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Block Party: Wemade CEO Henry Chang Is Betting On A Play-And-Earn-And-Pay Era Of Blockchain Gaming Wemade is perhaps best known for being the makers of the incredibly successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) series, Legend of Mir, which has fans from around the world numbered in the hundreds of millions.

By Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

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Wemade CEO Henry Chang

Let me start this piece with an admission that I knew little to nothing about South Korea-based game developer and publisher Wemade before I was offered an interview with its CEO, Henry Chang, when he visited the UAE in August this year. But my ignorance about the company says more about me not being much of a gamer, than anything else- after all, Wemade is a publicly listed billion-dollar-business whose offerings have been (and continue to be) made use of by hundreds of millions of people around the world. And when Chang tells me he was recognized by people on the streets of Dubai on account of the Wemade-branded jacket he was wearing at the time, it's more than enough impetus for me to want to learn more about him and his company.

Wemade is perhaps best known for being the makers of the incredibly successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) series, Legend of Mir, which has fans from around the world numbered in the hundreds of millions- in fact, Chang proudly tells me that more than two decades after its launch, the title's intellectual property continues to be as loved by (and relevant to) gamers today as it ever was. I find this to be an indication of how Wemade has seemingly cracked the code of creating something timeless, while also staying in tune with the times- and this can also be seen in the transformation it is currently ongoing from being a traditional video game company to now becoming an open platform for blockchain games.

For the uninitiated, blockchain games are video games that make use of blockchain-centered technologies like cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in their gameplay. Presently a nascent industry, Wemade has set out to position itself as a frontrunner in this space with the launch of Wemix, its open blockchain gaming platform, and its eponymous token. While there are only 17 games hosted on Wemix as of October this year, it's already home to a smash hit: MIR4 Global.

Launched by Wemade in August last year, MIR4 Global went on to secure 20 million cumulative users within just a year. MIR4 Global's success bodes well for the blockchain gaming ecosystem, especially considering that the game reached 6.5 million monthly active users in just a few months, despite having no formal marketing campaigns to support its launch. "I think it's safe to say that MIR4 Global is the most successful blockchain game ever," Chang says. "The game proved that it is possible to make an enjoyable, well-made blockchain game for players, a game that people would love to play not just to earn cryptocurrencies, but for the sheer fun of the gameplay."

Note here Chang's point about people wanting to play MIR4 Global purely as a game, and not just for the rewards it offers. This is a huge win for Wemade in the domain of blockchain games, and in order to understand why, Chang suggests starting by examining what differentiates them from their "traditional" counterparts. "Blockchain games are characterized by in-game assets that present both monetary value and real-world use cases," he explains. "Originally, traditional in-game assets have been contained and trapped inside the game. When those assets are owned by the players instead of the gaming company, it gives them a sense of ownership. Users can now freely and in a seamless manner buy, trade, and stake their in-game assets. These elements set apart blockchain games from traditional mainstream games."

Henry Chang, CEO, Wemade

Now, it's this opportunity to earn assets in blockchain games -usually cryptocurrency tokens of one kind or the other- that has lately led to the eruption of the play-to-earn (P2E) model in this landscape. "P2E was one of the most popular keywords in the gaming industry last year," Chang notes. "In the crypto market, it's treated as the next big thing. Although the stock prices of the gaming industries in Korea are stagnant right now due to microeconomic instabilities such as inflation, last year, the stock prices of the game companies skyrocketed when they mentioned the word P2E, NFT, or blockchain. The P2E model has been popularized in the press and by some crypto communities mostly because these tokenomics-focused games are designed to provide economic gain- before anything else."

And therein lies the problem that has materialized alongside the rise of the P2E model in the gaming ecosystem. "Creating games from the position of financial engineering, as opposed to from a game developer's perspective, has led to higher barrier to entry. Players consistently cashing out and not contributing to the ecosystem, and games that lost their primary entertainment value and felt more like manual labor," Chang explains. "P2E games are also associated with social issues related to gaming addiction, and playing them as a full-time job deprives entire societies of their human capital and negatively impacts their productivity too."

It is to subvert such consequences that Chang is pushing for greater adoption of what Wemade is calling a play-and-earn-and-pay model in the gaming sphere. "Because of the aforementioned issues and more, I do not believe a purely tokenomics-dependent P2E ecosystem is sustainable and scalable," Chang says. "It is then necessary to go back to the essence of gaming, which was always about bringing entertainment value with well-made games. The play-and-earn-and-pay model puts well-made games at the center of ecosystem, and it provides the basis of a sustainable ecosystem by incentivizing users who enjoy the game to not just play and earn cryptocurrencies or NFTs, but to invest their earned tokens back into the ecosystem by upgrading their characters, etc."

This should explain why Chang sees the success that MIR4 Global has seen as such a great win for Wemade and the gaming landscape at large- the fact that it had more than 1.4 million concurrent users shortly after it launched is a testament to the sheer prowess of the game. "As many in the gaming industry know, this is an exceptional result for an MMORPG, which normally takes more time to go through and finish the game," Chang adds. And Wemade isn't sitting on its laurels- it's already pushed out its latest offering. "We recently released MIR M, the newest spinoff of the Legend of Mir series locally in June, with a global launch expected later this year," Chang says. "There has been some great initial response to MIR M, which makes me confident the global version will do even better than MIR4."

Related: A New Frontier: Lessons Learnt From Exploring NFTs, The Metaverse, And More

Established in 2000, Wemade is an international game developer publisher that has grown from a handful of passionate game pioneers to a group of over 1,300 game enthusiasts. / Source: Wemade

All of this are good tidings for the blockchain games industry as well, Chang says. "Not only does it prove to the world that it is possible to make well-made games embedded with blockchain technology, but it also shows that gamers who have been accustomed to traditional Web 2.0 games for decades have embraced this new technology with open arms as well," he says. This, in turn, is a shot in the arm for the bet Wemade has made on its Wemix platform. "As we further expand our Wemix platform ecosystem, we expect its part of revenue will grow exponentially," Chang says. "Although the platform's revenue is weak now, I expect Wemix to be at the center of our sales in the future. I firmly believe we are on the right track to succeed as an open blockchain game platform, similarly to what Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store have achieved."

At this point, Chang acknowledges that there remains a certain amount of hesitancy toward blockchain games from the traditional gaming community at large- however, he also believes that it will subside as blockchain adoption becomes more prevalent in our world. And that, he predicts, is when Wemade's early investment in this space -i.e. Wemix- will allow it to become the dominant global platform by default. "Our ultimate goal is to create a mega ecosystem, and become the Steam of blockchain games," Chang says- for the non-gamers reading this, Steam is the largest distributor of personal computer games in the world today.

"Every year, there are around 50,000 news games launched, and I believe that in the near future all these games will be blockchain games," Chang continues. "In-game items have always existed even in Web 2.0 games; however, with blockchain technology, users are able to take those in-game items out into the real world enhancing the user gaming experience. By putting all our efforts into blockchain technology, we aim at becoming the global open blockchain game platform by default, enabling hundreds of new games to onboard our platform each year, and benefit from blockchain technology and our ecosystem even without previous knowledge in the blockchain space."

At this point, in case of any of you think that this is a lofty ambition for Wemade to make in a fledgling industry that has also been rocked recently by a crypto winter, Chang is here to help disprove you of that notion. "Based on my 26 years of experience in the gaming industry, I firmly believe that blockchain gaming is the future," Chang declares. "As a publicly traded company with over 20 years of corporate history, Wemade is well ahead compared to its competitors, and we will put everything we have into keeping it that way despite the current market conditions."

Related: Four Key Areas Forward-Thinking Countries Need To Focus On To Grow Blockchain-Aware Populations

Source: MIR4 Global

Chang admits here that as a relatively new technology, blockchain still has a long way to go in terms of regulations, implications, and even applications- but from Wemade's perspective, it represents an opportunity, rather than a challenge. "When Bitcoin was first introduced in 2009, like many people in the gaming industry, I didn't believe it was special back then, and treated it like some sort of game money that players use in games," Chang recalls. "I, alongside many of my colleagues, thought we knew everything about game money, and that it was absurd to use it outside games and in real life. But now, thanks to the few innovative people who recognized early the potential of the technology, and then utilized it to develop business solutions and industrial advancement, we have arrived to where we are today."

Chang currently professes a steadfast belief in the potential (and power) of blockchain, and that is what he has channeled to lead Wemade through the instability that has been seen in the crypto landscape through the course of 2022. "Our response to the turbulence in the current market has been to focus on providing utility to the users, and making more investments and strategic partnerships to strengthen our position as a leading global open blockchain game platform," Chang says. "Even back in 2018, during the previous crypto winter, we didn't give up, and we spent human resources into developing our blockchain technology and services; we continue to do the same even now."

Chang speaks with the confidence attained by working for 26 years in gaming- in fact, he started out in the industry when he was still a senior at college. His first job was at Nexon, which was then a Seoul-based small business with fewer than 10 employees- today, however, it is one of the biggest game companies in South Korea, as well as one of the biggest listed companies in Japan. Following a long stint at Nexon, he joined another game publisher, Neowiz, as its Chief Financial Officer, and then became Head of the Strategic Planning Division of Neowiz Games, before finally going on to lead Neowiz Mobile as its Chief Executive Officer. Chang then joined Wemade in 2013, and he was appointed its CEO a year later.

Chang's career trajectory should make it clear that he is someone who is extremely well-versed with the industry he operates in, and that should serve as reason enough for why his viewpoint on the potential blockchain presents in this landscape shouldn't be taken lightly. "What's interesting is that as someone who spent his entire career in the gaming industry, there is no doubt that role-playing games, like the MMORPG Legend of Mir series, already provide a similar concept to a metaverse, and it is interesting to see how the rest of the world is now embracing this new technology and concept," Chang says. "I believe at the heart of the metaverse are games, and that there are a lot of exciting new developments to happen in the space within the near future."

Source: Wemix

Chang reveals here that the MENA figures strongly in Wemade's aspirations for the future, and he points out that MIR4 Global has been able to create a strong fanbase in the region. "MIR4 Global ranked first across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar amongst role-playing games on the Google Play Store back in March 2022, and it has succeeded in maintaining its top three rank in multiple MENA markets even now," Chang says.

"In addition, the MENA is important from a blockchain development point of view. The MENA offers licenses for crypto coin platforms, and we are in the process of applying for one. Once done, we will move some of our development team to the region, and develop a state-ofthe- art blockchain platform and crypto hub."

And it's not just an increase in the Wemade user base that Chang hopes to see resulting from the MENA- he's also hoping to see a rise in the number of stakeholders from the region as well. "Wemade is a listed company in South Korea, and I would like to invite MENA institutional and retail investors to buy our stocks and our WEMIX coin, which is listed in more than 25 exchanges around the world," Chang says. "I believe both Wemade's stock and the WEMIX coin present very attractive investment opportunities, as they are both liquid and under-valued considering their huge growth potential. I myself have been buying WEMIX coin with my salary and bonus income from the market for the last seven consecutive months, and I do not intend to stop until I retire; I also have not and will not sell a single WEMIX coin."

It's interesting to note here that the conviction with which Chang speaks about Wemade's endeavors in the blockchain gaming space today- it is truly in stark contrast to the perspective with which they were seen when the company was just starting out on them. "For the first three-and-a-half years, our blockchain gaming business didn't look like much from the outside," he says. "But when MIR4 became the first commercial hit globally in August 2021, I was very thrilled to realize that I've been right all along. And during the past year, the excitement has been growing within me every day, at every moment."

Chang is thus watching with glee as the building blocks of a new digital blockchain-centric economy involving NFTs, decentralized asset organizations (DAOs), decentralized finance (DeFi), and more get put into place, and when it all actually comes together, he is aiming for Wemade "to become the dominant open blockchain game platform, as the number one global mainnet." Chang recently revealed details about WEMIX$, the stablecoin of its mainnet Wemix 3.0, during his keynote speech at the TOKEN2049 event held in Singapore in September. "Stablecoins must be stable," he said. "This is the first requirement. WEMIX$ meets that through 100% USDC [a digital stablecoin pegged to the United States dollar] reserve."

Related: Nimbus CEO Alex Lemberg On The Power Of Blockchain To Create A Society In Which Everyone Is Empowered

Wemade has continued to develop and service dozens of PC and Mobile based games for fun-loving gamers since its inception.

Following that, Chang continued by listing "stable/native coin reflexivity" as a second requirement for a successful stablecoin. "When a stablecoin is doing well, it should affect the native coin," he explained. "The native coin must be able to capture the demand and trade of stablecoin. Thus, the reflexive relationship between stablecoin and native coin must be structured." As a third and final requirement, Chang listed scalability, which WEMIX$ secures through Wemade's DIOS protocol, which, in turn, will let it expand according to the ecosystem's growth.

The aspirations Chang has for Wemade, along with the results it has already achieved with him at its helm, also serve as a testament to his leadership of the company, which, by the way, is a realization of a childhood dream he had to run "a big, great company." "There's an old saying that 'good things take time,'" Chang says. "When I make plans for business and new technology that will determine the future, I try to think for the long term, like, say, in ten-year periods. In 2018, all gaming companies were interested in blockchain games, and some entered the market. But they all gave up during the crypto winter that happened afterward. Wemade was almost the only company that kept up, because we thought it might take ten years to succeed from the start. I believe that setting up your vision, crafting your strategies, and taking steps to achieve your goal in the long run is the key to the success and growth of your company."

This is clearly the same vision that is governing Chang as he oversees Wemade's ongoing investments in the crypto realm. "We're making investments in blockchain companies and projects with great potentials all over the world, and we have been quite successful in our endeavors, to put it mildly," Chang explains. "We have been making significant investments in blockchain and game companies to expand our Wemix ecosystem from its current gamecentric approach to later encompass all other types of x-to-earn models, such as move-to-earn, watch-to-earn etc. To do so, we invest and are heavily involved in the development of our portfolio of startups, based on our industry knowledge and blockchain expertise. The most recent examples of such investments were in the luxury fashion metaverse ALTAVA's TAVA coin, and the watch-to-earn short-form platform CELEBe's FANC coin, and SNKRZ, a next generation move-to-earn project."

Wemade is thus all set to continue its bold foray into the world of blockchain, but I cannot help but point out to Chang that questions and doubts continue to rise about the technology's applications in the real world. Chang replies that he can identify with this sentiment- he too has wrestled with this query at one point in time, but he also believes he has found a response to it in the industry he operates in. "For me, personally, the most important question that every cryptocurrency has to answer is: 'Where is this going to be used?'" The question is still valid now, and there are many coins out there that still can't answer this question. I found that the answer lies within games- and that's when I became certain that cryptocurrencies will flourish in games… When skeptics ask, 'Where can we use cryptocurrency?', games can provide answers," Chang concludes.

Related: Let's Play: Why Dubai Is Well-Positioned To Deliver The MENA Its Own Gaming Industry

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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