Check out what Solana Games’ General Manager Johnny B. Lee and Tech and Product Leader Matt Sorg see for the future of gaming
The DappRadar team attended Solana Games Day in Lisbon and chatted with the Solana Games team. They are technology and business seniors, but above all, builders. Unsurprisingly, Johnny and Matt have a sparkle in their eyes when they talk about building next-generation games today with the Solana Foundation. These may be strange times, but builders will keep building.
Despite being affected by FTX turmoil, Solana dapps won’t stop growing their projects because of market fluctuations. The Solana Foundation is looking for talent to join the team now. As Matt stated on LinkedIn after our interview, “focus on building” and “focus on shipping” are positive reminders of the wider picture in healthy dev communities.
You both have an extensive background in tech and gaming. What made you decide to bet on Web3 gaming so early on?
Matt: My Riot colleagues and I saw how hard it was to ship games at scale. It was hard to connect databases across all the different continents and so on. Being able to do monetization and player data openly and transparently sounded like a really exciting problem to solve.
Johnny: I was General Manager of Dark Horse Games before this, a comic book company’s games and digital division, and I could see the opportunity of Web3 and blockchain being bigger than even the games industry. Web3 is important to all IP holders and creators. And then what really excited me is understanding the deeper value prop of play and own that is only possible in Web3.
What blockchain does for games is that you can simply play and own, but it goes much deeper than owning your digital items.
Really, the deeper value proposition is for the players to own their data and progression across titles, studios, and platforms.
We’ve seen various mainstream gaming studios embrace Web3 or invest in it. Do you dare to predict when PlayStation, Nintendo, and Xbox will jump on board?
Johnny: Those three, in particular with console platforms of their own, probably are the laggards. But when you ask the question of when will the major studios come into our space: it has already happened.
If you look at Asia, in particular, every single major game and entertainment company has not only started a project in our space but has shifted its entire company strategy with its entire IP portfolio into Web3.
These guys are not dipping their toes and experimenting, they’ve shifted their entire company’s focus on resources into Web3, and they’re launching Web3 games with their top IPs.
What are the top games and projects on Solana that gamers should keep an eye on right now?
Johnny: (At Solana Games Day) We have 33 game developers with 40 games, right? Fifteen of these are live today – and the remaining will be live by the end of Q1 2023. Do I have a personal favorite? No, because I play across genres. But there are several games that have a real shot at becoming decades-long Games as Service titles in Web3.
And we have many other titles that have very experienced AAA teams and with a significant chance to create new Web3 IP.
Game studios have access to tons of Software Development Kits and other tools to build their game. Where do you see SDK for Web3 components going?
Johnny: We were able to put together and announce the Solana Games Kit about two months ago. It has three major categories: Games Back End, which has major providers from the web2 integrating and creating Solana SDKs, Marketing and Distribution, because we understood that performance marketing at scale had not entered Web3 games yet and game devs would need a scalable solution soon, and Onchain Tools, which has almost 50 onchain tools available for game developers today.
These onchain tools that are part of the Solana Games Kit are all audited and open source. A lot of them are already used in live scalable products like STEPN. And so a developer can come in with a Web3 product strategy and build and ship quickly on Solana. To build it on most other blockchain protocols, you need to get going on custom smart contract development. On Solana, it’s very different.
95% plus of the Web3 current product strategies in games can be done without any custom smart contract code on Solana because of the Solana Games Kit.
Matt: So this is gonna be easier for the game, depending on the configuration of your game today. Think about STEPN, a really good example, say what you will about the game. They had two developers, they admitted entities and fungible tokens. And then they used Orca DEX. They made $120 million during Q2 2022 alone, and that was during the bear market. And they did so just because they could, getting worldwide access to anybody on the internet who could use those tools. Building on Solana, developers don’t have to have a huge dev team, devscan just utilizes the Games Kit.
What are the key ingredients for every Web3-powered game to meet the expectations of gamers?
Johnny: You have to really think if the blockchain protocol, in other words, Web3 games backend, that you’re building on can handle what your load will be. Can they keep your player experience very positive?
Gamers are the least patient people around. So they’re not going to wait a couple of minutes for a Web3 transaction to complete. That’s just a non-starter.
If you’re designing for people to return and have fun in your game consistently, I think you’re 90% of the way there.
Matt: The other thing to think about is when you’re sharing your data and open platform, people can commit code to it.
You can actually have the players start building the game and building your experiences with you.
Maybe not necessarily doing full scripts and art like they do in Roblox. But a good example is Dota. A lot of their early matchmaking was actually just done by the community because their own matchmaking wasn’t very good. If this were on chain, they would actually have the matchmaking system recorded, and the community could be organized around that. It would have been a way smoother experience where you didn’t have to have separate systems. And so you have blockchain, you can start having your own players in your community help build with you.
How is developing a product in Web3 different from Web2, aside from the obvious NFT and token integrations?
Matt: I think the main thing in my head is: ‘Are you willing to relinquish some level of control?’ By giving up that little bit of control, your players have a lot more options to contribute. That’s where my headspace is when I’m thinking about what to optimize with Web3.
The other thing about that is there doesn’t need to be over-monetization. What’s scaring away most gamers is if you only lead with ‘Hey, here’s my item that you can now sell.’ It just comes off as very loot-box-heavy when they just want to have fun.
But if you tell them, ‘Hey, you can now utilize this data, and you can build your community around them and your Discord and have a good time,‘ then it’s potentially really good.
You have to find the community to play and build with you.
Once people start seeing that and how healthy it can be, then people are simply excited to contribute to that ecosystem.
From games, NFTs, and everything around Solana dapps. What can we expect to see in 2023?
Matt: Some really interesting things because the difference between the Solana ecosystem and others is that everything is really connected.
So what we’re trying to facilitate is an entire ecosystem of games with people creating tools in one game that can potentially use another game around community organization.
But on Web3, you can do that if somebody who ships the code allows you to do it. For example, the raid leader makes it so that the items drop to that address, and then you have your very transparent distribution of everybody in the raid, how they get their items.
And that’s just the tool that somebody in the ecosystem is going to build, whether it be a game developer themselves, or somebody in some community, then everybody’s gonna be able to use it.
That kind of vision is very, very unique to Solana, both in the way that programs are used but also in how connected everything is in the shared state.
Interoperability is quite a big topic in Web3 at the moment. How do you look at interoperability, and is that something you have high on your priority list?
Johnny: Yes, Solana Games Kit is giving voice to that vision to make sure that the games and infrastructure providers in Web3 have a focus on interoperability and open source in order to build toward the vision of true play and own.
And from the content side, we focus on the game devs building fun first experiences and then we always inquire, why Web3? We look for deeper product thought than Web3 monetization loops.
Not every single game needs to be in blockchain space right now. And we’re not looking for Web3 or blockchain because it’s headline-grabbing or that’s what the VCs are looking for. We want games to have a real product and player value proposition focus.
We have 40 games with all polished playables today, and all of them have a significant value prop of why Web3.
About the Web3 gaming industry as a whole, how do you see it developing in the next few years?
Matt: I think you’re gonna see a lot of messy stuff. There are a bunch of startups, so naturally, some games won’t do so well. Some games are overly monetized, which is kind of negative for the players. And then there’s gonna be a lot of genuine stuff coming into play. I think that’s what Johnny and I are very cognizant of.
The games we support, every single one here has a positive playable experience. That’s very clearly on the path to shipping in the next quarter. That’s something that’s very high on our minds.
Whenever we spend our own personal time helping game devs out, we make sure that we’re not backing something that is going to be bad for the community. Consumer protection is going to be Top of Mind.
Other than that, Solana’s blocks aren’t even nearly full, they’re under 10%. Solana is ready to scale to 10,000 transactions per second in a game.
And we have a bunch of cool announcements over the next year that will support how to do custom execution and runtimes and stuff for your experience. So the fact that Solana didn’t fragment too early is gonna be a really exciting thing.