YGG: Why we funded the #playtoearn documentary
Play-to-Earn: NFT Gaming in the Philippines is a short documentary film revealing the story of a community in Nueva Ecija, a rural province north of Manila, that began earning an income by playing a blockchain-based video game, after losing their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Players reported monthly earnings up to USD $400, which is more than local minimum wage.
The story first appeared on Coindesk in August 2020 as an op-ed written by Leah Callon-Butler. Leah, a Coindesk columnist who regularly writes about blockchain technology driving economic progress across Southeast Asia, had been inspired to learn more about the burgeoning play-to-earn movement after seeing this Tweet by Gabby Dizon, future co-founder of Yield Guild Games (YGG):
The Coindesk article includes a quote from Gabby, a veteran of the Philippine gaming community, which explains how Axie Infinity became a lifeline for some Filipino families:
“To a crypto investor, gaining $300 or $400 a month might not mean that much, but for these people it means the world. It’s food on the table, it’s money for their families and it’s saving them when they cannot even leave the house during this pandemic.”
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The story hit a nerve with communities across Southeast Asia and Axie saw huge growth in user adoption in the following months. The Philippines quickly became Axie’s number one market, closely followed by Indonesia, as well as Venezuela and Brazil, which are all examples of countries where unemployment increased significantly due to the economic fallout of the pandemic and government relief from the crisis has been limited.
Inspired by the positive impact of play-to-earn gaming, and excited by the true utility of NFTs as was being demonstrated by blockchain-based virtual economies, Gabby came together with co-founders Beryl Li and Owl of Moistness, to establish YGG in October 2020. With the help of lead investor, Delphi Digital, the team raised an initial seed round of $1.325mil.
Inspired by the Netflix documentary, Daughters of Destiny — which tells the story of a group of disadvantaged children in India who get a life-changing opportunity to attend boarding school to receive quality education — Anil suggested to Gabby that play-to-earn gaming in the Philippines had uncovered a similarly moving message of hope to share with the world.
It was then that Gabby reached out to Leah and her team at Emfarsis Consulting with the idea to bring the Coindesk article to life in video format. In December 2020, when production planning commenced, and even by the time filming began in January 2021, NFTs were still a relatively niche topic.
As such, the team made an executive decision not to include too much technical jargon in the script as it was most important to ensure the content would be as inclusive as possible and broadly accessible to a wide audience — especially those who had no prior exposure to crypto.
Fast forward to March 2021, and suddenly, the world had fallen in love with NFTs. Beeple sold his “Everydays” NFT to Metapurse for over $69mil, industry-wide NFT sales topped $2bil for the quarter, and the biggest media publications in the world, from the New York Times to The Economist, were writing headlines about the trend.
With NFTs now firmly positioned within the mainstream, the film’s director, Nathan Smale, made the call to revise the script and screenplay in order to focus more specifically on NFTs as the driving theme of the documentary.
Upon hearing about the documentary through Anil, Mark wanted to pledge his support. While YGG and the film’s production team were already fully convinced of the power of the play-to-earn story, Mark’s endorsement added a phenomenal level of credibility and extra legitimacy to the project.
Following the launch of the mini documentary on 13 May 2021, which was released on YouTube with two versions — this version with English subtitles or this version with seven language translations in Tagalog, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese on closed caption — we garnered over 200,000 views of the video in just one week.
The story was covered by global media heavyweights including CNBC, VentureBeat, Hypebeast and Kotaku, as well as local leaders, including the Philippines’ number one crypto news website, Bitpinas, Latin America’s Criptonoticias, Tarreo and Lado H, and Brazil’s Valor Investe, a Tier 1 financial news publication. For the latter, the Brazilian reporter Weruska Goeking was so inspired by the story she posted it via her personal LinkedIn.
We also saw amazing feedback from the tech, crypto and VC communities, with the documentary being “highly recommended” by Linda Xie of Scalar Capital. Miko Matsumura of gumi Cryptos Capital and Piers Kicks of BITKRAFT Ventures told everyone to take time out of their day to watch the film and Arianna Simpson of a16z said she believed play-to-earn was “the next major trend poised for takeoff.”
For many, it may feel like NFTs came out of nowhere. But for the team at YGG, we’ve been committed to developing this space for many years.
We are absolutely delighted that the world is now catching onto the benefits and potential of play-to-earn gaming. But this is only the beginning.