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Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin’s Metatheory raises $24M for blockchain games

 1 month ago
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Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin’s Metatheory raises $24M for blockchain games

May 17, 2022

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Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin has created a blockchain game company Metatheory and has raised $24 million for it.

San Francisco-based Metatheory will focus on making high-quality games and virtual worlds that leverage blockchain technologies such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), said Lin, CEO of Metatheory, in an interview with GamesBeat. The company is working on a new game called DuskBreakers.

Andreessen Horowitz led the round, with cryptocurrency firms Pantera Capital and FTX Ventures participating as investors. Metatheory, which launched in the third quarter last year, is focused on building web 3 games and virtual worlds imagined across innovative new story franchise intellectual properties.

“I think the idea of ownership in the digital economy, in the digital world, especially as we emerge into whatever the metaverse might be, is going to mean that blockchain is important technology. Ownership is very important technology and so, to me, it is inevitable,” Lin said. “What I saw around me since I started tracking it in January last year, I invested in Axie Infinity in January 2021. And I realized the ecosystem is so confusing from an end-user perspective. But given the inevitability of gaming and blockchain, I wanted to build something there.”

Metatheory is leveraging the gaming space as its first creative canvas into the web 3 world, with a heavy focus on building franchises with strong IP that live beyond the games themselves.

“Metatheory is redefining how games and stories are told from the bottom up using web 3 primitives, and we couldn’t be more excited to partner with cofounder Kevin Lin and team on a journey to build the next-generation Disney,” said Jonathan Lai, Andreessen Horowitz partner, in a statement.

Raising money

duskbreakers.jpg?ssl=1

A character from DuskBreakers.

The company officially got off the ground in August 2021, in the midst of the pandemic. Metatheory’s cofounders include David Barthwell and JT Gleason.

“Dave and I started talking about the idea in early summer,” Lin said. “It was really the result of being in Taiwan and meeting a bunch of folks in crypto. We were exploring web 3 together and then decided to really take the plunge towards the end of summer.”

Lin said he had been crypto curious since 2011, as Kyle Vogt, cofounder of Twitch, was mining Bitcoin from Twitch’s offices.

“I never really took it seriously. I was kind of in and out and I would buy some here and there, just out of curiosity,” he said. “But then, being in Taiwan, among all these crypto folks, I became more committed to figuring out something with games.”

Founding members include art director Darren Geers, chief operating officer Adam Bao, vice president of game development Nick Fotheringam, Nelson Wang, and three-time Emmy winner Bernie Su, who serves as chief content officer.

It has been contagious. Lin’s other previous cofounder, Justin Kan, another cofounder of Twitch, also recently started Fractal, an NFT games marketplace. They are all part of a Gold Rush to raise money for blockchain games. Game venture capitalists recently told GamesBeat that 50% to 90% of all pitches coming in from game startups are blockchain related.

Lin said the team started by coming up with an intellectual property. They all liked the idea that had begun at Twitch with the notion of interactive content. Bernie Su, who joined as a founding team member, did an interactive show on Twitch called Artificial, an Emmy-winning show where the audience voted through live polls to determine which characters would remain on the show and what they would do.

“The idea was that if we could do this as a full-blown game, we could build the story and the lore with our community,” Lin said. “That was the interesting part. And so our first concept was more like a story world set in a different universe. It was about the relationship between humans and nature, but lighthearted with a little bit of dark humor.”

It was going to be an augmented reality game, sort of like Pokemon meets Tamagotchi in an AR universe, Lin said. But after delays with various AR platforms, the team decided to come up with something else.

Meanwhile, Geers, the art director, had been making a lot of cyborg art. So the team leaned into that and came up with the DuskBreakers intellectual property.

DuskBreakers

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Machafuko in DuskBreakers.

The world of DuskBreakers is set around 50 or 60 years from now, where everything is going to be digital and cryptocurrency rules. Then a giant alien spaceship called the Dusk shows up. The power goes off all around the world, and this mysterious object in the sky frightens everyone. As the power grids come back, the rich countries send shuttles up to the object and they find it is a dormant spaceship.

They start shaving materials off the ship and bring them back to earth. It includes things that the planet needs, like rare earth metals and minerals. And novel technologies can save the planet. That is, the people who engaged with the game first were the ones who were able to get the NFTs first. Lin calls this “play to mint.”

Metatheory launched the franchise, DuskBreakers, in December 2021 with world art designed by Geers, former lead illustrator at Twitch. It’s a science fiction-inspired metaverse and gaming experience powered by blockchain.

DuskBreakers sold out its first 10,000 NFTS (the Genesis DuskBreakers) in just six days. In the lore, the people who buy the NFTs are the ones who go up to the spaceship first. They will be living in an age of cyborgs, where enhanced humans will live among regular humans.

“The question is what does that really mean for us? What does that mean for society? We can live longer, we can have superpowers in many different ways, shapes and forms,” Lin said. “Any normal human could upgrade. That’s what we’re tackling at a high level.”

The genesis NFTs each represent one of the first 10,000 recruited “Breakers” who go up to the Dusk via a space elevator and spend their days exploring a massive, dormant alien spaceship — The Dusk — hovering above the earth. On the Dusk, Breakers seek valuable “Duskite” materials while fending off the extraterrestrial creatures roaming the ship. The choices the Breakers make as a community will irrevocably change the course of history across an exciting new alternate universe, unfolding across NFTs, comics, animations, and video games, Lin said.

In January 2022, Metatheory released DuskBreakers second free-to-play minigame, Beast Battler, centered around boss battling in the same environment as the first minigame. Additional NFT drops, games and content are set to release throughout the year and beyond, with a full play-and-earn game scheduled for launch in Q4.

I asked if Lin was aware of Freeverse.io, which is making NFTs that can evolve over time, to deal with things like live operations, item upgrades, and bug fixes. And Lin said he was exploring that as well.

“The system design upfront has to be more thoughtful,” he said. “You can’t just nuke a character because whoever has bought into that character is going to suffer unfairly. So you have to be much more sensitive. I think some dynamism is important. That’s what gamers are used to, as they’re used to upgrading their characters.”

Metatheory has grown to a team of 42 employees, including veteran artists, writers, producers, game developers, engineers, and seasoned community developers.

Investor perspective

Metatheory has 42 employees.

“Kevin Lin is one of the most experienced founders in creating digital communities and has done so already with the DuskBreakers NFT collection. We’re thrilled to support him in taking the project to the next stage as a live game,” said Amy Wu, head of ventures and commercial at FTX Ventures, in a statement.

Lin said the focus on leading with quality games is important, and he needed investors who understood that.

“As you can see with the crypto ecosystem this past week, everything is not very stable, unfortunately, and it’s quite volatile and quite fragile. I like how folks [like FTX] think about the broader ecosystem. We thought they’d be great investors and advisors for us going forward.”

“We strongly believe in Kevin Lin’s vision for the future gaming and creating franchise IP that will live beyond its gaming roots and expand into multi-platform universes,” said Paul Veradittakit, general partner at Pantera Capital, in a statement. “Kevin’s successful track record combined with the experienced and talented team behind Metatheory, has us really excited to partner on this opportunity to push forward on web 3-enabled gaming.”

Addressing the criticism around NFTs

Kevin Lin is CEO of Metatheory.

More and more game veterans are coming around to the notion that NFTs are the future. Lin was talking with his friends in gaming about it, and talking to creators as well, and he came to believe web 3 would be inevitable.

“I think the idea of ownership in the digital economy, in the digital world, especially as we emerge into whatever the metaverse might be, is going to mean that blockchain is important technology. Ownership is very important technology and so, to me, it is inevitable,” Lin said. “What I saw around me since I started tracking it in January last year, I invested in Axie Infinity in January 2021. And I realized the ecosystem is so confusing from an end-user perspective. But given the inevitability of gaming and blockchain, I wanted to build something there.”

Lin said he is aware of many criticisms that some game developers and gamers have about NFTs. He noted that the company will use a sustainable blockchain that will be efficient in its computing usage and so it won’t contribute to climate change.

The team also didn’t want to sell NFTs without producing any real elements of the game first. So they built the core lore and the artwork and tried to stir up fan interest first. So it started with free-to-play elements, rather than launching a play-and-earn economy right away.

“I wanted to build something that felt right and felt good to the user and wasn’t thin in foundation,” Lin said.

The team has experience in gaming, social media, and creator spaces. They settled on a strategy of releasing multiple minigames to build out the lore first.

“We focus a lot on the user journey,” he said. “And we focus a lot on building good, fun games at the core. A lot of what you see out there is not fun. It’s almost just like a sheen on top of DeFi. They are very basic games that are built on top of what was already a very thin system in decentralized finance. And so we’re taking the approach of let’s build great games, let’s build great engaging experiences, and figure out how the token can fit naturally into that.”

Over time, Lin wants to build a metaverse-like experience for players. He believes that his team is finding utility for NFTs that go beyond what we’ve seen so far.

Lin said he believes that many crypto folks have not realized that the commercialization strategy for a game is a critical part of the relationship with the player. It determines whether or not the player is going to trust the game creators.

“It’s a crazy chaotic world,” Lin said of cryptocurrency. “We’re learning, sometimes with more anxiety on some days than other days, but it is quite an interesting space.”

“I think people outside of the games community don’t really people in the games community realize that,” Lin said. “So the games community is not so easy to understand. You have to do a careful dance with the token holders. It’s really about learning how to manage a community.”

duskbreakers-2.jpg?ssl=1

The Dusk

Lin also said that the industry is in its early stages and his team is still learning. The rise and fall nature of the cryptocurrency market has been distracting.

He added, “I don’t have all the answers right now, but we’re constantly thinking through this. We’re constantly engaged with our community through this. And we’re building a community very carefully with folks who are actually thinkers. We’re focused on building something we’re proud of that would be fun for the community and good for the community.”

As for the path to mainstream acceptance of blockchain games, Lin believes the cryptocurrency part has to be very easy to understand and be almost invisible in the commerce system. That’s going to require a lot of technology and possibly some regulatory changes.

He thinks that the industry needs to be able to communicate how sustainable the ecosystem is when it comes to being environmentally sound, and it needs to communicate how the games are going to be fun rather than just a source of income. And over time, the blockchain gaming industry has to come out with better games, he said.

As for whether game developers are coming around, Lin said, “I’d say my smartest game industry friends are intensely curious but cautious. I think you’re seeing a lot of folks come into the space that are awesome, like amazing game design, veterans or artists. But that’s largely due to the sheer amount of money people are willing to put out there to hire. On the one hand, you have a lot of unnatural shift from traditional games, in the sense that you can make way more money here now. But you have a lot of folks that are starting their own companies that are do believe like I do that this is inevitable. Blockchain, as part of the games ecosystem, is inevitable.”

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