Aleksander Leonard Larsen (Axie Infinity): "It's users who will force Apple to move to Web3".
Present in France for NFT Paris, the co-founder of Sky Mavies (the studio developing the Axie Infinity blockchain game) was optimistic about the future of the Web3 sector. Particularly in Europe.
The Big Whale: A lot of people may not be familiar with Axie Infinity. Could you explain what it is?
Aleksander Larsen Leonard: Axie Infinity is a blockchain game in which you compete against other users with little monsters (which look like Pokemon 😺 , edlr).
These are NFTs that you evolve by making them fight and that can reproduce. As soon as you win a fight, you earn money in the form of tokens. This is the principle of play-to-earn.
A year ago, all we could talk about was Axie Infinity, the frenzy surrounding the game, and since then not much has happened... What has happened?
The ecosystem is maturing, which is a very good thing. With the downturn in the markets, we're in a phase where we need to work more on the product and on our community, the core group.
Some people were interested in Axie Infinity for the wrong reasons. They were in it for the speculative dimension. With the market downturn, they left.
Is that a good thing?
I don't know if it's a good thing, but what's certain is that we want to make a product for people who believe in our project, in our long-term vision.
What exactly is that vision ?
Web3 will enable video games to be decentralised 🎮. Players will own everything that goes into them.
How's Axie Infinity?
We have around 200,000 active players per month at the moment, which is a pretty good thing, even though we've lost a lot of them over the past year. During the peak of the markets, we were at 3 million, which was pretty huge!
Besides the drop in the markets, didn't the mega hack (173,000 ethers, or $600 million at the time) that you suffered in 2022 also play a part?
Honestly, it wasn't easy. I'm the one who managed the case, so I know how hard it was, but I'm also very happy with the way we handled the situation: we refunded all the users with our money. We've also sorted out the bridge problem 🌉 (read our dossier on the subject) and set everything straight. And then, you know, we have to move forward. The most important thing is that we've kept the trust of our users.
What's your take on 'GameFi'
I'm not a big fan of that name. It symbolises gamified finance, which is far too simplistic. For me, video games on blockchain evoke the ownership of digital objects, decentralised identity, in other words a universe where the player is at the centre. And that's what we want to do with Axie.
How are you going to get there?
It's going to take time because there are a lot of issues in terms of regulation, distribution...
On distribution, there is in particular the issue of Apple's App Store which is far too restrictive when you use NFTs; they tell you that you can't do this, can't do that, and also that. This centralised approach is contrary to the spirit of Web3. If you can't own things, do what you want, then you're selling Web2 games.
How do you think Apple could take a different approach?
They won't because it's not in their interest. The movement will come from the grassroots, in other words from the users. It's the users who will force Apple and the other gaming giants to relax their policies and move to Web3.
You live in Norway, but a large part of your teams are in Vietnam and Singapore. What's the market like there?
What I like about Vietnam is that they're very open to cryptos. It's very different from Europe, where the demand is more speculative. In Asia, the approach is more utilitarian, particularly on NFTs, because there's a culture that's very focused on technologies and their uses.
Asia's other strong point is that there's a lot of capital. You have Japan, South Korea, obviously Singapore and also Hong Kong, even if the situation is not simple.
You have developed your own blockchain, Ronin, which operates alongside Ethereum. From the outset, we saw Ronin as an additional blockchain to Ethereum (a sidechain, editor's note). Today we don't use Ethereum for our security, we have our own, a bit like Avalanche. We don't want to be impacted if Ethereum has difficulties.
What projects are you working on?
We're working on three areas. First, there's Axie, which is really the company's mother ship. It's the main game and the one with the biggest audience. We're going to work to ensure that the number of players increases and returns to its level of a year ago. And then there are the other games, like Homeland, which we're continuing to work on.
The second area is our blockchain, Ronin, which I'm spending a lot of time on. The third is to get partners to use all the tools we have developed around Ronin. They can create a game on our infrastructure and benefit from our royalty system. 💰
What products will you be launching?
Mobile games. Only a few weeks to go before we find out which ones!"
Are you looking to raise funds?
Sky Mavis is very well funded. We have enough money in fiat and cryptos to last at least four years. We don't need to raise any funds and instead will even invest in other game studios.
Sorare has quickly become one of the best-known crypto games. What do you think of it?
I'm not a big football fan ⚽ (Sorare is also available in basketball and baseball, ed.), but I really like what they're doing. They've found their niche market and they're executing very well. I just think that Sorare's shortcoming is that they have to pay very high licensing fees to clubs and leagues in order to develop.
But they have the advantage of having links with the traditional economy...
Yes, it's a different approach. But we too will, in time, be linked to the traditional economy.
The US stock market regulator (SEC) has just explained that NFTs and other cryptos could be considered as financial securities. Is this a problem for you?
Things haven't been decided yet. Here, you're talking about NBA Top Shot and other games like it, which are in North America and therefore highly scrutinised by the regulator.
Axie Infinity is essentially in Asia, so it's further away. But more generally, I find this idea of considering NFTs as financial securities completely ridiculous. NFTs are just a technology, the underlying needs to be regulated. ⚖️
You were in France for NFT Paris. Why?
There are several objectives, but the first is clearly to reconnect with partners, investors and players in the sector. There are also some interesting projects in which we could invest.
What do you think of the ecosystem in France, and more generally in Europe?
There are a number of very interesting projects. The ecosystem is developing very well. But more fundamentally what I find interesting is the political will of the authorities.
A few days ago I heard the Minister for Digital Affairs, Jean-Noël Barrot, talk about Web3. He's very positive, it makes you want to set up in Europe and especially in France. 🇫🇷