Matt Lobel of PLAYN On The Future of Gaming
If nobody knows about it, it will fail — You have all heard the expression, “build it and they will come”, right? It’s bunk. Not the way life works. In a perfect world, you could just focus on creating something great. In the real world, however, it does not just take a great vision and hard work. It also takes strong marketing and public relations. Getting the word out about something that is great is just as important as having something great in the first place.
As a part of our series about what’s around the corner for the toy, game, and video game industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Lobel.
Matthew Lobel is a results-driven executive with an extensive and diverse background in application development, gaming, and training and development as an entrepreneur over the last 30 years. Currently, Matt is in the midst of the development of the PLAYN ecosystem. Matt is on a mission to bring blockchain gaming to the masses by dropping barriers to entry, creating fun games, and providing real value to its token holders.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I appreciate you asking! I have always been an entrepreneur. I started my first company at 18, while I was in college. I maxed out my credit card at the time and bought a PA system so I could run sound for bands at my college. There were others doing the same thing at the time but they were awful, so I came up with the slogan “get feedback from your audience, not your sound system”. Pretty soon I was booked solid.
I’ve always loved creative endeavors and that shows in the types of work that businesses I’ve created have done; live sound production, interactive multimedia production, eLearning production, stock photos for eLearning, audio narration for eLearning, and games. If it has to do with creativity, count me in!
I’m also super type-A. I can literally look at a UI on a monitor and tell you if it is just a couple pixels off center. Truthfully that may be more of a curse than a blessing sometimes, but that attention to detail is also a reason I have done well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There have been many interesting lessons learned throughout my career but one of the most challenging times occurred in the early 2000s, with the first iteration of my company. It was the first time that I had built up an organization to midsize levels and we were doing great. We had IBM, AT&T, AOL, and Autonation as our customers. IBM and AT&T were the largest, by far, in terms of volume. We had 6 development teams going full time and were developing a massively multiplayer game on the side. Things were great!
However, in three short months all that changed. IBM’s learning group bought AT&T’s learning group and outsourced all the work to their offshore teams. So in one move, we lost 75% of our business. It was a brilliant business model that IBM had developed, but it killed us. Not only did they not do work with us anymore, but they also absorbed the work we were doing for our largest customer.
Over the next few months, as the work tapered, the business died. I scrambled to save jobs because my employees were like family.
In the end, I had to let everyone go and barely survived, transitioning the business to a digital product/services focus.
The big takeaway was to always ensure that the company was as diversified as possible. There were other lessons learned, for sure, but that was the biggest one.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many, to be fair. I think any founder can easily point to a dozen people that provided them help along their journey. It might be financially, but could just as easily be in the form of advice, introductions, or resourcing. It’s almost unfair to single out one person.
BUT, you asked for a single person, so I will say a manager at a company that I worked for prior to starting Sparrow. His name is Rusty Carpenter and I worked for him as a multimedia developer. This was during the early 90s and the company was having to downsize. I could see the writing on the wall and knew my time was limited. As such, I took a risk and started Sparrow. Once I did, I approached Rusty and told him that I knew he had to terminate me, but also that he still needed the work done. When I suggested that he fire me immediately and outsource the work I was doing to my company, he agreed. His faith in my ability to manage the work through my company was how Sparrow was born. So here is my official “thanks” to Rusty!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a big proponent of enabling others. It’s pretty easy to just write a check and feel good about yourself, but it’s quite another to dedicate your time. That’s the tough thing to do as we never seem to have enough of it. Especially as we become more successful. For me, I love to invest in the next generation as a volunteer coach. For the past 18 years I have done so on the youth and high school level. There is nothing more gratifying to me than hearing about how the young men that I have coached are building their own success.
Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in gaming that you are working on?
Sure. Right now the big conversation in gaming technology is all about blockchain. Everyone has ideas about how this will impact the industry, but right now there seems to be a lot of flailing around. With a 180 billion dollar gaming industry, it is obvious that no one quite has it right, since crypto games are only making up about 4 billion of it.
The problems are that some gamers don’t know how to find blockchain games, others don’t know how to set up the games, and many blockchain games require a financial investment — sometimes significant — just to start playing.
This doesn’t work! In the game industry the biggest problem developers have is getting players to not delete a game in the first day, week, or month. So why on earth do we want to make it harder to find them, install them, or play them?
For my part, I am working on a gaming ecosystem called PLAYN to change this. What is unique about our system is that we are removing the financial and technical barriers to entry and focusing on just making fun, free to play games. Of course since our games are all integrated with cryptocurrency, they present players with the opportunity to earn tokens through the course of normal gameplay.
How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?
Interestingly, there is no status quo right now. The major game companies are nervous about blockchain, they don’t completely understand it. They really are waiting to see how it shakes out before they jump in. The others in the market are guessing, trying to see what works. Since many of them are technologists first, they don’t really understand the gaming industry.
So the status quo is really a lack of success. Our mission statement at PLAYN is to bring blockchain gaming to the masses, in other words be successful in mass adoption. Doing that would certainly change the state of the industry. It would not just be a disruptor in the blockchain gaming industry, but the gaming industry as a whole.
You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?
In the developing world there is a gross national income of around $1,000. So what if a system could be created where there was a natural transfer of wealth? And not only was that wealth transfer voluntary but also beneficial to all parties?
Enter play to earn gaming. The way PLAYN is setting up our system, based on free to play games, everyone can participate. When players who have money come into the game, they will bring currency with them in order to make in-game purchases within the auction house. Those purchases are a direct wealth transfer to other players.
Imagine being somebody from a developing nation where your average monthly income was less than $500 USD. . . and while playing one of our games you obtain a rare sword. Not needing it at the moment, you place it in the auction house where a bidding war ensues. At the end of the day, it sells for a large amount of in-game currency. You are able to transfer that currency out and exchange it for the currency of your choice, earning fiat or crypto from it. What if that sword sold for the equivalent of a month’s wages? A year’s wages? Or more? What kind of a real world impact could that have in your life?
That is truly exciting to me.
I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?
Gamification has been a hot topic in the eLearning industry for many years, and that industry is where I got my start. It can be used to motivate and engage a learner and fire up a competitive spirit to challenge them. The challenge to successful gamification of learning, however, is making it a part of the entire learning objective and not just an outlier. In other words, tell a story with it rather than just slapping it onto an existing learning plan. Very similar to creating a game in general. It needs to be immersive, allowing the player/learner to lose themselves in the experience. In terms of learning, it should engage them to the point that they are not even aware that they are learning. Very difficult to accomplish for some topics!
How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?
A successful game is sticky and draws you back in time and again. For example, Clash Royale. I have deleted that game so many times, but always wind up reinstalling it. Why? Because the mechanics of it are so well planned and the gameplay is balanced exquisitely. There is always a challenge and you always have both success and failure when playing it. Enough success to keep you coming back and enough failure to always feel challenged. Equal parts frustration and fun.
What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create a Successful Game” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1 — It is all about the fun!
Very simple, right? But a lot of game companies lose sight of this. They focus on how cool the technology is, or how amazing the visuals are, but all the players care about is how fun the gameplay is. Which brings us to the second thing you need to know. . .
2 — Players are the kings (and queens!)
Too many times we (developers) focus on what we like when in truth that doesn’t matter. What matters is what the players like. Listen to them! Most of the time they will tell you very clearly what they do and do not like.
3 — Know your genre
Hand in hand with the second point, you still need to know intimately the genre you are designing for. It takes a deep knowledge in order to innovate. For example, in our MMORTS game, Darklin Wars, a casual developer would not know about the pay to win dynamic that caused otherwise popular games to go through a predictable death spiral. Even if they did know, they would not understand how some simple tweaks to the game mechanics would fix that spiral while enhancing the overall player experience.
4 — Design by playing
Iterating the design of a game is super important. You should always start with a great game design document, but understand that it is just the starting point, not a finished product. That super-killer feature that looked great on paper might not be as amazing once you try integrating it in the game. Always play each iteration of the game and make adjustments where needed.
5 — If nobody knows about it, it will fail
You have all heard the expression, “build it and they will come”, right? It’s bunk. Not the way life works. In a perfect world, you could just focus on creating something great. In the real world, however, it does not just take a great vision and hard work. It also takes strong marketing and public relations. Getting the word out about something that is great is just as important as having something great in the first place.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Right now I would focus on getting as many people in developing nations familiar with cryptocurrency as possible. It has the very real possibility of changing their lives radically. By giving them access to banking, micro-loans, the global economy, and much, much more, it has the most possibility of any current technology to radically change/impact lives for the better. It really cannot be understated.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
From a professor of mine at Berklee, Rob Rose. He advised “Find something you love to do, do it well, and success will follow.” Probably the best advice I ever received. My “love” has always been being an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t say it was just relevant to me, it was a guiding principle.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Our discord server is a great place to start (https://discord.gg/C9JxfQ4AhJ). After that Twitter: https://twitter.com/Playn_gmg. We are really just starting to get the word out on PLAYN, so it’s a great time for folks to hop in and join us. Getting in at the start of what we believe will be a game-changing (sorry for the pun) technological revolution in this space.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.