Charlie Guillemot: "Players prefer simplicity to decentralisation".
For the co-founder of Unagi, which develops games based on blockchain, Web3 still needs to be much more accessible if it is to be democratised.
The Big Whale: Unagi is a French video game studio. So far you've only released one game, Ultimate Champions, which lets you play football and, for the past few months, basketball. Are you satisfied with the launch?
Charlie Guillemot: Ultimate Champions was launched in spring 2022, so we've just completed our first real football season (basketball wasn't launched until early 2023, editor's note), and things are going well. We now have almost 300,000 registered users, including 30,000 monthly active users.
Since the end of the championships, there's obviously been a little less activity, but things will pick up again at the beginning of August with the resumption of the main European football leagues.
How can you play Ultimate Champions? How does it work?
We're a fantasy sports game based on real-world sports results. To play, you have NFTs cards that represent a real player. Each week, you have to put together a team of eleven players to compete against other gamers in leagues. Depending on your results, which are based on real life, you get rewards.
Today, Sorare, which is also a French game,is considered the leader in the sector. How do you differ from them?
There are many similarities, but our main differences are in the user experience and the fact that Ultimate Champions is a free-to-play game. You don't need to pay to play.
This is also the case with Sorare...
Yes, but Sorare has gradually developed this free access. For us, it's the very principle of the game.
Is there a pay mode?
There is a pay mode for players who want access to better maps and more selective competitions, which themselves give access to more interesting rewards... This is the principle behind all the great mobile games like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush.
What can you win in Ultimate Champions?
Based on your performance on the pitch, you'll get an overall score and a ranking that allows you to collect new cards or "CHAMP", i.e. tokens from the game.
What is the "CHAMP" used for?
The aim of this token is to become the token for the entire Unagi games ecosystem. It is available via our games, for the moment only Ultimate Champions, and also on platforms.
The value of CHAMP has been divided by 10 in less than a year, isn't that a problem?
The token has actually fallen a lot too because its value had appreciated sharply at the end of 2022. In reality, it's now at a slightly lower level than when it was launched, but the difference isn't huge.
What's the main thing you've learnt from this first season for the game?
There are several, but the main one is that we have a good level of user retention, which isn't easy for a free-to-play game. Ultimate Champions is free, so you can switch games whenever you want.
What's your retention rate?
At 30 days, it's 19%, which is almost one player in five who will stay on the game for more than a month. That's considerable, and I think it's mainly due to the quality of the user experience and the fun aspect of the game.
How many players have opted for the free mode?
About 95% of our subscribers have never paid to play. The aim is to increase this figure.
What is the average basket?
We have a relatively high average basket. It's around 200 euros.
Who are the Ultimate Champions players?
Mostly sports fans. Some come for the Web3 dimension, but the vast majority are there for football and basketball.
What are your other sources of income?
At the moment, that's the only one. We don't advertise because we want to preserve the user experience, but things are bound to change.
You come from the traditional world of video games. Is it complicated to launch a Web3 game?
We're ex-Ubisoft people (Charlie Guillemot is the son of Ubisoft founder Yves Guillemot, editor's note) and we know very well that it takes between three and four years to bring out a good video game. We decided to launch Ultimate Champions in less than a year because the Web3 ecosystem and technology are evolving so fast and we need to test things out. We're constantly improving the game.
Could you get out of sports?
Yes of course, that's even our goal. Gaming isn't just about sport.
Web3 games are still difficult to access. What can be done to improve things?
This is indeed a crucial subject. Our aim is to ensure that people who don't have digital wallets, don't know about NFTs and blockchain, can play with an e-mail and a password. Not many people will say this, but the reality is that players don't care about the technology, what blockchain they're using, as long as the experience and the game are good.
When we launched, we had a little fear about not being Web3 enough, but in reality no one cares. As long as the game is good, players follow you, they prefer simplicity to decentralisation.
How do we make things precisely simpler?
There are many solutions, but one of the most interesting at the moment is 'account abstraction' (all explained here) which makes it much simpler to use a digital wallet with a password or the iPhone's FaceID as in Web2. We're going to use the account abstraction for our games.
How do you create an account on Ultimate Champions today?
Players sign up and we'll create an account for them on the blockchain. They can then deposit and withdraw their tokens in their wallet, without worrying about their seed phrase (recovery password).
What are the next steps for you?
There are several. In the very short term, there's the resumption of the football season, which is an important moment. At the same time, we're also going to be changing the economics of the game a little with a new card offer policy.
There will be fewer of them?
You'll see. And the other subject will be to have a better game on mobile.
And in the longer term?
We want to launch other games.
One of the big issues in fantasy gaming is that of rights. For English football alone, Sorare has put up more than €100 million over four years until 2027. How far have you got in this area?
Today, we have just over 120 clubs in 13 different leagues. The most interesting thing is to sign directly with the leagues because they allow us to get all the clubs at once. We have signed leagues in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Isn't it a problem not to have the main European leagues like England or Spain?
That's what we thought, but in reality Ultimate Champions players like to go out and find the nuggets, find the players that nobody knows about to put in their team and potentially have cards that increase in value.
You still have some big clubs in Europe like Arsenal (England) or Bayer Leverkusen (Germany). What's the point?
Even if you only have one or two clubs from one league, you can still use the players in the game because there are no geographical barriers. I can very easily have an Arsenal player in my team with a Bayer Leverkusen player.
How are you going to position yourself in the main European leagues?
There are negotiation cycles, and now some of them are going to start again, so things will evolve. The most interesting thing is that we're in the process of moving away from the logic of exclusivity.
The first contracts were exclusive, whereas now the clubs have realised that it's in their interests to sign with several partners. We intend to take advantage of this.
Are rights going to be as high as they were two or three years ago?
Honestly, that wouldn't be reasonable. Several players have recently gone bankrupt because they had committed to rights that were too high.
We need to get out of the race for millions and pay the right price. One of the main mistakes made by some of our competitors is that they thought they had to sign big clubs that would bring in lots of players when it doesn't work like that. Paradoxically, it's the small clubs that bring in the most fans. And what's more, they cost less!
France could soon be introducing a experimental regime for Web3 games (this is the "Jonum" regime, editor's note). What do you think of it?
It's a very good thing! Games like Ultimate Champions are not about money. It's very positive to see that France is taking the lead and trying to create a specific framework. Asia is also reacting.
How many people are there at Unagi?
Thirty or so people divided into three thirds: a third of developers, a third of creative people and a third of people in marketing.
You've raised almost €10 million in less than a year. Do you still have something to look forward to?
Yes, but we are in the process of preparing a new round to continue to grow.
Binance Labs, which is owned by Binance, is one of your main investors. What do they offer you beyond financial support?
We obviously work a lot with them and the game is available on the Binance Chain. They provide us with technical support, and we talk to them a lot about how to operate games. They are invaluable.
After the fall of FTX, everyone realised rather violently that no player was safe. Aren't you afraid of a bad buzz if Binance has a problem?
Yes, of course, but what we repeat every time is that we are not Binance. We are another company.