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AMA Highlights: Epik

By Daniel Dal Bello, Director.
July 29, 2021–10 min read.

On Thursday 22 July, we welcomed Gary Ma and Darren Smith from Epik Prime into the Hillrise Group Telegram chat for an AMA.

Epik is developing more than just an NFT platform, they are actively connecting businesses and owners of intellectual property for next-level partnerships.

The company have signed notable names in the entertainment industry as partners including Universal, Tencent, Warner Music Group, and many more.

Since our previous AMA, Epik have collaborated with Gameloft on an NFT collection and with Avakin Life for limited edition in-game collectibles.

In this post, we have compiled key questions and answers from the event.

Daniel Dal Bello
Hi guys and welcome back! We’re excited to have you here again of course, but before we start we’d like to congratulate you on minting more than 15,000 NFTs in the past 6 months!

Can you please start with a brief introduction of yourselves and Epik for anyone who has missed the previous AMA?

Darren Smith
Thanks for having us back!

I’m Darren, VP of Product at Epik. I’ve been with the team since 2018. My background is in the video game industry. I worked at Nintendo for 20 years, bringing great products to life as a Director there. I worked on the development of game consoles such as the N64 and Wii, and all of the online services — and a lot of other cool stuff.

Gary Ma
Hi I’m Gary, COO of Epik. I’m responsible for Epik’s daily workflow and operations. I have over 16+ years of experience in technology sales and other operational roles across multiple industries.

Prior to Epik, I’ve worked with some of the biggest brands and celebrity artists, producing large scale Ultra Music style concerts across the world. And now at Epik, we work with the biggest brands and IP to create premium digital merch and collectibles.

Raymond Reijnders
To jump straight in, you have recently launched the Epik marketplace.

Are you satisfied with the launch and can you tell us more about the collections available at the moment, and the appetite and volume that you’ve been seeing from users so far?

Gary Ma
Yes. Epik Prime is the world’s FIRST and ONLY company to do multiple deals with Triple AAA games and launch NFTs with them. The very first collection we launched with EpikPrime featured a collaboration with Gameloft’s legendary game franchise Asphalt 9: Legends. Asphalt is a household name in mobile games, it’s been downloaded over a billion times worldwide.

And then we followed that up with a back-to-back launch with another groundbreaking collaboration with Avakin Life, which marks just one more accomplishment for Epik Prime and a huge milestone for the entire NFT industry.

Avakin Life is a 3D virtual role-playing mobile video game with over 200 million registered players.

The Solar Sound Festival is a one-of-a-kind virtual world inside Avakin. All players have the chance to receive a free, limited edition, collectible digital artwork designed by a renowned crypto-artist (IG: Thisset) by visiting the Epik tent.

Players will be able to store the collectible on their Epik Prime accounts and immediately begin collecting the latest digital collections on the Epik Prime Marketplace.

Raymond Reijnders
Your collaboration with Gameloft is something that really got us excited.

It’s pretty crazy to see how you onboarded such a massive player in the mobile gaming market onto the blockchain ecosystem!

My question here would be, how do you as a relatively lean team manage to get these companies enthusiastic about NFTs and blockchain, and eventually onboard them?

Gary Ma
Thanks Ray, appreciate that. Let’s say it didn’t happen overnight.

Epik has been around since 2018. The mission from day 1 was to bring blockchain to more mainstream games and help move the industry toward more mass adoption.

Over the past few years, we grew our network from effectively zero, to now the largest enterprise blockchain ecosystem in the world, with over 300+ game companies, including over half of the top 25.

During this time, we really spent the time to establish relationships and create value with our clients.

I can’t stress what an achievement it is, to gain access to mainstream AAA games, and have them open up their ecosystem of users and their platform to blockchain. It’s a big step for the industry.

Raymond Reijnders
Of course! It’s an incredible feat. We’ve really noticed that other projects who are trying to tackle bringing branded content to the blockchain have struggled since the market downturn to actually onboard new partners and broker new relationships.

Is this something that you’ve also somewhat experienced, or has your expansive network and established reputation in the sector given you a boost during these volatile months?

Gary Ma
Yeah, that’s a great point. Not only is Epik the leading B2B NFT company, working with giant entertainment brands and AAA games from a blockchain/tech standpoint — we are also a leading digital licensing agency.

We frequently give educational talks and presentations at the licensing industry conferences. Much of it focused now on educating brand partners about the opportunities with NFTs.

Because we’re so established on both fronts, really, our business has been booming and growing. So many of the brands are looking for a trusted partner to get their foot in the door with these new “NFT” things, so they all end up going to a partner they know and trust.

And lastly to your point about downturn. While yes, that may leave some people skittish, the fact of the matter is, we’re in the nexus of multiple growth sectors.

Gaming, entertainment, and technology (especially blockchain) are all growing in leaps and bounds, and Epik is a real business that generates real revenue and profits. So we’re not so much impacted by the crypto-market cycles as maybe some other projects may be.

Daniel Dal Bello
Do you see any opportunity to create a relationship between real-life purchasable items and NFTs that can be used in gaming?

For example, someone owns a certain car and they can activate it immediately when they buy Forza, instead of having to play to unlock it.

This would be similar to some of the AR versions that we’ve seen come with sneakers and other items in the past.

Gary Ma
Yes! This is what Epik Prime is all about! By adding utility or real tangible value to an NFT. Epik NFTs are often products of crossover collaborations we produce with the leading games and brands in the world.

These original NFTs are not only unique and highly sought after collectibles, but also are infused with interactive features, such as being incorporated into video games (skins, characters, accessories, levels, access, etc).

Players can not only own beautiful Epik NFTs but by collecting various sets, they will unlock exclusive gameplay or more collection opportunities. Real tangible value.

Darren Smith
I’d like to buy my Lambo just to unlock it in Forza!

Raymond Reijnders
Darren, as Epik’s VP of Product you have recently moderated a panel during the Cutting Edge Games Conference where the participants discussed the future of NFTs, you mentioned that Epik will start entering the space with some large partners in the gaming industry.

Can you tell us more about some of the cooperations that you’re working on with these companies, and how you convince these traditional companies to enter the blockchain space?

Darren Smith
Yes! As Gary mentioned, we’ve been working with some of the best game companies for a while. Many of these collaborations take months and months to develop. You’ll see things starting to come to market that we’ve been developing since last year. That’s a result of development time and licensing in some cases, especially with the big game companies. At Nintendo, we planned very far ahead in terms of product releases.

Last month, our CEO Victor tweeted about an upcoming project with Garena, a client of ours, and the game publisher of Free Fire, the number 1 mobile game in the world. We have a huge collaboration coming up this year and some awesome NFTs related to that.

To put it in perspective, Free Fire has 100M+ daily active users. That’s what we mean about mass adoption and scale.

Raymond Reijnders
On that front, in a recent article, you mentioned the first games with NFTs will be hitting the PlayStation later this year.

Have you noticed any major concerns from publishers like Sony? In our research, they seem very staunch on keeping the reigns close and are not showing much interest in progressive monetization methods for games.

Darren Smith
Games have really evolved. Now, most of our clients are multi-platform, from mobile to console and PC.

There are a lot of details that need to be dealt with to introduce blockchain to any game ecosystem.

Especially larger game companies and publishers.

Gary Ma
That’s why Epik is fortunate to have someone like Darren with his decades of experience.

Raymond Reijnders
Licensing is also something your team at Epic has tremendous experience in, especially visible through your expansive network and ability to easily match B2B interest with reliable and synergistic partners.

How do you see licensing developing over time? Will we start seeing more and more of these kinds of engagements between companies to drive both traffic and revenue?

We’re also curious to hear how you envision royalties over these licensing deals being distributed among stakeholders in the future.

Gary Ma
On the NFT front, it’s all becoming about licensing. I recently spoke at Crypto Games Conference and the topic was just that, about how NFTs are IP and licensing.

Licensing is a complex business and it’s very unique in that it almost has never been disrupted by technology because it’s a relationship-based business.

This is where Epik comes in. We help game companies of all sizes to access more IP content for their products and platforms.

To emphasize this point, you’d think a giant company like Tencent would be able to get any brand they want. They have the money and the resources. But even Tencent uses Epik to help them get brands.

In terms of engagements and interactive opportunities… 100%. Being in a digital environment allows for so much opportunity to be creative.

Games and platforms have massive user attention. By penetrating these ecosystems brands gain huge impressions and reach. Pair that up with an interactive and engaging experience and it’s a win-win.

I think the growth of crossovers between brands and games has proven this out. IP royalties and licensing is definitely one giant area that blockchain is having an impact.

You see this in the music industry first and foremost. From 3Lau to The Weeknd. People love music and ownership and participation in potential rights and royalties is very appealing.

This will still take some time when we are talking about major record labels etc.

But from the creator economy, this will definitely grow very quickly, very soon. We’re already seeing it happen.

Daniel Dal Bello
One of the key features you propose of NFT assets is that you, as a participant, officially (and provably) own the in-game asset. Digital ownership rights are very exciting conceptually because it can enhance the gaming experience significantly.

However, we’re also seeing arguments being made that IP rights on certain creations legally remain with the original creators (possibly giving rights to royalties, etc). What’s your position and understanding of the legal aspects and validity of NFT ownership?

Do you believe it can work out fluently within our current regulatory frameworks or do you think the novelty of this technology also requires some re-evaluations of law?

Gary Ma
Yes, you’re getting to the core of the issue. What you are talking about IS licensing. It’s built on contracts and rights etc.

With smart contracts and automation, we will improve some of the efficiency in how these agreements/arrangements are created, maintained, and enforced.

However, by ‘enforce’, this still means the process follows the current legal and regulatory framework. Infringement suits etc, will still need to be filed in appropriate jurisdictions and it becomes a legal battle in the courts.

A smart contract cannot guarantee a legitimate rights holder anything more than a traditional contract can… at least for the time being.

Once blockchain and wallets are more ubiquitous, then perhaps even item transfers and restriction can be relied upon as part of the process… this will be great.

Raymond Reijnders
As a final question, what is your vision for successfully introducing NFT innovation to pre-existing players in the entertainment industry?

And do you think the adoption will be a primarily bottom-up (consumer demand) movement or top-down (corporate introduction)?

Gary Ma
This year has been really exciting.

As mentioned, Epik has been doing NFTs since 2018, and we’ve been beating that war drum for a while. Much of that time has been spent on educating the industry (both consumers and institutional/corporate). Remember, Epik is primarily a B2B company.

This year we reached a tipping point and NFTs broke through to mainstream awareness.

Now, our conversations with clients has shifted from NFT awareness, to now more about strategy and execution on how to incorporate these new forms of digital merchandise into their product lineup or merchandising strategies.

Getting to the mass adoption you speak of will be reliant upon removing the friction from blockchain (i.e. simple accounts, wallets, on-off ramps, etc) for the consumers — creating the right incentives for new consumer behavior (driven by the producer, in this case the corporates and brand owners and owners of the digital platforms).

With the right content, and a successful execution of the product delivery, we’ll get to big adoption.

At Epik, our approach has been to work with mainstream games. If we open up those doors, it will open up the floodgates to the entire (blockchain/NFT) industry. Everyone will benefit.

Raymond Reijnders
Thank you Gary, exciting prospects! On that topic, is there anything in particular that we should be looking forward to from Epik Prime in the near future?

Gary Ma
Yes… we have many great product releases coming soon, from the Epikverse, to the Lockr app, and many more exciting NFT drops and in-game collaborations.

Additionally, $EPIK token will be launching very soon. That has been eagerly anticipated following our record-breaking SHO sale on DAO Maker not long ago. So stay tuned 😉!

Hillrise Group supports ambitious Web3 startups with early-stage venture capital and fundamental research.

Epik is a well established player in IP, licensing and NFTs, bringing their knowledge, and contacts to the blockchain space.

Connect with Hillrise Group
https://hillrise.group
https://hillrisegroup.medium.com
https://twitter.com/hillrisegroup

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Fundamental research arm of Hillrise Group. We bring simplicity to complex technology.

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Hillrise Group

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Hillrise Group is a blockchain-native venture capital and consulting firm supporting emerging Web3 startups.

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