#289: Web3 Marketing is Leaving a Lot on the Table by Jonathan Goodwin

🆙 How can excellent web3 marketing help level up this vibrant yet flailing industry

TPan here! I’m still on the first leg of my honeymoon so I won’t be writing my usual pieces. However, I do have some great content for you from someone else in the space.

Today we have Jonathan Goodwin with his thoughts on where web3 marketing is and the opportunities still available for it in the industry, particularly in web3 gaming. I’ve been friends with Jonathan since my early days diving into web3 full-time a couple years ago.

Jonathan is currently the Community/Marketing Lead at Proof of Play, the developers behind Pirate Nation, a contributing writer at OpenSea, and has run community and marketing for multiple web3 companies/projects, including NFL Rivals at Mythical Games. If you want to check out more of Jonathan’s web3 musings, rants, and work, check out his Mirror and follow him on Twitter.

I have worked full-time in web3 for 4 years now and in web3 gaming for nearly half of that. Over that time, the space has ripped and reeled and changed and evolved, with an endless cascade of trends, instrumentation, and total bombs.

Through it all, I’ve not seen much in the way of great marketing that innovates and tells good stories. There have been fantastically crafted brands (Krause House, Memeland), supremely novel tactics ($PORTAL airdrop, GLHFers’ programmatic allowlist), and major breakthroughs (Pudgy Penguins’ toys in Walmart, Cool Cats in the Macy’s Day Parade), but too much of the ecosystem chases the last great idea or gives up if numbers don’t go up quickly enough.

I’ll cop to being a bit of a curmudgeon after having worked for 2 now-defunct web3 startups that refused to work like actual businesses and one major “web3” gaming company that held 7 layoff events in my ~18 months of employment with them, but is it wrong to have high expectations from a space that shows an incredible talent for aggregating capital and technical talent? I didn’t know permissionless would end up meaning talentless.

Good grief, it never ends

Sigh. I’ll stop griping and spell out some pieces of a playbook I’ve been ruminating on for games (and non-game web3 brands) to succeed. There are still amazing things being built and launched every day (pump.fun anyone?) and some teams that have stuck to their guns, headwinds be damned. I could shout those guys out, but they know who they are and you should too.

It’s actually fun to watch them pour in

Toolsets for building on web3 have truly never been better — I’m even seeing some no-code solutions for deploying smart contracts (though their value is debatable). And now folks are launching Layer-3 blockchains? Infrastructure is clearly ramping up, the Ethereum wallet UX might be getting an upgrade soon, and funding is certainly still available.

All that seems to be missing is execution, so let’s dive into some underexplored ideas for growing web3 projects.

Interoperability, aka “Aren’t these things supposed to work together?”

This drum’s getting a little worn out for me (I’ve banged it before), but why oh why oh why don’t we see more interoperability initiatives? It’s cool seeing all kinds of projects spill into Nifty Island and drop cool stuff, but I don’t think that’s enough.

For those not in the know, interoperability is a principle whereby different pieces can work together. Think of it like Legos from two different sets still fitting together or — more prevalent — your phone number can be transferred between phone service providers. The thing at the center never changes, but it still works the same with different components.

Interoperability is traditionally achieved through APIs, but maintaining consistent API connections is a real pain. Public blockchains with public endpoints remove that headache altogether by exposing the data and a framework for reading it.

One of the challenges to web3 interoperability is matching holdings on a 1:1 basis, especially if you’re building a game with 3D models. It can get really expensive, so projects should be looking for n:m interoperability, where n is the total size of eligible tokens (for many PFP collections, that could be 10,000) and m is a really small number, likely ranging from 1 to 5. Open the gates to an entire community of token holders to enter your ecosystem and offer them a select few options to choose from for a prize.

We saw a great deal of this with The Sandbox and Decentraland, but they’ve not scaled to millions of visitors due to a lack of product-market fit with a post-pandemic modern society. Instead, I think the real opportunity for interoperability is with games.

I’ll take any gun that has a shot at firing pizza bullets

Shrapnel has teased a variety of gun skins on its TwiX account, so clearly its team is already thinking about this stuff. Given that tweet about anime-themed skins, the team launching the Anime L3 chain should consider some sort of tie-in gun skin for the first few hundred people to stake tokens or conduct transactions (or whatever the core KPI is) on Anime.

Heroes of Mavia claims it has 2.6 million monthly actives and Pixels has generated a similar amount of game accounts with wallets. In order to maintain relevance, PFP collections like Cool Cats should be approaching them with pitches for including their well-honed IP into a game commanding the attention of so many eyeballs. Cool Cats is unlikely to score a million of anything at this exact moment, so it should lean into collaborating with the people who do (and ibid for many, many other web3 brands).

Going it alone is incredibly tough, especially without showering magic internet money tokens to people ad nauseam. Why can’t Chugs find his way into the fields of Pixels and give a bonus to Cool Cats holders farming the game? What’s more, Pixels could signal its preference for diamond-handers and offer an extra bonus tiered to how long the target holders have actually held the Cool Cats NFTs.

Bet on Chugs 🥺

Some of my friends and colleagues keep calling interoperability a “vampire attack,” which I don’t think is a totally fair label. Vampire attacks are where someone else attempts to drain the life out of a project with their own copycat (Uniswap vs. SushiSwap, Uniswap vs. PancakeSwap), which don’t seem to work out that often due to switching costs and often finite incentives to switch.

IMO, interoperability done right is mutually additive. If you’re building an RPG, find PFP art that can seamlessly fit in. If you’re building a battle royale, bring in the RPG IP or offer benefits to users of a DeFi protocol. Non-competing assets typically make the best allies because they have nothing to lose and plenty to gain, a positive sum interaction on both sides.

Gamification, aka “Make the whole process fun”

Grinding, it seems, is a grind.

I’m known in my circles for never selling an NFT and generally avoiding airdrop culture in web3. I tell people I’m in it for the technology and the products it can build. Between web3’s premium on decentralization, interoperability, and composability, there’s so much you can build in even a weekend on a permissionless basis. Innovation has hardly had a lower barrier to entry, yet we somehow are faced with unimaginative drek over and over until some messianic creator comes through to scrub out the inertia, only to be shamelessly copied by lessers.

Is this even fun for anyone?

How are we still doing this? We’re nearly 5 months out from the $PORTAL farming campaign and all people can seem to do is rinse and repeat.

I know the market is frothy and getting sufficient attention is incredibly tough, retaining it even tougher. Yet, we should expect and demand better from ourselves and each other. I’m willing to bet the majority of airdrop farming is not designed to retain holders and we’ll see most of their token values crater in the next 6 months.

I respect the hell out of GLHFers, which deliberately sought to choose the community it would allow to mint. This wasn’t merely some allowlist farmed out to blue chips like everything else. Instead, its creator Dith painted a picture of a community of gamers for gamers and he gated the minting process to capture those gamers as cleanly and simply as he could manage, using a host of on- and offchain data points as a proxy for true gamer-hood. I wrote a breakdown of the “programmatic allowlist” mechanic on OpenSea a few months ago, which eventually led to me now working with Dith on Pirate Nation.

I hope people remember the Scumbag Steve hat

It might cost a little more and require *GASP* hard work, but I hope to see more unique gamification in web3 campaigns, be it a game launch or another godforsaken token airdrop. Give the KOL threadoors something to threadoor about. Make something memorable. Devise a product journey that suits all your goals and KPIs from tomorrow to next year.

In the past couple years, I’ve been pushing myself to write more creatively in pursuit of making a thing, whether it’s a series of comedic sketches on my friend’s TikTok or a full-blown book. One dictum I’m holding myself to: present something no one has seen before. Let’s bring that ethos to web3 marketing.

Maybe instead of doing the millionth overhyped airdrop of the season, go build a digital scavenger hunt scattered across the blockchain and drop tokens subtly to the people who complete it first. Maybe create a series of challenges and leaderboards and let people mine their allocations in a completely ridiculous minigame. There are literally so many options.

Market the game like a game, aka “Dreams are for suckers”

If your web3 vertical has non-web3 comparisons, then use some of the best practices from that vertical. For my current milieu of games, let’s look at some of the tactics employed by the traditional gaming industry (when can we start calling it “tradgam” already?):

  • Story trailer

  • Gameplay trailer

  • Streamer previews

How many web3 games are dropping any of these? How many web3 games are doing all three? I’m willing to bet fewer than the amount trying to do or that recently have done a token drop of some sort.

While I don’t love all of Parallel, one thing I do love is that the “How to Play” button on its weirdly domained website takes me to a walkthrough video with a legit streamer who plays Hearthstone on Twitch.

Totally normal, successful streamer who likes some web3 games 😲

From my conversations with Parallel that’ll be unveiled in a forthcoming article on OpenSea’s blog, the team launched prize tournaments in the game with ordinary streamers who built audiences playing non-web3 trading card games like Hearthstone, including Alliestrasza. Now there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Twitch streamers who are learning about Parallel in an extremely persuasive environment: a streamer showing them a new game they like.

I was asked on a Twitter Space recently if projects should do tokens before or after gameplay trailers. My jaw dropped because I thought this was resolved back in 2021 when we were all hyper-analyzing trailers to see if we’d get rugged or not.

The gaming industry may be busted right now, but game marketing is still a pretty tried-and-true process. Tease people with what you’re building, tip your hand on what’s different upfront to pique curiosity, and win players’ hearts with authentic voices they trust.

It’s Not Never Going to Be Easy

Most success comes from hard work and luck and most things fail. It’s simply the natural order of the universe. These are not excuses for being lazy, though.

There’s no room in creative media for carbon-copying your predecessors (it’s actually illegal in most cases), so why should we tolerate it in web3 projects?

I’m going to die on this hill, aren’t I?

Call me a crank but we must demand better from creators and build better if we are those creators. Do the unexpected, make it fun, tell memorable stories, and do it for the memes. If we don’t, the normies are proven right that it’s all a scam and there’s no substance to be had.

Jack Butcher proved that compelling, valuable web3 projects can be built on an extremely simple premise with Checks and that it can come together extremely organically with Opepen. It just takes a spark, some elbow grease, and good frens.

Let’s do better, web3. Please.

Those are some certainly raw and real takes from someone who’s been operating in the web3 space for a while. Web3 marketers have their work cut out, but also have a significant opportunity to go above and beyond to raise the bar that’s been set.

If you want to check out more of Jonathan’s “ to the ecosystem, check out his Mirror and follow him on Twitter.

See you soon!

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