Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchain technology currently have an uncertain place in entertainment, but we’ve already started to see films, television, and video games use the emerging technology. One such game is Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party (which is available as a free download). What separates Mythical from many companies that have hopped on the NFT train is the pedigree behind it as it is led by As it has former Activision Blizzard studio heads at the helm such as CEO John Linden and CCO Jamie Jackson.
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Mythical’s Jamie Jackson about what NFTs mean for the future of gaming, how he became sold on the idea, and his past as the creative director at FreeStyleGames.
Tyler Treese: How would you explain Blankos Block Party to somebody that might not be familiar with it?
Jamie Jackson: It’s funny because we’re still in Early Access, so we’re kind of making plenty of adjustments right now, but more than anything, it’s a fun social game first focused on mini-games and progression, but more than anything, it is about collecting. It’s all about collecting, improving, and customizing your person. And we’ve got some big, fun, exciting announcements coming soon, but I can’t talk about them right now, but they will really change how the game works,
Using blockchain and NFTs in gaming is definitely a developing and emerging thing so you’re on the forefront in that perspective. It’s not to say that they can’t be melded with traditional gaming, but it’s a very unique idea. Why did you decide that this is the future? When did you first discover this and were you completely sold on this idea?
It was about three and a half years ago when, myself, John Linden, our CEO, my co-founder with Mythical, we were talking about blockchain and the emergence of it and how it could change gaming and how powerful true ownership is. Ownership is a great thing. There’s a couple of things that come out of it, even with our playerbase, like how loyal our players are and how much it means to them to truly own their asset. That’s kind of cool. But back in the day, when we were kind of hypothesizing about what does true ownership mean? Like digital rarity and scarcity. My item is different than your items. It really opened the door to be able to bring a bunch of real-world things and have that rarity and scarcity.
I collect sneakers and vinyl toys. I collect a bunch of stuff. And rarity scarcity means a lot to me to those things. So the idea that this could be something that could exist in the gaming world. I’ve been making games for 22 years and the idea that this technology could do that became really powerful to us. And not only for the fact that if I own it, sell it, and trade it. That’s cool, don’t get me wrong. But the idea that we could legitimize these great markets that we were seeing and more than anything, and this has been proven with Blankos, the loyalty in your community, by completing something to earn something, they own it, it’s powerful.
They pay money, they own it. That loyalty has blown me away: how players really responded to the fact that owning something is important to them because when you own something, you care about it a lot more than something you don’t own. So we started to talk about what kind of game would make a ton of sense for that. Because Mythical is a game-first company. It has to be a cool game. So we spent a lot of time making sure that Blankos was a really fun experience. We say a lot that blockchain isn’t going to make the game good, the game has to be good to start off with. But blockchain can certainly enhance it. I’m a big vinyl toy collector.
I’ve always collected them for 20 or so years. I always looked at them on my shelf and would be like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do a little bit more with those things than just look at them?” Like how much fun would they be to bring to life? So bringing vinyl toys to life in Blankos made a ton of sense. I love that the vinyl toy world is artists creating their own one-offs or limited runs. It’s a big part of the culture. We wanted to do that with Blankos. It made a ton of sense for us to have this opportunity for artists to come in [and do that]. We’ve done some great stuff. And we see great fan loyalty around them, and what’s really cool is these people are getting paid legitimate money. They can pay well. And not only that, these things trade so they get paid again.
Mythical is a big co-sign for the idea of blockchain. It’s one thing to hear be evangelized by a team that doesn’t really have a track record, but you have an actual track record in gaming. What is the future for blockchain in the gaming space? Do you think this is just going to be more of a niche? Is everybody going to do it?
I think the future for me is all games are going to use this technology ownership. I think we owe it to the fans that buy our games. I think they deserve it. We’re at the beginning of this concept of playing to earn. When I first started making games, you built a game, you put it on a disc, you put it in shops, someone went to the store, they bought the game, and if it had a bug in it, it was like, “Sorry, there’s no way to fix that bug.” We’ve gone all the way through devices all being connected so now we can actually digitally fix things after we’ve sold them. We’ve been through 10 years of mobile free-to-play. At the beginning of that, it was like, “What are you on about? Free to play? You’re insane.”
I think we’re at the beginning now of play-to-earn and NFTs and blockchain are a really important part of that philosophy. I believe in five years time, it’s just going to be known. This is going to be part of how we do it. It’s going to be about building loyalty and trust in our fanbase and being honorable to them by giving them something that they own. It’s just a really fun and creative way to move games forward. I think that’s what I love about it. That’s what keeps me excited. I think you’re gonna see more of that. And the reason I think that is because it already exists. Gray markets already exist in any game. You look at any every game that has rare and legendary items and items that the hardcore talk about that you can’t get anymore and only so many people have them. That’s what this does. It just legitimizes it for people and creates a reason for this, but also for people to sell trade, show off, and do whatever they want.
It’s certainly a lot easier to trade items through this than the World of Warcraft black market and all that type of shady stuff. What market base is really buying these objects right now? You don’t need millions of people doing it immediately. It’s kind of like fashion where Yeezy doesn’t need millions of people buying a $220 sneaker. But if a niche, core audience keeps buying every colorway, they’re taking that money to the bank all day long. Who is your audience that is buying these and how varied is it so far?
The audience is really broad to be honest. We see all sorts of different transactions. We have a bunch of collectors. The collectors want the low numbers. They really care about one to tens, the ones to one hundreds. And you see the price vary as it goes through that. But you also see people that just missed out on something. People are getting some of that stuff through the pipe after playing for free and they’re maybe selling it for $20. But they did that for free and someone who’s not going to get through the party pass, but wants that item is going to come in for it.
So we see a lot of different reasons for the trading and stuff at the moment. Burberry was a really interesting one and it was a low number at a relatively high price item and it sold out in 37 seconds. The demand was high and so many people wanted it. But within a minute of launching it, we were already trading it at over a $1,000 dollars in the market. That’s just how high demand was to have the first Burberry NFT ever. And this was in a video game. So we have anything from gamers who just collect everything and if they missed out, they come and buy it, and then you’ve got some hardcore people going after low numbers. Everything we drop is super desirable and people want it. Where we exist online now and the way we appear to to the other people in the game is important. People care about that a lot. Having these lampposts and having different avatars to show off to people is a really big deal.
You mentioned the collaborations with Burberry, Deadmau5, and more. Does it kind of vary from brand to brand how enthusiastic they are? How has that been working with different companies and putting together these deals?
It’s been a huge amount of fun. The cool thing, especially when you look at Burberry, is it’s an old established high-end fashion brand. They’ve been around for a long time. And if you look at them and how they’ve reinvented themselves time and time again to go another audience, it’s quite impressive. When you think of brands, you think about music artists, sports stars, anyone whose existence is important by how seen they are, reinventing yourself and putting yourself back in front of a new audience is really important. Gamers are that new audience. We might have been playing games for a long time, but young gamers now exist. For brands, it’s really important for them to get into super popular games to get in front of gamers.
It’s the new way to advertise. It’s the new way to get yourself known in the real world. It’s been a ton of fun because those early adopters like Deadmau5, who I worked with on DJ Hero a long time ago, they’re smart. They’re thinking about the future. That’s why we all got so much joy out of working with Burberry because they were really enthusiastic about doing it. They really understood it. And honestly, and I’ve done a shit ton of collabs in 20 years, the Burberry one was probably one of the most fun just because the partner we were working with got it and really understood it and wanted see how they could amplify who they were through us. Nobody thought we would sell out in 37 seconds.
Earlier this year, there was a Steam listing that got people’s hopes up for a new DJ Hero. How do you view those games now and their lasting impact?
DJ Hero remains probably one of my proudest ever moment in games. I built the prototype controller in my garage. We called it the Frankencontroller because it was ripped out of an Xbox 360 controller and a bunch of cardboard. So it holds a lot of fond memories for me and the team and we were really proud of it. And it’s funny because I get messages every week through Facebook asking if I am going to do another and if asking when we are going to bring it back. Personally, I’m really proud of it. It makes me feel good that people got a lot of joy from it because we put a lot into that game and we worked really hard. When you make games, if you have a fan base that really cares about it, that means more to the folks that made it. I’m stoked and I love that you had the Renegade Edition. I’ve got one on my wall at home, which is my pride and joy.
Freestyle had such an interesting mix of titles like Sing Party with Nintendo. You don’t really see an Activision studio developing a game for another publisher that often. How did that come together?
That was a cool one. We’d finished DJ Hero 2 and Nintendo really liked the studio. They’ve really loved the games we made and they actually approached us. They wanted a music title for Wii U launch. They came to us and said, “Hey, are you interested in doing something?” And, you’re right in what did with them has never been done before. We got to see the Wii U well ahead of anyone else. Side story, I actually met my wife because of that project. She works at Nintendo. Love and romance was involved. We’ve been married now for 10 years. That’s pretty cool. That was a fun time. It was a really fun project. And what was kind of fun about that one was we had a really kind of free run of what we wanted to do. We wanted something that people would throw on when they’re having a party and the dance party that wasn’t even recorded. It was just there to encourage enjoyment and play around with singing. It was fun times.
Why do you think Guitar Hero Live failed to catch on? It was so positively praised by those that did play it.
Yeah. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I think the game was great and the players that came on loved it. We still shifted millions of copies. I don’t know. Who knows, right?
Since you’ve worked in the genre so much, what do you think the next step is for rhythm games?
Yeah. It’s interesting. This question and discussion came up recently with friends. We were just talking about it. I would love it if there was a room for people to have instruments because for me, the joy of those games was the fact that you had a controller that made you feel different. It wasn’t just the thumbsticks. It wasn’t just a touchscreen device. That was what was so good about those games. Everything comes back around so maybe in a couple of year’s time, everyone’s ready for that again. Because I think we nailed that DJ Hero controller in terms of making you feel like a DJ even though you weren’t.
We’ve seen varying success with NFTs in the marketplace. WWE had such a successful first batch, but then the second batch didn’t sell out. But the interesting part with gaming is that you do get to show it off and interact with it. It has that playability. Can you talk to just about how important it is that these NFTs have value when building a healthy marketplace?
The key thing really is utility. That’s what we believe in: the utility of an asset. That’s what’s super important. For people to see value and see this thing in a way that goes beyond just being a JPEG, you need to be able to use it. I think the fact that with Blankos, there’s this incredible world you can go and exist in and you can go play with your friends and play against new friends you haven’t met yet. There’s a ton of stuff you can do in Blankos. There’s going to be more new features as well. And then the fact that as you play Blankos, the more you play with it, the better it gets. You improve, you’re leveling up, you get more skills, and you can fine-tune those skills.
That’s utility. That’s the difference. That’s why we continue to see great success with what we’re doing because people get the utility of it. What’s great is multiple people buy for different reasons. We have some people, the collectors, they want low numbers and they want it in the digital box. That’s important to them. And we’re starting to see people who are coming in and they want to catch up, right? So they want to buy Blankos that are leveled up to a certain level that already has a certain set of skills. So you’re seeing lots of different people buy for different reasons and that that’s ultimately what that utility is and is, in my opinion, critical to why this is important.