Ryan Wyatt interview: Why YouTube’s gaming chief moved to blockchain games at Polygon

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Polygon raised $450 million for its blockchain protocol and hired YouTube Gaming chief Ryan Wyatt to build its blockchain gaming platform.

That’s a bold move for Wyatt, since he is leaving Google and YouTube for a blockchain company with a lot of cash. It’s risky because a lot of hardcore gamers and streamers are aghast at what they’ve seen so far with blockchain games. Since Wyatt will build up a blockchain gaming division at Polygon, he will be in the crosshairs.

But Wyatt has become a bit of a wonk in both cryptocurrency and blockchain, and he’s excited about the future of nonfungible tokens (NFTs), which use the transparency and security of the digital ledger of blockchain to authenticate unique digital items. It could be the move of a lifetime as blockchain gaming could be the next free to play. Or it could be a wrong turn as hardcore gamers dig in their heels about their opposition to blockchain games.

But he’s in interesting company, as a wave of game industry people have moved into blockchain games, such as Zynga cofounder Eric Schiermeyer, former Coca-Cola gaming exec Matthew Wolf, Sim City designer Will Wright, former Magic Leap chief creative director Graeme Devine, former Glu business chief Chris Akhavan, former Activision exec John Linden, former Google Play leader Koh Kim, and Black & White creator Peter Molyneux.

I asked Wyatt why he made the move and what was interesting to him about Polygon, which offers a Layer 2 solution on top of the Ethereum blockchain and is home to many of the successful blockchain games. He noted that transactions on Polygon are fast and carry low environmental costs.

And while gamers might not be crypto and NFT fans, investors clearly are. Polygon’s backers include Sequoia Capital India with participation from more than 40 major venture capital firms including SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Galaxy Digital, Galaxy Interactive, Tiger Global, Republic Capital and personalities like Alan Howard (co-founder, Brevan Howard) and Kevin O’Leary.

Originally known as Matic Network, the blockchain protocol launched in 2017, and rebranded to Polygon in 2021. Its token has a market value of $15 billion, and it is a host to more than 7,000 decentralized applications (dapps).

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Ryan Wyatt wa head of YouTube Gaming and now runs gaming at Polygon.

GamesBeat: I was interested in the news that you went there. Can you tell more of the story? How did this get on your radar in the beginning?

Ryan Wyatt: A couple of people have asked me, as you can imagine. I’ve been interested in what had been happening in Web3. A lot of that started because I was spending time with people I know well in venture. You were starting to see a decent amount of talented parties, some of the large, established, triple-A studios — they were looking at all the capital being raised in the game industry. A lot of those developers were focusing on blockchain games. I said, “What does that entail? That’s pretty exciting.” In my role as head of gaming at YouTube, I wanted to make sure this was an area that I understood well and followed closely.

As I continued to do that, I became more fascinated, that there would be this sub-section of the game industry that would be developing games on the blockchain. I continued to dig further into it, and I started to get excited about what the different platforms were and what offerings had. I thought it was great to look at what Polygon had to offer, because it was far and away the best positioned platform for developers who wanted to build on Ethereum. They were already allowing for low carbon footprint, for low transaction cost. They had a great developer suite to plug into. For me, it was a great opportunity if I was going to come over to this space, taking on a role like this with a company that was well-funded and had a world class technology offering. That’s how I went down the proverbial rabbit hole and ended up here.

Polygon Infographics
Polygon has raised $450 million.

GamesBeat: How quick a timeline was that? It sounds like it all happened in 2021.

Wyatt: I started to spend time getting excited and educated in the space all through last year. At the end of the year–like I do at the end of every year, I thought, “What do I want for myself in the upcoming year?” I was spending some time on this on the side. What does it look like if I completely focus on this with 100 percent of my time?

I felt good about where YouTube Gaming has gotten to. I spent almost eight years working at YouTube Gaming. I joined YouTube when I was 27 as the head of gaming. There was no existing gaming team before me. I had built everything up from scratch, set our strategy and vision, and hired the team globally. We got to a great place. Gaming is a big focus of YouTube now. Susan will continue to attest to that. I felt like I had done what I set out to do when I went to YouTube. I was ready for the next exciting endeavor in my life.

GamesBeat: Did you have anything tugging at you because you were going from a bigger place to a smaller one? Did you worry about that in any way?

Wyatt: I don’t know if I’d say I worried about it. It’s a cool opportunity. When I started at YouTube it was a nonexistent vertical within the organization that was really well-funded and well-resourced. We almost felt like a splinter cell within YouTube as a vertical. We had all this great mentorship, leadership, financial backing to go explore and dive into building this business.

I look at Polygon as very similarly situated. Great technology already exists. Great financial backing already exists. There’s this blank canvas to set out and build a vision with the team and hire an organization. It seems very reminiscent of what it felt like when I first joined YouTube. That didn’t worry me at all. In fact, it was the opposite. It got me very excited.

GamesBeat: Where is Polygon right now? How would you describe the stage it’s in relative to its ambitions?

Wyatt: When thinking about it relative to the ambitions, we’re in the early stages. I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface. The organization has done wonderful things. It’s spent almost a billion dollars in this past year making sure we build out our tech stack across Polygon. They’ve a tremendous amount of work, and that’s a testament to what the founders have been able to do in a short time. But I feel like our best days are still ahead of us. We have a lot of work to do.

We’re a top-15 public blockchain protocol with almost $13 billion in market cap. We’ve raised money from the most prestigious venture-backed groups in the world. But I think we have a lot of work cut out for us. Where we think this company is going to go, we have not even begun to scratch the surface. I’m very excited about what we can do over the next decade.

GamesBeat: Where is Polygon seeing some early good reception? There are a bunch of blockchains in the gaming space right now. Where is Polygon specializing or finding its feet?

Wyatt: Polygon, although we’ve done a great job leaning into the gaming vertical, we’re really in multiple verticals across culture, entertainment, news, fashion, and sports. Gaming is obviously at the heart of what we’re doing on the studio side as well. But if you ask any developer, if all things are put aside, they’ll choose Polygon. A large amount of people believe in Ethereum. As you can imagine, we’re totally bullish on the future of Ethereum. There’s no better platform that’s going to help developers build on Ethereum than what Polygon’s side chain offering is.

We have all of the credibility in the world, if you speak to any developer, because of how easy our tech stack is to work with. Now, what I want to focus on is making sure we also have a world class partnership and business team to help these developers onboard, how they think about the marketplace, how they think about tokenomics, how they think about building their business in Web3. That goes for both Web3-native companies, if you will, as well as Web 2.0 companies who are, as you can tell–from Facebook to YouTube, Google, Twitter, Instagram, they all want to build in Web3. They’ll need to look at Polygon because of the kind of platform we’re building.

You set up a crypto wallet with Ubisoft Quartz.
Ubisoft Quartz caught a lot of criticism.

GamesBeat: A lot of the excitement started in art and migrated over toward gaming during last year. Then we saw these weird hater reactions toward things like Ubisoft and GSC Game World and Team17. Gamers are revolting. I see there’s an area of enthusiasm for this, and I think it’s the crypto people, maybe a lot of young people. But I don’t really know who they are compared to — who are these Ubisoft haters? Is it the core console gamers that just don’t like this idea? Or some other segment that either loves it or hates it.

Wyatt: It’s undoubtedly polarizing. But there’s 2.5 billion gamers in the world. We need to be mindful as a collective industry of not dealing in absolutes. There’s a sub-section of gamers that are interested in blockchain gaming. I don’t think blockchain gaming is going to eat the game industry. In fact, a lot of games never need to worry about blockchain development. There’s no place for it there. But that doesn’t mean that we should be gatekeeping people that are interested in the technology or want to pursue it.

What you often see in the industry is a lot of people talking past each other. The NFT frustrations, they’re warranted. Some of them are definitely warranted. We do have a long way to go with the carbon footprint. That’s why I think Polygon is special. Ethereum hasn’t changed their consensus mechanism. These worries and concerns are justified. People want to see proper implementation. We have a long way to go to show great products to gamers to get them excited about the space.

What you see as a platform of Web3 that is in its infancy, and what the product offering is, it’s version 0.5. Some people are excited because they have a clear version of what version three, four, or five looks like. They’re communicating that enthusiasm. Others see it for what it is at face value right now, and they’re understandably disinterested in engaging in the matter. That’s okay. In the long term, product always speaks for itself. As people have great experiences in blockchain games, they’ll be curious about it. But I totally get it.

I don’t find myself participating too much in that conversation, because I understand both sides of the equation. I think product will inevitably speak for itself.

GamesBeat: There’s a set of myths and realities on every single piece of the subject. Is it bad for the environment? We covered a lot of that, but then there’s still people who argue, “Well, it still could be better.”

Wyatt: And it will be. It will be. If you’re a gamer and you remember when you couldn’t buy a new Nvidia graphics card because Bitcoin miners were using it, why wouldn’t that leave a sour taste in your mouth? It’s justifiable. That’s okay. The technology has a long way to go. But the main thing, there’s a huge desire and appetite to resolve these issues across our industry. We need to put up and do that work and showcase it, instead of speaking about it. In time that will speak for itself. People will remember that. I’m actually empathetic to these frustrations, though. I’m excited to be on this side to help resolve them.

GamesBeat: Hopefully you didn’t catch too much flak from the YouTubers.

Wyatt: I didn’t. I think I’m well endeared within that community. Even if they don’t agree with it, I think they can appreciate it. I’ll take it for now.

Weird stuff floats to the top of YouTube Gaming.
Weird stuff floats to the top of YouTube Gaming. Ryan Wyatt gave up this life.

GamesBeat: The Ethereum switch to proof of stake, it sounds like that would be a very positive thing. It would take care of some of those objections. Do you see any other things that are going to help win over some of those doubters right now?

Wyatt: Obviously Ethereum going proof of stake will be a huge step in the right direction. If you look at Polygon, for example — you can use 100 Thieves as an example. They did an NFT drop, and they used Polygon to power it. When you went to mint one of those NFTs, it was the equivalent of sending two emails, from a carbon footprint standpoint. [This report suggests that Polygon uses more energy than suggested]. We need to continue to do that. Polygon has already made massive inroads here, but the underlying Layer-1 needs to make progress as well. It’s doing that. It’s actively working on that as we speak.

It’s fair to be skeptical until those things are completed and those products are done. But I would also say that those who are concerned should be encouraged that we agree with these environmental concerns, and that we’re doing the things necessary to fix them. It’s very important to Polygon. It’s something we care deeply about. We’re happy to be such great partners with Ethereum. They think like we do in this regard.

GamesBeat: What do you think about the regulation space right now? I spent 45 minutes yesterday talking to the CEO of Forte about this new set of licenses they got. It’s pretty complicated stuff.

Wyatt: At a macro level it’s welcome, though. In a world of regulatory compliance, it still finds a way to be rather ambiguous. I think it’s ambiguous because people need to continue to educate. It’s highly nuanced. People need to be well-versed in order to apply proper regulatory policy towards it. It’s welcome, and I think it will be a critical and positive point for the industry when it’s less ambiguous and more transparent. We know how best to continue to operate in this industry.

As you can see, there are productive conversations being led by wonderful leaders within our industry. I’m thankful those conversations are continuing, particularly in the U.S. A lot of people look at that with concern. I take a completely different perspective. I’m optimistic and excited that some of these things are going to come into play and it’s going to be much more transparent for how we operate.

GamesBeat: Are there some ideas for blockchain games that get you most excited, types of games and things they could do that you can’t really do right now?

Wyatt: A good argument that you often see sometimes is that there are a lot of things you can emulate to some degree that blockchain games offer. A great example that a lot of people talk about is Diablo III’s auction house. Although that didn’t work out well, I don’t think that’s up for debate — it’s already hard to make a great game. When you have to balance an open economy on top of it, it’s another level of complexity with what is already difficult in game development.

What I think we’ll see is really high polish triple-A games inevitably coming over into doing some kind of a blockchain-based game that participates in these open and free economies. That can mean a lot of things. What’s exciting for me is that not a lot of games allow for that. The counter-argument is that you can do some of these things with SQL and centralized databases, but when you look at games–one of my favorites is Counter-Strike. They choose not to allow–yes, I can sell this bayonet fade knife, but I can’t get that money out of Steam. I don’t know how many bayonet fade knives there are. They could publish more of this stuff, and maybe they will over time, but right now it’s not happening.

There are not a lot of game experiences that allow for open and free economies, open marketplaces. I think you’ll see people participating in this to get a better understanding.

Blockchain games have a lot going for them.
Blockchain games have a lot going for them.

GamesBeat: People make the argument that blockchain can’t give you anything that game companies can’t already do, but the problem is what you fingered there. Why don’t they do it? They could do it, but they haven’t. In a blockchain game the assumption is that if you buy it, you own it.

Wyatt: It’s a basic principle, exactly.

GamesBeat: We’re going to a lot of trouble here because there’s a history of the game industry favoring itself over favoring gamers.

Wyatt: That’s right. There definitely is a history of that. And I don’t know that necessarily gets completely resolved with blockchain games, but it’s a step in the right direction when you allow, as a core principle and tenet, a free and open marketplace. You allow for some kind of verifiable digital ownership. You allow for liquidity and resale. You allow for some token governance. You allow for some equity within the game itself. There are faux versions of that existing today. I could play Call of Duty, buy Warzone skins, and own Activision Blizzard stock, but those things are not put together in one thriving ecosystem.

Just because something is capable of being done in some way, but it isn’t done, that’s not a great argument to me. What you’re seeing with blockchain, not does it enable this, but it embraces it. That, I think, is a unique difference.

GamesBeat: You guys raised $450 million. What do you see that as useful for? Do you get a big chunk of that for gaming?

Wyatt: There’s a lot of things it will be used for. One, we’re excited to scale out and grow the studios team. The studios team is responsible for handling all our business partnerships for all the developers building on Polygon’s network. That doesn’t just entail gaming. It does cover other verticals. Anybody from the NFL to Ubisoft, they’re partners of Polygon on the studios side. We need to scale out our team and grow with the organization. It’ll be used to bring in some of the best and brightest talent the tech world has to offer. I’m looking to hire all those people within our organization and continue to build it out.

We have big aspirations for what we want to do on the technology side. As you saw, we spent a billion dollars on acquisitions there. There’s more to do there as well. We also want to invest in the ecosystem. We have our Polygon ecosystem fund. We want to help developers grow on Polygon and invest in them building on the platform. There’s a lot of things we can do with that. We’re very fortunate as a startup to be incredibly well-funded, to be backed by prestigious venture, and to have the best technology in the business. We think there’s a lot of value in making sure we have the best people as well.

GamesBeat: Do you see yourselves absorbing more roles that aren’t being filled today? As an example, it feels like Forte is a kind of middleman in this space, where it’s trying to onboard the biggest game developers, the biggest game publishers, helping out with things that companies like yours wouldn’t do on the technology side yet. I don’t know if you see someone like Forte as a competitor or a partner. Or do you just have a separate way of doing business?

Wyatt: My personal belief is that I’m not even really big in thinking about anything in the space as competitive. I sincerely mean that, and I’ll tell you why. It’s so nascent right now. It’s so early. It’s great that we have people trying all different avenues and thinking through the product complexity that Web3 offers. They’re offering different services and different tech stacks. That’s great for the business. In fact, I’m excited for everyone.

It’s very different from my role at Google, where YouTube was very uniquely positioned against TikTok, against Facebook, against Twitch. I just don’t feel that competitive spirit in Web3. When you talk to anybody — I spoke with the Solana team last week, for example. Everyone is just excited to be builders in this space. Yes, Polygon is very well-positioned. We have five or six times more gaming and NFT deals than any chain outside of Ethereum. We are a leader. But I don’t know if competition–I don’t know if it’s the right time or the right way to think about it.

It’s so early that we should all be strong advocates for each other as we continue to grow the space. Over time, certainly, I’m sure that will change. But it’s hard for me to take any kind of competitive spirit. Everyone is building and trying to solve for the promising future that we’re all excited about

GamesBeat: I guess the one thing you wouldn’t want is to see it fragmenting. You almost want it to go toward more consolidation.

Wyatt: I don’t know about that. I think that’s counter to the spirit of being decentralized, the spirit of Web3. We’re going to make sure we have a great team and a great tech stack. We’ll welcome any company that builds. A lot of companies might build multiple chains and people might just predominantly use Polygon, but they’ll have multiple offerings within it. I don’t know that it’s winner take all, or if it’s about who consolidates the best. I don’t know if I’ll ever think of it that way. It’s certainly not my perspective at this point. It’s just a little bit different. You have to embrace the spirit of decentralization in this world.

GamesBeat: How much are you interested in the area of the philosophy behind it, that the notion of decentralization is going to be better in so many ways?

Wyatt: Decentralization, I think there’s a spectrum of what that is. Even going to Polygon, you’re forgoing some level of decentralization in order to have the offering we have. Obviously the spirit of being on Ethereum, Ethereum is decentralized and that stays intact. But you do trade off a bit. The world has optionality. You’re just creating more of it. That’s great.

By no stretch of the imagination am I a decentralization purist. There’s going to be a lot of tech offerings for a lot of different people that are trying to do a lot of different things in our world. This offers another unique ecological service at their disposal. That’s great for humanity, to be honest.

Polygon has set up $200M initiative with Alexis Ohanian.
Polygon set up a $100 million fund for NFT gaming in July.

GamesBeat: Were you tempted to also focus on liberating the streamers from YouTube? That’s a different cause, I guess. But if you can stream in a decentralized way, you don’t have to answer to any bosses, theoretically.

Wyatt: I think there will be a time and place for that. If you do look at YouTube, there’s only a small subset of — let’s say it’s a single-digit amount of creators who are on exclusive contracts for live streaming. The vast majority stream when they want to. Their contracts don’t obligate them to do anything. Twitch is philosophically different, where you have to stream on Twitch, but on YouTube you can go publish elsewhere. You can go publish on TikTok. You can stream anywhere you want to. You can stream on multiple platforms. I think YouTube did a great job of embracing that spirit. And then decentralization as an underlying technology takes it a layer further.

GamesBeat: What are your next moves? What does your road map look like? Is there anything you’re talking about publicly yet?

Wyatt: You’ll see me try to stay head-down as much as possible. I’ll be focused on bringing in the best people in the world to come work for Polygon. That’s my focus, building out the team. That’s my road map. We have so many partners knocking on our door that are interested in working with us. We need to work on servicing them and doing that in a great way. Hopefully you’ll see me head-down as much as possible. I’m going to Ethereum Denver for 48 hours for that reason. I’m trying to be very mindful of my time to help grow the team.

GamesBeat: That’s Ryan Wyatt 2.0.

Wyatt: I like that!

Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz