Token Gamer interviews the ex-Managing Director and Head of Activision Blizzard Asia Pacific, Mark Aubrey, now co-CEO of Web3 company, Catheon Gaming.
Web3 is ill-defined and attempts to delineate the term are — like those of the metaverse — transient. I recoil at the meme-language in crypto, but in this case, it’s true: we are so early. It’s tempting to point at that during bear markets and cavernous valleys in glowing red charts, but the true markers aren’t prices at all. The most comforting evidence of how early we are, particularly in blockchain gaming, is the mass exodus of Web2 titans to build in this fast-paced, cash-rich, emerging market.
In traditional gaming, stretching back decades, few can escape the shadow of either of the constituent parts of Activision Blizzard. This modern amalgamation of gaming behemoths contains IPs within its ecosystem that have defined the industry. As of this week, one of the senior-most figures of the company has joined that mass exodus and stepped into Web3 full-time.
Who Is Mark Aubrey?
Mark Aubrey has nearly two decades of experience in the gaming industry, working at the likes of Warner Bros Entertainment and then as Managing Director and Head of Asia Pacific (APAC) at Activision Blizzard, which included oversight of gold-standard games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty.
Aubrey has now left this coveted position to join Catheon Gaming, an integrated blockchain gaming company, as co-CEO with founder William Wu. This move is a profound one for Catheon Gaming and Aubrey, but also one of significance for blockchain gaming; another key figure has sailed into unchartered waters to help build the future of an industry we all hold dear.
I’d like to say thank you to Mark Aubrey for giving up his time to give us some insight into the transition to, and his views on, Web3. I would also like to thank Rachel Cheung and Catheon Gaming for setting up the interview.
TG Interviews Mark Aubrey of Catheon Gaming
TG: We have seen a spate of Web2 innovators (Justin Kan, Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.) as well as senior figures in Web2 gaming move to work on the formation of Web3. What is it that brought you to Web3 personally?
MA: “Web3 will shape the future of the internet and the shifts from the Web2 innovators you’ve mentioned here, alongside talent flows both from senior executives and increasingly from engineers and high-end graduates, highlight that the wave of momentum toward Web3 has well and truly begun.
For me, large, engaged, online gaming communities in Web2 games like in Roblox, League of Legends, or Fortnite are probably the closest representation of the future metaverse we currently have. So I believe gaming will play a critical role in the evolution from Web2 toward Web3 and the mass adoption of blockchain. This in turn will define what the metaverse ends up being and having the chance to contribute to the early thinking around this and a more decentralized internet in general that increases power, control, and ownership for users is something I was really interested in and wanted to be a part of.”
TG: Activision Blizzard has created and/or published some of the best games ever made and is a leading force in gaming. What will you bring from your experience as APAC Head to Catheon Gaming and Web3?
MA: “From a business and traditional games perspective, I believe I bring a host of experiences to Catheon Gaming from my nearly 20-year career in gaming and entertainment. I’ve built and managed large and geographically dispersed high-performing teams, and have managed some of the world’s biggest gaming franchises such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty among many others spanning casual to core across all platforms and business models.
I’ve also been fortunate to be part of international leadership teams sitting alongside and learning from some of the gaming industry’s best talent as well as contributing to broader global strategies. For Catheon Gaming, they already have a diverse team of technology, investment and Web3 marketing professionals, which I will now seek to bolster with my experience in gaming – I see this as a natural, complementary fit that can provide a bridge between Web2 and Web3 games. Combining the fast-growing blockchain/Web3 technology and my knowledge in game publishing and development will help drive Catheon Gaming to become a pioneer in the industry.”
TG: What areas do you think Web3 can improve on in contrast to Web2 gaming?
MA: “Putting together the concepts of blockchain, NFTs, and finally DeFi and Gaming gives us GameFi. Blockchain games allow the gaming industry to shift to a more participative, transparent, and broader experience. Both gamers and developers benefit from GameFi or Web3 gaming. Some of the benefits include:
- Greater ownership and traceability;
- Economic incentive alignment;
- Revenue, distribution, and publishing models;
- Decentralized ownership and development.
In Web2 gaming, the whole ecosystem and game economy is owned and controlled by the publisher and/or developer yet players collectively invest huge amounts of time and money to build these communities and unlock highly sought-after assets, say like a Legendary card in Hearthstone. There is, however, no true ownership or ability to contribute. Web3 allows for some of the control to go back into the hands of the gamer and the gaming community. It allows players to have greater ownership and actively contribute to the expansion of the gaming universes they play such a critical role in making successful.”
TG: What do you believe to be the biggest challenge facing blockchain gaming presently?
MA: “I would say there are still some obstacles but not ones that are insurmountable. One is that many traditional gamers remain skeptical of incorporating NFTs and the play-to-earn mechanism into games, and the current bear market will only exacerbate this.
Blockchain gaming offers many benefits for gaming communities enabling different business models, ownership and the potential to participate in a game’s success but early Web3 games have more attracted players seeking financial return rather than entertainment which has created unsustainable economies. There is work to be done here.
Further to this point the quality of blockchain games so far has not been high. Web3 gaming is still in its infancy so the titles available are not as comprehensive at this stage and you won’t find games like GTA5, Genshin Impact or FIFA22 on the blockchain. However, with increased traction being gained by blockchain games and more developers moving towards Web3, this issue will be resolved soon. At Catheon Gaming we are committed to changing the perception around the quality of blockchain games – we are really focused on putting entertainment value first and play-to-earn is secondary.”
TG: What is your philosophy when it comes to Play-to-Earn, Play-and-Earn, Play-and-Own, and so on? Do you believe in gaming first, crypto second, or do strictly P2E games have a place?
MA: “Over time, successful blockchain games will probably evolve to suit the different types of players by finding the balance between those who play for ‘fun’ and are willing to spend money in the game purely for entertainment purposes, as opposed to those who simply want to play-to-earn income. You could draw a parallel to F2P games here where developers find the balance between the smaller percentage of spenders and whales who make the game economically viable against the vast majority who play for free. Therefore, P2E will have a place but to be successful long term and to have the ability to maintain engaged player communities the ‘play’ or ‘fun’ always should be the focus, otherwise it will just be another financial tool and those games will likely fail in the long-run.
We have seen a few of the early success stories of P2E games fail because the players and developers focused too much on the earning possibilities rather than the gameplay itself, and whenever the earnings from the game are lowered, the player’s interest follows. It is an unsustainable business model. Game quality and fun will always be the main reason for players to keep playing, even when there is little to no earnings. The play-to-earn element, interoperability and ownership of assets are all then just enhancements to an already fun game.”
TG: On a recent Mint One podcast episode, I discussed traditional gamers’ knee-jerk resistance to blockchain technology and crypto; we often see gamers actively hostile to the mere mention of NFTs. How do you think we can change that?
MA: “It’s not just gamers, a lot of people will naturally repel innovations and new technologies due to their uncertainty and riskiness. Education is key to changing this perspective. The more users know about the tech and its applications, the better it will be received. Engaged gaming communities are the heartbeat or lifeblood of any successful game. Gamers typically invest hours and hours of their time and money into the franchise they love, and by doing so they contribute to the robust environments that keep a game successful. If players go away typically the game does too.
Therefore, is it not fair to suggest that these player communities who contribute in such a meaningful way to a game’s success and longevity also get to share in some of the upsides? Most people feel averse to play-to-earn games because no incumbent out there has managed to develop a fun game that incorporates high-quality gameplay with the earning aspect. One of the biggest challenges for game studios and developers is building a game that has longevity, one that will transcend time and isn’t just a short-term fad.
At Catheon Gaming, we are working towards building an entire ecosystem of games with high entertainment value and earning potential to change this.”
TG: From the outside, it seems that major publishing houses and development studios like Activision Blizzard are dragging their feet with blockchain integration, why do you think that is?
MA: “Given Blockchain gaming is still in its early stages I don’t think it is unusual that some are still watching the space and seeing how it evolves. It is also quite a different story in parts of Asia where historically, many of the world’s gaming trends have emerged from. In China and Korea, many major publishers and studios have taken meaningful steps toward integrating blockchain technology into their games.
In Korea, WeMade is a good example here and similarly in Japan, Square Enix has spoken publicly about blockchain gaming being part of a shift in their strategic focus. Again, you could draw a strong parallel here to F2P gaming or even mid-core mobile gaming. Both were adopted much quicker and have been common practice in Asia for a lot longer than in major Western markets yet F2P and/or mid-core mobile products now form a key part of the game portfolios and growth strategies for most major video game companies globally. Over time you will see this same evolution with blockchain games.”
TG: You will, of course, be overseeing a number of projects at Catheon Gaming, but what project are you most excited about and why?
MA: “There is a lot going on and we’re just getting started. SolChicks, Catheon Gaming’s first flagship project and will remain the focus of the company. It is our first in-house developed game with a huge, loyal community. I am looking forward to fully immersing myself in the game development process, building on the community momentum and making SolChicks Alpha a top-tier and sustainable “play-and-earn” game.
Otherwise, there are multiple great projects in the pipeline like SeoulStars, where we’re building a K-pop inspired sing-to-earn metaverse and all the work going on with the Catheon Gaming Center. There is a lot to be excited about. Outside of the projects themselves, I’m also really looking forward to meeting and working with the talented members of the Catheon team from all over the world.”
TG: Our readership may not be familiar with Catheon Gaming: what role do you and Catheon hope to play in the rise of blockchain gaming?
MA: “As one of the earliest players in the blockchain gaming industry, Catheon Gaming is positioned at the forefront of this evolutionary paradigm shift. We are one of the first blockchain companies to partner with gaming studios in shaping the industry and educating players with this new gaming model. ‘Disruptor’ is a word that has been bandied around in the past but we really do see ourselves as one of the major disruptors to the traditional gaming industry, in a positive way.
Our long-term vision is to invest in developing a sustainable, circular economy for each of our games.”
TG: We’ll end with a soft ball: what’s your all-time favorite game?
MA: “Wow – this is a tough one. I’d typically go very old school here and say usual suspects like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time or Goldeneye on N64 but this really shows my age! As a big football (soccer) fan I’ve always liked FIFA and Pro-evo too. In terms of all-time though, also encompassing my time within the industry, I’d probably say Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It is a little biased but COD wasn’t really a console brand at the time and I was lucky enough to be the regional Brand Lead for the franchise. I remember the first time I saw the game about a year pre-launch I knew it was a game-changer and would be the biggest game in the world and COD has been on a pretty solid run ever since! Both as a single-player campaign and online MP game it defined shooters for years.”