September 20, 2022
Photo: Polygon Studios; Protocol
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we have an exclusive interview with Polygon Studios chief operating officer Michael Blank about his decision to leave Electronic Arts for the blockchain gaming sector. Also: Why Zero Latency is banking on older gamers and what everyone will be playing 50 years from now.
When Michael Blank left Apex Legends and Madden publisher Electronic Arts in March, he was coming up on his 20th anniversary working for one of the oldest, biggest game makers in the world. At EA, Blank had done it all: He had 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, overseeing a 400-plus person team.
But earlier this year, Blank walked away from the traditional 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 told Protocol in an interview that the promise of Web3, for gaming and beyond, is far too big to ignore.
Leaving EA was difficult, Blank told me. “I worked at EA for most of my adult life,” he said. “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.”
There was never a “now or never” moment. Instead, Blank said his work at EA thinking about the early stages of the metaverse, and what it might mean to develop all-new platforms and definitions for gaming, led him to Web3.
Blank isn’t worried about the current crypto struggles. While 2021 was a breakout year for NFTs and the crypto market at large, 2022 has been a harsh wake-up call for Web3 enthusiasts.
For Blank, the role of blockchain gaming is not to revolutionize the game industry and replace the old guard, but to turn more people all over the world into players and expand the definition of what it means to play a game.
“All of these innovations in distribution and delivery and connectivity and social … they expanded the market, they created more opportunities for play,” he said. “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.”
— Nick Statt
Software is changing payments and banks should care: At Modern Treasury, we built a platform to complement banks’ existing products to help them prepare for a future led by software. We’re here to help them future-proof their business so that they can participate in and lead in the next phase of financial services.
Location-based VR startup Zero Latency is bringing another well-known video game to its more than 50 venues in 24 countries: The company is adapting the 2011 title Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine for free-roam VR. Zero Latency is developing the title in-house with help from Focus Entertainment, which is supplying some of the game’s original assets.
Using well-known, slightly older IP has been working well for Zero Latency. The startup previously adapted Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3, which was first released in 2012. The title has been a big part of Zero Latency’s recovery from the pandemic.
At least some of these gamers will likely buy their own VR headsets as well. However, Vandonkelaar told me he wasn’t too worried about it from a business standpoint. “As more people have been buying headsets, it has not hurt our business at all,” he said.
Vandonkelaar argued that location-based VR isn’t like theaters, which have struggled with people watching movies at home. Instead he likened it to basketball courts. If people buy their own basketballs to practice at home, it only increases the chance they visit a court one day. “Playing VR at home is just very different to doing it at a dedicated venue,” he said.
— Janko Roettgers
Take-Two confirms Grand Theft Auto VI leak. Hackers have accessed the company’s internal systems and leaked dozens of development videos of the unreleased game, Take-Two Interactive announced yesterday.
Pico is announcing its new VR headset this week. The Pico 4/Phoenix device will be unveiled at an online event this Thursday.
Apple and Amazon didn’t want LIV Golf. The controversial Saudi-backed golf venture has reportedly been having a hard time finding a media partner to stream its tournaments.
Why does China hate the MCU so much? A fascinating deep dive into China’s decision to not release any new Marvel movies, the types of films that do well in the U.S., and why those may not be best-suited for global markets.
Netflix’s “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” gets people to play the game again. Interest in Cyberpunk 2077 has been surging ever since Netflix debuted the anime adaptation on its service. Kind of proves the point behind Netflix’s gaming franchise strategy, doesn’t it?
Streaming made up 35% of TV viewing in August. That’s according to Nielsen, which reports that YouTube for the first time tied Netflix for the most-used streaming services on TV sets.
Forget pickleball, here comes drone racing. The Drone Racing League wants to be the new frontier of sports — and advance drone tech for everyday use cases while doing so.G2 Esports puts its CEO on unpaid leave. Carlos Rodriguez is stepping back for eight weeks after he shared videos of him partying with Andrew Tate, an influencer who got kicked off “Big Brother” for alleged assault and who has been banned from multiple social platforms for hate speech.
Speaking of pickleball, this weekend someone told me that the game no one can stop talking about these days was invented by parents whose kids were bored over the summer. Turns out that’s true, with the caveats that these weren’t just any parents, but in fact a congressman and his buddies, and that the whole thing happened nearly 60 years ago. That’s a long time for a game to go viral, but it also gives me hope: If it has the same trajectory, our grandchildren will all be playing The Cones of Dunshire 50 years from now!
— Janko Roettgers
Software is changing payments and banks should care: Activities that once took place in person or over the phone—getting a loan, making a payment, investing in a security—now occur entirely within software. Covid has only accelerated this trend. To remain a part of clients' financial lives, banks need to play well with software.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you Thursday.