We recently sat down with Vorto CEO Kris Vaivods to talk about how all of this is working, and what it means for the future of gaming.
Vorto has been making important inroads into decentralized finance and blockchain applications recently. What do you see as having driven a lot of these extensions of your play-to-earn model, and what kinds of factors were involved in making the dream a reality?
I think we should go back to 2017 when my childhood friend and I started a blockchain gaming studio, VZ Games. With the introduction of smart contract capable blockchains, we saw that we could create in-game economies built by the players – for the players.
We were tired of putting time and money into virtual worlds and not getting any return on it. We knew that with the help of tokenization and P2P trading, we could allow players to freely exchange their goods between each other and become the market makers of virtual bespoke places. This suddenly flipped the model on its head – instead of players working for the game, the game should work for them. We called it a play-to-earn model!
In talking about your partnership with Neil Adams of Batman fame, you pointed out that he has innovated comics in some of the same ways that Vorto has innovated gaming. Can you describe that a little more – are there key commonalities that you see making these kinds of artist partnerships work?
If you look back to the late 60s and early 70s, Neal helped revitalize characters with whom readers had become somewhat disenfranchised. Through Neal’s creativity and vision, he really provided that – Batman is a great example – and gave people a reason to enjoy reading comics again.
The story has similar elements to our journey in gaming and how we feel about the industry now. We love gaming, but the games we’ve committed time to aren’t really fulfilling or giving back to us as players anymore. The gaming community is extremely advanced in this respect and they want to get more rewards for their commitment. So we are hoping to do our very own Neal Adams project and create a new ecosystem and inclusive platform that enables gamers to start enjoying gaming again.
In choosing the NEAR platform, Vorto is getting 25,000 NEAR tokens and $10,000 to build on the network. Is that right? That’s been called a grant. How did that come about and why is it important?
Yes, Vorto Gaming has been awarded 25,000 in NEAR Tokens and an additional $10,000 in cash, as an industry grant to support our initiative to bring NFT trading capabilities to our games and most importantly, to our players. There are an estimated 2.8 billion gamers worldwide, who basically fuel industry-wide revenues which will reach an estimated 181$ B this year. Growth in player numbers and gaming interest, which the recent pandemic has also likely contributed to, sees more people isolated and looking for refuge in entertainment. But the industry overall continues to grow at a skyrocketing pace over the next 4-5 years. This is where Vorto Gaming saw the opportunity. We are on a mission to make the game work for the players, and not just the players working for the game – and where players are now able to monetize their time and attention to find, craft and seamlessly generate NFT assets of in-game digital items (tokenized).
The NEAR grant helped us to both speed up this development on our side, and also have out-of-the-box tools on the platform and bridges. We see this as a good collaborative start, as it speeds up our go-to-market launch this summer, by helping us to avoid having to develop additional features already built into the NEAR solution. That way, we can concentrate on our core business needs at this point to serve the players and the studios.
For NEAR, I think they recognized the Vorto Gaming vision and market dynamics of gaming and that was one of the original reasons they approached us. Sort of creating an industry spotlight or showcase for gaming on the NEAR platform; showing different approaches and appeal of 3rd party plug-ins like our upcoming gaming NFT marketplace as the Vorto Network. I think grants really do serve a good purpose of servicing both the Grantor and the Grantee in that sense, as it promotes both sides equally in achieving their end goals. We’ll be able to use that grant in both internal development as well as the functional support for our upcoming PlayTest this summer for the 30,000 users signed up at hashrush.com. It’s the first game to use and create NFTs for the Vorto Network marketplace.
In talking about NEAR as a good network for your endeavors, you’ve mentioned how it’s developer-friendly, and also, the sharding capabilities. Can you talk about whether these were essentials for making the choice of where you are going to digitally locate the project?
Yes, again the technical toolbox on the NEAR solution helps our developer team to build and implement faster, for many parts of our service offering. We can trust that the service works on the NEAR side, as they have multiple different projects (industry customers) that are supporting requirements for live production, beta(s), and various other project build-out stages. So they have developed it for wider community use and not a single game or company IP alone. We can therefore already see it is quite robust, stable, and feature-rich. This means our development team has that toolbox as part of our arsenal from day one, and we can customize our needs on top. We are able to validate working mechanics quickly and safely, using “garden-walled” closed test chains, and then once ready launch on the public side. This fits well with our CI&D (continuous integration & delivery) mentality, and it also fits very well with our infrastructure scalability architecture on all the layers: for the blockchain, marketplace, and the layers of the game. Our users, the players, are and will continue to be global, highly engaging, and driving volume transactions that just need to reliably work regardless of peaks or bursts. NEAR sharding capabilities, along with our micro-architecture approach very much “click together” in that sense.
But another aspect of selecting NEAR was also not just technical. The ability of their solutions or bridges also comes down to a business model. No doubt, a solution needs technical work to get service market adoption. But when the technology is business prohibitive, like in the case of some blockchain setup, for example, Ethereum; the cost models of running micro and volume-based transactions, kind of make the whole business a non-starter. This of course invalidates the argument of whether or not the tech even works, to begin with, if you can’t deliver both pieces of the equation. Hence NEAR offered us a feasible technology and business-efficient means to both generate the NFT while allowing them to be transacted in alignment with our planned business models.
We are learning a lot in our beta and will continue with agile iteration in our approach, but also why it’s critical for any service to get a live MVP, gain feedback, and let the market tell you the right directions to navigate from there. NEAR helps us with this style.
Do you think that the creative or literary life of the fan audience provides something important to blockchain-based gaming? If so, how would you describe it? What is that mingling of the old book-based “nerd” community and new techno-geek culture that blends together in a generally fantastic sense?
Yes, we totally think that the creative members of the game’s audience provide something important to blockchain games. Fundamentally, this is no different from how people support regular games by creating fanart and memes, writing fan fiction, cosplaying characters at events, and maintaining fan sites, wikis, and generally speaking, so much more.
As to why they blend, at face value it does look like an unlikely mix, the older book-based communities tend to be more technologically illiterate, and the younger techno communities tend to be seen as harder to understand. However, what we think is that as it is practically impossible to be detached from modern technologies, those that struggle with the concepts are under much more pressure to learn. This is where the newer tech communities jump in, though it may be surprising, for the most part, the tech communities are extremely open, and will jump at a chance to help push the adoption of the tech that they are the most passionate about. So the moment that someone (say a more prominent person of the older book-based community) would show an interest in something like blockchain, they are more likely than not to receive a huge help from the community. Once this positivity becomes noticed, others are more likely to join in, causing a snowball effect of adoption.
Add that to the fact that both sides know what it is like to be marginalized (after all, until recently even the term ‘nerd’ was a derogatory term) seeing the willingness of both sides to learn and accept each other; this would further promote the blending of the two seemingly polar opposite communities.
Is the world of imaginative digital gaming at odds with esports? Are these two fierce competitors, or are they collaborative in nature? How do you see the future of consumer choice when it comes to gaming?
I think that there can’t be one without the other – Gaming is the foundation of esports, and therefore provides the very essence of its model which has seen incredible success over the past few years, whether that’s audience engagement and viewing figures, events, the creation of teams and franchises or commercial collaborations with brands.
What Vorto Gaming is trying to do is democratize the monetization of gaming and make it possible for everyday gamers like you and me to make a living from something we love doing. At the moment that is reserved for esports professionals competing at a competitive level – but hopefully in the future, with the development of the Vorto Network, that will change.
In a recent interview, you talked about how it’s important to promote in-game ownership, to keep players engaged and attracted to a particular digital environment. How do these players know that their assets are safe? How do you promote this as a real store of value, and not just the kind of frivolous and intangible type of award that detractors talk about when they’re critical of these types of digital gaming?
As in-game assets become tradable against a real-world value, players become market makers. In an open economy game, players determine the worth of a specific in-game item, not the developer or publisher anymore. Gamers can play the market and try to obtain items that are more scarce. When I say ‘scarce’ I am not only talking about items that are in limited and set quantities, but also digital goods that are much sought after in the market, for example, crafting materials. These items can be obtained through gameplay and competitions and then sold for real money on the Vorto Network to other players. As the items are only available for purchase on the Vorto Network Marketplace from other players, that creates a market demand from players who have less time on their hands, but more money in their wallets. Players supplying other players and adding money to the pot is the main reason the in-game item has a real-world value and becomes a form of investment or store of value.
Adding in-game item tokenization to the acquisition provides a layer of security and transparency that is required when your in-game items store real-world value. As well, utilizing blockchain technology allows the gaming industry to tap into a financial layer that can facilitate the transfer of value between two peers. Of course, blockchain is not the only answer to the security of your assets. It is the owner’s responsibility to keep the assets safe as well. You would not keep a Mark Rotko painting without extra caution.
We know that provably fair gaming algorithms have the capability to verify certain kinds of digital results. Is this helpful in your kind of blockchain gaming program?
We believe blockchain is a foundational technology; it’s more of an enabler. While the use of blockchain and NFTs can be seen to create trust and transparency, economics relies heavily on things we have engineered directly into the game DNA.