Updated: Jun 29, 2021
An Interview with Featured Contributor, Jesse Reich,
Jesse, or Aggroed as he is better known, is the CEO of Splinterlands, the most played game on the blockchain. His nickname comes from a term used in gaming where one player purposely agitates a sleeping threat such as a dragon; to aggro is to invade a monster’s space and aggroed is the past tense. He has always been a gamer and uses the nickname when he is hanging out in crypto and gaming spaces.
However, he doesn’t have much time for gaming these days, he is too busy running his several businesses. Recent statistics show that 66% of the US population over 12 years of age are gamers; this is a huge figure. 75% of them are mobile gamers!
“My business partner Matt Rosen and I are bringing our desktop game to mobile, which we trust will bring in more people. Accelerating mass adoption for crypto is all about making onboarding easier and making the engagement fun. What could be more fun – and powerful – than gaming? We’ll get more people in the space by playing games than just speculating on tokens.”
Splinterlands is a digital trading card game that uses a blockchain as the backbone, which enables players to play anytime, trade anytime, and earn every win. Originally Splinterlands was branded as Steem Monsters as it was founded on the Steem blockchain, which was best known for the blogging application Steemit.com. They moved the game to a fork of Steem called Hive in June following the hostile takeover of Steem by Tron’s Justin Sun.
“The combination of crypto, blogging and gaming are fantastic. You can earn by playing, and earn by writing, about the game. As people write about the game it brings in new players and creates a virtuous cycle.”
Other elements to make the game more friendly to non-crypto gamers are the ability to earn while playing and managing keys for new players. Traditionally earning in a trading card game is really only available to professional gamers. But by utilizing a blockchain Splinterlands enables payments to players when they win matches. Players do not need to first own or hold crypto to start playing, which is different from games built on other platforms. Players with no wallet or key management experience can start playing with nothing more than a username and password. The game will manage keys until such time as a player may wish to take control. Lastly the game is quick. A game lasts just a few minutes meaning it’s easy to fit a bunch of matches into a day.
The purpose of the game is to acquire trading cards and most of that is done through battling. However, the story line is very important and a 230 page book of folklore traces the history of the cards and characters. The history was crowdsourced through a writing contest and many of the contributors are hard core players and fans of the game.
“We’ve deliberately made access to the game as simple as possible. Gamers can sign up with a username and password. Underneath the hood we create a blockchain account and the actions they take in the game are actually happening via posting transactions on the blockchain, but we strive to make the blockchain invisible to new players while facilitating transparency for more experienced players.”
“Typically, we manage their wallets for them. Eventually they realize the account is worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars – that’s about the time they ask for their keys.”
Explaining things in a simple way comes naturally to Jesse. In a previous career as a professor of chemistry he used software to help his students learn faster. His approach was both novel and successful, attracting the attention of a major academic publishing house which recruited him to sell this philosophy and software to universities and colleges on the East Coast of America.
“I did this for ten years and it really combined my academic disciplines of theatre, education and chemistry. Teaching chemistry and teaching blockchain can be very similar. They are both big, complicated systems and you have to break them into bite-sized pieces.”
Jesse first discovered blockchain through Steemit. He had been writing and sharing articles that were critical of governments around the world on Facebook and was unceremoniously kicked off the platform for expressing his opinions – no less than five times.
“I was fuming but then a friend told me about Steemit – that it was an immutable blockchain where your voice cannot be silenced. I was hooked.”
In the recent fork, Jesse and Matt migrated Splinterlands to Hive as he felt the original principles of the blogging blockchain were more closely upheld at new platform.
“Without a blockchain it would be impossible to guarantee free speech. Once written your words are immutable on the blockchain and run on servers all over the world – no one can take down your speech. Politicians give lip service to freedom of speech, but blockchains actually deliver it. I think blockchain is a spectacular tool for ensuring free speech, enabling trade, providing transparency, and teaching peace.”
“I started working on projects in this space as I believe we can build a different economic model. With our game the value of the digital assets doesn’t just reside with the company but is distributed to all the players. We all go to the same moon. I am really passionate about what we are building and honouring the value our players bring to the game.”
Splinterlands is played in two week-long seasons. At the end of the last season, they had 130,000 games played in a single day and in total almost 40 million games have been played since it launched. They also counted between 500,000 and 600,000 transactions in the game every day. The current market cap of all the cards is more than $4 million. the game every day. The current market cap of all the cards is more than $4 million.
“That’s a tonne of money for a game that’s just over two years old. But in reality, it’s a virtuous cycle. Gamers game, then they go and blog about how they played, they earn money from blogging, which they can use in the game itself. People also build up a following on crypto twitter by tweeting about us. We provide lots of little micro blogging rewards and the community does too. So everyone is earning, gaming, and growing the community at the same time. An incentivized community is a big part of our story of how we became the biggest game in crypto.”
“It is also important that the onboarding is seamless which attracts gamers who know nothing about crypto.”
Currently, Splinterlands is the number one DApp in the blockchain space. Jesse also points out it is a family game intended to be seen by children and adults.
“One of my goals was to make this game family friendly so that I can open the packs with my young children. As a parent it’s a lot of fun watching the excitement in them, especially as some of the legendary cards have special visual and musical effects. Most of the players are probably in their 30s and 40s but I like the family aspect, and watching my kids go crazy when we flip open legendary cards.”
As players get higher ranked they can earn bigger prizes.
So, while the crypto they earned by blogging and playing can be cashed out, many players stack up on cards. Some players hold more than $30,000 in their collection which is eye watering, but Jesse and Matt introduced a twist.
Some players hold cards just to rent them out to other players, and there’s a market for it because of all the prizes that can be won. For example, the game has given out more than $145,000 in tournament prizes to players. So, there’s an entire class of players who aren’t gamers, but like to own the asset for the passive income and who hope their scarce collectible cards appreciate in value as more players come in.
“This allows talented players without much money to compete at the top of the game just by renting the powerful cards. One of my favourite stories is about a person who spent $12 renting powerful cards and managed to get into the top 50 players. Obviously he was a very talented player but he didn’t have to spend serious money to get to the top.”
There’s a mechanic in the game that allows players to combine cards to get them higher level, which grants higher stats like damage and health or unlocks new abilities like flying and stun. The players like to combine the cards, which means that the circulating supply of each edition keeps going down after we’ve sold out of them. For example, in the alpha edition there were a total of 1.5M cards in the whole set, but it’s now down below 300k, an 80% reduction in supply, because the players combined them to unlock more powerful cards.
“And if the holders grow tired of the game they can also sell them on the liquid secondary market. We’ve had players grow tired, sell everything, and buy back in later. Sometimes they get mad at us, and other times life just doesn’t let them play for a while, so they sell.”
What’s next for Jesse and Splinterlands? Actually quite a lot. There are plans to roll out a land-based expansion. The plans are to create an empire building game along the lines of Civilization or Clash of Clans.
People will be able to buy digital land, put up digital buildings, harvest resources and monsters, and create their own set of items and spells (non-fungible tokens referred to as NFTs) that can be used in the game.
“The key difference to me in this plan is we’re allowing the players themselves to be the ones minting new cards. You can always buy more cards in trading card games, but how often were you able to craft and sell them yourself? We’ll sell the initial land, but after that the players will be responsible for crafting the new set of item and spell cards. We don’t have plans to sell those item and spell cards ourselves. It’s fully up to the players.
“That makes card creation more decentralised and truer to the nature of the blockchain.”
Jesse is also looking to expand the intellectual property and NFTs beyond what they’ve created themselves. Anything from football stars, animated princesses, comic book heroes or historical figures.
“Our program can go beyond Splinterlands. We want to help national and global brands digitize, tokenize, and monetize their intellectual property. We can help them create collectibles, sell them for USD or crypto, ship out packs that can be randomized, and then players can manage their collection and sell on a secondary market. This is where it gets really exciting as these corporations have hundreds of millions of followers and by default we’ll watch as these followers get into crypto to collect their beloved heroes. So, they’ll come for something like an animated collectible of Justin Timberlake, but they’ll stay for the life- changing crypto experience that will alter your very DNA.”
And that’s why Jesse is too busy to play games anymore.