When Michael Blank left Apex Legends and Madden publisher Electronic Arts in March, he was coming up on his 20th anniversary at the video game company, one of the oldest and biggest in the world.
Blank has done it all: He’s been a producer in the trenches of game development in Vancouver; led major initiatives at EA Sports and the company’s Origin platform in California; and up until this year was the senior vice president of the company’s player network. That meant he oversaw a 400-plus team that was responsible for helping connect hundreds of millions of active EA players around the globe across game ecosystems, software platforms and hardware devices.
Earlier this year, Blank walked away from the traditional game industry for a role as chief operating officer at Polygon Studios. The Web3 company oversees blockchain gaming, NFT and related metaverse projects on the Polygon network, a sidechain of Ethereum dedicated to helping blockchain networks work together and scale. Blank’s job at Polygon is now building a global business development team dedicated to helping app makers create new products using Polygon’s technology as it scales from 20,000 so-called decentralized apps (or DAPPs) to more than 100,000.
Blank’s story, as told to Protocol, has been edited for clarity and brevity.
There were many different directions I could go. What I was working on touched on nearly every aspect of gaming. I helped conceive of EA’s subscription business. I was working in the development of new business models and the idea of how streaming and subscription could come together to decrease the friction in acquisition and play of video games.
Working on all of that exposed me to the array of things that one could do at a gaming company, if that company took an expansive view of what it meant to play a game. How do I help a gaming company, whether it was EA or another one, think about the future of gaming? There are many companies out there, EA included, constantly grappling with what is the next thing.
I felt like I had the opportunity at Polygon to do this beyond gaming … to help create the future of the internet — this expansive view at a company that enabled it not just for gaming, but also movies, music, finance marketplaces across the experience of what people do on the internet. That’s the direction I started to migrate down.
I don’t think I ever had a feeling like, “It’s now or never.” I feel like there's always opportunities; one door closes, another opens … all those cliche statements for people about what the future holds if you have a growth mindset. I never had a feeling like, “I have to do this today.”
While I had been doing this work on the metaverse and working on helping people find games and connect with people, I was drawn to Web3, based on the reading I was doing about what was going on with NFTs at the time. I thought that these were new vehicles of engagement. I was excited, and the excitement snowballed, and I felt like I needed to try and do something not entirely different, but different.
It was a difficult decision. I worked at EA for most of my adult life; I felt like I was part of a family. I love games and loved the people I worked with and making this shift was not an easy one. A guy named Phyl Terry, a friend, runs something called Collaborative Gain. It’s a group of people coming together to network and to share those experiences. I was sharing with Phyl that I was thinking about making a shift, and as it turns out he was writing a book called “Never Search Alone.” The premise of the book is when you’re searching for your next job, you have to work with other people who can help you do that.
He has a rigorous process by which one does this. I went through this with him and discovered things about myself through this process: my perspective on life … on career opportunity, family, my excitement around this space, the opportunity to do something new, the opportunity to create and learn. All of those things factored into the opportunity and pushed me over the edge to go and take a chance on something I was truly excited about. And so here I am today.
I started to follow Polygon because it was making significant advances in blockchain tech and adoption of blockchain tech in partnership with both Web 2.0 and Web3 companies. Polygon was one of the natural companies that one would look at if they wanted to make a leap into this world and frankly this has only accelerated over the last six months, despite what we are seeing in the crypto market.
I’m not worried about what's happening in the world of crypto today. I think there’s a lot of things we need to do better. There are things that have been done that are not good for the world of crypto and the world of blockchain. We’re creating something new here, and in the creation of something new there’s so much learning to be done and game companies need to drive those learnings.
With any new innovation, there are peaks and valleys, just like with mobile and free-to-play. We’re seeing today gaming companies across the board, Web3 and the biggest Web 2.0, thinking about how to engage in the world of blockchain gaming … they sometimes succeed and sometimes fail, but we learn a lot.
All of these innovations in distribution and delivery and connectivity and social … they expanded the market, they created more opportunities for play. I anticipate that what we're seeing in blockchain will be another tool to help expand and create new experiences for players in games, just like mobile and free-to-play did and just like streaming and subscription will. I’m super excited and can’t wait to see what game companies create.