Mythical Games is a behemoth in the blockchain gaming space. The company has raised more than $200M since 2018, is comprised of a team of industry veterans, has launched a blockchain game with more than 1M downloads, and its larger aim is to build technology that will provide a blockchain enablement engine for games. It is top of mind for many industry analysts due to the announcement in June that Blankos Block Party (Mythical’s flagship title) will be the first blockchain game to launch on the Epic Games Store — a huge achievement as it is the first of its kind to reach mass audiences through a third-party storefront. This announcement marks a turning point for mainstream blockchain gaming.
To help us better understand Mythical Games’ ambition and strategy, we interviewed its CEO and founder, John Lindon. This conversation was exclusive to Naavik Pro, and we include key snippets (lightly edited for clarity) throughout this piece.
Mythical Games - Overview
Mythical is one of the most well-capitalized startups in blockchain gaming, and a big reason for that is the team behind it. Mythical games was founded in 2018 by John Lindon (CEO), Jamie Jackson (Chief Creative Officer), Rudy Koch (Business Development), and Chris Downs (Infrastructure Operations). All four co-founders worked at Activision, and John and Jamie were both studio heads working on Call of Duty and Skylanders among other franchises. After leaving Activision, John started Seismic Games, developer of Marvel Strike Force, which later sold to Niantic. Along with its veteran founders, Mythical has made a number of other key hires including:
- Jeff Poffenbarger (Chief Operating Officer), most recently he was a studio head at Oculus VR with extensive experience as a senior executive producer at Activision and Activision Blizzard, leading multiple game launches for the Skylanders, Tony Hawk, and Marvel franchises.
- Pete Hawley (Chief Product Officer), formerly CEO at Telltale Games and was a senior vice president of games at Zynga, chief product officer at Red Robot Labs, vice president of product development at Electronic Arts, and executive producer at Lionhead Studios.
- Nicole Yang (Vice President of Marketing), most recently VP of marketing at Telltale Games and product marketing at Zynga.
- Chong Ahn (Vice President, Head of Americas), most recently the head of product management at EA, and before that mobile-related director roles at Scopely, NCSOFT, and Take-Two Interactive.
- Greg Deutsch (General Counsel), formerly general counsel at Activision for many years.
Mythical Games has raised more than $250M in venture funding (second among all blockchain gaming startups), and this is due in no small part to the veteran team which also consists of several serial entrepreneurs.
What Does Mythical Games Actually Do?
Mythical Games is both a game developer and a technology platform developer. The company summarizes itself as “a next-generation game technology studio creating new gaming economies driven by player ownership." There are two components to Mythical’s business:
- Owned games: internally-developed blockchain games (i.e. Blankos Block Party)
- Blockchain platform technology: technology that will enable other game developers to more easily adopt blockchain within their games
In many ways, Mythical Games is reminiscent of a young Epic Games — both startups have a core competency in building owned technology, aspirations to own a marketplace, UGC functionality, and a marquee game. One key difference is that Epic hit mass market success with Fortnite, and the company has used those winnings to accelerate investment elsewhere (UGC, storefront, additional technology capabilities).
We discussed with CEO John Lindon if Mythical’s ambition is to earn the majority of its revenue through games or through the platform:
“We modeled our business after Epic and Valve. They have part SaaS business and then they have a hit [game] every now and then that they reinvest in. There are a lot of missing pieces in web3. There is no standard, so we are leaning heavier into our slate of games, and then we will eventually use that data and learning to feedback into the platform and marketplace.”
The platform that John referenced has a variety of components:
Mythical’s ambition is massive. The platform, if successful, would dramatically mitigate most of the issues that arise when adding a blockchain layer to games. In many ways, the “Mythical Platform” has parallels to game engines like Unreal and Unity, which provide robust tools to streamline development (not too long ago, every developer would create their own engine for their games). The platform would be a very sticky product; once adopted, it would be hard to strip out, making any first mover advantage even more pronounced. It’s still difficult to discern how “plug-and-play” the platform is/will be, but having an off-the-shelf tech/tool kit that would 1) add blockchain, 2) inventory management, 3) token(s), 4) a marketplace, and 5) anti-fraud and regulatory support is something very ambitious.
If Mythical can deliver on this mission, there would be incredible value offered to developers, and as long as this suite of tech is not insanely expensive, it would likely be a no-brainer for teams adopting blockchain into their games. However, a key risk is security: if the Mythical Platform has security issues, game teams and publishers will opt to build their own in-house tech to avoid potential issues. Unlike other blockchain ecosystems like Solana or BNB, Mythical is focused less on the actual chain and more on the live operations technology that connects game activity to the blockchain. For many developers, this type of tooling must be built in-house (and therefore suck up scarce resources), because there is no off-the-shelf solution, and Mythical’s aim is to become that solution.
In many ways, Mythical Games is a market leader and first mover in the blockchain gaming space. The company has been working with legislators and first parties for years in an effort to pave a way for blockchain games. As John Lindon says:
“We have been doing a lot of firsts. We’ve been working with Epic Games for almost a year to get policy changes in place. When it comes to policy, we open door for others - but we are first. For example, we got an ESRB rating and are helping to set the standard. Right now, we have bi-weekly meetings with Apple and Google.”
One important distinction to make is that Mythical Games does not appear to have the aspiration to own a centralized storefront (like an Epic Games Store or Steam), although I wouldn’t rule it out in the long-term. Storefronts are useful for companies or aggregators that have a critical mass of games (or gamers) to justify their own platforms. Because Mythical is still a single title company, it makes more sense to get its games on other platforms in an effort to get maximum player exposure.
Mythical’s slate is strong, with three games being based on existing IP and coming from proven teams. The game that is the furthest along is NFL Rivals, which had an early access NFT drop through Rarity League on August 30th. The NFT drop consisted of 10,000 total NFTs (5k for the Rams and 5k for the Bengals). As of the final edit of this article (48 hours after NFT drop), there are still more than 2,500 NFTs available for the 0.14 ETH primary market price. Based on the game’s latest roadmap, before global launch in early 2023, we will see the following: 1) gameplay reveal, 2) player presale, and 3) a beta. Given there is still no gameplay footage, it’s difficult to assess the potential for this game. Based on the first NFT drop, though, with only ~7,500 sales, it appears players and investors are hesitant to invest in a project before seeing any footage. On the flipside, if there is anything I’ve learned from FIFA Ultimate Team and NBA Top Shot, it’s that professional sports leagues bring spectacular player and fan interest. For now, this game appears more like an exploratory marketing mechanism for the NFL.
Nitro Nation and Epic Spell Wars are more nebulous as there is little available information online, and they seem to be in a more nascent stage. Nitro Nation fits well with the goal to integrate real-world collaborations, as most racing games use real brands and vehicles. Epic Spell Wars is based on a somewhat niche board game, but there could still be a hardcore audience for it that helps propel early user adoption. Ultimately, it’s too early to make a critical assessment of these projects.
Examining the slate from a more holistic perspective, there’s no clear theme or throughline across the games; each serves a distinct player fantasy, platform, and game mechanic. This could be intentional as Mythical is A/B testing the slate to “see what sticks” and iterate from there. The downside is that it’s harder to create an ecosystem where players come into one game and then naturally funnel into other games (it’s hard to imagine many PC Blankos Block Party players transitioning to their mobile device to play a more core racing game). Based on our conversation with John, it doesn’t seem like Mythical is planning to launch an ecosystem token (a la $GALA) anytime soon, which makes sense given the small and varied slate.
From an economy perspective, Mythical is taking a long-term approach to economics in blockchain gaming. Unlike many of the web3 games in the market today, Mythical is focused purely on digital asset ownership rather than tokenization. As we are all too familiar, one of the most challenging problems that games face when it comes to "earning" or "financialized" elements is creating sustainable economies. To get a better understanding of Mythical’s core pillars, we asked John how he approaches creating a sustainable web3 game economy:
“The first thing not to do is launch a public token for a single game, because the second demand falls the token value plummets, and it’s the death of the game. Massive games, like a Fortnite, could support a token, but smaller games cannot. We have thought about an ecosystem token but that is down the line. We do have premium currencies in Blankos, but they are not tokenized. We are focused on digital assets, and we see the king opportunity is the digital assets. The challenge is that people are thinking about these games as massive investment opportunities - aka ‘I'm going to 10x this tomorrow.’”
Blankos Block Party Deconstruction
Mythical’s flagship title is Blankos Block Party, an open world multiplayer party game that released in December 2020 and is available on PC and Mac. The game came out with quite a bit of fanfare as it was one of the first blockchain games released from a team of triple-A developers.
One unique feature about Blankos was that it did not come out like the typical blockchain game. There was no whitepaper and no game token launched before or after the game’s launch. In December 2021, it was reported that Blankos had reached 1M installs, an impressive feat given the size of most blockchain games. The game is F2P, which helps bolster download numbers, but current playerbase stats are not publicly known; however, based on activity from Reddit, Twitter, and other social platforms, it seems current interest in the game is currently fairly low.
The game has an art style and tone reminiscent of Roblox and Fall Guys. Blankos Block Party (BBP) features vinyl-style characters called Blankos. These characters appear similar to Legos or Funko Pop toys. Blankos can be both bought and earned, and they can also be upgraded over time. It also goes without saying, but Blankos can also be bought and sold by players on an in-game marketplace. Two of the game’s core tenants are collection and evolution, and in that sense the game fulfills many of the same player fantasies found in a game like Pokemon.
It’s no surprise that the game simulates toy collecting in many aspects — the founders worked on the Skylanders franchise, the original “toys-to-life” video game in which players could buy physical toys and redeem them as playable characters inside the game. A really cool mechanic that the game uses is “unboxing”; when a player purchases or earns a Blanko, it comes in a virtual box. Players can decide to leave the Blanko in the box or unbox the Blanko and use it in-game (just like a real collectible). Once a Blanko has been ‘unboxed,’ it can no longer be re-boxed. Mythical has hinted that “as development advances, there may be future benefits to keeping your Blankos unboxed or boxed.” We’ll discuss the roadmap in more depth further down.
Another unique element is that Blankos’ characters and cosmetics are largely designed by real artists. Currently, BBP has partnered with more than 20 artists for the design of different Blankos collections. Blankos characters are, for the most part, at a very accessible price range, averaging ~$25 in the secondary market (an interesting tidbit, the most expensive Blankos ever bought was the first minted character, at a price of $25k).
When we asked John about collectors versus players, he said: “We have seen around 20% of purchases come from collectors, people who don’t play much but are interested in the game and the collecting aspect. One benefit is that collectors can provide liquidity to players. There are lots of free minted players, they complete the party pass, and on the last tier is an NFT character. Not a lot get minted given it’s a grind to get there, but the players that do get to the end of the party pass can sell those NFTs for as high as ~$1,500, and this is thanks partially to the collectors in the ecosystem.”
Blankos Block Party was designed as a metaverse-esque ecosystem, which creates opportunities for crossovers and sponsorships. The game has already featured collaborations with:
- Fashion: Burberry, The Marathon Clothing
- Music: Deadmau5
- Vinyl toy designers: Pete Fowler, Jon-Paul Kaiser, Junko Mizuno, and Tara McPherson (among others)
The biggest collaboration was probably with fashion house Burberry — two years in a row Burberry has partnered with the game, featuring brand-themed cosmetics, social space, and gameplay experiences. As John says:
“A really important element for us is real world collaborations. This works well in genres like racing, lifestyle/sims, sports, and RPG games. Games that have collaborative opportunities are the most interesting to us, and the challenge is bringing a crazy mix of stakeholders into an in-game economy. For collaborations, it’s all about authentic experiences and pushing brands into the mix when it makes sense. For example, Playboy tried to get into Blankos, and we said no to them because it’s not authentic to that game. On the other hand, Burberry was a great partnership because players got to see and build cool characters that represented that brand. Our goal is to have a big enough portfolio where any brand can come in and get access to the type of game and playerbase that makes sense for them and is authentic.”
User-Generated Content Strategy
User-generated content (UGC) is one of the primary player promises that BBP fulfills. Currently in the game, there is a level designer which is accessible to new players but has depth of functionality to cater to “super creators” as well. There are three design principles for UGC in BBP:
- Building in Blankos should be playful
- Experimenting should be fun
- Maximize builder expression
One of the main questions we had for John was, why not lean into UGC and let creators monetize experiences a la Roblox? After all, monetizable UGC can be a tremendous flywheel as it brings in top-notch creators who can create and iterate gameplay for players. John did not comment directly on allowing UGC monetization, but he did speak to the feature more broadly and the associated challenges:
“Blankos was set up to be full UGC, but then we thought that if everything is unique then nothing is unique. UGC can be a weird balance between awesome and weird dystopian worlds. We are starting with more curated experiences, but we are heading toward introducing more UGC elements. There are also challenges with UGC and secondary economy; for example, there can be IP issues - ‘I bought 1 of 1 and someone made a version that looks similar and went and scammed someone.’”
To John’s point, UGC is hard. Many games and platforms that lean into UGC fail. It is challenging because you need to create a system that is easy enough for casual players to learn but complex enough to build compelling and distinct game experiences. A level editor is the natural starting place for UGC, but introducing tools that allow for gameplay customization is very arduous. The approach that Mythical is taking with UGC is calculated — testing the lower development intensity features and measuring use/feedback before creating new tools. Long-term, there is no need for UGC in order for Blankos to be successful, but a strong UGC system and large creator population are much more likely to bring about success. A great example of the benefit that UGC brings is the Among Us Fortnite mode; a plethora of players used the Fortnite Creative mode to create second-tier versions of the smash hit Among Us. Epic noticed the interest of both creators and players in this type of mode and worked with leading creators to make a polished Among Us mode that to this day is one of the most popular non-battle-royale modes.
Performance and Roadmap
Based on a number of secondary indicators, the game appears to have a small player population currently. Using social conversation and NFT sales as triangulation metrics, we know that the game has a much smaller player base than it did ~1 year ago. Given current crypto market conditions, typically, I would think that a lot of this performance is structural, but BBP is unique in the fact that it’s designed for mass audiences, so the limited interest in the game is definitely a concerning signal (although it is still in “early access” so there’s likely more plans for growth around an official launch that we don’t know yet).
NFT sales in the last day total less than $2,000, with 29 sales:
When we discussed Blankos’ engagement, John noted some challenges but was optimistic that Mythical’s recent acquisition of Polystream would help to alleviate issues and create new opportunities:
“One negative we have seen in Blankos is there is a huge fall off in the user funnel where users start downloading the game but then never finish. Web3 is shifting from the hardcore gamer to players who don’t want large file sizes and big games. They want to get into the game right away, and we are seeing this shift from hardcore to light players in Blankos right now. As for Polystream, it does cloud gaming in a unique way — using command streaming and local GPUs to re-render the game. With Polystream, we were able to drop the size of Blankos from 8GB to 5MB. What this enables is the ability to run multiple games in the cloud and contact switch between games. If you use blockchain to verify all the transactions in that ecosystem, that's what a metaverse is. We think this will create a new world for gaming. It’s not interoperable and there is production involved, but we think it will be really interesting.”
The biggest features coming to BBP over the rest of the year will be in-game events and “social 2.0” as these features have the highest chance of driving user acquisition. It will also be interesting to see if Polystream tech will be integrated this year or next.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly moves the needle for the game and helps drive user acquisition. One standard approach for web3 games is adding more earning opportunities either through competitions or high ROI events. The downside of this approach, as John alluded to earlier, is attracting ephemeral financially-motivated players (instead of actual gamers). Another massive user acquisition opportunity is porting the game to mobile, opening up the funnel to the largest playerbase. In any case, acquiring users, especially for blockchain games, is difficult right now to say the least. We’ll see how Mythical changes its approach with the impending release on Epic Games Store.
To summarize, Blankos Block Party showcases the long-term approach Mythical is taking to blockchain games, and the title will continue to be a trailblazer in the industry. Blankos has a strong foundation, but retention and usr acquisition issues signal that changes are needed before the game is ready for mass market exposure (and hopefully success).
Outlook for Mythical Games
Amidst current market conditions, how will Mythical Games fair, and what is the likelihood that its ambitions are realized? On the plus side, Mythical Games has raised a cash war chest, which will suppress the effects of the current market cycle. On the minus side, Mythical’s flagship title, Blankos Block Party, has not yet reached a large scale or significant player investment; whether it achieves this is difficult to predict, but the upcoming release on the Epic Games Store will be a strong up or down signal in the game’s story. The jury is still out on whether the other games in the pipeline will be strong enough to build the foundation for Mythical’s ecosystem, but overall the development approach seems to be one that deviates from the typical web3 game approach. It focuses on quality over release timing and gameplay over ponzimonics.
In my view, the variable with the largest impact on Mythical’s success is the Mythical Platform technology. The overriding question is, does the Mythical Platform provide unmissable and unique value to developers in the blockchain gaming space? If the answer is yes, then Mythical has a tremendous market leader position in the space, capitalizing on both existing and new blockchain games. If the answer is no, and developers opt to build their own tech (or opt for competitors’ platform en masse), then Mythical Games looks a lot more like a small blockchain gaming ecosystem (similar to Gala Games). We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out, and as we learn more we’ll be back with more information and analysis for you.