By Riley Kaminer
Jess Zhang thinks a lot about the future of gaming. As a data scientist at Roblox, she was excited by the prospect of users not merely playing games – but actively building them.
“When I first came across Roblox, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool,” Zhang told Refresh Miami. “But there were some important things that were missing.” For example, how could the platform ensure that users could make money by creating digital art without worrying that it would be copied and sold for cheaper?
That’s when Miami-based, Canadian native Zhang began to see the benefits of NFTs for preventing digital theft. “I started thinking about creating a platform for games that would manage in-game assets.” So she teamed up with Linglong Zhu, Zhang’s former colleague from Airbnb, and Michael Wei, a fellow San Franciscan turned Miamian, to develop Blockus.
“Blockus is the connector in the background that makes this gaming economy happen,” Zhang explained. “We support artists by making it easy for them to get paid for what they created, register their digital art, and claim ownership. We also make sure that they are celebrated – so that 20 years down the line, they’re not just nameless.”
Since many artists these days are employed by game studios, Blockus’ platform will initially serve these studios. But going forward, Zhang envisions a world in which independent creators drive the digital gaming economy.
Top of mind for Zhang and her team – three full-timers and 6 or 7 contractors – is making crypto more user friendly. She recalled one of the first times she tried buying an NFT: a frustrating process that was even confusing for the technically-minded Zhang. “It took 45 minutes to just get one thing done. If I were any other consumer, I would just not do the thing. That’s when I realized we needed to bring web3 to web2.”
Through Blockus, game studios can streamline the process of onboarding users in web3. “We make it easy for users to interact with web3 in a way that feels like web2 native,” asserted Zhang, who is the CEO. Blockus also has a Shopify-like marketplace where studios can sell NFTs, plus a payment solution for gamers to check out with credit cards or crypto.
The team plans to fully open up the platform to the public within the next month.
They started working on the platform around September last year, taking note of an acute need in the gaming community.“In tomorrow’s world, we see gaming as an interconnected but decentralized economy that lives fully online,” said Zhang of Blockus’ broader vision. And she’s convinced big names in the web3 space to support her mission. She turned down YCombinator (for now) to join a16z’s Crypto Startup School incubator, which gave her $500,000 for a 7% investment.
“We’re very excited about the future of gaming overall,” Zhang said. “It’s a very exciting time to be building in web3.”
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