Vietnamese blockchain game creator targets a game changer

By Khuong Nha   August 5, 2021 | 03:00 am PT
Vietnamese blockchain game creator targets a game changer
A screenshot of blockchain-based game Axie Infinity. Photo courtesy of Axie Infinity.
Nguyen Thanh Trung, co-creator of one of the world’s most popular blockchain-based games ,says he wants to change global perception of the technology and its possibilities.

The HCMC native had never imagined he would create a blockchain-based game that attracts hundreds of thousands of players globally, simply because he used to hate the technology.

The 29-year-old used to see creators of blockchain projects taking advantage of initial coin offering events to raise money and then neglect developing the product.

"I thought that was unethical, and I hated everything about blockchain," he told VnExpress.

Apart from being a game "addict" when he was small, Trung did not have much experience in the industry.

In his second year of programming at the FPT University, 19-year-old Trung left school to become an entrepreneur and became the chief technology officer of food startup Lozi which has now become delivery company LoShip.

After three years in the startup world, he returned to the university and finished his education. During that time he started to learn more about blockchain games.

His research findings changed his mind. Trung realized that blockchain was only a technology, a tool, and whether it was good or band depended on how it was used.

In 2017, he and two like-minded foreigners he’d met while playing a blockchain game began to develop a game called Axie Infinity as a side project from their day jobs. Trung had been dissatisfied with the game they were playing and wanted to improve on it.

The trio established a company called Sky Mavis the next year and started to raise money by letting users buy Axies, monsters used to combat others, to get rewards. After raising the first $500,000, Trung quit his job and prevailed upon the two cofounders from the U.S. and Norway to move to Vietnam and focus their entire energy on the project.

Sky Mavis has since raised $7.5 million from several investors including American billionaire "shark" investor Mark Cuban.

Trung said that in the early stage, overcoming the language and culture barrier with the other co-founders was one of the most difficult tasks.

Aleksander Leonard Larsen, the Norwegian co-founder, did not even know where Vietnam was on the map at first, Trung said.

But now both Larsen and the American co-founder Jeffrey Zirlin have become familiar driving the motorbike in HCMC and driving bargains while shopping at a market, he added.

The risk the trio took and the hard work they put in has paid off. The Axie Infinity cryptocurrency (AXS), one of the cryptocurrencies used in the game, has a market cap of $2.5 billion now, up nine times from the beginning of the year.

One of the most special features of Axie Infinity that explains its popularity is that it is a "play to earn" game, which means players are actually investors and can win or lose money.

Players invest by buying Axies and making money by selling strong and rare ones. They can even "breed" new ones and sell them for profit.

Trung and his team use the money from players to create even more Axies and content to attract more players and create more interaction.

Axie Inifinity now has around 350,000 daily active users, with 40 percent of them in the Philippines, followed by Venezuela and the U.S.

"It (Axie Infinity) has sustained our daily needs, paid our bills, and debts," says a Filippino mother of three in the documentary "Play-to-Earn" released in May. "I am thankful to Axie because somehow it helped us."

However, the developers of the game acknowledge that blockchain games are still young in the industry and new players can face difficulties in the early stages as they need to get familiar with cryptocurrency trading as well as invest around $1,200 to build a monster team.

"Our job is to resolve these challenges so people can access the game more easily," Trung said.

Trung sees an industry redefining potential for Axie Infinity in the future. He believes games have always played a major role in introducing people to a new technology or platform; in this case, blockchain.

Compared with the globally popular game Flappy Bird, which was also created by a Vietnamese, Axie Infinity is still young, Trung said, but he and his team continue to work hard with the hope of placing another Vietnamese game on the world map.

"There will be challenges, but we will strive to bring technology close to people’s lives through the game."

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