Will Luton’s Village Studio wants to make the Miis of web3 gaming

 

For some, the idea of interoperability in web3 games is a total non-starter – one that throws up myriad compatibility problems and technical issues.

Enter Village Studio, which wants to solve some of that through its cross-game Playken avatar platform. Importantly, the founders aren’t crypto bros trying their luck with a deck and a slick pitch; they’re veteran mobile games folk who know what they’re talking about. 

Will Luton is a well-known figure from his time at Rovio London and Department of Play, Cyril Barrow’s a former Digital Chocolate, Rovio and EA exec and Tak Fung’s a veteran of Lionhead and Zynga, who most recently worked in the fintech startup scene.

Investors believe the idea and the team is worth a punt, too. Village announced last week that it has raised $2.2m in pre-seed funding to get up and running, a round led by Animoca Brands and supplemented by Venrex, AngelHub, K3, WinZO plus angels including Facepunch’s Jas Purewal and Jagex’s Phil Mansell.

Village Studio’s founders Will Luton, Cyril Barrow and Tak Fung.

So let’s tackle the viability of all this head-on. Naturally, Luton doesn’t share the view that interoperable avatars is an impossible technical nightmare. The idea has been around for years and has worked before, he says.

“If you look at Miis on the Wii, you could build a Mii and it would turn up in multiple games. It was the same with the Xbox 360 avatar system. The technical side of it has been solved, you can implement these things. In Unity there will be an SDK, effectively, which allows you to integrate these things. Same with Unreal, I’m sure, down the line.”

He continues: “The reason these things were never interesting for game developers is that there was no financial reason for you to implement this avatar system, or for players to necessarily care about them.”

“It’s nice to have a consistent look and identity across games, that’s becoming more important to players. But now it becomes more than that, it’s about the items you buy which become boosters, stats and attributes that you care about. That’s the reason to take them from game to game.”

Playkens will be playable in the games the studio is prototyping currently, which range from a Wii Sports-like game to a “battle royale JRPG”, says Luton. Village will also be commissioning other studios to make games that support the tech. (It helps that lead investor Animoca has a ton of web3 games in its portfolio that could potentially adopt Playkens too.)

Playkens are pitched as avatars that carry stats and abilities across web3 games.

The games Village makes, at least, will be “something like team sports, played by small groups of people together,” says Luton. “When we talk about Village games, we think – is this the sort of game that you can imagine being played on a village green?”

But even assuming the layer of tech designed to help Playkens work in other web3 games is robust and appealing enough for other developers to adopt, what if their games have a completely different look?

“It’s the metaverse, it’s going to be kind of janky,” says Luton. “If you’ve ever seen Ready Player One you’ve got these anime avatars walking around with giant robots…. and in Second Life you’ve got a nine foot giraffe alongside a dwarf, right? It’s been proven that actually you can just kind of let this stuff run wild and it doesn’t have to be consistent. Roblox is the same thing.”

And what about getting these games into people’s hands?  “We’re waiting to see how this plays out,” says Luton. “But it’s certainly PC first, side loading on Google and what happens with iOS and Play Store…we don’t know.”

Having just announced a pre-seed round, naturally Village is still figuring everything out, just like the army of other folks betting that web3 games will come to fruition. In a world where LA firm Genies can raise $150m to create metaverse avatars, Animoca’s $2.2m investment in Village’s smart, experienced and pragmatic founders looks like a safer bet.