P2E Pioneers: An Interview with Michael Rubinelli, Head of WAX Studios
We sat down with this games industry veteran to discuss Play-to-Earn, the WAX-BSC bridge, and how Blockchain Brawlers will change the P2E landscape!
They’ve created what can arguably be described as one of the world’s leading blockchains. Can WAX create an industry-defining game studio too?
That is the task being undertaken by the new Head of Studio at WAX Studios, Michael Rubinelli.
With over 20 years of experience in the games industry at the top level, his leadership has guided WAX’s first foray into Play-to-Earn gaming, Blockchain Brawlers, which enters its Beta phase in Q1 of this year.
As the flagship game of the forthcoming WAX-BSC bridge, and with their inaugural pack drops for Brawlers and Gear arriving this Tuesday and Thursday respectively, we spoke to Michael about his direction for WAX Studios, his community-first ethos, and what we can expect from the rowdiest play-to-earn game in the metaverse!
Read through to the end of the interview for our three (3) Blockchain Brawlers Battle Tag giveaway!
Hydro: Hi! Could you tell me a bit about yourself, your background, and your first experiences in the crypto & NFTs spaces?
MR: Hello! I’m a long-time game development professional. I started my career in the production track at EA and built and ran the John Madden Football franchise for many years back in the Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo era. I’ve gone on to ship over 400 games for the likes of Disney (Marvel Avengers Alliance), Midway (NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat) and THQ (WCW/WWF/WWE) just to name a few.
This is my first foray into the crypto space as a professional, but as a gamer I currently play (or own NFTs tied to) ten different Play-to-Earn (P2E) games, all of them on WAX!
You’ve joined as the Head of Studio for WAX Studios relatively recently. With your experience in the games industry, were there any particular factors which made this role particularly appealing?
This time in the gaming industry feels eerily similar to 2010 and the emergence of free-to-play (F2P) games. It seems like a sea change is taking place and I want to be at the forefront of this movement.
I enjoy challenging myself and always endeavour to work at the margin of my ability. I think it’s vital to strive to learn new components of a trade or different pieces of business.
Making F2P games that are enjoyable is all well and good, but getting the chance to define some of the standards for P2E gaming is something that truly inspires me. To lead the way in creating player-driven economies – that aligns completely with my belief system.
Blockchain Brawlers is the first major outing for WAX Studios, and with the strapline of “the rowdiest play-to-earn game in the metaverse”, you’re certainly coming out all guns blazing! How did the original concept for Blockchain Brawlers come about, and what new experiences will BCB bring to fans of blockchain gaming?
This is a great question and one with a much more nuanced answer than maybe you were anticipating. I need a little latitude, so let me give you some context in terms of how we see the status quo.
The thing that is most obvious to me in the P2E space to date is that players want security and project documentation upfront to allow them to ascertain how successful they think a game is going be. This is because they’re looking at this as making an investment of a currency of tangible value.
In the F2P space the question they ask themselves is; “will playing this game be fun and enjoyable?” – in other words, “is it a good use of my time?”. They’ll watch trailers, read reviews, watch streamers, listen to friend’s recommendations and so on.
In the P2E space the question becomes; “is this a good use of my time and money?”. This is why “do your own research” is such a common refrain and extends to more than just vetting the authenticity of an NFT collection.
If you don’t play the F2P game you just downloaded, the loss is largely time (which is certainly valuable) but theres not a lot of scar tissue tied to “well, that’s three minutes of my life I’ll never get back”. If you put a material amount money into a game, especially one that is not in the market yet, there can be a certain amount of trepidation.
To allay those fears, players look for things that let them know there’s an acceptable level of risk tied to the potential reward. They want to read white papers, roadmaps, tokenomics reports, review AMAs, and take part in Discord channel chatter with other players and so on.
This is all well and good, but it’s a flawed approach.
In reality there are three questions they should really be asking themselves if they want to understand the potential success of a P2E game. Those questions are:
- Are my interests aligned with that of the game team, and what evidence exists that reflect this reality?
- What is the track record of success of the team building this game?
- What are they doing to grow and engage with the community across social media on a consistent basis?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no” or it is unclear, then I think the risk profile increases quite substantially.
With Blockchain Brawlers, our interests are the most demonstrably aligned with our players of any game out there. We have built many, many great games with critical and commercial acclaim in our careers, and this will be no different.
We understand that without community there is no long-term success. We endeavour with each and every game to reflect this thinking through our actions in that regard.
Blockchain Brawlers will have best-in-class player experiences, incredible in-game assets, a player behaviour-informed product roadmap and an economy growth model that will grow steadily and deliberately over time.
Players don’t want confusing experiences, with muddy core loops and the possibility of a rug pull hanging over their heads. We know this and we will not contribute to that narrative in any way.
That’s a very refined response, and speaks volumes to your experience of the industry and your approach to the leadership of WAX Studios!
At the time of writing, the BSC Legendary 1-of-1 auctions have all been completed, and the WAX equivalent are about to conclude. Has the community reaction to these auctions, and ultimately the final hammer prices, been what you had expected?
That is the thing about consumer behaviour – you never really know what to expect. We’re thrilled with how the auctions have gone!
The WAX-BSC bridge is a landmark development that is sure to have a seismic impact on both chains. How do you think this will affect both chains, their respective communities, and BCB specifically?
This deal was born out of our philosophy of starting with the needs of our players and working backwards to a solution, as opposed to building tech and figuring out how or where to apply it.
It reflects our obsession of being tied to the customer experience. Developers can sell NFTs on both the WAX and Binance marketplaces regardless of which chain their game is on.
The positive impact of allowing creators to reach a broader audience is an obvious win for both parties and their users.
Similarly, players can buy and sell on either chain, allowing them to shop for the best prices and the best marketplace experience across a wider array of choices.
The first official drops, for Brawler & Gear Packs, arrive on February 8th and February 10th respectively, and with only 750 spots available on the whitelist, it appears that a number of those excited about the project may not be able to play on launch.
What can you tell us about this drop thus far, and what are your thoughts regarding the size of the player base and how that is managed in a P2E setting?
Most developers I have observed come into this sector from free-to-play gaming – or are not game devs at all.
The F2P go-to market strategy typically involves trying to get as many players as you can, generate a lot of revenue with packs sales and whatnot, create a palpable buzz etc.
The thing I’ve learned from F2P gaming is that your assumptions about your audience and their behaviours (especially the earliest cohorts) are inaccurate about 50-60% of the time.
In your game’s economy and progression loops, there are also exploits that may exist that are not always obvious, despite looking for them during your pre-launch testing phase.
Combine those two things and you have the potential for a rocky start which can be hard to recover from.
By slowly growing our audience and limiting pack sales we effectively accomplish two goals.
First, we monitor player behaviours and understand how they map to the engagement assumptions we made while designing the game and balancing the economy. If they match up, we can move forward with acquisition efforts without a fear of delivering a gaming experience that underperforms in any aspect.
Second, and most important, is that this throttled approach reflects our desire to build a player-driven economy. We could have sold exponentially more packs at a higher price and auctioned a lot more Legendary 1-of-1’s.
In other words, we could have created a cash grab whereby we generated plenty of revenue and there was less of an onus on us to ensure a player-driven economy was established that could be grown organically over time.
We actually lowered the price of the starter packs quite a bit, despite the high demand.
We want to be generating most of our revenue from the players successfully selling the content they craft and earn on secondary markets. We need the players to win so we can also win.
Our interests are 100% aligned. That should give everyone great comfort knowing this is part of our never-ending calculus.
I assume that most players who want to play on Day 1 won’t be able to for a few weeks. How soon they get in will depend on other players playing and crafting content and putting it up for sale.
We plan on this game running for many years with compelling content, innovative features and sustainable economic growth happening consistently over time. Given that, we believe whenever you’re able to enter the BCB funnel it will be a good overall experience for you.
I am certain that prospective players will be enthralled by the depth of your response! How many people are working on Blockchain Brawlers currently? Are there plans to scale post-launch?
The team is about 15 in total across all disciplines. Live ops will be similar in size and may scale up or down depending on how it goes.
BRWL tokens appear to be the main play-to-earn function within Blockchain Brawlers. What can you tell us about the tokenomic structure of BCB and BRWL?
Tokenomics reports are too misleading especially in advance of launching a game. I encourage you to convince me otherwise. Seriously.
If you are in our Discord, there is a very nice, detailed day-by-day calendar for our February activity.
We will post an economic overview explaining everything players need to know on February 14th.
Looking beyond Blockchain Brawlers, what can we expect from WAX Studios in future? Are there new titles in the pipelines, or things that the community can look forward to?
We have 4 other games in development. Each one is very different from the others. Each game is being built with a very specific goal in mind. The common thread that runs through all of them is to move the P2E gaming art form forward.
Here’s one from outside the ring – who is your favourite wrestler of all-time?
My old-school choice without a doubt is the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Oh yeahhhhhh! Crazy athleticism and also, maybe just crazy!
New-school choice has to be The Rock. His mic skills are otherworldly. I’ve been known to go down a rabbit hole of his greatest hits on YouTube more times than I care to think about.
You’ve mentioned playing a number of P2E games on WAX. What are some of your favourite collections and games on the chain?
In terms of collections, I love the original Street Fighter collection for what it represents. As a massive SF fanboy it gets me in my feels!
Regarding games, I really like what Graeme Devine and QXR Studios is doing on Metropolis Origins.
Another one to keep an eye on is The Chronicles of Dr. Zammsy. All of the art/story that has been created by Matt Gaser is simply stunning. If the developers, Fabricated Madness, can pull off the game they are attempting to build, it could be very special and a ton of fun.
We’ve just seen the big announcement that Ric Flair is coming to Blockchain Brawlers! I have to ask… are there any other wrestling icons in the pipelines to join him?
Time will tell. Rest assured if something in our game works we will double and triple-down on it.
Is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you’d like to say directly to the reader?
We’re not really interested in making a quick buck. Our goal is to build and grow our products over a long period of time.
Don’t look at the Day 1 experience and assume that’s all there is. This game will look and feel wildly different as time passes.
If you keep your faith in us, your patience will be rewarded!
Time for our quick-fire questions!
What fuels you?
Coffee and an irresponsible amount of cheese.
One unusual fact about you?
I recently took a header taking out the trash – no good deed goes unpunished! Now I have a scar on my forehead like Harry Potter. I need to do better than this I know, but sadly it’s the truth.
If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Work at the margin of your abilities.
You can invite three people, real or fictional, to dinner. Who do you choose?
Malcom Gladwell, Alex Baldwin and David Bowie.
What is your purpose in life?
To consciously be a work in progress until I die.
How can we follow all things Blockchain Brawlers/WAX Studios?
Discord (Blockchain Brawlers / WAX) is where all the action is, but any of our social channels are helpful – in particular the BCB Twitter, and WAX Twitter and Instagram.
For WAX Studios to come out of the gate at full-sprint, they needed a strong, experienced leader. Without any shadow of a doubt, they’ve found that in Michael Rubinelli.
His passion, vision and determination to drive the P2E space forward is inspiring, and his intelligent insights give WAX’s game division the secure footing it needs to deliver on its potential.
Blockchain Brawlers is building for the long-haul, and so with the inaugural Brawler Pack drop tomorrow, followed by the first Gear Packs on Thursday, all eyes are on Michael and his team!
In lieu of an Interview Card, we have three (3) Blockchain Brawlers Battle Tags to give away, currently fetching 1,000+ WAX each!
1) Follow @NFTInsider_io and @bc_brawlers on Twitter
2) Like & RT the interview announcement tweet: click here!
3) Tag two friends
4) Comment with your WAX wallet address
Entries close at 23:59 UTC on Sunday 13th Feb.
Winners will be announced on Monday 14th Feb!