Yat Siu on the future of decentralized game distribution

With first-hand experience of relying on mobile app stores for games distribution, Animoca Brands understands better than many the motivation behind decentralized platforms and the transparency of blockchain. The company was hit by a significant setback in 2012, when, without warning, Apple removed all of Animoca’s games from its App Store.

So in 2017, when Animoca Brands co-founder and executive chairman Yat Siu was introduced to web3, he quickly identified the benefits and adapted to blockchain.

In this interview, Siu argues why today’s large dominant distribution platforms need to do the same in order to stand a chance as the technology moves ahead, and the bright future of web3 native platforms.

What’s your own experience in dealing with Apple and Google’s app store policies?

Yat Siu: Before Animoca Brands was founded, we, as Animoca, were one of the major mobile game developers and publishers on Apple’s App Store (at one point we had 12 of the top 20 spots on the App Store rankings). However, we suffered an unexpected setback in 2012 when Apple removed all our games without warning.

This action by Apple was a significant blow to our company. For two years, we were absent from the App Store, which was hugely detrimental to our business. We had invested considerably in developing and publishing apps that became popular, thereby driving business and growth for the iOS platform, and the fact that Apple could simply remove all our apps without offering a clear explanation or an appeal process felt like a rug pull.

The major platforms are successful because once upon a time they were innovators on an open web; if they fail to adapt to today’s open movement, then it is highly likely that they will simply become obsolete as the world moves on.

Yat Siu

That’s when we really understood the problem of depending on a single, large, centralized platform: the obligation to follow rules without having a say in those rules, even when they are profoundly unfair or anti-competition.

In 2017 we were introduced to developer Axiom Zen (CryptoKitties) and it was a eureka moment: we immediately recognized the potential offered by blockchain and decentralization to overcome the problem of dominant platforms. We promptly shifted Animoca Brands’ focus to blockchain gaming, and everything that has happened since suggests to us that we made the right decision. We remain convinced that decentralization and web3 signal a more equitable future for the Internet and its users.

Why would you argue Apple and Google need to be more open as platforms towards web3?

Both Apple and Google, Google in particular, benefited greatly from the original internet, which was the open web of its time. This open web gave us wonderful things like open source culture and freely accessible knowledge and information, but it also provided the users and activity that allowed major online platforms to emerge and become the titans we know today. Almost all large tech companies owe their very existence to an open web, upon which they constructed vast walled gardens to lock in users and value.

This is not an appeal to hypocrisy, it is a reminder that the major platforms are successful because once upon a time they were innovators on an open web; if they fail to adapt to today’s open movement, then it is highly likely that they will simply become obsolete as the world moves on.

Do you think there’s an opportunity for web3 native mobile app stores?

I definitely think so. Starting in the late 2000s, distribution channels and platforms were heavily disrupted by platforms like iTunes and Google Play, which helped to make these upstarts into some of the most powerful companies on the planet. But these tech giants themselves will be similarly disrupted if they fail to engage with or support the next iteration of products and services.

What’s your experience of centralised PC distribution stores such as Epic Games, which have been seemingly more embracing of blockchain?

Epic Games has certainly been more open than Apple or Google, and in part that’s because it has to in order to be competitive with larger platforms that have a more monopolistic approach, like Steam. We work with Epic Games on game distribution and that has been a much more positive experience compared to what we went through in the past.

Why do you think web3 PC distribution platforms haven’t taken hold yet?

I think it’s because the audience numbers are still below a critical mass, but also because web3 distribution works very differently from what people are used to. Launchpads and even L2s function as distribution platforms (for example, Ronin, IMX/polygon). The space is evolving as we speak. We believe web3 distribution platforms will be similar to what our project, Mocaverse, has been doing. Mocaverse has supported games such as Pixels and Arc8 by expanding their player base through the activation of its Moca NFT holder base. This approach is almost like that of a marketing publisher, but in a far more decentralized manner. It is an example of the ongoing innovation within web3.

Web3 distribution platforms already exist, but they look very different from a traditional app store and this represents a barrier for most users. Exchanges, launchpads, NFT communities, and L2s are all trying to address this issue in their own fashion and I have no doubt that web3 distribution will continue to improve to the point of being easily available to anyone anywhere in terms of seamlessness and simplicity.

For more, check out Blockchain Gaming World Podcast #159 featuring Yat Siu.

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