Exclusive interview with Frank Cheng ahead of first Play and Earn god-game
Apeiron, generally regarded ass the first Play and Earn (P&E) god-game on the blockchain, released its NFT marketplace earlier this month ahead of the game due to release in Q4 2022.
The upcoming launch, which promises to shake up the Web3 gaming space, has led FinanceFeeds to take a deeper look at the blockchain-powered gaming industry in an interview with Frank Cheng, co-Founder and Lorekeeper of Apeiron developer studio Foonie Magus and Aither Entertainment.
Frank began his career in the financial sector and built up a decade of experience as a management consultant and private equity investor, all the while retaining a passion for gaming. In 2016, he decided the time was right to pursue his dream of game development, to create unique digital entertainment experiences.
Since then, Frank has spearheaded the development of Apeiron, an ambitious project to revive the dormant god games genre by embracing the latest technologies and franchising. The game is one of the most highly anticipated blockchain game projects, raising over $20M from global investors in both web3 and web2 shortly after its preview, and is due to release Q4 2022.
You’re an experienced management consultant and a private equity investor. What made you join the gaming industry?
I have been an avid gamer all my life, from Nintendo and Playstation to a wealth of PC classics from the 1990s to the 2010s. In particular, I was very competitive during my high school and college years: I played everything, titles like Street Fighter, Command and Conquer: Red Alert, Starcraft, Counterstrike, and World of Warcraft…pvp and ladder rankings were my focus. But back then I never really thought of gaming as a career. I took Programming 101, but was certain that debugging wasn’t something I would enjoy, and it was the early 2000s, when the typical career path was banking and finance – so that’s the path I ended up choosing. Not that I am saying I didn’t enjoy my work as a management consultant and an investor, actually during my time I witnessed the rise of social media and gaming, followed the growing potential of the mobile market, and met a lot of resourceful friends.
Like many gamers, I think about businesses like games, imagining what can be better and how things might be optimized, – and how I might do things. I always dreamed of creating my own company one day. But having worked as a consultant alongside so many businesses, I realized that being a critic vs doing the work is drastically different. Which is to say, I never underestimated the challenges of game development and entrepreneurship, and I believed that if I were to pursue my dream, I’d have to wait for the right moment, the moment where you feel both you, the people surrounding you and the greater economic environment present a window of opportunity. This moment came for me in 2016, and I took it. Of course, even now I am humbled by the talented people I have the pleasure of working with and am learning every day, but doing something you love, and witnessing the great people who join you along the way, makes all of it worth it.
Apeiron is the first Play and Earn (P&E) god-game on the blockchain. What does that mean in terms of gaming experience?
From the outset Apeiron allows you to experience what it may be like to be a god. Shaping your own planets and civilizations, witnessing the entire universe from a higher perspective, doing battle in epic proportions across mythologically-inspired galaxies…but beyond that, what we truly wanted to present is a unique entertainment experience, period. From gameplay to story and artwork, from the actual gaming to the greater community, we want to create something uniquely epic. You will not find anything like Apeiron in web3 or even web2. It’s a bold claim and it’s a grand dream, but backed by grit and hard work: we have people here who have spent over half a decade working on this together, making the dream into a reality, and now we are ready to present the early fruits of our labor to the world. And the exciting thing is, we’re still only scratching the surface.
The development team worked on multiple prototypes for six years, but things only clicked with the onset of blockchain. Why?
Essentially, because we are idealists, perfectionists. We started from the basis of wanting to make not just a game, but something that would stand the test of time as a lasting franchise. Yet to craft something original, something totally new, is extremely costly. You need to synchronize multiple teams of talents in different disciplines, to research and prepare your worldbuilding, and to find a game design that you are confident in both in terms of its future prospects and our own talent’s capabilities. With Apeiron, the scope actually grew over the prototypes, and the traditional mobile gaming model began to seem more and more limiting of what we wanted to achieve. The gap between monetization vs longevity and brand building was and is widening. It seemed we could only choose one side back then, and it was a tough call. But then blockchain arrived on the scene, and Axie Infinity presented a glimpse of a possible horizon of what real world economics and player ownership could become, and that horizon matched our own aspirations and dreams of what we envision Apeiron to be. Where people saw complexity, we saw depth, and so we began reimagining our game from the ground up. We were surprised how so many of the game’s original designs were able to transition smoothly over into the blockchain modality, which only reinforced our belief that web3 was the perfect match for our project.
With the move to blockchain, our design suddenly became something that can address the problem arising from game token economies as well. Specifically, we’ve been constructing our models in such a way that we believe will limit the number of pure speculators and reward those players who engage with our game the most. This gels with the design philosophy we’ve had since the start: long-term vision, sustainability, and community-building – which, by the way, we’ve already started, as you can see with the organic growth and passion of our Discord server these days. Of course, we still need the game to go live to fully test our theories, but we have been building and shaping the economy to be fluid and adaptable once we made the transition into blockchain.
Finally, we are no triple A studio, and Apeiron’s scope is a huge one. Funding is the bane of all entrepreneurship and the costs of game development and marketing are huge to say the least…quite honestly, traditional games cannot raise funds to develop games of this scale, nor would traditional publishers give the chance to young studios to take on innovation at this scale. But crypto fundraising is – and I’m saying this after eight years in private equity – one of the best places to efficiently raise funds. It’s a double-edged sword, of course, and it’s a shame to see so many dreamers fighting a losing battle against the many scammers in the space right now, but I believe, with passion and tenacity, and with improved education and better tech development, great projects will present crypto and web3 gaming in a very different light to the world, and the world will at last get to see the full potential of blockchain.
Apeiron has been able to raise $17.5 million in seed funding and NFTs. Expectations are clearly high. What are the sales projections?
Personally, I don’t support talking up projected sales in such a new environment where there are so few comparable games and such little data in terms of how game economies can weather crypto volatility. And that’s not to mention that both the user acquisition and revenue models are also entirely new. But to attempt to answer this question, if we are to project based on our expected active user base and monthly activity, we are hoping to hit Axie’s volumes within 2 years of game launch. Note that we want to get there slowly and carefully: scaling and aligning the top and bottom line of a company is the key to growth and survival, from venture to private equity so to speak.
Could you explain the tri-token architecture?
To give a bit of background to its creation, we believe two tokens is good for introducing over-arching game concepts, but it is not enough to serve the many needs of an actual living economy, which is what we see in web3 gaming. There are speculators/investors, pro gamers, passionate fans, casual gamers, grinders, just to name a few of the archetypes. These are different participants coming in individually or as a group, and each of these participants and entities have different incentives and motivations. So is it really a good idea to bunch them all up under the same assets and reward them identically?
But rather than differentiate these actors, many other projects choose instead to rely on sinks and recycle mechanisms, using only “Control” to fight inflation – which is to say, they put hard caps on their tokens and impose top-down limitations. But so far we only see models that are easily exploitable, where one group takes advantage of another: investors and speculators taking advantage of “low valuation” buy-ins and hoping to dump on the future gaming community. We don’t like this model, as we see it as ultimately short term and unsustainable.
When we came up with the 3rd token, we looked back at traditional game economies, especially those of games that have been around for a long time. They all share one similar element, one centered around social dynamics and multiplayer action, and that’s alliance/guild gameplay. This is when we decided to create a 3rd token, using “Choice” – the ability of players to choose which token they’d like to go for – to fight inflation. The three tokens are designed to cater to distinct types of players and investors, with different kinds of gameplay or staking mechanisms that rely on each other in order to optimize earning:
APRS is the main utility token, needed for all core activities involving the creation of NFTs. This token is expected to have some volatility that cycles with our in-game seasons more so than with the greater economic environment.
ANIMA is the play 2 earn token, focused on driving incentives for individual growth and the enhancement of NFTs. This token is expected to have great volatility that fluctuates with the greater economic environment.
RNGU is the premium alliance token, extremely hard to mint, but essential to unlock or participate in the most lucrative activities. It has a seasonal cycle that triggers new content which feeds utility back to the first 2 tokens.This token is built with stability and balance in mind.
The thesis behind this Tri-token system is an idea we borrowed from physical card games, a concept of periodic deck building cycles centered around seasonal tournaments and community competitions. APRS and ANIMA are used to create and enhance decks (of Skill cards), while the 3rd token is used to unlock the newest season, to trigger a new wave of “deck building” each cycle.
Will the next game by Foonie Magus or Aither Entertainment be powered by blockchain?
To be honest, games should no longer be viewed as individual installments or one-off experiences, we are seeing the transitioning of F2P live-ops games into Gaming as Services trend in the market for quite some time now. Games have a lifetime value and many online games are built for longevity. In simple words, Apeiron will continue to evolve over time, and yes if there is a next game it will also be centered around the Apeiron franchise on the blockchain. Everything shall tie into this core game ecosystem we are building now.