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Technology

Vietnam's Sky Mavis lands $7.5m for token-powered gaming

Mark Cuban among backers of startup bringing blockchain tech to games

Sky Mavis' game platform lets players own virtual fighting pets or digital land, purchasing them with blockchain-based tokens. (Photo by Yuki Kohara) 

HO CHI MINH CITY -- Vietnamese startup Sky Mavis has raised $7.5 million from U.S. billionaire Mark Cuban and other investors to further develop what it says is the world's biggest gaming platform using nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

Sky Mavis said it will use the funds to hire developers and bring its Pokemon-inspired Axie Infinity platform to millions of players. The game lets players own virtual fighting pets or digital land, purchasing them with NFTs. These blockchain-based tokens certify a digital asset as unique and allow the rights to it to be bought, sold and traded in the same way as a physical asset.

The technology has already made headlines, with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey selling his first-ever tweet for nearly $3 million, though skeptics warn that NFTs offer little practical utility and could spark asset bubbles.

Sky Mavis listed 19 institutions and 21 people among its Series A investors, led by Libertus Capital and including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin. Cuban, the billionaire investor known for his appearances on the reality TV series "Shark Tank," has been an evangelist for Ethereum, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Existing investor 500 Startups Vietnam also participated in the funding round.

"Axie is an amazing platform. It's fun and engaging," Sky Mavis quoted Cuban as saying in a statement late on Tuesday. "It's a game you want to play for hours on end. Add the Axie economy and you have something special."

Eddie Thai, general partner at 500 Startups Vietnam, said NFTs can be valuable if they bring new functions such as "allowing players to buy, develop, and sell their in-game characters at will." His fund previously provided seed funding for Sky Mavis, which was founded by Trung Nguyen and Jeff Zirlin in 2018.

Nguyen is "a person who takes in all information, thoughtfully meditates on it, and then delivers wise judgments and deep insights," Thai wrote on LinkedIn.

Vietnam is no stranger to game development. Dong Nguyen, a local programmer, invented the popular "Flappy Bird" online game, while technology company VNG became Vietnam's first unicorn on the back of its suite of digital games.

Sky Mavis said NFTs will change the way games are designed. Traditional gamers pay to play games, but the next generation may pay for NFTs that grant ownership of a farm in a gaming world, or special skills for their digital pets. Others might buy gaming rights and sell them as an investment.

"These rights include being able to sell your game assets to anyone in the world, earning liquid tokens for playing or contributing, and being able to own a piece of the game you're playing," Sky Mavis said. "These games won't look like the games of the past and will require an entirely new perspective and skill set to build."

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