In the middle of 2021, a new game, in the space of a few months, was seemingly everywhere: “Axie Infinity.” Particularly in the Philippines and Venezuela, reports spread of ordinary people abandoning or supplementing their jobs with the play-to-earn game, making double or more their normal salaries and effortlessly cashing out crypto-denominated earnings in local currency.
Trung Nguyen co-founded Sky Mavis, the game’s developer and publisher, in 2018. “Blockchain gaming” was virtually unheard of until Axie Infinity. While not an initial success, but over the summer months of 2021, the player base suddenly boomed to over a million users per month, and by October that year, Sky Mavis hit a valuation of around $3 billion in a funding round led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. That popularity was partly down to chance: it coincided with exuberance in cryptocurrency markets and a boom in nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, and locked-down populations looking for new income streams.
A whole ecosystem has sprung up around the game, from companies that invest in producing the Axies themselves to “guilds” that sponsor players to take part in the game. More blockchain games have entered the scene after Axie Infinity’s success, and venture capital money has followed.
According to reports, Trung Nguyen is a highly talented programmer, and the game’s main engineer. While his art director collaborator Masamune aka Tu Doan, initially came up with visual game elements, Nguyen took charge of its in-game economy and architecture.
“Nguyen is allergic to distraction and believes in division of labor, which is why Sky Mavis has five co-founders,” wrote Leah Callon-Butler, a CoinDesk columnist. “Energetic” ex-banker Jeffrey Zirlin is charged with community-building, and “buttoned-down” Aleksander Larsen leads fundraising and investor relations, while Nguyen, Masamune, and Chief Technology Officer Viet Anh Ho handle internal operations in Vietnam, she said.
With a highly publicized $600 million hack of the company’s Ronin sidechain, shrinking player numbers and volatility in the in-game token, Nguyen and the Axie team are working to retool the game’s inner workings, aiming to stabilize it beyond the boom.