Twitch co-founder Justin Kan is getting back into gaming with the announcement of Fractal, a marketplace for gaming-related non-fungible tokens. Kan and his three co-founders want Fractal to be a destination for the launch of new NFT collections, as well as a place for prospective sellers to find interested buyers.
Many of the fastest-growing tech startups today are companies facilitating the buying and selling of NFTs like OpenSea, home to popular projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Chain Runners, and Dapper Labs, the creator of the official NBA Top Shot marketplace. Yet those sites and many others are geared toward mainstream art and entertainment, Kan told Protocol in an interview last week, whereas he and his co-founders want Fractal to become associated with gaming as the industry slowly but surely adapts to new blockchain technologies.
"Everybody in gaming that I know, if they weren't working on an NFT game already, are thinking about how they'd do it or are pivoting hard to it right now," Kan said. "I think there's a component of the NFT market that is very speculative. But I'm really interested in the programmable experience that people are going to be able to have in the metaverse and how we can support that."
That's why Kan is excited about gaming NFTs in particular — because of the utility that can have as in-game items or collectibles instead of just as an asset with ever-shifting monetary value, as well as the prospect of forming partnerships and creating tools that allow NFTs created for one game to be used in another.
Kan and his team are pitching Fractal not just as a buying and selling marketplace, but also as a kind of blockchain infrastructure company. Kan said they want to help facilitate the lending and scholarship model, as popularized by games like Axie Infinity, to make blockchain gaming more accessible.
"It feels like in 2007 and 2008 when we were starting Justin.tv," Kan said of his live-broadcasting startup, which later became Twitch. "It feels like that with Web3 ... How do we people interact with these ideas of value on the internet?"
As for the skeptics eyeing NFTs and blockchain gaming as just one big grift to siphon more money away from unsuspecting customers, Kan said it's going to take some for the public to accept new digital norms, just as it did in the days of early massively multiplayer online games like Ultimate Online and World of Warcraft that first established ideas around digital goods and currency that had real-world value.
"Well before Twitch was even an idea, when I was still in high school, I sunk a full-time job's worth of time into Ultima Online," Kan said. "That idea is an old idea — value around virtual stuff — but people were incredulous that the stuff could be wroth anything." That's still the case, with massive backlash last week to Ubisoft's launch of its first NFT collection within the game Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
But Kan said he believes people will eventually come to accept that digital goods, when combined with ideas like virtual scarcity and the blockchain, are going to transform how we think about online life.
"Like clothing in the real world, if you get a really awesome jacket. They made more than one of those and other people have them," he said. "But you have a story. It was in New York, in Brooklyn, and you saw it waking down the street. You buy it and then it's awesome and maybe you give it to a friend. It's an item with a whole story and it means something to you. Digital items are the same way and that's something that I didn't expect, but it's really cool."