Singapore-based game finance (game-fi) blockchain startup, Ethlas, announced today that it has secured US$2.7 million in seed funding from investors such as Sequoia Capital India, Yield Guild Games Southeast Asia, Global Blockchain Innovative Capital, Venturra Capital, Play It Forward DAO, Blockchain Space, Genesis Fund, Deus Ex DAO, Hustle Fund, and executives from Grab, Coinbase, Switcheo and CoinMarketCap. The hitherto stealth start-up has also unveiled the identities of two of its four founders: American Gennady ‘Ari’ Medvinsky and Singaporean Elston Sam, who have both worked in top tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Grab, and Airbnb. The identities of the other two founders – one of whom is a very senior executive with a Big Tech firm – will be disclosed in due course.
The three-month-old Ethlas is the first game-fi startup founded in Singapore to have secured serious investor money, underlining the confidence that VCs have in this fledgling tech startup that first launched quietly in November 2021. Built on the Polygon blockchain, Ethlas has chalked up over 100,000 crypto-wallet users globally and scored some three million gameplays on its platform as of end-January 2022. The rapid scale that Ethlas achieved product market fit has been one of the key reasons for its seed fundraising success.
According to a Bloomberg report in January 2022, the number of blockchain games grew nearly threefold: from about 200 in 2020 to more than 544 in 2021. Most game-fi platforms have a high barrier of entry, requiring gamers to pay subscription fees or have upfront capital. On the contrary, Ethlas – a portmanteau of “Ethereum” and “Atlas” – is a free-to-play, play-to-earn platform which helps the lay person win and encash cryptocurrency, by participating in simple, easily-understood casual games that everyone is familiar with. Think Tetris, Candy Crush and Bubble Popper but way cooler. To start playing, gamers just need to install MetaMask, a software crypto wallet or link their wallets, and they can start playing in the Ethlas metaverse on a PC or mobile phone’s browser. There are no complicated onboarding rules or requirements to sign up with a hefty subscription fee.
“Komo” NFT minted
As part of its product roadmap, Ethlas will mint its first series of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) called Komos. Modelled after the Komodo Dragons of Indonesia, the Komo NFTs will benefit both free-to-play gamers and crypto natives: Free-to-play gamers can use the five tiers of the Komo NFT to boost their gameplay and secure more $XGEM (Exchange Genesis Ethlas Medium), the in-game cryptocurrency in the Ethlas metaverse; crypto natives can benefit from the intrinsic value of a well-designed NFT that has in-game utility and facilitates scholarships (NFT rental). The Komo NFT series will be available before end-February 2022. Ethlas is also working with game studios to launch their games on their platform through a revenue-sharing model.
“The unique value proposition of Komo NFTs is that they do not only function as game passes on Ethlas granting players special access to games and features, they are also asset-backed NFTs, which consist of staked tokens wrapped as an ERC-721 token that has recently started gaining popularity. Ethlas’ Komo NFTs possess both intrinsic artistic as well as monetary value, thereby driving up their desirability as a piece of tradeable art. Most game NFTs do not provide such value as Komo,” says Ethlas co-founder, Elston Sam.
Moonshot vision of one billion users
The founders of Ethlas were intrigued by the potential of game-fi when they read of Filipinos earning more money from playing games on game-fi platforms than from their day jobs. With their convictions that Web 3.0 will be powered by cryptocurrency and its social impact, the four founders decided to take the plunge and leave their well-paying jobs to build Ethlas. Their moonshot vision: make crypto inclusive and accessible by onboarding the next billion non-crypto users onto the Ethlas metaverse. Ethlas has plans to work with regulators to develop a framework for game-fi as it believes regulations and consumer education are key to facilitate the growth of this currently nascent but immense game-fi ecosystem in a safe and controlled manner.
“Consumer gaming platforms can amass millions of engaged players – combine that with asset ownership through NFTs and a crypto rewards layer, the network incentives fall back into the hands of the players. This is an immensely powerful flywheel. We also like that Ethlas is onboarding native gamers onto Web 3.0 and that the team is hyper-focused on delivering a delightful gaming experience. We have been very impressed with the platform’s rapid user adoption and high gamer engagement, suggesting strong future growth prospects,” Aakash Kapoor, Vice President, Sequoia India.
“We recognise that blockchain has a high barrier of entry, and currently appeals only to a skewed demographic. While GBIC is always looking out for blockchain startups to invest in, we are looking for those with a serious direction and vision. The direction of Ethlas was very clear and we believe in their vision that games will be a significant channel to onboard the next billion users into crypto. Unlike the current play-to-earn games, Ethlas’ operating model allows even people who do not even know crypto to just do a one-click sign in with MetaMask, and they can play for fun and earn. We are excited to be one of the early VCs to help Ethlas take flight,” says Sinhae Lee, Partner, Global Blockchain Innovation Capital.
Ethlas has built up a team of more than 20 blockchain engineers, game developers, data scientists, cybersecurity experts and designers, based out of Singapore, Philippines and the United States. The startup is founded in Singapore as the country has a good tech ecosystem that fosters and enables innovation, especially in crypto, and has good access to venture capital. It will leverage its seed funding to aggressively hire tech talent in the Web 3.0 space.