The gaming industry is one of the world’s most profitable industries. Yet, over the past few decades, it has seen little innovation in the way it operates. That is, even though gamers are the most crucial part of the gaming space, game creation and the industry’s economy revolve around the businesses that produce the games.
It’s rare to find people who’re willing to do something new with gaming instead of following set models. But we had the pleasure of interviewing someone who’s taken the challenge to disrupt the way the gaming industry operates.
Modeo Cheng is shaping the future of gaming. He designed Treaty, the world’s first blockchain game featuring composable player agreements. Cheng is also the founding game designer of Curio Research, a group of tech nerds and creatives dedicated to building games with rich and extensive social interactions.
So, without further delay, let’s get into our conversation with Cheng and get some insider insights about the gaming industry and how it’s evolving with the help of web3 technologies.
Hello, Modeo. Thanks for joining me. I’m super excited about this conversation. First of all, please tell us a bit about yourself—your origin story.
It’s a pleasure and an honor. I don’t have a killer origin story—it’s more like a personal journey from problems to solutions. Anyway, gaming is my first love; my biggest passion.
I’m a strategy game enthusiast who played Football Manager for, like, thousands of hours. It’s a unique game with infinite scenarios for a player’s managerial career. I enjoy scouting players and experimenting with new tactics. So, in one my best saves, I coached a semi-pro Welsh team, grinding for over ten years to rise up the ranks. Then I joined my favorite team, Bayern Munich.
The best thing about FM is that I can fully utilize my creativity to build unique tactics for the players in my team. It’s great fun and I love being immersed in virtual worlds, creating things and writing stories. That’s why I also enjoy games like Civ or Hearts of Iron. But my work life didn’t begin with gaming or, for that matter, blockchain.
I’m doing a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Earlier in high school, I was a Cum Laude Society student and founded the Culver Economics Club, serving as its President till 2021.
I also have a passion for research and have pursued it consistently for several years now. In 2020, I had the opportunity to work with the Oxford iLabour team for a project on gig economies. We explored the impact of open innovation on online labor platforms and SMEs.
I recognized the importance of decentralized systems while working on the gig economy project. It also helped me gain insights into blockchain technology and smart contracts. And that’s what eventually led me to co-found Curio Research. I also had a five-month stint as an analyst at Smriti Labs, researching tokenomics, analyzing off-chain and on-chain data, and evaluating projects. That’s me.
Awesome. If that’s not interesting, I don’t know what is. You bring such diverse experiences to the table—that’s what makes a far-sighted innovator. So, what are the main problems you’re solving at Curio Research?
Every game involves a set of rules, applicable globally in the game-world. Traditionally, game makers have imposed these rules on players in a top-down manner. Players thus have little scope to modify game mechanics. And even when mods are possible, as in Civilizations, for instance, they reside in the player’s local machine.
The top-down game design approach can’t handle universal user-generated content implementation due to technical challenges in achieving consensus among players. It’s a rather complicated problem and I’ve extensively written about it elsewhere. In simple terms, we can say that the inability to implement global mods compels players to make verbal agreements with their peers.
Such multilateral social relations and contracts between players are pretty common. Yet, most popular MMOGs, though centered around strategy and combat, don’t support or prioritize these relationships and interactions. There’s no excuse for this either as viable alternatives are now possible thanks to blockchain technology and smart contracts.
Gaming innovation requires first-principle thinking. That’s what we do at Curio, unlike big gaming studios or even our peers in Web3. Our community-oriented business model doesn’t depend upon whales, so we can focus on incentivizing player interactions. And it provides us with the freedom to innovate, which most existing game makers lack.
Looks like you’re here to shape the future of gaming. But how do you achieve this goal? Have you solved the technical puzzle necessary to implement user-generated content universally? Or have you found some alternative?
No. As I said, universal user-generated content implementation is a pretty complicated problem for game developers. Every time you try to solve one issue, another props up—you just can’t win. Not yet, at least.
That’s why we had to build Treaty from scratch, without merely tweaking existing games to our needs and vision. We’re thus focusing on user-generated logic, which effectively extends user-generated content. It enabled us to create a decentralized and permissionless framework where players can directly modify the game mechanics.
We are using blockchain technology and smart contracts to formalize social agreements and interactions between players. There’s no need for universal consent in our approach as players can simply represent their agreements on-chain, immutably. But while they don’t affect non-consenting players, the new rules directly alter the underlying game mechanics, without breaking it—that’s a win-win situation.
Moreover, adapting user-generated logic introduces new roles, responsibilities, and governance models for players. They finally have the means to explore non-cosmetic mods and create custom rules on top of the existing ones, which is groundbreaking from a game design perspective.
Interesting! As a gamer myself, I realize how important it is for players to have a meaningful say in the game development process. This is one thing the $200-billion-dollar gaming industry lacked for so long. But what you described must be pretty capital-intensive to build, iterate, refine, and ultimately release for public use. How are you bootstrapping funds for Treaty, given we are still going through a bear market somewhat?
That’s the beauty of community-driven industries like ours. You’ll always get people to support your work as long as it’s genuine and relevant. And ideally, bear markets are perfect for building long-term solutions since there’s less noise.
We successfully closed a $2.9 million seed round in February 2023. Bain Capital Crypto, Smrti Labs, TCG Crypto, Formless Capital, and Robot Ventures were some of the main institutions leading this round. We also had immense support from investors at Coinbase, Niantic, and Farcaster.
Our team, myself included, has never preferred the hype route to fame. I believe genuine innovation is our strength, and that’s what our investors support. It’s impossible to take on-chain games forward unless we solve the hard technical problem—that’s what Curio Research is all about.
Yes, I agree that good work always pays off. Now, to close our enriching discussion, please share your thoughts on the future of on-chain gaming.
Sure. I envision a future where blockchain gaming will foster innovation, collaboration, and cooperation among gamer communities worldwide. It’ll also introduce unprecedented ways for players to explore their creative potential, besides accessing novel revenue streams.
Overall, I believe gamers and user communities will become the key decision-makers and contributors to game development in the future. The top-down model will become obsolete for most parts, as we adopt more horizontal ways of building, distributing, and consuming games. And that’ll ultimately mean active participation replaces passive consumption, fulfilling the promise of emerging, tech-driven domains like the metaverse.