Having the world’s highest crypto adoption index, Vietnam has long been considered a significant market for blockchain incubation. In 2020, about 57% of 68 million mobile users in Vietnam spent an average of 3.9 hours a day playing games. In 2021, the number of game downloads in Vietnam increased by 10%, and consumers’ in-game spending rose by 50% compared to 2020. Presented data has shown clear advantages of venturing into the blockchain game business.
However, Vietnam’s gaming market and community have also faced many challenges. To learn more about the strong development of blockchain games, Vietcetera meets Nguyen Trung Tin, the CEO of Ather Labs, a startup that applies blockchain technology to build its games. Tin shares the ups and downs of founding a blockchain business in Vietnam and the development plans of Ather Labs in the near future.
What prompted you to start Ather Labs?
I’ve been playing games since I was a kid, and always wanted to set up my own game studio. However, compared to big studios, billion-dollar game corporations with thousands of employees and substantial marketing budgets, I had no competitive advantages, which was quite discouraging initially.
When first learning about blockchain, I spent a month studying its philosophy as well as Ethereum — a decentralized blockchain platform, NFT, and digital assets. It came to me that founding a game studio was a possibility after all. As a gamer and an experienced entrepreneur, I’ve not only had knowledge of technology but also known what matters most to gamers and that in-game assets are of great value. With that background, I was determined to establish Ather Labs.
What are the three most memorable milestones of Ather Labs in its one year of operation?
The first milestone was when Ather Labs opened its first physical office in Ho Chi Minh City. That was also the first time I met my teammates in person after 5-6 months of working from home.
The second one was when Ather Labs successfully launched its NFT collections — digital assets on the Ethereum blockchain — featuring two in-game characters. This is as important as the launch of our $SIPHER Tokens through crowdfunding on the blockchain. This has benefited us with crucial funding and made a powerful impact on our community.
Finally, Ather Labs is now home to 177 native and international talents. Hopefully, this is a good sign for our future development.
What factors have contributed to Ather Labs' outstanding growth over the past year?
People are the most crucial factor; as the saying goes, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” I am fortunate to retain members who have accompanied me since the first day. Still, managing a team of 177 people to operate smoothly is challenging and a continuous learning process.
People at Ather Labs share a mutual passion for games, products, and innovation. Ather Labs is a startup of constant creation and innovation. This is also the first time I ran a company with such a young team whose average age is about 30. This can be an advantage and a challenge for me. Young people are indeed full of energy but sometimes a bit too relaxed and lack discipline.
We’ve heard Ather Labs has opened a new office in Da Nang this year. Why did you choose Da Nang?
Firstly, Da Nang is home to high-quality human resources in technology and arts. People there are also known for being hard-working. That explains why big tech companies such as FPT, CMS, and UbiSoft are headquartered in the central city.
Ather Labs has 17 members working in Da Nang and hopes to grow to 30-35 employees in programming, smart contract blockchain, art graphics, etc., next year.
Ather Labs also plans to offer training and upskilling sessions taught by university lecturers for those who want to work in the field of technology. Senior students with outstanding academic performances and fresh graduates will have free access to these lessons.
In early 2022, Ather Labs had a successful funding round to develop its first game - Sipherian Odyssey. What can we expect from this project?
You can expect stunning graphic images as Ather Labs has invested heavily in the design team. In terms of content, Sipherian Odyssey is like a long-running TV series. We have a team of about 110 people who are constantly releasing new content, new worlds, and new characters to attract and retain players. Unlike most mobile games on the market, Sipherian Odyssey has a deep and compelling storyline.
Besides, I am learning more about digital blockchain, specifically digital toys for adults and children who want to collect toys. I can build a different game from those toys or put those items into an existing game like Sipherian Odyssey.
What challenges and opportunities will game companies like Ather Labs face in the future?
In the “golden stage of entrepreneurship,” startups, especially tech startups, can get funded easily. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic was brought under control, things became more difficult. The fundraising market almost stays stagnant now.
Secondly, the first economic recession of the mobile game industry is coming. I was concerned that in-game spending would be pricey, and this discouraged gamers. You may ask, “The game is called ‘free to play, so why do I have to spend money on items?” However, the game industry is growing very well, even better than the entertainment industry, and every recession lasts only one or two years before everything goes back to normal. What most concerns me now is how my product can tap into the market and reach the target players.
Another thing is that the NFT market has recently “boiled up” with the rise of scamming. Therefore, Ather Labs is trying to reassure our gamer community through the media.
How do you think the blockchain market will change next year?
The next 12 months will be very bumpy and highly competitive. I hope that real-potential companies, people, and products will continue to be supported and invested in.
On my recent trip to Korea, I met CEOs of billion-dollar game corporations listed on the Korean and the US stock exchanges. They strongly believe in NFTs and Web3 Gaming and are shifting their focus to this field. Therefore, the next year would witness many high-quality games from Korea, Japan, and Vietnam introduced to the market.
Are you worried about this growing competitiveness?
Absolutely. One can only play as many as two or three games at the same time. Therefore, we must always strive to stay at the top of mind of the target customers.
I read interesting data showing that Americans and Europeans — known for their open-mindedness — are quite wary of NFTs and blockchain, while Asians are more receptive to them. Vietnam also ranks at the top of the crypto adoption index, so our country has become fertile land to invest in NFT games and blockchain in general.
Translated by Bich Tram