Former head of video giant TikTok’s gaming unit Jason Fung is launching a blockchain gaming startup as one of two co-founders, he told Reuters in an interview, as the buzz around blockchain gaming grows while industry heavyweights remain cautious.
The 34-year-old left TikTok last month after two years with the company, and his departure comes as TikTok and its Chinese owner ByteDance are aggressively expanding into the $300 billion (almost Rs. 23,700 crore) global gaming market to take on rival Tencent Holdings, an effort that has yielded mixed results so far.
It also reflects the growing interest among entrepreneurs and investors in blockchain games – a new generation of online games built on blockchains that allow players to exchange items in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Fung, whose new venture is called Meta0, said he left TikTok after seeing an opportunity to offer a solution to the current segregated nature of infrastructure options available to developers looking to build blockchain games.
“Right now, if you look at any developer when implementing NFTs or blockchain in their games, they have to choose a single blockchain, be it Polygon, Solana or Binance Smart Chain. But imagine a more interoperable option,” he told Reuters in Hong Kong, referring to existing popular blockchains.
“So we decided, let’s do this. Let’s co-found this company. Let’s give up my comfortable TikTok corporate life and take a giant risk,” said Fung, who was based in Shenzhen and reported to TikTok’s chief operating officer, Vanessa Pappas.
Meta0’s founding team comprises six members, in addition to the two co-founders, and the company has closed a first round of funding, Fung said.
He declined to disclose details of the other co-founder, the rest of the team or the investment. He said the company was looking to raise funds through issuing tokens, as well as from venture capitalists and strategic investors.
Big names avoid
Proponents of blockchain games say they will disrupt the gaming industry, as cryptocurrencies can make virtual items more tradable and even distribute game ownership to players. But blockchain games are also sometimes associated with scams, and some games’ virtual economies collapsed shortly after players purchased.
Most established gaming companies like Tencent, Sony, and Microsoft have yet to make big bets on blockchain gaming.
Fung, as TikTok’s global head of strategy and operations for games, was tasked with expanding game content and testing new features such as hosting in-app minigames.
TikTok and ByteDance aggressively expanded into games during Fung’s tenure, with ByteDance’s acquisitions including a $4 billion (nearly Rs. 31,700 crore) purchase of game studio Moonton and TikTok experimenting with mini-game features in its app.
The efforts have had successes and setbacks. Last month, data tracking company Sensor Tower said that ByteDance’s portfolio of mobile games generated more than US$1 billion (nearly INR 7,900 crore) in revenue worldwide in the last 12 months.
However, ByteDance also disbanded its Shanghai-based 101 Studio last month, laying off half of its 300-plus employees. A product of its acquisition of Mokun Technology in 2019, 101 Studio was the first development facility that ByteDance closed as it struggled to run.
Fung, who led the esports units at Alibaba Group Holding and Electronic Arts in Asia before joining TikTok, declined to comment when asked who could replace him at TikTok.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Blockchain gaming is a hot investment trend
Despite the caution of some in the industry, blockchain gaming has become one of the hottest investment trends discussed by cryptocurrency tycoons from Silicon Valley to Dubai.
Before the recent meltdown of the cryptocurrency market, the blockchain gaming industry raised a record $1.2 billion (nearly Rs.9,500 crore) in the first quarter, according to a report by investment banking firm Drake Star Partners in April. Last year, a total of US$3.6 billion (almost Rs.28,500 crore) was raised for the sector.
“We built a protocol for game developers and took a flexible, blockchain-independent approach to game development,” said Fung, discussing the future prospects for blockchain games.
“With a protocol we are developing, developers can easily build on their gaming leverage strengths from different blockchains and allow the user the flexibility to transfer their NFTs between chains.”
© Thomson Reuters 2022