AiThority Interview with Nithinan Jessie Boonyawattanapisut, Co-CEO & Director at NextPlay Technologies
Hi Nithinan, welcome to our Interview Series. You are one of the top leaders in Asia to start a Fintech and gaming company. Tell us about your journey in this space and how you started at NextPlay Technologies.
I started off my career as a business analyst and was fortunate to have had an opportunity to be exposed to and learn about the numbers behind the video game industry. I found it fascinating that the performance of the industry generally defines macroeconomic performance.
For the most part, the game industry does not decline if the economy declines.
Seeing this opportunity, I found my way into the space on the development side where the business thesis was based on matching our production quality to that of produced in developed countries, but in a developing country that offered tremendous cost-saving benefits. And when I say “tremendous,” I mean 1/10 of the cost.
“To realize such a vision, a key partnership that would help bring in technological and technical know-how was necessary. Epic Games was the chosen partner back then.”
Our first game production studio was established in 2006 under the name Epic Games China. We started training local developers while adhering to the same production standard imposed by Epic, and we ended up doing a lot of production work for Epic along the way. We were also the sole licensor for Epic’s Unreal Engine for greater China and Southeast Asia.
When we were solely in the business of game development, though enjoying the cost benefits, I did not fail to appreciate the risk on the free-to-play business model. It was the dominant business model in the game industry at the time, particularly in Asia. Free-to-play models can be very lucrative if you do it right and have a little luck.
When it comes to market share distribution, the free-to-play model is a winner-take-all model. You would have these very few top games that make an enormous profit, while some would do okay and were able to get by. But most would simply fail. The reason for the failures was that when it comes to free-to-play games, on average, only about 2%-3% of the players would ever pay for anything in the game. The top games might do 8%-10%.
So, in order to de-risk the business model, we looked to develop a way to monetize more than 90% of the players. Digital advertising seemed like an obvious answer. But we wanted to do it differently, away from the existing disruptive pop-up banners and videos.
Coming from a game maker background, we had this very important condition in mind when it comes to how we execute an advertising model. Whatever we did, it should not sacrifice the integrity of the gameplay. At the same time, it must make players feel they are getting value instead of us selling them (i.e., their eyeballs) as a product. That is how we show respect to our customers.
To us, the free players are just as valuable as the paying players because they play a crucial part of the complete game ecosystem. We believe that keeping all players happy is the proper way to make the whole dynamic sustainable. HotPlay’s in-game advertising platform, therefore, ended up being the solution we produced.
The unique property of HotPlay’s in-game advertising platform is not only how we enable advertisers to insert ads seamlessly into the native content of the game in real-time, but also how we help them bridge the gap between the virtual world and the real world and create a transaction via the direct offering of promotional coupons without interrupting the gaming experience. This functionality and application fit right into the new Metaverse era, too.
Besides the game development and digital advertising platform business, I also have been involved quite heavily in the crypto space. I launched HOT token, a utility token to be used throughout our expanding ecosystem. We also own a majority stake in Longroot Inc., an ICO portal licensed by the Thai SEC. We were the first company granted such a license. Our primary reason to pursue the ICO portal license was to leverage our expertise and network to securitize the future value of in-game assets for our own portfolio and others.
We spent years lining up many components to position ourselves to compete in the big leagues. When the time was right, we did an RTO with a NASDAQ-traded company, Monaker Group, to gain access to a larger pool of supportive investors who believe in our potential. After the RTO transaction, we renamed the company, NextPlay Technologies.
We also acquired an international bank last year, now called NextBank. NextBank operates under an international banking charter that enables us to offer global online banking by just establishing the technical infrastructure. Our team has been putting its full energy toward this over the last several months.
Once the online banking service is fully operational, which is expected to be during the second half of this year, it will also serve as a digital asset management platform where customers can gain access to alternative assets, including a number of new asset classes that will be tokenized and issued via Longroot. We are currently working to integrate with crypto exchanges, which will allow us to offer crypto holders a credit facility against the value of their crypto holdings. Another medium-term plan for the bank is to extend its microloan service to the gamers once we learn about their spending pattern via the redemptions that they perform with the coupons they collect from HotPlay’s in-game advertising.
So that was how I started and where we currently are in our development.
As a woman in the technology business, what unique challenges do you meet every day? How do you motivate your team when it comes to maintaining a balance between life and profession?
Being a woman is one thing but still feeling like an intern does not help either. I would say the first impression often handicaps me, especially in Asian culture. But the people that I do business with usually get past that after the first 15 minutes or so into a discussion.
Most people today are generally more open-minded, and they show respect when they realize you actually know your stuff. But again, business is not always all about hard skills. There are still some social barriers, certain male social activities that bring people closer in a business relationship, that I could never cross as a female. There is really not much I can do about that.
When it comes to team motivation and maintaining balance, it is very important to actually believe in and like what you do. For me, I try to get the message across to our staff that the thing we do is meaningful; that we are redefining how things are done in the industry. I would take the time to explain what we do and why we do it to the most junior staff if they would take the time to actually listen. I do not have a hard line between life and profession. It is very difficult to have one especially given how I am operating across multiple time zones. When you really like what you do, work does not feel like work. It is a part of your lifestyle. In fact, several good business ideas or solutions came to me in my dreams.
As a Co-CEO, what are your primary business goals for 2022? What lessons did you carry forward from the events that happened globally in the last 2 years?
In 2022, we intend to turn the company profitable. Most of our plans in our current pipeline will be rolled out and reflected on our numbers. 2022 will be the year that we get to lay out all the foundations into the market and establish the base for scalable growth. All the pieces we have lined up will start playing out where it all makes sense. It will be the year where we are laser-focused on executions on all fronts, which should pave the way for significant growth in 2023.
I think the most valuable lesson learned over the last two years has been to always expect the unexpected and that every crisis presents an opportunity. People have the capacity for resilience, but it does not mean they could not use help. It became very apparent in an accelerated manner during the pandemic how essential technology is to our lives. We are fortunate enough to be in the tech industry but that doesn’t take away the harsh question of “What if we weren’t?” The pandemic reminds me to remain humble, operate with caution, and be prepared for an unfortunate turn of events at any time.
You have a fairly strong market presence in the APAC. Which other markets and industries are you focusing on to grow your customer base in the near future?
We are actively expanding our business development effort into India and LATAM.
How do you see the fintech markets for your product evolving around a strong desire to adopt reliable and transparent digital payments platforms? How do you ensure you stay competitive in this fast-evolving Fintech space?
Distributed ledger technologies as a sector is now about as mature as the Internet was in 1995-1997. Remember, back then, it was the beginning of web 1.0, with businesses building sites that served its customers. These enterprise sites did not interact with other sites and customers could not contribute to the utility of the site. The successful web 1.0 companies continued to expand their footprint and established robust businesses. Similarly, NextPlay is expanding its footprint into crypto as part of a strategy to establish a robust business.
We stay competitive by offering a value proposition to consumers and partners that is compelling and sustainable. One of the best ways to do this is to arbitrage a systemic barrier – in this case, there is a regulatory barrier across territories regarding safely handling fiat and crypto for individual account holders. Our platform offers a regulatory-compliant solution that increases the value/utility of an account holder’s crypto account by giving them seamless access to fiat, and thereby, to the global financial system. Our CTO also makes it a mission to ensure the safe handling of crypto as our bank interfaces with crypto exchanges.
As the industry matures, pricing will become competitive. I believe we can compete by remaining creative. We will make available to our customers new and unique alternative asset classes that they will not be able to find elsewhere, at least not at the moment we make them available. Never forget that we are after all a game-maker; Creativity runs in our veins.
What is your mantra to ace the Crypto markets with your strong technical expertise: What do your CTO and CMO think about the strategic decisions taken to expand into crypto?
As you know, to successfully expand into crypto, a company must have two core competencies:
- software development
- marketing/business strategy development and implementation
NextPlay Technologies has both. Our CTO has both depth and breadth of tech expertise across industries, and he brings that richness of experience and insight to architect and builds the reliable platform to connect the world of fiat with the world of crypto in a secure and compliant way.
Our CMO is thrilled to take on the challenge of building awareness for our value proposition with our partners (crypto trading exchanges) and our shared users (the retail account holders), as well as how we are utilizing it to bridge the gap between the virtual world and the real world for gamers and brands/advertisers who wish to build a meaningful relationship with them.
Which startups domains are you keenly following now? Which area of business would you like to dive into in the near future, given your sharp focus on gaming, adtech, and fintech products?
Another way to build defensible business strategies is to occupy the intersection of two or more markets. For example, NextPlay does this with its in-game advertising platform— it intersects three large markets: video games, advertising and retail promotions. Nobody else does this. Even those with greater capital lack the experience, skills and wisdom our team has gained by having to operate a business across all three markets. One of our core capabilities is to see patterns and synergies that most do not or cannot and then implement the solutions that services these newly defined markets.
We have great assets in gaming, AdTech and fintech. I talked about the expansion of our footprint in fintech sector.
NFTs is a trite buzzword now, but we did a lot of work on it back in 2019, culminating in several small contributions to the ERC1155 standard. We will be extending the use of NFTs in both our AdTech and fintech platforms, leveraging our in-house expertise. I am, of course, also keen on the application of AI that could further add efficiency and effectiveness to our process, and which would further our goal of ensuring that our customers are best served with our products and services. This is the main reason we acquired MakeItGames.
Thank you, Nithinan! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
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NextPlay Technologies, Inc. is a technology solutions company offering games, in-game advertising, crypto-banking, connected TV and travel booking services to consumers and corporations within a growing worldwide digital ecosystem. NextPlay’s engaging products and services utilize innovative AdTech, Artificial Intelligence and Fintech solutions to leverage the strengths and channels of its existing and acquired technologies.