I’ve been housesitting so I’m kinda pulled out of my routine.
Are you hosting an animal of some kind or like a hot tub?
I wish it was a hot tub. Although there is a dog here named Bear and she is better than a hot tub. Anyway we intended to have an AMA last month but ran into some scheduling difficulties. So here we are in March and I wanted to ask you the same questions that I asked Dan in Jan.
Most of these questions are about reflecting on 2022 and looking forward to 2023.
Sure, sounds great.
Here’s the first question.
<div id="1" class="anchor">What strategies do you have to drive crypto technology forward?</div>
Great, so this question is in two pieces. One is about cryptocurrency, and the other is about blockchain technology. As far as cryptocurrency goes, our company’s goal is to use cryptocurrency like currency. Which I think will help the overall ecosystem of cryptocurrencies. I think we’re all trying to get to a future where you can use your cryptocurrency as easily as your Visa card and have just as many relevant things to purchase.
And you know, when like UI shows up offering Visa or PayPal, cryptocurrency is like the third thing that shows up. I think as a business, we don't have a lot of power here right? We can accept cryptocurrency and we can introduce people to cryptocurrency by getting them into our game. And if our game has say like 10 to 20 million people who use it. That's like another chunk of people who use cryptocurrency. I don't think that we get to do a lot more advocacy beyond that.
I think as far as legitimizing blockchain beyond using cryptocurrency I think that we get to do a lot there. I think that most people still don't know what a blockchain is, or why they should care about it. And I think by making digital trading cards that people can have as digital collectibles, they get to experience how awesome blockchain is, possibly without being incredibly aware that it's a blockchain.
But the whole idea of replicating the real life experience of owning a card and being able to modify it or trade is one that we will reproduce. And I think it's one that people will really like. I think that the digital models for monetization and ownership for other trading card games are pretty unsatisfying, and ultimately pretty expensive for the user.
And I think the fact that we're going to give card owners a lot of fun things they can do with their cards, and a way to cash out of the game long term if they're done or if they want to build radically different decks and not be overly taxed doing so. So I think just giving people a good experience with this new technology is incredibly persuasive. I think most people aren't ideological about technology. Like maybe they're like, do I use Windows? Do I use Mac OS? Linux? I think most people don't care. Obviously Linux users probably care a lot. But the question is “is the technology I'm using meeting my needs?” And I think that we're going to have blockchain surprise people by meeting their needs in a really nice way.
I agree. I think it's interesting, in the past 10 years, we've seen more digital card games become popular and just more digital games with their own assets and collection. Now most games you buy an item in the game and then it's just sort of locked. Everything you can buy is locked behind the company's paywall, and everything you own is locked to your account. If I buy something in Marvel Snap, I can never trade it or move it, like it's just there forever.
This kind of applies to so many different games. It’s the same with Magic Arena, it's the same with Hearthstone. It’s the same I'm sure with a lot more card games that I'm not mentioning. But we all just kind of went along with it, right? We just didn't even question it.
I agree with you. 100% in the sense of, you know, once people start getting delighted in a surprising way by blockchain, people will kind of start to flock to it.
Absolutely. I also think that there are subtle ways down the road of using blockchains. You know, I think when it comes to, let's say, high stakes tournaments, we've seen there's been a lot of corruption in places like poker where they're doing digital poker. And one thing that we're pretty interested in is figuring out how to use blockchain to validate games, so that players in tournaments can have a high amount of confidence that their game was adjudicated fairly. And, you know, I think we're going to keep our minds and eyes open for additional ways to use blockchain moving forward.
I'm gonna skip ahead a little bit here to a question about NFTs.
<div id="2" class="anchor">What is it that is attractive about our NFTs? And what are the advantages of having them?</div>
Imagine that the person who wrote this question is when they're talking about a wider audience, they're meaning people outside of crypto enthusiasts. I think that the best things about NFTs that we're making are that they will be parts of a game, and that the game is a game that we intend to be developing expansions for decades.
When it comes to any kind of asset, I think there's a fundamental question of like, why is this asset valuable? In the real world, there's currency that you can trade for things. So that's kind of obvious, and I think there are things that people collect like ours, and the value is both that it's beautiful and also often, you know, an amount of story or prestige from being connected to the artist or the piece of art being old or famous. And I think that NFTs are currency, so they're obviously valuable. I think that NFTs, will have this interesting provenance or be beautiful and have value in the same way.
When we look at the real world, and wonder why trading cards are valuable? The answers are often similar to art or to currency, sometimes you can trade them for other things. And that's nice. Sometimes they're beautiful. But this idea that you can use them to have fun, is relatively unique. All the trading cards that I'm aware of, mostly have value in proportion to, “Is there an active community of people who are playing this game, using these cards?” I think magic is a great example of that. And, you know, other games that have died out and the cards not having value is a counterexample if there's not ongoing support.
And then we've seen interesting examples where cards have been made, the company went out of business, and then the community loved the game enough that they kind of resurrected it, and the cards had value again. So I think that when looking at our NFTs, I think what will be attractive is that there's this dedicated group of people who are going to keep making fun for the cards. And also our company has a plan to encourage strongly and reward users for creating additional ways to have fun.
So in some ways, we're hoping to make the most fun cards on the internet. And I think that that will both just create value from the fun. And also I think that we're going to be creating something of historic interest so that people who collect for kind of like the prestige or the connection to something important.
I guess this is where I should plug the fact that the illustrators who have done the art for our lefties are all very famous sci-fi and fantasy art illustrators in their own right. And so just in the sense of them being like beautiful art with an interesting provenance. I think they're attractive.
I agree. Let’s shift gears here a little bit. And I kind of want to look backwards a bit because, you know, 2022 was a huge year for us. And so my question is, you know, in your mind, what would you consider like day one Verses development? Like, when was the shift from this is just like an idea that, you know, me and a few people have to okay, this is a real project and we're moving forward.
<div id="3" class="anchor">What would you consider day one Verses development?</div>
Yeah, I would say that the shift probably came somewhere in quarter two of 2021. Jack Stanton had brought all of these illustrations that we could potentially use for something. And we'd been kind of kicking around for a few months. Like we definitely want to use them but what's going to be something more than printing a few images. There'll be some like pretty NFTs without any ongoing support, which is a lot of what was going on at that point in time.
When we asked ourselves those questions, we mostly got two answers that looked a lot like we should make a trading card game and build in all this fun and technology behind it so that when we mint these cards, there'll be something great to do with them. And the people who buy these, we don't want them to just be like flipping them or hoping that it'll be like, a great investment magically, but that there's going to be a long term engine building value behind them.
I think at some point over the summer, our idea firmed up and we started signing agreements with artists explaining our idea about you know, a TCG but also about, you know, collaboration and value being sent back to artists who supported the project.
A little-known fact is that I think like half the revenue of all of the art mints we make go back to the artists and like 10% of the revenues from all our game sales in the future are also going into the pool that we plan to share back with all the artists. For context, Magic: the Gathering in the first like two or three years sent 5% of their revenues back to the artists and canceled the policy after it paid the artists millions of dollars a piece in some cases. We're pretty excited about sending money to artists for great art and think that's the answer to your question before I just wander off and talk about something else I'm excited about.
Sure. I want to expand on this idea of art and collaboration. And someone had submitted the question to Dan, asking…
<div id="4" class="anchor">Does Verses have any plans for creating ebooks for lore?</div>
Yeah, we absolutely do. We know there are a lot of people who are able to listen to things like podcasts or ebooks being read to them. So we're going to have audio versions of books. So If people want to hear lore stories they can.
And then I think we're also planning on creating like electronic comic books where we're going to use various art techniques. Probably including machine learning to kind of take the existing beautiful illustrations that we have, and turn them into more easily accessible stories. And so I'm excited about all of the ways that we're planning to bring the lore to people who are interested.
I am so excited about this, you know, as I was reading the question, inside I'm like, bursting with like, “Yeah, we're like we're working on some really cool stuff. You know, but I'll let Alex talk about it.”
Yeah, I think everyone on the team is pretty excited about it. I think. You know, almost all of us have grown up reading graphic novels. And, you know, the idea that technology is getting to the point where it is not too challenging to create an ongoing comic strip or graphic novel, once you have a character or a story to tell. I think this is very, very exciting. And I think we also all agree that Mike Trapp has a pretty great voice and I think him reading his own stories is also gonna be like very fun to listen to.
Oh, yes, I met with Mike earlier in the month and we were talking about the upcoming workshop. As I'm writing out the video structure I asked Mike “so you want to maybe do some voiceover for whatever, you know, whatever we need.” And I'm just so pleased that he's willing to do something like that.
Yeah, absolutely delightful.
I saw this. I forget the name of it. It's on TikTok or on Twitter, essentially two people had made like an anime episode of just them. Just two guys and a green screen, essentially. And they just did all of the movements and then let AI figure out the rest. I'm sure they did some post-production work, you know, in between, but it was pretty compelling. Like it looked good.
I believe it. I remember, maybe like 10 years ago. Students at the University of Washington, were making a webcomic but instead of using drawings they were dressing up in costumes and posing and then just doing like a little post-production in Photoshop. And I think that like there are so many pretty easy ways to get 80% there when it comes to making art for storytelling in a graphic novel or another format. And the fact that I think machine learning is giving people the ability to do that extra 20% with a new tool that can respond well to text prompts or sample images. I think we're just gonna get a lot of really cool storytelling and art done by people who have historically been blocked due to a lack of resources.
I think the next year is going to be crazy with development. I can't even, I stopped trying to predict what it might look like in five years. How fast did we go from Dall-E which gave those six images that look terrible? To you know, Midjourney in what, like seven months?
I have a friend who worked as an ethicist at Google and is more deeply aware of what kind of machine learning and AI systems they're developing and haven't been talking about. And he's an expert in the field and he says “Within 10 years. Most of the work that humans are going to be doing are just things that robots can't do. Like moving things to weird locations. And then we're going to have a lot more people serving as directors where they have an original idea that might be hard for a machine learning system to come up with, but then are mostly writing instructions for different machine learning systems to build out their vision. And you know, offering directions where it's not quite right.”
Which seems pretty exciting. Already, we're in a world where people are writing more books and making more TV shows then there is time to watch them. I'm not sure exactly what it means when, you know, 7 billion people are able to, with relative ease, like tell a story and create assets for it in a way that it's currently hard to imagine or you have to be like a very big studio to do, but I imagine it's gonna be kind of revolutionary in the same way that you know, high-quality recording equipment was put on everyone's phones where before it had cost five or 10k to get like a good like video camera. It's getting to democratize things further and allow a lot more specialization and make the world generally like a more rich and fun place.
So, you know, while we're on the topic of what we see happening in the future I want to skip to a question that is…
<div id="5" class="anchor">What are some Verses milestones in 2023 that you're looking forward to?</div>
We got a big chunk of funding at the end of 2022, which allows us to kind of hire whoever we want to, which is amazing. We've been working. I mean, we spent a lot of the early part of 2022 like working on a shoestring budget and worrying about running out of money.
Now we can kind of attract almost any professional talent that we want. And I think that upgrading our team to include people that have a lot of experience making the kind of game and deploying it successfully in the marketplace. I think it's going to make things easier and clearer for everyone. And I think what I was sure was gonna be a very good product anyway. It’s just gonna be that much better.
Another milestone I'm really looking forward to is the first time we have a demo of the game that is up to our standards that we can share with the people. And the people we’re going to share it with forest are the people who are on our Discord and have been supporting us for a long time, but I know that there have been people who have been excited and patient, and getting to put something in their hands and get feedback and start iterating with people is that have been dreaming with us for a while now. That’s really exciting.
It's kind of interesting, because when I first joined the project in early 2022. Everyone in the space knew that there would be games implementing and using blockchain and there would be different card games. We knew it would go in directions we couldn’t fully predict but a lot of it was pretty speculative and abstract.
There weren't really that many games outside of, you know, a small handful. But now I feel like we are now getting to the point in the space where there are different games and a lot of games are now entering their beta. And it felt like there was nothing and then boom all of a sudden boom, there are more games that I can keep track of.
Yeah, I mean, game development takes time and good development. Good game development often takes more time. And I think that I mean, I'm glad you're excited about what you're seeing now, but I think we're gonna see more and more blockchain games that were seeded over the last year or two popping up. I think it's gonna be a delightful period of time.
I want to ask.
<div id="6" class="anchor">What were some of the biggest standout milestones and 2022?</div>
Like I mentioned, I think that the biggest one was securing long-term funding. We found an investor who deeply believed in what we're doing and has deep enough pockets to support us for quite a while so I think we have around two years of runway based on that commitment. And that was, I think, a huge weight off of everyone's shoulders.
After things that are test sales back in February and March, we learned an incredible amount. And one thing they say in startups is get to your customers as quickly as possible, and then learn from them.
And I think that from the sales we learned just how important custodial wallets were. We suspected it. It was deeply confirmed. You know, we heard a lot about what people wanted out of their NFTs or what they were hoping for out of the game. All that feedback has been really useful in guiding us forward.
<div id="7" class="anchor">What would you say were some of 2022’s biggest challenges?</div>
I think that learning how to work with some of our partners like what their capabilities were? What was like outside of their range? I think that, you know, I mentioned that we were kind of on a shoestring budget. It meant that we had to kind of like lean outside of the company for help, which sometimes meant that we didn't control our own destiny and I think that was frustrating at times, but we have learned our way through it and strengthened a lot of those relationships and a lot of things that were frustrating were more miscommunications than anything else.
Here’s one question that was submitted to you, that wasn't submitted to Dan and it's about our Discord.
Because I remember in the beginning, we had stories, we had writers writing stories, you know, every day that were two parts and people would vote and there was a lot of communication that went both ways. We would give content to the community, the community would vote on it, which would then develop the next phase of the content, and so on. And now we don't have that same process in place. Our writers wanted to write, you know, some stories that don't involve community voting. So the question is.
<div id="8" class="anchor">What plans do we have to revive the liveliness and participation in the discord community?</div>
I think that the pre-Terra Luna crash was a specific point in time when there was a lot of exuberance for cryptocurrency, blockchains, and NFTs. And I think that now that we’re kind of that period means that I think there are a lot of people who are tuned out or turned off for a while and I think it's wise not to chase them or fret that.
Ultimately, I think our plan is to be relatively quiet while we're getting our game in order. And when we have a solid demo and are ready to start showing off what we've been working on, I think that people will show up very organically again.
You know, I think that presence on a Discord is an outgrowth of excitement about what's going on. And I think that once we have a clear way to demonstrate what our game is, I think we're gonna get a lot of excitement from people who are into the crypto space and also from ordinary gamers who have never touched a crypto thing before in their lives.
So my next question isn’t on the list. But we have an upcoming in-person team workshop that we're all going to be getting together. Basically to do design.
<div id="9" class="anchor">Do you want to talk about our upcoming retreat?</div>
Yeah, we are getting together to kind of dial in on intellectual property. And deepen our world building. In 2021 we did the best we could to build a narrative around the artwork that we had available to us. And I think we're pretty pleased with that work.
Now that we have funding and we’re not being forced to kind of push things out the door, because we're running out of money. We now have the opportunity to really like, sit down, think, figure out what our target markets are, and how to appeal to them.
What kinds of characters and settings are going to be good for making graphic novels or if we're going to have, you know, versions of our game that are targeted towards young people, you know, what we should start with, etc.
So I think that just that kind of a fun opportunity to kind of tighten up what our business goals are and kind of tune in our storytelling to figure out how to support those goals.
We did the two workshops in 2022. And we had a game design one and then we had a narrative one. The writers got together on their own and plotted out a lot of the narrative and did a lot of narrative work.
I think it's gonna be really nice to get both teams in the same room together, working together on the same thing at the same time. So one, one final question. And you know what?
I think I'm gonna end every AMA with this question, which is.
<div id="10" class="anchor">What games are you playing these days?</div>
I have a group that started playing Frosthaven, which is the sequel to Gloomhaven, where each player is a member of a band of adventurers and it's kind of a tactical role-playing game. And we used to play like once or twice a night until we ran out of all the Gloomhaven content. So we're very excited to have a whole new set of content.
Digitally I still play a bunch of Marvel Snap. It's a little frustrating that certain key cards to build decks you just don't have a lot of control over. You'll have the option to buy it or, you know, there are so many cards, and you unlock them so slowly, like whether it'll just randomly unlock.
And I almost stopped playing because sometimes I was bummed out that I couldn't have a card to build the archetype that I wanted or build it well. But I'm also trying to kind of like to live in that experience and see if it's better in some way. And I know that part of Richard Garfield's original hope for magic was that everybody's collections were like very different and that not everybody had access to the same things.
Anyway, I feel like that's kind of what's going on in Marvel Snap is that people's decks are weird and different because they don't have the same stuff there's not like one dominant metagame at least not from what I can see. And I think the gameplay is just sweet and the fact that it's like five minutes or less allows you to have a very fulfilling experience in a short period of time.
I've also been playing a lot. I just unlocked Thanos. I'm pretty high up there in terms of card collection and I have everything in pool three. Now I just remember how frustrating it was.
I'm excited. Like I think Thanos is a really interesting card that they kind of like nerfed, or buffed the Thanos stat so it was more interesting to do.
The card that I want, the most that I don't have is Death. There are so many interesting destroyed synergies, but the ability to just drop this huge card for, you know, just a few energy on one of the last turns. It feels like one of the best things that Destroy can do and I’m not able to do it. Like why am I playing this deck if I can kind of play this off and finish here at the end?
I remember going through that when I had a Destroy deck I liked in pool one and then in pool two I loved playing Destroy but it took me forever to get Bucky Barnes and it was like how do you even play this deck without like the best two drop to go in the deck?
I’ve mostly been playing a move deck and I didn't have Dagger. And then I opened Dagger and I was like “Oh wow, like this deck, which is my favorite deck to play is now even cooler.”
And that's not an experience I've had before. Because you know, like whenever I've built constructed decks, I just had access to everything. So that was kind of like alright if this is the collection model that exists, here's a really high high point and a bunch of fun gameplay experiences where I got to like suddenly throw this card into my deck that I haven't had for a long time.
It's good. And it's also terrible.
Yeah, I personally think that the negatives outweigh the fun. But I'm more of a competitive player. So I just want to build the decks I want to build, to try and do the things I want to do. And maybe have less fun like tinkering around with weird, offbeat synergies, that some people will probably, you know, enjoy that a lot more than I do.
I mean, my instinct is fundamentally, that barriers to people having the fun that they want, aren't very good, you know, and whether that's, you know, being forced to grind or being forced to spend a lot of money. I think that's probably not the right way to go. But it's certainly interesting to see this major project try that.
Yeah, I agree. Well, before we kind of close it out here. I just, I just want to give you the opportunity to say anything you want to say or maybe answer a question that I didn't ask but you wish I did. And so I just want to put the ball in your court because this out
I don't have any pithy exit statements. Other than that, I just feel like our project is in a really good place. And I think that combination of a team full of good people and funding means I think we're gonna get where we're going. In 2022 I was like, not literally pulling out my hair but pretty stressed through the whole year. People would say things like “Alex how are you doing?”
And I’d say “I'm like, three out of ten.” I think that this year, I felt just pretty great. Like, we're really lucky to be in a space where, you know, we can kind of build whatever we want and if it's good. It'll be great. Excellent.
Well, thanks for taking the time to answer all of these questions. And I look forward to seeing you this weekend. We're gonna see each other in person.
See you in sunny Phoenix.
We will be back with our next AMA on April 6. Which is three days away from my birthday. Hopefully for that AMA. I don't know for sure. We don't have our guests completely locked in. But it would be great to have someone who was at the workshop and can maybe talk about what happened there because I think it's going to be very cool, interesting and a lot of fun.