How being a science fiction fan can get you a job at a metaverse company

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Like any proper science fiction fan, Jamil Moledina perked up when Neal Stephenson came calling about a job to help build the open metaverse.

Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, teamed up with crypto entrepreneur Peter Vessenes to create Lamina1, a blockchain technology startup dedicated to the open metaverse. As GamesBeat readers can recite from memory, the metaverse is the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, as first depicted in Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, which debuted 30 years ago in 1992.

It’s probably good Stephenson sat on the idea, as it really was science fiction back then. Now, it’s a pretty good time to move the metaverse into reality since McKinsey & Co. declared the metaverse would be worth $5 trillion by 2030. Actually, my sarcastic professional jealousy aside, they are really trying to make the metaverse happen and Moledina has a lot of chops in the game and tech industry, as do others at Lamina1 such as Tony Parisi, head of strategy.

Moledina was most recently CEO of Hexagram, a maker alternate reality games and other weird experiences. That was a cool job at a company that set up a cool marketing campaign around Stranger Things‘ Scoops Ahoy ice cream parlor, which plays a role in the big Netflix series.

Moledina also had leadership roles at Google, Electronic Arts, and the Game Developers Conference. I used to interview Moledina when he was the head of GDC, and he always had an eye for topics like science fiction and the intersection between industries. (He emceed our GamesBeat Summit event on science fiction, tech, and games in 2017).

And so he is returning to his core nerd, lured by the siren song of Stephenson, who personally autographed copies of Moledina’s books. Moledina will serve as vice president of games partnerships and media at Lamina1. That’s not quite as impressive a title as CEO, but Moledina is an acolyte and now he serves the high priest of the metaverse himself.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Jamil Moledina has joined Lamina1.

GamesBeat: What was interesting to you about Lamina1?

Jamil Moledina: You know me. I’m a sci-fi guy. We did the sci-fi flavor of the GamesBeat Summit together, and that was such immense fun. I’ve been sci-fi since I was a kid. For a lot of people of our generation, science fiction is an escape from the real world, which isn’t always that awesome. Stories like Star Wars and Star Trek, Foundation, and Snow Crash made a huge impact on this rich, amazing visualization of what can be. Science fiction has always served this purpose of being this playground to imagine what can be. What can we do if we take the best of humanity and extrapolate from that? How can we critique what’s happening in the real world? Science fiction has always been the ideal venue for that, whether it’s George Orwell and 1984 or presenting a vision for how we can come together and live together in a virtual world, as in Snow Crash.

Part of what has been interesting to me in my journey in the world of video games has been, how do we make it possible for more people to live in the worlds that they already love, that they already care about? If it’s a classical period, going back to Renaissance Europe, or living in a galaxy far, far away if it’s a cyberpunk world, whatever strikes your fancy, how do we help people step into that? That’s been a common touch point in everything I’ve tried to do. I’ve tried to open those doors.

I spent time as a developer, but I think something that I’ve enjoyed just as much in my career is working with developers, helping them express themselves, and find ways for them to help them find opportunities to realize their expression. Games are wonderful. Games are this extraordinary opportunity to live vicariously, to experience different modes of living. If we take the mechanics and the creative ideas that game developers have been honing over decades and apply them to something new–they already have this lead. They already have this natural advantage. How we can lean into that, as we explore new areas and new technologies that make it possible to have new forms of expression–previously, for me, that was VR and AR. Going further back it was mobile. How do we lean into the opportunities that mobile presents? Pokémon Go was a fantastic demonstration of that. What can mobile uniquely deliver?

When it comes to blockchain and decentralization, I’m fascinated by what, creatively, that unlocks. The other through line is, how do we make interactive experiences accessible to more people who may not consider themselves gamers? This whole other population of consumers of entertainment, how do we give them something new? It seems like they have an interest in participating in ways beyond what is presented to them. People obviously love playing games. They love watching movies and TV shows. They also go out of their way to create costumes, to write their own fan fiction, to create games in Roblox. They become part of a creator economy on YouTube and Twitch. There’s this entirely new, amazing community of people who are fans, and also finding a way to make a living and do so quite successfully. That’s another area that I think is wide open.

GamesBeat: I had an interview with Neal where I mentioned Snow Crash and decentralization, how that thinking started. He said that The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle were all themed on that basis, and they might actually be better reading than Snow Crash. I wonder if that’s all part of your reading list for the company.

Moledina: As it happens, I’m quite up to date on the Neal Stephenson oeuvre, if you will. It’s because of those books that I’m really tantalized by the opportunity here. When Neal Stephenson asks you to help him realize the metaverse, you say yes. His books are really prescient, each of them in series, absolutely. You mentioned Cryptonomicon. Neal has this extraordinary ability, like the best science fiction authors do, like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov before him, coming up with ideas about robotics or ideas about geosynchronous communication satellites–I put Neal in that same category of presenting a fully realized vision of the metaverse and how it can serve a variety of interests and purposes, and then further on his books, he also, as you say, illustrates the value of decentralization, of unwinding localized authority to be more distributed — to participants, to a burgeoning creator economy. These are incredible insights that he was sharing in his earlier works. Reality is only just now catching up.

GamesBeat: The title of this interview can be “How being a science fiction fan can get you a job at a metaverse company.”

Moledina: It very well could be. To me that’s the framing that I simply can’t shy away from. I suppose that if I were more of a suit and tie guy, I’d come up with another way to frame it. But for me, this is it. This is stepping into the next frontier. This is the next opportunity in front of us. Not only is it an opportunity for the platform itself, but it’s an opportunity for anyone that loves entertainment, that loves commerce.

There are so many incredible ways to open up to participate. A lot of the ways that we interact with each other in the real world are increasingly challenging, especially in wave after wave of pandemics. And yet if you set that aside, there are so many new ways that people can come together in a virtual world that are really impractical from a real-world standpoint. A big part of Neal’s vision is altruism. How do we provide ways for human beings to come together to improve the world? With Neal and Peter, both of them have this interest in making sure that the application of blockchain to the metaverse is one that results in real impact, real value, and a net improvement on what came before.

Snow Crash

My own personal view is that technology is an empowering element of our civilization. We have it within our ability to use technology for productive and empowering purposes, for a larger segment of the population. That’s the other part of what’s motivating me.

GamesBeat: Was there something about this that was more interesting than Hexagram?

Moledina: I wouldn’t say more interesting. I love the team at Hexagram. We were doing a lot of amazing things. I’m still involved with them. I was, in fact, advising Lamina1 for some time before I switched over. I have a lot of faith and belief in the vision of immersive experiences, and a lot of it overlaps with the vision that Lamina1 has. I see us all continuing to play together and work toward this vision of entertainment that is more than what we can currently offer.

GamesBeat: What will be your actual job now?

Moledina: I’m heading up game partnerships and media. I’ll be reaching out to game developers because they really are well-suited to create and build experiences that are interactive, that are fun, that are actually engaging and worthwhile. As we build the platform, as we build Lamina1, we will be looking to partner with developers in helping realize their vision and helping create a metaverse worth playing and living and working in.

GamesBeat: Game developers have been interested in the debate around blockchain. Some gamers, and some game developers are against it, even though it could be very useful in defining the metaverse. What do you think about how to react to that, but also try to persuade people that blockchain is part of this vision?

Moledina: I recognize there’s a controversy. I’m very open to a discussion about the issues in play. I will say that it also reminds me of the moment when I jumped from Electronic Arts and the world of console and PC games to Funzio, where we were making free-to-play mobile games. That was controversial then as well because free-to-play was seen as something that had ominous overtones for the overall game industry. There was some feedback I received for that effort. As it turns out, mobile served a different niche. It provided lightweight entertainment for people while they waited in line for coffee.

Like any technology, there were bad actors in the world of free-to-play, but at the same time, so many people became fans of games and players of games who wouldn’t call themselves gamers, who wouldn’t call themselves console or PC gamers–they became big fans of Candy Crush or Clash of Clans or Pokemon Go or Hearthstone. There are all of these wonderful stories of, from a commercial standpoint, growing the overall pie of what games can be. And then there was a benefit that came back to the console and PC world if you look at something like Fortnite, which is hugely successful and increases the overall pie. It doesn’t take away anything from developers of premium games that continue to thrive in the PC and console worlds.

In a similar way, I see blockchain as having an extraordinary potential to grow the overall pie. There may be some poor examples of that early on, but to me, it seems like we’re at this moment where we’re in the pre-Cambrian explosion. We’ll see a variety of different ways of expression. But it does introduce a new kingdom into the ecosystem. Let’s see where that can go.

Lamina1 is Neal Stephenson’s open metaverse blockchain company.

GamesBeat: What’s been helpful for you around coming up to speed on blockchain? How long has this been part of your skill set?

Moledina: I’m definitely in a learning mode. I’m very interested to talk to as many people as possible. I feel like, again, I’m living in an echo of the mobile world. I came into that world with a very fresh slate, very open to what it could do. Up to this time I’ve been advising a handful of game studios that have pivoted into the blockchain, and it’s been an absolute education, which is why I come back to the idea of getting the fundamentals of gameplay right. I’m very interested in game developers who are making blockchain games. I perhaps have a more skeptical view of folks that don’t necessarily have a game yet or have something to show for it.

Maybe “skeptical” is the wrong way to put it. But I’m certainly predisposed to see what game developers can do with the technology. Friends continue to send me information, and continue to tell me things like, “Give me an hour and I’ll explain how it all works.” A lot of folks are generous with their time, generous with their ideas and input. There are a lot of resources out there to come up to speed. Even the New York Times has a great primer on the world of blockchain. You and I are travelers on the same road, coming up to speed and applying a sense of journalism to separating fact from fiction and seeing what remains. I welcome the discussion.

Peter Vessenes (left) and Neal Stephenson are the founders of Lamina1.
Peter Vessenes (left) and Neal Stephenson are the founders of Lamina1.

GamesBeat: How soon will you have something to pitch everyone? Is that already happening, or is that coming up sometime later on the road map?

Moledina: It’s still early days for us. We have some stuff coming up. I’ve just started. I’m looking to connect with the game developer community and understand what issues they face. I want to think about it from the point of view of, how can we help.

This reminds me of that moment at EA when we were thinking of, how can we support independent developers that are looking at digital distribution. If we frame it from the point of view of, let’s ask people what their pain points are and see if there’s anything in our bag that can help — we came up with multiplatform distribution. Up until that point, there was only distribution on PSN and XBLA. Hearing that as a pain point, being able to simultaneously ship on all the platforms at once seemed to be an advantage for game developers.

My objective at the moment is simply to say, “I’m here. I’d love to connect and understand what you’re interested in doing. We’re building something that could be dramatically helpful to how you see your future unfolding and how people access your games. Whether you call it a game, whether you’re making something that provides more of an experience to a wider variety of people, if any of this is in the road map for you, let’s see how we can help each other.”

GamesBeat: Have you formally left Hexagram by now?

Moledina: I resigned, but didn’t make too big a deal out of it. Largely because I never know quite how to handle that. The main thing that I wanted to do was just get some time to switch gears, put on the new hat, and spent a bit of time at home before getting geared up for something. This is going to be a pretty big roller coaster ride.

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