How South Korea’s Wemade aims to become the Steam of blockchain games
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Most Western gamers haven’t heard about South Korea’s Wemade and so you can forgive them for not knowing about the game company’s big ambitions.
Henry Chang, CEO of Wemade, wants to change all that. His ambition is to make Wemade, a company known for its Mir series of online games, into the Steam of blockchain games.
That’s a pretty bold plan, but Wemade has some things going for it. The Legend of Mir intellectual property has more than 500 million users. And its latest blockchain game, Mir4, is a hardcore game that more than four million people play every month.
Many Western gamers have rejected blockchain games as poor-quality titles that no one wants to play — or just outright scams. But with familiar gameplay that anime fans like, the Mir series has its advantages. And now Chang has launched a new blockchain gaming platform Wemix that it hopes will be the backbone of a service-oriented ecosystem for blockchain games made by other companies.
This week, the company report that for the first quarter, Wemade reported $6.5 million in operating profit on $131 million in revenues.
Wemade recently added nine games to the Wemix blockchain gaming platform, which enables developers to launch blockchain games without much knowledge about Web3. Chang hopes that Wemix will hit 100 games on Wemix by the end of of 2022. The company has also made 22 investments in blockchain projects this year. And it is planning to launch a 100%-collateralized Wemix stablecoin token, dubbed WEMIX$.
Wemix3.0 expands on the platform’s existing play-to-earn features, where players can make money playing games by selling the non-fungible token (NFT)-based items that they purchase and upgrade.
Armed with this potentially disruptive technology, Chang wants Wemade to become better known in the West and bring game developers and players closer together through decentralization. Chang knows that lots of Western hardcore players hate blockchain games, but he hopes to win them over with high quality as he marches toward the metaverse.
We spoke through a translator. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I’ve been following what your company’s been doing recently, especially in the blockchain space, but I do wonder how you look at the history of Wemade, especially in light of this interesting new direction you’ve taken.
Henry Chang: I think maybe it’s similar for some other companies in the market. In 2017, before cryptocurrency prices skyrocketed–before that, I don’t think we had enough knowledge. We just regarded Bitcoin and cryptocurrency as game money. We didn’t think too much about it. I believe there was a period of time between late 2017 and January of 2018 when there was a big rise in Bitcoin prices. Many people wondered whether cryptocurrency was going to be a reality now. Many companies began to ponder whether they could take advantage of this. At that time, we were also pondering what we could do here. There were some critical questions at the time, and some remain to be answered, but the most important question concerned what would be the best place to use cryptocurrency. We found the answer in the form of games. We believed that cryptocurrency could flower in the field of games.
You probably also remember that in February of 2018, Bitcoin prices started to plummet. Many people thought they should give up on the Bitcoin business. But we didn’t give up at the time. We thought about blockchain games that would link games and blockchain together. For the past four and a half years we’ve been doing this, linking blockchain and games together. I believe that, going beyond making blockchain games very fun–going forward all the games in the world will eventually become blockchain games. We’ve been working hard to transform ourselves so we’ll have a platform to transform games in this way.
Currently we have about 15 games on our platform that are running live. We also have the most successful blockchain game in the world, Mir4, which began onboarding in August. By the end of this year, we plan to have 100 games on board. 100 games is an important goal for us, but we believe that through this process, it’ll be an important learning experience as well. What we offer is going to be the optimal blockchain game platform for games. You might think that for some game platforms, like the App Store or Google Play or Steam–they’re distribution platforms for games. But in our case, we won’t intervene in distribution. We’ll be a solution where games can issue coins and NFTs, and also have virtual blockchain systems to build their economies.
GamesBeat: Has Mir4 continued to grow? What size is it at now? Has it been affected by some of the recent cryptocurrency price declines? Is there a connection between crypto falling and how many people play Mir4?
Chang: After it was launched in August of last year, we had a great rise in the number of players until November. After that, we had a bit of a standstill. Now we’re at a state where we’ve seen a steady maintenance of the numbers. It seems that for us, we had the highest number of monthly active users when we reached 6.2 million players. Currently it’s about 4 million players. Because we’re in the middle of the game life cycle, the numbers have come down a bit and maintained at a certain level.
As far as the impact of the coin market, though, we don’t believe we’ve seen any impact on traffic, MAU, or game revenue. I believe that games are more impacted by their own economic systems. There could be some indirect impacts, psychological impacts from the overall financial situation. But there are 15 games on our platform right now, and they all have their own economies. We see different outcomes in how all those games are doing, even among those 15. Because we have those 15 games we’re servicing, we have 15 different game coins. When we analyze the results from June, the coin prices for 10 of those games went down, but the other five actually went up. We’ve seen from experience that it’s the economy of the game that’s affected.
GamesBeat: To back up a little, why do you think Mir4 was highly successful in such a competitive market for blockchain games? It seems like it had much better production values, high quality art, but what else made it succeed as a blockchain game?
Chang: I like the neutral term “blockchain game,” and I think there could be two different approaches to blockchain games. The first approach could be where it actually started off. The first case could be it starts from crypto, and then that’s applied to a game. You can see that in the play-to-earn model, in games like Axie Infinity. Another approach could be a well-made game that has crypto economics on top of that, making it a blockchain game. The best example of that could be our game, Mir4.
There are many of these two kinds in the overall blockchain scene, but the two approaches are very different from one another. In the play-to-earn model that starts off with crypto, the games themselves aren’t very fun. You play the game because of the earning aspect. I believe these games are not sustainable.
For cases where they start out as games, the assumption is that the game will be fun to play from the beginning. In order to have a fun online game, there are two factors. First, the gameplay must be very fun. If it’s not, then the game’s life cycle will not be very long. Also, there must be an in-game economic system to drive the game as well. In the case of even a well-made game, in the past the in-game economics were confined inside the game. However, if you add coins and NFTs that have real economic value, this can make the game much more fun to play.
With Mir4, as you can see, the full name is Mir4 Global. One year ago in Korea we launched it without the blockchain function. That version of the game was very successful. We knew already that Mir4 had a very successful in-game economy within it. I believe that if a game has that kind of successful in-game economy and we then apply blockchain technology, it can be more fun for players to play and more people will come in to play the game, which will lead to commercial success. I’m very confident of this, and our company has many cases to prove it already. That’s why my first goal was not to make a blockchain game in and of itself, but to make a platform that could transform our games into blockchain games.
GamesBeat: In Asia it looks like these games are very popular. In the west I’ve written about cases where hardcore gamers seem to hate NFTs and hate blockchain games. They want to stop them from coming out. There are also some game developers who seem to feel the same way. What do you think the key audience that likes these games? How can you overcome some of that resistance?
Chang: I can share some facts to start. It’s true that, as you remarked, these games are more popular in places like southeast Asia and Latin America. However, for Mir4, you can look at the results from last year and early this year. In the U.K., Netherlands, Sweden, and Belgium, it was very successful. When our revenue was in one of its highest periods, the most revenue came from the Philippines, with Brazil in second place, but number three was the U.S. and number four was the U.K. Although, as you said, blockchain games may not be mainstream in the western world, we still see that there are blockchain game players in the west.
I also believe that when there is a fundamental change for game players and game developers, it’s very natural for them to feel resistant in the beginning. Because Wemade was successful making pay-to-win games in the past–I think there is some misunderstanding around that genre in Asia. However, I believe the most appropriate games for the western hardcore market are blockchain games that have coins and NFTs, because western hardcore games are sold as a package. You have to buy the game and items separately. So I think that’s the best match. I believe that those who actually make transactions using coins and NFTs, they’re not the game developers. They’re game players. I believe that the coins and NFTs are for the game users. Because there are more transactions between the users, those users draw more benefit. That leads to better results and more sales for the game. It leads to better for results for the game developer.
I believe that there’s a bit of a misunderstanding here, because for western game users, I believe they assume that the most successful blockchain games are games like Axie Infinity, games that aren’t any fun to play, or pay-to-win games, like Legend of Mir 2. They have some concerns. What if our game also changes in that direction as the coins come in? However, I believe that when we have success in hardcore games, there will come a time when people will ask for and request coins and NFTs to be issued. For example, if you look at a game like Grand Theft Auto, currently the developers sell this as a package. But imagine if there were coins and NFTs that could be applied in the game that have real economic value. Playing the game in that way would be much more fun. Coins and NFTs within games are purely transacted between users, not involving the game developer.
GamesBeat: With the Wemix platform, what is your strategy there? What do you want to accomplish? Why did you spend a lot of time investing in it?
Chang: As I mentioned before, I have a strong belief that all successful games will transform into blockchain games, because it will be more fun. However, what makes a game fun to play? The technology for blockchain isn’t relevant to that. I believe that game companies should not actually try to develop their own blockchain technologies, because that will be very inefficient. There will come a time when all games will issue their own coins and NFTs, so what I’m aiming for is to have plug and play method so that I can offer a solution that will make this very convenient. It will be a platform that offers this.
For Steam, the PC distribution platform, it had only 35 games at the beginning. After so many years have passed, now they have 11,000 games. They’ve dominated PC game distribution. For mobile, it’s said that 50,000 games are released every year. Those are our goals. As you probably know, crypto runs 24/7. It’s nonstop. Crypto exchanges never close. They don’t take holidays off. It’s said that it’s 4.5 times faster than traditional markets. Within three years we have the goal of becoming a blockchain game platform with a dominant position. I had the thought that while it took 15 years for Steam to become the PC distribution platform that it is, our goal is to become a similar blockchain platform within three years.
GamesBeat: What advantages does Wemade have in comparison to some of the other big competitors in this space?
Chang: In the current period of time, we are the game platform that has the largest number of live, sustainable games, and second, the company with the most successful blockchain game. We’re the only platform that, if a game developer with no knowledge of blockchain technology at all comes to us and wants to issue coins or NFTs, we can deliver that to them within one month. We’re staking everything here. We’re concentrating all our efforts. We believe that with the huge number of games coming on board our platform by the end of this year, it will lead to a high quality difference between us and others.
I believe that when we categorize different technologies, there could be many different standards, but one category of those technologies can be technologies like biotech, where you can spend a lot of time and effort and still never be successful. However, I think there’s a second category of technology based on operational excellence. This means that with a lot of time and effort poured in, this can lead to betterment and improvement. We all know there are many areas of development around machine learning, AI, and blockchain. In all of this, operational excellence is of utmost importance. I believe that having experience in many cases will lead to a better quality of technology. A prime example could be Tesla’s Autopilot. For Wemade, we were in this first. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We have a lot of experience in many different use cases. That makes our competitiveness very strong.
Some western blockchain companies, like Solana or Binance, they’ve been following our strategy. They’re inviting companies to come and place their games with them. But they don’t have our technology to allow companies without any blockchain knowledge or technology to make this feasible.
GamesBeat: How can Wemade and your brands become better known in the west? Have you started going to events in the west to try to do this?
Chang: Yes, I have been doing that. Before, our main markets were Korea and China. My activities were largely in those areas. I believe that in the western market, Wemade is only just making our debut. We’ve been a sponsor at GDC, and although I don’t know that the response was very good, I also made a keynote speech at GDC. The ultimate solution will be making successful games that western users want. However, in order to do that we have to create more exposure for our company. I’ve been doing my best, and I’ll continue to actively participate in blockchain events, game events, and tech events in the west to promote our games.
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