Atsui: A Prequel by Founders

Today I’d like to share how these 4 avatars were born and how the team behind these is planning to transform the entertainment industry.

Ok, this is going to be a long read, so get comfortable and don’t forget your favourite drink to sip as I expect you to immerse yourself in this story. Let’s start with a little intro.

It’s a sunny day here in London and I’m traditionally on my way to Kensington Gardens to just chill alone, look around and think about stuff: from startup ideas & trends to spirals of philosophical thoughts. I find it a perfect space for inspiration and uninterrupted flow of thought, so I highly recommend that.

Side story: back in March 2018 when I attended GDC in San Francisco, I took a walk to South Park with some of my industry colleagues. One of them, who knew Jack Dorsey second-hand, told me that is where Dorsey came often to and it was exactly the place where he mentioned the idea of Twitter for the first time. I immediately took a picture (below) so I never forget that story.

South Park, San Francisco, March 2018.

Back to London: Anyways, this time I was thinking about Atsui. More specifically: how to explain to the world, what this project is about and why it is so important for our team. I looked to the left — I saw a couple looking very happy and honest in emotions. I look to the right and there’s this pond — water crystal clear, almost transparent. Honesty. Transparency.

Right, I’ll just be honest & transparent and tell the whole story, what is Atsui, how it was born and share all the details dating back to 2016. As I said, buckle up, it’s going to be a ride.

Web3 gaming in 2017, really?

That’s right. The other co-founder (Gokuman) is passionate about games and ever since childhood, he dreamed of making a game of his own. In 2016 he came up with an interesting concept for a PvP mobile game, where players would own their characters, equipment, progress and the game would have an open marketplace for in-game item trading.

In May 2017, when I came back from my work relocation to China, we teamed up to continue developing the idea and by August 2017, we already pitched the first version of our whitepaper & the concept of the game to potential investors on Europe’s largest gaming convention - Gamescom. Although there was initial interest from potential Asian investors, there was barely any understanding of the innovation we are proposing from local investors. Then it turned out that the potential Asian investors we continuted our conversation with were actually looking for a cash-grab opportunity and wanted us to conduct an ICO (Initial Coin Offering). At this stage, we realised that nothing is going to work out of this partnership and started thinking of alternatives, most importantly — web3 contacts & funding. We brainstormed for a couple of days and that’s when we had a voila moment: “Let’s organise a web3 conference in Nordics!”.

This was probably the best decision we could’ve made at that time — I called my friend, who was running one of the most known game development conferences in Europe and asked her to brief us about how things are done in this space (that was extremely helpful, thank you once again Julia!). We came up with the name Moontec (because in old school times you didn’t need a group to go to the moon, obviously), sketched some logos and started working on the conference agenda, potential speakers & sponsors. It took us around 4 months from having this idea to opening doors to the first attendees.

Estcoin keynote by e-Residency team at Moontec. Estonia, December 2017.

It turned out to be a sold-out event with overwhelmingly positive feedback from speakers, attendees and exhibitors. What a ride it was, I’m literally experiencing it again as I’m writing this. And luckily, we made some money from this event.

But most importantly, we made connections with representatives of ConsenSys, Hyperledger, Dash, Paxful, Binance, OKX, IBM, PwC, Microsoft, EU Parliament and many others! I still remember the feeling when Vitalik responded to our tweet:

Ok, that’s the conference, what about the game?

Ah right. So we wrapped up the event and resumed our work on the game with all the new resources we managed to get within the past 4 months (which I’d call a proper grind period).

First of all, we called the game Yo!Duel. We did quite some consulting (on both the game &blockchain development), wrote our initial blackpaper (while everyone else scribbled their whitepapers), designed the tokenomics (we worked on a consortium blockchain solution in Hyperledger, as Ethereum had serious scalability caps), designed the game characters, game setting and even prototyped the core gameplay to make sure it appealed to the Twitch generation of gamers. I mean the blueprint was literally ready to be sent to the factory!

This is how we visualized the ownership history of an item in the game.

Oh I totally forgot to mention — on one of Moontec’s side networking events, we met with an extremely senior software engineer, who later became a CTO for a blockchain platform in one of the largest banks in the world. Well, he built the blockchain prototype for our game, which we then took to GDC in March 2018 (now we are circling back to that event, yes) to showcase it to the industry.

YoDuel’s first playable prototype, showcasing gameplay elements.

Guess what? Nobody was interested… ‘Crypto? Blockchain? Why would we complicate things if everything works well the way it exists now?’ — they said.

VCs were also quite sceptical on the whole crypto thing, as it was the year of so called crypto-winter, where a lot of ICOs turned out to be scams, which sparked extra caution in the space and massive decline of the crypto-market. Was a bit painful, but we didn’t stop. Instead, we continued to polish our pitch and decided to work on some more quality visuals, to better deliver our message and quality of the product that we are planning to achieve.

Rare sword and epic mace 3D models for Yo Duel.

Let’s play a game: find the two weapons on the splash screen below:

Yo Duel loading screen art

I guess that sword was a bit harder to find, wasn’t it? And was it the sword or the dragon that you noticed first?

That’s literally me writing this bit.

I’m trying to find the right way to say it, but I really believe we had one of the sickest splash screens for an unreleased mobile game back in 2018… Look at it again, that kind of attention to detail and art quality is what we stick to when building things.

Two months later…

May 2018, we’re attending Casual Connect conference in London to pitch our startup idea to a dozen more investors. After many attempts, we unfortunately did not secure the funding. We noticed that VCs we talked to were generally afraid of crypto. Some of them highlighted our lack of experience in the industry (ambition & determination isn’t always enough). So we thought about it and decided shelf this game for future use and grind some more experience. And then try again, at some point.


But then, out of nowhere, at the same event, my friend introduces me to reps of Unity — world’s most popular real-time 3D development engine. One month later, I’m hired by the company in the game monetization team, where I am to date.

Before I thought that it’s enough to play a lot of games to know how games work. But I was wrong. Throughout my career, I’ve learned why many games fail, how their core loop simply didn’t make sense, how the first time user experience wasn’t engaging enough, progression too slow/fast etc.

And over time, I even started lecturing other game developers on how to do things right, because sharing is caring. And because i freaking love the stage (I’ll later share about myself being a DJ, but that’s later).

Me sharing a keynote on Unite 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

While I was at Unity, Gokuman continued his entrepreneurial path in game development. While learning all pitfalls of operating a game development studio, he continued working on various prototypes, juggling project management with art direction. Some will say that these two areas are conflicting each other — well, go tell that to all the solo face indie game developers (trust me, I’ve seen a lot).

Anyways, what I want to highlight here is us going full on grinding every aspect of video game development. While I was focusing on the commercial side of running & operating games, Gokuman devoted himself to the the art of operating a game dev studio: in particular, he experimented with different studio structures, built crazy mashup game prototypes as experimented with genres and expanded the arsenal of art studios he’s worked with to dozens.

To be continued in Part 2…

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