Thirdweb Plots Web3 Gaming Push With Ex-Facebook Exec Hire
Infrastructure startup Thirdweb has appointed former Facebook executive Atif Khan as its new Vice President of Gaming in a bid to accelerate the growth of the Web3 gaming industry—and the firm recently built a game from scratch to demonstrate its capabilities.
The San Francisco-based startup offers a Web3 infrastructure toolkit for developers to build a suite of decentralized applications, from blockchain games to NFTs, DAOs, and more. The firm raised a $24 million Series A round at a $160 million valuation in August 2022 from investors including Haun Ventures, Polygon Labs, Coinbase Ventures, and Shopify.
Khan spent eight years at Facebook, most recently serving as Head of Mid-Market & In-App Ads for Global Gaming, before leaving in 2021 and taking the Chief Operating Officer role at Web3 gaming infrastructure firm Stardust.
Speaking exclusively to Decrypt, Khan shared that one of the major attractions in joining Thirdweb was the opportunity to “sell the full stack to a game developer.”
The mechanics of Web3 game building requires developers to access programs and tools such as RPC nodes, asset minting, wallet creation, payments processing, marketplace creation, API and game engine tools, and more. These services are often sourced from different providers, according to Khan, but Thirdweb aims to simplify the process.
“We want to build a great, one-stop shop tool that is comprehensive,” said Khan, “so that developers don’t have to go to seven or eight different places.”
But while Thirdweb will offer that full-stack option, it’s also willing to meet game developers’ needs for specific pieces of the puzzle. For example, if a studio opts to use a different RPC node or index relay provider, then Thirdweb can fill in the gaps. “We provide that flexibility,” he said.
“Game developers are starting to realize that users want modularity, they want choice,” Khan added. “You don’t need to be stuck or locked into one wallet–whether a smart, local, custodial, or non-custodial. Users have different preferences.”
As a demonstration of its toolkit’s capabilities, Thirdweb recently spent three weeks building an on-chain survival action game titled Web3 Warriors. The game, launched on the testnet for Base—am Ethereum layer-2 scaling network developed by Coinbase—attracted over 500 unique players and recorded 1,000 sessions in less than seven days, the firm said.
Akin to Reddit’s launch of digital collectibles, Thirdweb deployed a trojan horse strategy, prioritizing gameplay familiarity and user enjoyment while incorporating blockchain features such as non-custodial wallets, in-game battle tokens, and cosmetic skins as NFTs on the backend. In other words: fun first, crypto second.
In Khan’s view, some of the major pitfalls of the play-to-earn model—which skyrocketed in 2021 and then largely cratered last year—centered around the friction gamers felt navigating the complexities of the blockchain, as well as the model’s inherent focus on monetary reward via crypto tokens. More and more recently, Web3 game developers are talking about emphasizing fun and entertainment above all.
“I think over the next 18 months, we’ll start to see a lot less talk about the blockchain perspective,” he predicted, “and more about what the blockchain is actually bringing in terms of value to users and developers on both sides.”
Khan grew up playing an eclectic mix of games, from simulation games like Empire, Civilization, and The Sims to sports titles like FIFA and the first-person shooters GoldenEye 007 and Halo. Nowadays, the father of two tends to venture towards word-based games.
“When I look at mobile phones and the moment that they started to take off, a lot of that was to do with games,” he said. “What’s special about those games like Candy Crush is the community and social aspect.”
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“I think everybody’s waiting for those AAA-type games like [Deadrop] and Shrapnel to launch,” he said of the Web3 gaming space, but added that “casual, free-to-play mobile games are the type of fun games that are going to help take this industry to the next level.”
Khan believes that Web3-native casual mobile games will serve as the catalyst for mainstream adoption, surpassing traditional mobile games that incorporate the technology. But ultimately, he’s keen on bringing Thirdweb’s tools to all sorts of crypto-infused experiences.
“We want to become the best, most comprehensive dev tool,” he said, “not only in gaming, but across Web3.”