Sniper Spotlight with Michael Powell from Immutable

Credit: Immutable

Immutable, one of the leading gaming platforms in Web3, has been on a tear recently. From forming partnerships with major companies like Ubisoft and Animoca Brands, to releasing new products and games to onboard the next generation of gamers, Immutable has been steady building throughout the bear market. And from the looks of things, 2024 could be its breakout year.

Last week, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Michael Powell from Immutable to talk about Web3 gaming, what makes Immutable special, and where he sees the company headed in 2024, among other things. Check it out.

The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

To get started, can you tell me about the role you play at Immutable?

My name is Michael Powell and I’m the head of product marketing at Immutable, responsible for bringing our products to market. We have many different teams that are building awesome products and shipping features all the time, and I work with them on the positioning, how we brand the products, how we bring them to life through narratives and stories, and eventually how we do the marketing and the GTM (go-to-market) campaigns around them.

I view product marketing as a kind of connective tissue between our product and engineering teams and our GTM teams. Just making sure that everyone’s singing from the same song sheets and are aware of what we have coming down the pipeline from a product side, and not only the external GTM side, but also making sure that our existing partners are aware of the products that we’re building and how to use them.

For folks who are unfamiliar, can you give me a simple breakdown about Immutable and tell us about how it started? What is the genesis story?

About six years ago, our three founders, James, Robbie, and Alex, started building a game on Ethereum called Etherbots. At the time, this was very new in the Web3 gaming space, and the issues they encountered in building a game on Layer 1 Ethereum were extremely prevalent, including significant hurdles to adoption.

For example, it was a painful onboarding experience and sometimes the gas fees would cost more than the asset itself. So, in terms of usability and scalability, they really saw a problem in the market. Obviously, they are huge believers in the Web3 gaming space as we all are at Immutable, and so that caused them to start Immutable back in 2018.

Now, Immutable is a leading Web3 gaming company on a mission to empower players with digital asset ownership. It has a couple different parts: Immutable is the preferred developer platform for building and scaling Web3 games on Ethereum, and then we also have Immutable Games, which is a game studio working on titles like ‘Gods Unchained’ and ‘Guild of Guardians.’

Not only do we provide the technology in the platform for folks to embed digital asset ownership inside their games, but we’re also building games that are using this tech. So, I think that’s one of the things that really provides a unique competitive advantage for Immutable. It’s not just building the tech, but we’re using it as well.

Could you pick one or two projects that you guys are excited about right now?

Sure, the first one is Immutable zkEVM. Immutable zkEVM is an EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine) compatible ZK roll-up that is Solidity-based in its smart contract system. It is going to provide us with another roll-up option for games to build on. So, games can choose to build on Immutable X (our original roll-up) or Immutable zkEVM. And those are the two different roll-ups that we offer that are both part of the Ethereum ecosystem. The ability to build with smart contracts is important to a lot of people in the space.

We have the Immutable zkEVM testnet live right now, and the mainnet is coming soon. We’re really excited about that, and for folks who don’t have a ton of context about zk roll-ups, it’s about scaling to effectively batch transactions off chain, and then submit proof of transaction in one single proof on chain. So, you can scale significantly more then 600 times the Ethereum Layer 1. This improves transaction costs, and it still maintains the security of the Ethereum Layer 1 blockchain.

We already have 40 plus games that have committed to building on Immutable zkEVM, and we’re going to be offering smart contracts and novel in-game mechanics like crafting, upgrading, and evolving game items — and that wasn’t possible with Immutable X.

Another thing that I would love to highlight is Immutable Passport. For you or any of your readers who have attempted to play a Web3 game, sometimes it can feel like you literally have to set up a new bank account to play the game and you don’t have your funds or your assets where you need them. The onboarding process can be painful and slow and doesn’t really have that familiar user experience to it.

Passport is another one of the products that represents a seamless onboarding and wallet creation process for players. People can set up a password and start playing a game in less than 20 seconds. You can sign in with your Apple or Google email, and the authentication takes place one time. Then when you have a Passport, you are able to use your Passport to sign into different marketplaces and different games.

We’re trying to break down the barriers of fragmentation that we’ve seen in the Web3 space, which is one of the primary ways I think mass adoption will happen.

How was the bear market for Immutable? What did you guys learn, or how did you make it through?

When Immutable thinks about the bear market, it was a bit of a blessing in disguise for us. In a bear market, there’s a lot of shiny objects for people to chase and it can become a distracting environment because you sometimes sway away from your roadmap, or what your plans were. That presents an opportunity for a lot of players who maybe aren’t building real tech or don’t have completely altruistic plans for players in the space to thrive.

At Immutable, we’ve been able to keep our heads down and work with the same team, because our founding team was very smart with the funding of Immutable. The bear market allowed us to stand out from the competition as well because we are building real tech that’s solving actual pain points for games.

So, I think it was certainly a tough time in the industry, but it gave us a singular focus on what we needed to build, and we have confidence in the fact that we are building products that game studios need and ultimately that’s where the value will come from, not from speculative price action, or people who are asking when this token is going to 10x. For us, it was about just sticking to the plan and making sure that we were delivering on the products and solving those pain points.

There was a lot of negative talk from gamers early on who said that Web3 tech isn’t adding to the actual gameplay. I’m curious how Immutable responded to that. And do you think there’s anything still missing from Web3 games that Immutable can help with?

NFTs and blockchain being introduced into games has certainly been a bit of a taboo topic within the mainstream gamer community, and I think that’s due to a number of reasons. Historically, it’s been viewed as a bit of a cash grab opportunity since some game studios or players in the space don’t always operate with full integrity. They release an NFT collection, but they don’t really have plans to build a full game.

So, some portion of it can be attributed to bad actors. But also, I think there’s still this lack of understanding about digital asset ownership, and we’re really trying to provide that level of education around what true digital ownership means when it comes to a game…. We’ve seen in some of our user testing in God’s Unchained, our Web3 training card game, that people don’t really understand the NFT cards until they get to the point of trading them: When they can sell them and have money in their pocket — a tangible economic value from that transaction.

So that’s one of the things that I think Web3 needs to get better at doing — bringing that concept and understanding further up in the user journey so users see that digital assets have real value. That can turn the gaming industry from this one-sided marketplace where micro transactions and ads are the primary source of revenue for games studios into a thriving economy where ownership exists.

Do you think that too much speculation in a game through the sale of NFTs can start to degrade the integrity of the game?

That’s a fair point, and I think Axie Infinity certainly experienced some of that. When your primary cohort and target audience is people who are interested in the financial speculation of tokens or assets, then the game economy does not become sustainable. When everyone’s looking to make money instead of actually to play a high-quality game, then that is not really a viable path to a sustainable gaming economy. We view it as the gameplay must come first.

There are high-quality games that are being built on Immutable zkEVM right now, and we have a very exciting list of games that we’ll be releasing in early 2024. With these, I think we can prove that if people are interested first and foremost in playing the game, the gameplay mechanics, the quality, the engagement, and the social elements that people play games for, and then you can introduce digital asset ownership on top of that — that’s where the sustainability model really comes to life.

Immutable has tons of partnerships. Are there any partnerships that Immutable is particularly excited about?

We’ve had a few really exciting announcements over the past couple of months, and honestly, we’re equally excited about all of them. The Ubisoft partnership is huge. They are a massive game firm and known for producing very high-quality games. Unfortunately, I can’t share too much about what we’re doing with them, but I can just say we are working with them on a very exciting project, and we will be sharing more soon.

But both sides are very eager and it’s been great to see their level of excitement about what we can bring to the table and what we offer. And I think there’s a lot of people in the gaming industry that are still kind of holding their breath for that first Web3 gaming hit. For that first sustainable economy where there’s millions of players and the gameplay is very high quality. Given the partnerships that we have and the list of games launching in 2024, I think it’s very likely that hit will be on Immutable.

One thing that’s interesting about gaming is the community is so… opinionated, for lack of a better word. They hold the game studios accountable for things that they don’t like. It makes me wonder, do you have ways of getting feedback and communicating with your community?

Absolutely, and honestly one of the reasons that I enjoy working in the gaming space is because — love you or hate you — gamers care a lot. To have that type of audience makes the work interesting.

And to your direct question, yes. We’re doing user tests every week to interact with different games and products, and to make sure that we have a continuous feedback loop to influence the direction of where we’re actually going. That’s very important to us. The entire product engineering and design team is constantly sourcing feedback, and we have an Immutable Early Access Program as well for people to get their hands on tech early, walk through the UX, and explain what makes sense and what could be improved.

And then in the more community-focused channels like Discord, Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn — we have people who are listening there all the time and engaging with people, and I think maintaining that level of agility. So, we’re not just shipping what we believe is the best product, but actually understanding what the market thinks is really important to our strategy at Immutable.

What can we expect from Immutable in 2024?

We’re going to start 2024 with a bang. Immutable zkEVM mainnet is going to be going live in early 2024, and that will be followed by a slew of very compelling game launches. As games come online on Immutable zkEVM, the transaction volume and the number of active wallets will increase and we’re going to see a massive spike (in users). We think there will be this competitive mode and ecosystem that forms around our chain and specifically around the Immutable Passport product.

If gamers want to play these games and Immutable is allocating a lot of resources, time, and people to make sure that we’re driving user acquisition, they’ll need an Immutable Passport. So, we expect millions of people to have a Passport that will let them seamlessly move between different games and different marketplaces with all of their assets intact.

That’s going change the user acquisition equation for games launching on Immutable. It’s going to become a no-brainer for games because of not only the player base and the audience that it gives you access to, but the liquidity of the chain as well.

Thanks a lot Michael.

Thank you.