The Sandbox continues to grow and attract more leading brands onboard as it aims to revolutionize the creator economy using blockchain. So, we sat down with the newly appointed Chief Content Officer at The Sandbox, Nicola Sebastiani.
Introduction: The Sandbox and the Creator Economy
The Sandbox has been a metaverse project we’ve followed closely for several years at this point. On episode 43 of the Mint One podcast, we interviewed Sebastien Borget, co-founder of The Sandbox. We have covered how they are the “lords of onboarding“, their myriad partnerships, and I wrote a piece in July 2022 called 3 Ways The Sandbox Is Becoming the Ultimate Meta Game. Needless to say, it’s a game in the space we believe in.
That said, this crypto winter has been deep, darker, and colder than most predicted and even the healthiest web3 organizations have succumbed to the frost, which makes the projects that survive all the more special. What’s more impressive still is when anyone in the space is actively expanding and innovating during these tumultuous times, and that’s what The Sandbox is doing.
In a recent press release, The Sandbox and Animoca Brands announced three executive appointments, one of which is Nicola Sebastiani. Nicola started in the gaming industry as he meant to go on: Square Enix was his first role. From there, he has been the product manager for the mobile team at Ubisoft, Head of Content at Apple’s Apple Arcane division, and VP and Head of Mobile at PlayStation Studios. Now, he has taken his first step into web3 with The Sandbox.
Interview With Nicola Sebastiani, Chief Content Officer at The Sandbox
TG: I have your employment history, but what I really want to know is how you fell in love with gaming. Have you always been a gamer? Or is it the business side that interests you?
NS: I’m a lifelong gamer. My favorite game of all time remains Chrono Trigger, today, when not playing The Sandbox, I spend many hours on Starfield. My favorite hobby, even over video games, is tabletop role-playing games. I have run about 2,000 sessions or more over the last 25 years and keep playing. So, in short, I am a lifelong gamer, and being in this industry gave me the gift to work with (and in some cases become friends with) many of the legends that contributed so much to my creative thinking and inspired me to be here today. I consider myself very lucky!
TG: Another softball to get us started: Why The Sandbox?
NS: We are witnessing a historical shift in gaming towards user-generated content and creator economy.
The Sandbox is at the forefront of that evolution, set apart by its mission to empower creators to build experiences for their communities. Together, we will co-create the metaverse alongside such a diverse, global ecosystem of partners – this mission is actually one of the main reasons I joined.
creators keep the vast majority of their earnings on The Sandbox. It’s exciting to offer greater earning potential and more control for creators outside for-profit gatekeepers who retain significant shares of creator earnings.
Beyond that, aligned incentives make for a more balanced and equitable industry. With just a 5% platform fee, creators keep the vast majority of their earnings on The Sandbox. It’s exciting to offer greater earning potential and more control for creators outside for-profit gatekeepers who retain significant shares of creator earnings.
The team has also done an incredible job building an ecosystem with over 400 brands and 300 agencies/studios. That type of reach means we have a broad selection of curated content that attracts a diverse audience worldwide.
TG: Many gamers are vehemently opposed to NFTs in games. Those of us in web3 see that as voting against their own interests. What led you from traditional gaming to web3?
NS: The Sandbox allows anyone to create interactive experiences in a fun and rewarding manner. The fact that creators and players can truly own and leverage their contribution to the ecosystem makes this prospect all the more appealing.
To stay relevant, gaming has always closely followed technological shifts. Gaming drove interest in early PCs, attracted an entirely new category of players via “casual gaming,” and made mobile a platform for hundreds of millions of people. Now, as we look towards a world where immersive 3D experiences shape more of our lives online, there’s another transformation on the horizon. Seeing the dawn of this new era, and a desire to contribute to its positive development was the main appeal of joining The Sandbox.
At a higher level, taking on this new role is a chance to develop a brand new form of social entertainment centered around building meaningful connections in immersive spaces. That’s exciting and feels like gaming at the dawn of the mobile era. Few people predicted mobile gaming would upend the industry business model and consumption dynamics.
TG: What are your feelings about the creator economy in web3 compared to web2 games?
NS: Creators are the future of gaming. I respect the efforts, resources, and legacy going into AAA development, however, the economics around it are getting riskier and require more and more specialization. This shift is happening in the industry: more platforms focus on creator tools as the core engine of growth and engagement.
That’s why a key part of my role is to curate entertaining experiences that are fun for both creators and players and oversee our general content strategy – where we’re going, our tone, and setting the direction as a storytelling and gaming platform. We have a very diverse, global community, and we want it to feel supported.
Whether from some of the biggest game developers or that scrappy team in a garage who loves gaming and wants to make a career out of it, we are here to nurture a strong creator economy in all its facets.
TG: You will be heavily involved in GameMaker and VoxEdit, The Sandbox’s creator tools that underpin the game’s creator economy. Can you tell us a little about how these work?
NS: The Sandbox has always focused on building our ecosystem of creators, developers, studios and brand partners. We want to attract the most talented community of creators – no matter where they live. From the start, it’s been important to not only have a strong talent network for brands to tap into but also an active brand community to drive business opportunities for creators.
We do a few things to attract talent. First and foremost, we invest in our community. And it’s not just the training and professional development opportunities around our no-code tools: we’ve supported over 100 independent studios with $12 million from our Game Maker Fund. The fund supports emerging game designers and independent studios in their journey to publishing their games. We are improving the Game Maker Fund based on creator feedback, making it more convenient and streamlined.
Last year, we also launched the Partner Program, which has over 300 vetted agencies and studios certified to develop best-in-class experiences. That’s an incredible achievement, as we’re still in Alpha. With such a strong base of talent, we can continue to publish the types of top-quality content that attract both first-time players and veteran gamers.
We continuously publish and expand new resources for creators. Finally, we want to be present, meet our creators, and hear from them. On November 3rd, 2023, we will host a “Creators Day” in Hong Kong during Hong Kong Fintech week, with more to come in 2024.
TG: A lot of your experience is mobile-centric — is mobile something you’re hoping to push forward with The Sandbox?
NS: Absolutely! We ultimately want to bring The Sandbox to every platform, which brings the map to as many people as possible. Obviously, launching on mobile is a massive undertaking. But being built on Unity makes it a natural next step.
We’re also built on Unity, which influences development timelines.
TG: The Sandbox is best known for its landmark partnerships with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Adidas, The Walking Dead, and so on, but what does The Sandbox excel at that it perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for?
NS: We are pushing towards an alternative vision aside from most gatekeeping platforms. It’s a vision for a user-centric platform that prioritizes our community’s interest over our own. Incredibly, we take just a 5% transaction fee, as that keeps more money in the pockets of those building The Sandbox from the ground up.
True digital ownership is something that will take some time to play out. Most gamers are just not used to the ability to port assets across the world. So that’s why we’re also starting with avatars, the building blocks of identity in the metaverse. We’re working with existing collections, such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, to make their digital assets playable within The Sandbox. Once more people get hands-on experience with the fun of interoperability, we’ll start to see more grassroots growth around making sensible interoperability across different platforms.
TG: What is your grand vision for the future of The Sandbox? If you achieve what you set out to, what would that look like?
NS: I’m looking towards a future where The Sandbox has a thriving ecosystem of millions of players and creators who enjoy doing what they love. Whether wandering the map as a player or pursuing this as a career, I want to see a steady stream of social experiences that are fun to play and oriented to diverse audiences that aren’t necessarily represented in today’s matrix of frequent gamers.
I’ll know we’ve been successful when we attract that creator, making the next great game on Roblox and bringing her to The Sandbox as her preferred platform. Those moments will make a massive impact, as will onboarding new brand partners and expanding offerings from existing ones.
It will be very satisfying and fulfilling to help more creators build their dreams and realize their visions within The Sandbox – especially when they monetize their creations in an economically beneficial way on a platform that puts their success first.
TG: What do you think the biggest point of friction is when it comes to onboarding gamers to web3 games? And how can we overcome that friction?
NS: The biggest hurdle facing web3 games is delivering on their promises. Again, that’s not unique to web3 gaming. The entire industry struggles with accurate timelines and follow-through. The ability of creator-driven games to overcome that hurdle will be a defining feature in the creator-led gaming industry in the future.
One thing that we’re doing at The Sandbox is also expanding the definition of “game.” Just like mobile triggered the rise of the casual gamer – and the free-to-play model – these new immersive platforms are introducing a new way to engage. These experiences might have gaming elements, such as quests, but they focus less on levels, points, and progress. Instead, it’s about entertainment, exploration, discovery, fun, and socializing in an entirely new way.
We’re proposing a shift in the way consumers engage with brands – and each other. And we’re already seeing this play out at scale, with 6 million hours played on The Sandbox this year.
TG: What is your all-time favorite game? I will not accept The Sandbox as an answer!
- Chrono Trigger
- GTA 5
The Sandbox is climbing up the ranks fast, so ask me again next year 😉
Final Thoughts: Shenmue, Talent, and the Creator Economy
Firstly, anyone who holds Shenmue in that high regard is a friend of mine; Shenmue was the gateway drug to MMORPGs for 30-somethings! A less specific thought, however, is that Nicola’s appointment is indicative that the trend of web2 gaming talent moving to web3 has not ceased as the markets fell. A wealth of talent that helped build gaming up to what it is today has moved to work with blockchain technology, including Peter Molyneux, Will Wright, and Justin Kan, among many others. Not to mention, Mark Aubrey who was the Head of Activision-Blizzard APAC who we interviewed last year.
The Sandbox continues to strengthen its position with intelligent hires and partnerships, but what the appointment of Nicola indicates is perhaps more significant: a strengthening of the vision. The Sandbox wants to become the next Roblox but with a creator economy that puts the creator first, rewards the creative fairly, and helps players build experiences alongside developers and brands. Here’s hoping.