from four million player accounts, so we’re seeing a really healthy growth. We see thousands and thousands of brand new wallets created every day from the players of these games.
We have three games that I think are gonna see tremendous growth this year. It’s nice this year for 2024, Mythical will have games around 24/7, which is great. Last year, we had Blankos on PC but we were kind of retooling that, and NFL Rivals and Nitro Nation kicked off towards the end of the year. This year we’re gonna see, I think, a lot of good growth for all 12 months.
Can you talk about the reasons you bought skin marketplace Dmarket?
So a couple things. Dmarket was a tech company we acquired. What we loved about that company is they’ve had a decade of experience of trading digital assets. They had flirted with the blockchain space but hadn’t really done a whole lot with it, but they really understood things about consumer liquidity. They understood trading patterns. They understood some really core tech.
So when we acquired them, it wasn’t about supporting Dmarket’s general skin trading business. That wasn’t our focus. We wanted to move it over as our test network. We’ve seen some really interesting features. I love talking about one called QuickTrades that we recently launched on NFL Rivals. So for us, it was really about the Dmarket team and its expertise. We’ve used that team to build the Mythical marketplace, which is completely built onchain.
Dmarket’s original market keep growing, which is great, but in terms of active wallets, I think of the 700,000 active wallets, 550,000 of them are NFL Rivals, so the majority of wallets, although not the majority of transactions. Dmarket generates a lot of volume from a smaller amount of people, a couple hundred thousand people. They trade a lot, and that’s great. But I think what you’re going to see this year is you’ll see it shift heavily. So 2023 was very heavily in Dmarket’s favor. This year I think you’ll see very heavily in the Mythical Market direction.
All your games are now mobile-first so why are you so bullish on going through app stores?
That’s a great question – that’s where the players are. I think that’s the first one, right? If you want to get mass market players, you go where mass market players are at. I’ve been in the game industry for a long time. You can have all type of religious wars around PC, console or mobile and everybody’s playing in all of them now, which is great. So I wouldn’t say we’re going to be focused just on mobile. I just say right now, we’ve seen a lot of growth in mobile. We’ve been able to execute some strong relationships with Apple and Google. We’ve been able to work with them very closely to expand that vision of what can be done and what these economies look like.
I’ll be super frank with you. We really struggled on PC with Blankos. We had probably the biggest, maybe the second biggest web3 game on PC with Blankos, about a million and a half players but it got really, really expensive going from a million and a half to two million players.
We wanted to get that game in the hands of tens and tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of players. Meanwhile, you see games like Stumble Guys, it has 300 million installs. It’s a couple orders of magnitude bigger. So we shifted to mobile just because it was an area we could grow profitably rather than PC. We’re definitely not ruling out PC. In fact, we’re talking to a lot of PC games right now. So mobile’s been a focus of necessity because that’s where the players are at.
What’s been interesting with NFL Rivals is the way you’ve added more blockchain features with each new update.
Yeah, it’s been good. We approached it with Apple and Google as kind of a multi-step approach. This is a new thing to them. They want to make sure they understood it. They have very real concerns that if you let players buy from each other, you’re cannibalizing their revenue. These are very fair points so we broken up the process into different phases.
Phase one was getting some initial recommendations about NFTs to buy using this new virtual currency. We saw great results. We killed them with data a little bit but we found some great data points. One thing we found was that for a lot of players, their first purchase in the game was a secondary transaction. But that didn’t have any effect on primary sales. More importantly, we found that half of the players that bought something as a secondary sales then came back and bought a primary asset using IAP. That’s great for Apple and Google because we were actually increasing sales by introducing this sort of gateway purchase to create a more permanent buyer.
So now in phase two we have a full NFT marketplace on the buy side, which generated nearly 100% growth. Phase three will be allowing people to sell their NFTs. That gets a little bit more tricky, and we’re working through those details, and we’ll have that out fairly soon. The fourth phase is a feature we call quick trades. It’s really exciting. I love it.
Let me explain. We started quick trades on Dmarket to test. It’s a natural peer-to-peer system that gamers are used to. Back in the days of EverQuest, you’d walk up to someone in the game and say ‘I’ll give you these two items and you give me those three’. Web3 doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that super well, because you’re considering bids, and asks and offers.
But basically what happens with quick trades is if I want a Patrick Mahomes, that’s priced as $450. Previously my options were, I can buy with a credit card or crypto for $450 or I can put in a lower bid and hope but with quick trades I open up my inventory, all my saleable assets which are being priced in real-time, and I can pick up to five assets worth $450 in total and then hit the exchange button. I get my Patrick Mahomes and I gave away five cards worth $450.
It’s a very game-centric feature and one that behind-the-scenes is buying one asset in real-time and selling five in real-time, so generating a series of transactions which are cashless. It’s probably the favorite feature we’ve done in Mythical. On Dmarket, we’ve seen quick swaps take up 80% of market volume since we launched it in early 2024. It’s already a sizable part of NFL Rivals trading on the web and I think it’s going to be the majority of transactions once it goes live in-app.
That sounds a really simple way of unlocking trading?
I think the best gaming companies take something that’s very complex in the backend and make it appear very simple to consumers. We’re really excited to expand from there. At some point I could say, ‘I want Patrick Mahomes in NFL Rivals, and I’m going to trade with a Blankos character and a nice car from Nitro Nations, and then people are trading across ecosystems. And what’s interesting is that all the games in the ecosystem benefit. All those developers will receive part of that transaction fee and the consumers are happy that they’re moving items between games that they want.
It also gets people away from focusing on price and thinking more about utility.
What’s really exciting is now we’re talking to a lot of web2 companies and they’re interested in putting their assets there too. To me, this is what the power of web3 becomes. For the gamer, it’s just a simple mechanic – ‘I want this and don’t want that’. That’s where the real power comes from.
Similarly, we have people who just like to trade assets. They can benefit from this as well. You start creating a global economy everybody can be part of – the creators, the traders, the gamers themselves, everybody kind of becomes part of this really interesting ecosystem. So I’d say I’m more bullish than I’ve ever been. We have spent a lot of time on the tech and I think we’re at a point we’re going to be able to onboard a lot of games and there’s a real network effect when you start doing that with this type of trading economy.
How is Nitro Nation: World Tour doing?
That game’s in soft launch right now. We’re effectively acting as the tech partner and the publisher and CM Games is the developer so it’s different to NFL Rivals as we don’t have full control over the game. It’s been a bit slower because we’re focusing on certain KPIs around retention, monetization, ROAS, all those things. We’re working to get it to a place where we can really scale it. I think we’re only one release away from that and then we’re going to hit that game hard.
It’s a new team that hadn’t done a lot in web3 before so it’s taken time to get used to. But we’re really excited about it for 2024. There’s nearly 200 cars licensed now, which is exciting, so we’re getting that game prepped and I think it’s gonna be a huge game. CM Games has a lot of experience around this genre. They had nearly a hundred million players in their last game, so we want to get it right. I think we’re very close but a little bit longer in soft launch.
I think people forget that you need to have a great game underneath the blockchain features.
It’s tough to make a game. It’s harder to make a game you actually ship, and it’s even harder to make a game you ship in and can succeed at. A lot of people in the web3 space are starting to catch up. It’s a lot different to put out a trailer and actually get a game out the door. Web3 actually makes it a little harder because now you have additional factors in that economy that you don’t necessarily have control over. You have to really think about the balance.
What’s great for us is we’ve seen this multiple times. We’ve seen some early mechanics and things that worked with Blankos on PC that we’re now bringing into the mobile version. We’ve seen the things that didn’t work. We saw user acquisition was very tough, so that’s one of the reasons we made that decision to move to mobile. But what’s beautiful about web3 is everything comes along, every single Blankos will not be sold again. It’ll come into the new game. The people that bought early will be sitting on some items that are gonna be very rare. If Blankos Mobile can get to 25, 30 million players, that’s even more rare, right? So we’re excited about where that goes.
NFL Rivals was really, frankly, I wish we had the game we have today in January 2023. I wish we had launched that game back in August because I think we’d have an order of magnitude more players in it. Now we’re gearing up for what 2024, 2025 seasons are gonna be and working with the NFL and the Players Association. You learn and we’ve been learning, but I think the playbook’s getting stronger with each game. And when we bring out Blankos Mobile, it’s gonna be a very, very strong game or we bring out another sports title or something like that in the future, right?
So, what can you say about Blankos Mobile and especially the UGC stuff?
So we haven’t revealed too much, but I’ll reveal a little bit. We want to build an experience that’s native mobile-first. But we do also have plans to bring it back to PC, so it’s reinventing Blankos for mobile and bringing it back to PC. We tried to go the other way but it was a tougher thing to do. Developers have a tendency to build for the platform so we’ve essentially rebuilt the game from scratch to make it mobile-first and something that can be eventually extended to PC.
UGC is something we’ve definitely been considering. It was a big part of Blankos. It won’t be there on day one but there are plans to bring it back. We think UGC is a key thing. We love the creator economy. I’d like to go much further. We had some community-driven Blankos. We want to extend that but we also want to make sure that the core loop is there.
There’ll be a couple things that’ll probably be a little disappointing for hardcore fans. Initially we’re pulling back on the shooting. We’re focused on other game modes that we think drive a better economy. But there will be a lot of differences too, although we’re not quite ready to share those as we’re still tuning it in. It’s going to be a lot different in the economy. It won’t just be about buying a Blankos and you’re done. There will be a lot of different combinations of what you do with Blankos and how you upgrade it.
You had a bit of that gameplay with the gem rushes.
Maybe we were a little too aggressive with gem rushes for sure, but those concepts are fun and we learned a lot. I think we can hone it for a bigger audience. Our goal on Blankos Mobile is we want that game to have 25 to 100 million players, which is a very different game than hundreds of thousands or single millions of players.
Do you think blockchain is becoming more relevant to gaming?
Gamers are not crypto traders, they’re consumers and we have to treat them like that. But gamers can pick up these concepts. We don’t require crypto knowledge for our games and we’re seeing more people interact with and learn it. In terms of web3 gaming in general, we’re still pretty early. There’s a lot of great trailers but the real test is which games can break out into big economies that matter and I think we’re going to see several.
Also, there’s a big shift happening in the web2 space. Traditional game developers don’t care about crypto but they care about what it can do for their economy. We have data that shows more than 20% of our net revenue from NFL Rivals comes from players trading. They pay each other and we’re making 20% and that does matter to web2 developers. They’re like, ‘We can get 20% more money if we integrate this kind of tradable economy?’
A lot of web2 companies are waking up to that. It’s not quite there yet. We’re talking to a dozen of them at this point. But I think you’ll start seeing some announcements of bigger studios starting to figure out how to do this because it’s a numbers thing, right? Mobile games barely grew by 1% in 2023. Anything that could contribute 20% additional revenue to a game economy is definitely worthy to watch. So that’s the phase we’re in right now. We have real data and I think what we’ll see is over the next 12, 18 months, we’ll start seeing bigger companies start really thinking about it.
It’s very hard for businesses to argue against earning more money!
Especially in the year we had in gaming. 2023 was a rough year for game studios. There were a lot of layoffs, a lot of companies not being able to get the bills paid. 20% could be the difference between success and keeping your studio or not.
And we’re also seeing a lot of really interesting concepts come out of web3. You know, there’s some really good IPs starting to build. Pudgy Penguins is a great example. I think they’ve really done really interesting things in terms of not just selling NFT collections. I think those days are over. I think people are now understanding, it’s not about $30,000 NFTs.
Find out more at Mythical Games’ website.