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Many years ago, before the launch of the PlayStation 3, I went to a dinner event and sat next Shinichi Okamoto, who was then the chief technology officer for PlayStation at Sony.
We had a nice chat, but lost touch after that. But I was recently contacted to see if we could do an interview again. And so I jumped at the chance and learned that Okamoto has been advising a lot of startups ever since leaving Sony years ago.
And now he is advising crypto companies in Japan and elsewhere, and he has a lot of things to say about things like nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and games. He said he believes blockchain game companies will be as important as the onset of free-to-play games. And he also sees game-focused teams being more successful in the NFT space startups space.
Kryptomon is one of the companies he is advising. The startup is creating an NFT play-to-earn blockchain game where Pokémon meets Tamagotchi and CryptoKitties. It will soon launch stage one of its NFT game, empowering players to train, trade, and feed their Kryptomon creatures.
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As a part of the launch, the company will announce the full integration of its marketplace into the “Kryptomon metaverse,” enabling users to buy Kryptomon, consumables, and stake in-game currency directly from the website.
Kryptomon brings to life NFT creatures and it will introduce users to their blockchain-based living, growing, and feeling digital companion, complete with its own genetic code. Comprising entirely unique, but mutable, digital-genetics, these living-NFTs eat, train, bread, and even fight, all while also generating in-game digital currency.
In stage one of the game, daily loot boxes are given to players depending on how many Kryptomon creatures they have. The more Kryptomon a player has, the more loot boxes they get. Inside these loot boxes are consumables, such as food, bandages, and rare items. Players can use these consumables to heal their Kryptomon after battles and feed them when they are hungry.
These actions strengthen the connection with Kryptomon in-game, enabling battles against stronger enemies and trading Kryptomon for a higher price. If trainers neglect their Kryptomon, their creature freezes until the owner pays a fee to release it. (Ouch.)
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Do you want to review what you’ve been up to since we last talked? It’s been a long time since you left PlayStation.
Shinichi Okamoto: After leaving Sony, I launched my own consulting business by myself to support startup companies globally. I helped many entrepreneurs, mainly focused on software platforms in the gaming business, technology-based businesses. Game engines, graphics rendering technologies, some game studios, and distribution platforms. This was worldwide. In the first 10 years or so, I traveled a lot, especially to the U.S. It was almost every month. After that I shifted my focus to Israel and Finland. Now I’m more focused on Taiwan, that area. Some of those game studios were acquired by bigger publishers. I was part of two or three big exits in that area as an advisor.
GamesBeat: How long were you at Sony before that?
Okamoto: I worked for PlayStation for 11 years. In the latter half of that time I was CTO. When I joined the PlayStation team, it was very small. I was the 25th member. Sony was my fourth company at the time, and I joined the PlayStation team in my fourth year there. But I had a lot of experience before that as a software engineer, doing things like factory automation and communications appliances. My first position on the PlayStation team, I was maybe the fourth or fifth software engineer on the team.
GamesBeat: Was the PlayStation 3 your biggest project?
Okamoto: No, the PlayStation 2 was the biggest one. I was promoted to VP of software and SVP of development and CTO driving the PS2. In those days gaming was at the cutting edge of technology and business. It was an exciting alliance. We developed a lot of advanced business relationships in the gaming scene.
GamesBeat: What became interesting to you about NFTs and blockchain? When did you start researching that?
Okamoto: About six years ago I started studying blockchain technology from a software standpoint. I missed the first phase of Bitcoin, though. I live in Japan, and in those days I was mainly focused not on the U.S., but on Finland and Israel. In Israel, though, there were many blockchain-based startups. I supported one of those around business development. But they weren’t in gaming.
After that I contacted a blockchain-based development company. This was also not a gaming company. It was around asset management for automotive operators, mass operators, in Nagoya, Japan. Nagoya is a big automotive city. Toyota and a lot of big automotive OEMs have their head offices there. It’s a very exciting area for the automotive scene in Japan. I traveled there every week for a while during this project.
GamesBeat: Where are you based now?
Okamoto: I’m based in Tokyo, the northern area of Tokyo.
GamesBeat: Is there any particular part of Japan where blockchain development has become more popular?
Okamoto: Currently some players in gaming have announced a couple of NFT projects. Digital assets based around blockchain, that’s becoming a hot area all around Japan. The Japanese tax office isn’t so friendly, though. Mainly I’m supporting technical startups. These blockchain-based programs aren’t easy to launch in Japan.
GamesBeat: Are the regulators pretty strict in Japan around gaming NFTs?
Okamoto: Currently not so much, no. That’s not the main target of the tax office. Digital assets are the target. Many players, not only in the game industry, but in the digital asset industry, are interested in blockchain and NFT gaming in Japan.
GamesBeat: How did you find Kryptomon and get introduced to them?
Okamoto: Kryptomon is an exciting project to provide an NFT-based gaming experience. It’s similar to things like Pokemon, Tamagotchi, CryptoKitties. Everyone in the game industry sits on the shoulders of other creators. The Kryptomon team are fans of that kind of game experience. You can generate your own very unique monster, and they’re NFT-based.
GamesBeat: How would you compare this to something like CryptoKitties? Are they trying to do some things that are very different?
Okamoto: The first big difference is that you can be the trainer of your particular monster. Your monster hatches with unique characteristics. You can live with your monster, and they can build a family. Eventually your monster can breed and generate new monsters, and you can battle other players’ monsters. The game is currently running on the Binance blockchain, but not the finalized version. We’ll soon release version 1.0. The monster breeding system is a very complex process. The same monster can generate many different children depending on their experience and many other things.
GamesBeat: Why did you choose this particular company as one that you wanted to advise?
Okamoto: A friend of mine in Israel introduced them to me. He was an investor in the Kryptomon project, and I worked with him on another blockchain project maybe five or six years ago. I’m mainly communicating with the CMO and CEO. They’re based all over the place. It’s very spread out.
GamesBeat: A lot of gamers and traditional game developers have had a negative reaction to NFTs. I’m not entirely sure why. I wonder if you’ve run into that. Did you have to convince yourself that this was worth going into, despite the concerns that other game developers have had?
Okamoto: Based on my experience in the industry, going back to the ‘90s, I feel like I understand the mindset of game players around NFTs. Currently, NFTs are being treated like digital assets, and sometimes very expensive ones. People are buying and selling them like assets. I can understand why the game industry is sensitive about the influence of that much real money on the players inside a game. We don’t have a lot of good experiences behind us around real money trading in online games. It’s not just the questions about taxation or government involvement or social problems. For game creators, real money trading can make a game uncontrollable. Players don’t focus on gameplay when 80 percent of their brain cells are focused on money while they play a game. I see that as a significant cause of negative feelings among game players.
GamesBeat: Was there something about Kryptomon that suggested they were doing this properly compared to some other games?
Okamoto: I believe the Kryptomon team will be able to manage their game at this point, yes. Everyone on the team loves games. That’s very important. It’s a very complex product. They’re not only technical people, but managers, promoters, people with a lot of different skills working together.
GamesBeat: It seems like a lot of economics expertise is necessary.
Okamoto: Definitely. We need a new set of skills to go with this technology. I had a similar experience with the PlayStation 2. The PS2 introduced programmable shaders, before we even had a name for that. Ordinary programmers didn’t know how to handle them. Many big publishers — EA, Activision, Sega — had to hire a new class of people to study the technology. And nowadays that kind of talent is mandatory for anyone working on games. But we’re in a new position now with blockchain. We need another evolution in the game industry.
GamesBeat: How did they choose Binance? Are they looking at any other side chains for transactions?
Okamoto: That I don’t know. I wasn’t part of that decision. But I believe Binance was a good choice. They’ve done very well in the NFT market up to now. We can focus on the gaming side. As I said, I spent a lot of time working on asset management systems, going back to the beginning of my career in the ‘80s. It was very primitive back then. It’s a big gap from there to the blockchain system and its applications in asset management.
GamesBeat: Are the gas fees better working with Binance?
Okamoto: Yes, they’re very controlled.
GamesBeat: It does seem very complex, where you have to decide which chain to use, how many transactions per second, the gas fees, the environmental impact. Is that something you like to dig into as far as choosing technologies and what works best? Or is your expertise more on the game side?
Okamoto: Yes, I’m focused more on the game side. My gaming experience is the most key factor. I’ve supported a lot of game developers from the technology side over the years. Today, games need to be maintained over many years. It’s a long-term project. You need to keep up the enthusiasm and respect of your players. I’m focused on that point.
GamesBeat: What do you think about the play-to-earn games, like Axie Infinity?
Okamoto: The concept is certainly interesting. There’s a lot of potential. But they need to clean up some concerns — not only mine, but those of the industry. The current generation of blockchain games have very nearly sold themselves in the mind of the industry. But not yet. It will take more time.
GamesBeat: At our last game conference we had about seven different talks on NFTs. Some people there observed that there are crypto-native experts and then there are gaming-native experts. Those two groups of people haven’t come together yet. That’s one thing that’s important for blockchain games to take off. If you combine the crypto experts with the gaming experts, you get better companies and better games coming out of them. But it feels like the game developers have to be convinced.
Okamoto: It’s true. Kryptomon as a company I believe will be one of the first examples of that. The crypto scene has become a big industry, almost like motion pictures, something like that. It has its own culture, its own standards and mindset. And gaming has its own as well. It’s not easy to bring those together.
GamesBeat: What is your advice for game developers who are considering blockchain?
Okamoto: It’s like I said about pixel shaders in the early 2000s. We need to find new talent to work on more exciting expressions of this technology. That’s what needs to happen with blockchain and NFTs. NFTs can be a strong point for the game industry.
GamesBeat: Do you think blockchain games are as important a change as free-to-play was?
Okamoto: I believe so. Free-to-play had a big impact on the industry, and by now many players have experience with it. NFTs can be the seed of a new impact on that level.
GamesBeat: There’s a lot of hype around the metaverse now. A lot of people see NFTs as a foundation for that.
Okamoto: Yes, I think so too. Kryptomon I think can be a good seed for the expansion of the metaverse. We’re creating something in our monsters that could be your companion in the metaverse.
GamesBeat: How soon do you think we’re going to see big hits in the blockchain gaming space? I guess you could consider Axie Infinity to be a hit already, but when things that have been in development for a while–do you expect that to happen soon, or do you think it’ll take a few more years?
Okamoto: I believe we’ll start to see big hits in maybe two years. Currently game development teams are working on cycles of a year, two years, maybe 20 months? In the NFT and blockchain scene, 20 months is forever. Like I say, I feel like the game industry needs a reformation in the development process and other things. Big hits will come in a shorter time than we might expect.
GamesBeat: How many blockchain companies do you think you’ll work with? Is this your main focus, or do you think you’ll work with others?
Okamoto: No, this is the only one. In Japan I don’t see many NFT-focused startups. The big publishers have only just started collaborations around NFTs.
GamesBeat: I’ve talked to Hirono Kunimitsu about Thirdverse and Gumi crypto. They’re very focused. But there aren’t many others.
Okamoto: True. Kunimitsu’s company is focusing on the metaverse, too, on online games. I’m excited to see the new concepts in their games.
GamesBeat: Any final things you’d like to mention?
Okamoto: I’m very excited. I’ve met many people in the younger generation who experienced the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. Not only in Japan, but in the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, Israel, and Europe. That was my big plan while I worked at PlayStation, to build a common global game experience. I feel like the Kryptomon team is one result of that effort. Everyone on the project loves games. It’s a very unique team.
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