Meet The Disruptors: Robbie Ferguson Of Immutable On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
A sense of urgency.
Whoever learns fastest wins.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robbie and James Ferguson.
Robbie Ferguson is Co-Founder and President at Immutable, the leading layer-2 scaling solution for NFTs on Ethereum. Ferguson spent over a year in Data Analytics and Blockchain with KPMG Australia and is an active member of YPO Sydney Pacific and a Thiel Fellow with The Thiel Foundation. Immutable is currently one of the fastest growing unicorns in Australia with a $2.5 billion valuation and a vision to bring blockchain gaming to the masses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My brother James and I have both been building tech companies together for the majority of the last decade. We also grew up as massive gamers — playing Runescape, Maplestory, Neopets — basically anything with an economy growing up. After a couple of startups we built together building a self-wagering application for League of Legends, and a machine-learning Shopify competitor which automatically optimized your store, we came across Bitcoin in 2014 and Ethereum in 2015. We were instantly obsessed with Ethereum and the possibilities that could be built from it.
We built crypto trading/arbitrage bots for a couple of years while we were studying at university, but when we saw CryptoPunks come out in mid 2017 — we realised we had to jump on the possibilities this technology unlocked, as essentially the first ever NFT. Although it was purely experimental, we saw this as the first real opportunity to build a meaningful mainstream use-case with crypto technology: using NFTs to allow players to truly own and trade their in-game items. We built the first ever multiplayer game on a blockchain — Etherbots — in December 2017. The entire game was on-chain, and playing a game today will cost you thousands in gas fees — it was completely decentralized and extremely inefficient. We learned a lot early-on about the right balances to strike in terms of what should be tokenized in a game (assets and core economic logic) versus what shouldn’t.
We were extremely interested in building NFT infrastructure, but back then no game developers had heard of — or knew what NFTs could do. We decided to build a flagship piece of content which could showcase the value of NFTs — Gods Unchained. This was a trading card game where you can own and trade your digital cards like you can physical Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon cards. Gods Unchained was and still is a very successful game built on Ethereum, but at its inception the technology supporting it was far from robust and we ran into scaling and liquidity limitations that impacted the user experience. So instead of asking how do we build a better game, we asked how do we build a better platform to support our games?
In the same way Valve created CS:GO and leveraged that marketplace into Steam, we knew we had to make a hit game that showcased the power of web3 for game developers to build a platform which would truly solve for their needs.
We’d experienced the problems with scaling on layer-1 Ethereum and the insane complexity and risk of smart contract development first-hand, and decided to build a platform that was secure, scalable and ridiculously easy to use to enable any game developer to build a web3 game. We made an early bet on roll-ups — now well established as the number one way for blockchain’s to scale — and went all in with ZKsync for support, and soon Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin went public saying these would be end-game for applications built on ETH.
Today, we are proud to have built the first multiplayer game on blockchain, the first layer2 solution for NFTs and to be the first to introduce Zk-rollups for NFTs.
We’ve also launched three tokens, set up our company the right way to last the test of time in a fast-growing industry, and have garnered interest from the likes of Tik Tok, Disney, GameStop and others. We’ve kept our mission and vision clear from day one — we’re a sustainable company with zero rug pulls and a dream to transform the gaming industry. At Immutable, we are bringing strength and scalability to the sector, and we’ve really only just begun.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Immutable is transforming the video game industry. Never have players had the opportunity to be more autonomous, more economical and more permission less in this space thanks to play-and-earn, in-game NFTs. Play-and-earn is about making games that are fundamentally fun to play, and having true digital ownership as the underlying technology that empowers players — which is the whole reason for playing. If you have to sell the technology, rather than the value to players, you haven’t built a game with an economy — you’ve built a gamified economy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one mistake when we were first starting out, but I’d definitely stay putting all of our game’s logic on-chain, and having that cost around $5–6,000 per turn was an interesting first foray into web3 gaming. We realized pretty quickly what should belong on-chain vs. not. The industry is quite technical so bumps in the road like this, especially when first starting out, were not uncommon.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
One of my mentors has definitely been James, my brother and Immutable’s CEO and Co-founder. Since we grew up together we’ve always been driving and motivating each other, even from the earlier days. He’s not just a great mentor but an excellent accountability coach and someone I can trust and lean on. Something we specifically do to support one another is recommend books to each other to consistently push for self improvement and personal growth. I’m also a big fan of the Collison brothers, the founders of Stripe. Their story is super admirable.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Good disruption inspires meaningful, cutting-edge change in some of the largest industries and companies. Challenging the status quo is critical to the evolution of our existence — if we’re not questioning everything and trying to make it better, we’re not growing as a society. Right now, traditional gaming as we know it is a staple for so many but the industry as a whole has experienced relative growth. With blockchain gaming, we’re disrupting web2 juggernauts with an idea that incentivizes gameplay and transforms the way players conceive the value of digital items and ownership.
Disruption can go too far when it’s not inclusive of traditional concepts and ideas. At Immutable, we’re not trying to diminish the long-established way to game. We’re introducing new, innovative and evolved ways to play by promoting earning and ownership. Adoption will be slow and there will be resistance (as there is with any disruption) but our end goal is to improve our industry, not disturb existing pillars of the space, to create a better gaming experience for all stakeholders — gaming companies, developers and players.
Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Instead of five words of advice, I have three core values that I tend to manage my day-to-day by.
- Radical focus.
- A sense of urgency.
- Whoever learns fastest wins.
While working in a fast-paced environment I like to keep these three values in the back of my mind to stay on the top of my game.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Our long-term vision is to bring blockchain gaming mainstream and make play-and-earn universal in the gaming space. We’re bringing blockchain gaming to the masses and welcoming both web3 and traditional gamers to join the fun — Immutable is on track for rapid global expansion, and with that we’re hiring some of the top gaming talent from around the world to generate next-level user experience.
The metaverse will be built by gamers, for gamers and will no longer be something players conceptualize. Play-and-earn is a real, tangible experience and as more players get a taste of what’s possible with this new era of gaming, web3 adoption will be in full swing.
And with that, we’d definitely advise watching this space — we have tons of integrations, partnerships, collaborations and more with well-known companies lined up for the year ahead.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I’m a big fan of the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Kaley Klemp and Diana Chapman. My brother James and I were best friends growing up, and building a global business put huge strain on our relationship at times. This book helped us create the frameworks of communication needed to have hard conversations compassionately — and we scaled these lessons learned to the entire Immutable organization. It’s a big part of the reason we have the culture we have today. The “above the line / below the line” from the book model is standard practice for us and instills a high degree of self-awareness in our leadership qualities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
American tech entrepreneur Justin Waldron gave my brother and James and I some sound words of wisdom a couple of years back that still really resonates with the two of us as we move forward on our journey — “a sense of urgency.” James and I are constantly learning and growing in this ever-evolving space. We’re passionate about Immutable’s next-level growth and the only way to excel here is to adapt, to absorb and to anticipate change. We love learning new things and we do it quickly because that’s the greatest recipe for success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Immutable is our movement — we’re on a journey to build world-class web3 games with zero technical limitations. On this path we plan to embrace the full effect of NFTs, including demanding real property rights from your in-game items from game developers. Ownership is extremely important to us (and to the web3 mission and vision) and Immutable is a strong component in pushing this forward.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Meet The Disruptors: Robbie Ferguson Of Immutable On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.