Behind the Axie Infinity Docu: Emfarsis Discusses How to Bring Play-to-Earn Stories to Life

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A documentary about “Play-To-Earn” was recently released, telling the stories of different people in Cabanatuan whose lives have changed because they were able to earn a living by playing Axie Infinity.

Narrated by Leah Callon-Butler, who first reported about the phenomenon on Coindesk in 2020, the documentary captures why Axie Infinity became very popular in the Philippines and why Play-To-Earn appears tailor fit to the country. According to Miko Matsumura, co-founder of Investment firm gumi Cryptos, “Play-to-Earn, which can provide equal opportunity for everyone is great especially in countries like the Philippines, which has a lower cost of living but also a well-educated, smart and talented workforce.”

The documentary has now been featured in numerous international publications, including CNBC and VentureBeat, and local publications like Spin, Esquire and Inquirer. 

The documentary — both the English subbed and the multi subbed versions — now have a combined 250,000+ video views on YouTube and is still constantly increasing. 

Yield Guild Games (YGG), the largest Axie Infinity guild, recently published an article as to why it funded the #PlayToEarn documentary. From the first Coindesk article published by Leah about the subject, it became the inspiration to actually launch Yield Guild Games. Anil Lulla of Delphi Digital, investor to YGG approached co-founder Gabby Dizon on the potential of the story being amplified more than it already had. 

It was at this point that Emfarsis became involved. In this article, BitPinas talked to Nathan Smale, the director of the documentary with regards to the thought process in creating the video, what led to the decision to remove technical jargons, and what the experience is like in directing a documentary that has probably never been done before.

BitPinas: How did the Play-to-earn documentary come about? 

Nathan Smale: In many ways, it feels like this documentary has been coming for years. I first came to the Philippines in 2018 to work with a software development team in Pampanga through a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company called Cloudstaff. Since that time my business partner Leah Callon-Butler and I have been welcomed into the #CryptoPH crew – with Leah even presenting at the first Women in Blockchain Manila event with Mench Dizon. Since first working with a team here, we had taken on the role of ‘unofficial ambassadors’ for the Philippines blockchain development. We would go on to tell all our international contacts about the wealth of talent here. 

One example of this unofficial ambassador role came to light after our good friend Colin Goltra reached out to Leah to highlight an amazing story about a Filipinos community in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, who were playing a crypto game to put food on the table during the pandemic. That sent us down a rabbit hole in mid-2020 learning about Play-to-earn, NFTs, Axie Infinity and Nueva Ecija.  Leah wrote about this in her regular Coindesk column and things really seemed to explode from there.

The Axie Infinity team credited the Coindesk opinion article for the explosion of the game’s popularity in the Philippines. The accompanying photo collage in that article was created by Nathan Smale. It eventually became iconic, even became an NFT.

On the back of that article, Gabby Dizon, a stalwart of the Filipino gaming and crypto scene, reached out to Leah. Gabby spoke to Leah and I about how we could amplify the “Play-to-earn” story to tell it to the world. We were quick to say yes to partnering with Gabby. Coincidently, Gabby is actually the husband of Mench who first welcomed Leah and I into the local community. 

This story has been incredibly important to me. I’ve spent years promoting blockchain and crypto. I’ve spent years telling people around the world not to underestimate the power of the Filipino people and I’ve spent years enjoying the semi-rural life of trikes and jeepneys across this complex archipelago of over 7,600 islands. This documentary gave both Leah and I a chance to tell a story that was important to us personally. We wanted to show the resilience of the Filipino people but we also wanted to show parts of the Philippines not usually covered on Instagram. This version of the Philippines that we experienced in the years prior to releasing our short film was the Philippines that we had come to know and love.

What were the challenges in making this documentary?

The ever-evolving COVID-19 travel restrictions were the biggest challenge. While we’d been based in Pampanga throughout the lockdown, we would be heading to Nueva Ecija from Palawan via Manila in the days after the Christmas and New Years period. We were checking the various government sites daily but each Local Government Unit (LGU) had its own unique interpretation of the rules. It was well worth it though, as we were glad to see how paperwork and precautions were steadfastly followed in the interest of seeing the nation rebuild as one.

With our team doing such a fabulous job ensuring that everything was in place, our next major challenge was the confidence of our documentary stars. Most of the people who appeared in the film would have preferred to answer our interview questions in Tagalog, but a key goal of the project was to reach and resonate with an international audience which meant English language would be helpful where possible. In comparison to my Tagalog, which is “konti lang” at best, their English was great. But speaking a second language on camera is a daunting task for anyone, especially when you are being asked to explain complex ideas about crypto or the emotional struggles of surviving through the hardest time our generation has faced.

How did you overcome the challenges? 

After several years of moving in, out and around the Philippines, paperwork and process has become an accepted part of our life but the uncertainty of COVID really added complexity. Fortunately, most of the LGU’s were pretty good at updating their Facebook pages with the latest info each time it changed. For my international friends, yes, each LGU (region/suburb) is able to enact their own rules.

The real secret to our success was our team. As soon as Gabby approached us, we reached out to our long-time friend and talented Filipino story teller Terence Ver Angsioco to take on the role of Creative Director. Terence had most recently spent lockdown living with a local Tagbanua tribe in Palawan telling their story through photos. While we had to convince him to come back to the main island, there was nobody better than Terence to partner with Leah in building relationships with the stars of the documentary, and telling their stories in the most authentic manner possible, especially when so much of the conversation was facilitated in Tagalog. 

In addition to Terence, we had Aavron John Dela Santos, Lorancis ‘Chito’ Cruz, Silvan Santiago Tuliao and their whole team from Bulacan working on the shoot. They really brought the whole thing together. Some of our editing sessions that ran into the wee hours of the morning also ended up as Philippine history lessons whilst we discussed the pros or cons of an additional element or scene. It was always important to us to make sure we were true to the local story. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Aavron, Chito and the crew for helping us portray the story we intended. On the upside, they are all now into crypto so hopefully they will thank me long term.

What surprised people about making this documentary? 

Very few people understand the full extent of producing a documentary of this scale. The planning starts well before the shooting and a lot of research goes into fact-checking and rechecking. And achieving visual continuity is basically a full-time job. Did each shot match the next? Could anyone tell that we had to purchase Leah multiple blue shirts on the off chance she ended up with Jollibee’s dripping on her shirt over lunch? 

Things that look so obvious, or more so, not even noticeable, may have been the output of hours of shooting, getting just-the-right-lighting or a multitude of late night edits to remove 100 milliseconds here or there. 

What do you hope people take away from watching this documentary?

Emerging nations don’t need handouts, they need opportunities.

Nathan Smale, Emfarsis

Our goal was to show the world that emerging nations like the Philippines will bring crypto to the masses. There is a huge community of smart, driven, tech-savvy people who are looking for opportunities to thrive here. Never underestimate the Filipino passion for family that drives them to work hard and succeed. Emerging nations don’t need handouts, they need opportunities. Crypto has the ability to decentralise and improve access to those opportunities across the globe. Play-to-Earn is just the start, it is building a huge community through gaming that natively understands the benefits and advantages of cryptocurrency. I have no doubt the crypto and blockchain development scene is going to explode in the Philippines over the next 18 months.

This article is published on BitPinas: Behind the Axie Infinity Docu: Emfarsis Discusses How to Bring Play-to-Earn Stories to Life

Also, check out the stars of the documentary in our Play-to-Earn Profiles as BitPinas’ Joy Gurtiza interviewed them to find what they are up to these days.

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Michael Mislos

A business ad graduate from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Mike is the website manager of Bitpinas.com. He is responsible for almost every content you see on the site, from topic/news selection to editing of articles. Mike believes correct information about blockchain and cryptocurrency can empower people to make accurate decisions about the industry, which, in turn, should deter bad actors from taking advantage of crypto & blockchain. [Telegram @mikemislos]