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Samson Mow has been bullish on Bitcoin since day one, and is still bullish on Bitcoin today.
Starting out in developing video games, then working at BTCC before China banned all crypto exchanges (which he says he sadly did not see coming) and finally ending up as CSO at Blockstream (which, among other things, leases a Elon Musk SpaceX satellite to transmit a Bitcoin node down to Earth), Mow is also still CEO of his own gaming company, Pixelmatic.
And in fact, he’s currently working on bringing two parts of his life — gaming and crypto — into one with the creation of a massive multiplayer online game with a blockchain component.
But while Mow believes that crypto takes a backseat to the importance of simply creating a good game, he did tell me that he sees his project as a “Trojan horse” — teaching the unsuspecting gamers the tenets of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin while they think they’re just playing a regular old video game.
What are some of the ways that you that your work has changed ever since this stay home pandemic started?
For Blockstream, we have shut down all of our offices, so they’re officially closed. But we’ve been a very decentralized organization from the start. We have clusters of people around the world, and a lot of people already worked from home. The shift wasn’t really big to just go full remote for us.
We build software, so it’s minimally invasive and impactful for us because if we have a computer and internet, we can still work. If you’re building something physically, it’s bad, or you need to come together as key management or things like that.
This is a ridiculous question, but have you tried using any business holograms or business robots yet for more personal, yet remote, meetings?
[Laughs] I don’t think those are that viable.
You’d have to have it in the place that you’re going to. We had one at MCC [Magical Crypto Conference] last year. Fluffy Pony [Riccardo Spagni] couldn’t make it to the U.S., so he telepresenced in on a little rolling robot, but you simply need a handler to bring you around up and down stairs. It’s not very easy to get around. But VR is getting popular.
We’re doing a lot of meetups to talk about tech. Udi Wertheimer is doing the Reckless VR series and talking shop talking about Bitcoin. Some of the talks are quite technical, so I’d say it’s a mix of work and pleasure for these.
When did Blockstream start thinking about sending Bitcoin nodes into outer space?
I believe it was in 2016 when we started putting something together. That was about a year before I joined. When I joined, we pretty much announced it a couple months after.
It’s always been an interesting thing to think about because Bitcoin is still dependent, well, it was dependent on terrestrial internet, but now — even if ground based internet shut off — it can still function, because we have satellites in space that can broadcast to the planet.
Have you noticed any extra terrestrial interference so far?
So far, not yet. So far, so good.
We’re actually leasing space on commercial satellites. We didn’t launch our own. One of those satellites was a SpaceX launch, so you could say that SpaceX has helped Bitcoin.
I’m pretty sure Elon has Bitcoin. He’s just saying he only has .25 to protect his security.
Do you think that what’s happened with the economy during corona has ended up highlighting some of the benefits of crypto over the traditional fiat currencies?
It’s highlighting the fallibility of fiat currencies, the ability for a central bank to just print more, the ability for it to be manipulated at will.
I don’t think that the virus is really making people use crypto directly, but the whole macro situation is definitely starting to open people’s eyes about what money actually is. If anything, the coronavirus situation has started a war on cash — or accelerated a war on cash — because nobody wants to touch fiat cash anymore. It’s all about touchless contactless payments. That means less privacy overall, because people will be using credit cards instead of cash.
I recently read that Elliptic and Chainalysis are starting to track privacy coins, Zcash and Horizen. Do you think that cryptocurrency is at the point where it can be as anonymous as physical cash, or physical cash is still the most anonymous way of transacting.?
Physical cash is the most anonymous way of transacting fiat cash.
The reason why they can track all these, at least I know that they can track the Zcash, is because Zcash is not all private. There is a pool of shielded transactions, and then there is a pool of more public transactions, and I think the ratio is pretty much skewed towards the non shielded. It’s not really a privacy coin.
If you want to be a privacy coin, it has to be 100 percent privacy, not opt-in privacy, because that just leads to this type of situation where people aim for the path of least resistance because non-shielded transactions are faster and cheaper.
You started working in gaming before you got into cryptocurrency. How did you make the transition to crypto?
I’m still technically in gaming, so I have a game company called Pixelmatic. We’re working on a MMO game that actually is using a dual token model. I’m still in gaming technically, but I just kind of stumbled into crypto.
Pixelmatic was in Shanghai and BTCChina was run by my friend Bobby [Lee], and he was also in Shanghai. I’d been following Bitcoin for a couple of years prior and I ended up joining BTCC and running the exchange and mining pool.
I then ended up joining Blockstream because I thought it was a very interesting opportunity. The stuff that Blockstream is doing is very foundationally important for Bitcoin. It’s an opportunity to contribute something that I believe is world changing. But if I wasn’t at Blockstream, then I would probably just focus on my game company.
Do you see appropriate use cases for blockchain and crypto in gaming?
It’s to be seen. For Infinite Fleet, what we want to do is replace the game currency with a crypto asset which is issued in the Liquid Network, which is a Bitcoin sidechain.
I think giving players the ability to have a portable game currency is very unique. They can get this game currency from playing the game, they can take it out, trade directly peer-to-peer with their friends, or do whatever they want with it.
In the end, for all MMO games, players do usually end up using that game currency somehow. For example, World of Warcraft. You have gold farmers and people buy gold, but they buy it from you on eBay or secondary markets. The process is very clunky. You have to meet the guy in the game and he’ll pass you the gold or they’ll sell you an empty account with the gold in it, but it’s not a very elegant process.
My thinking is we just make it a part of the game, so the game currency is portable. You earn INF tokens and it’s free flowing. You can move it whenever you want. There’s a privacy dimension to it, because it’s issued in the Liquid Network, so there is the benefit of confidential transactions, so you can’t see the asset type or amount. Hopefully we’ll see some interesting emergent player behavior come of this.
When I spoke to Charlie Lee a few weeks ago, as he’s also involved in the game, he said the most important part of a game is just whether it’s a good game or not, and the blockchain is just an added bonus.
Yes. That’s a different approach that we’re taking to it. A lot of blockchain games are like, “We will use this blockchain, and it’s in your face and you’re gonna have to download Ether and then buy our token and then play.” Whereas I think that is a very, very big blocker to adoption.
I recruited a lot of my friends from the game industry. These are all veterans that have been at E.A. Ubisoft,, real game companies for a very long time. We’re making the real game first, and the crypto asset component is purely optional. But we think MMO players will be familiar with this. The goal is a Trojan horse — we release it, it’s going to be very popular, we’ll have a lot of players and they’re going to learn about cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin in this matter.
Can you characterize how your belief in crypto has changed since you first entered the space?
I’ve always been very bullish on Bitcoin, even from day one.
One thing that has changed — tt wasn’t a recent change, but it was pretty much in 2015 — I used to think big blocks were good, and that we should upgrade and just do a fork and make the blocks bigger. But then I learned very rapidly that that’s not how it works. Bitcoin is based on consensus rules, and everyone has to respect those consensus rules or else: it’s just meaningless if anyone can just change it.
It’s very pointless to spend all that energy to mine Bitcoin and have this decentralized network if people can just say, “Okay, we’re gonna make more coins or make the block size bigger” — because that’s just fiat.
Do you have a favorite crypto meme?
I think HODL is the best meme. It’s just so straightforward and powerful. The thing with memes, it has to be organic, and it was just some guy was drunk and he mistyped it, he probably meant to say “I’m holding,” but it’s hodling now. It’s nice, friendly, light, identifiable.
Is there any big mistake or big learning you’ve experienced in life, where you look back and say, “Wow, I’m really glad I did that,” or “I’m very upset that I did that.”
When I [heard this] question, I really racked my brain. I’m generally pretty happy with the choices I’ve made.
But if I had to pick out one major goof, it was that when China was, quote unquote “banning Bitcoin.” It was shutting down the exchanges, and I really believed that they would reopen. Actually, I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t do a full shutdown, that it was just temporary. I was really sure that they would open things back up in a few months. But I’m wrong. You still can’t operate an exchange in China.
My thinking was that you have all these big crypto exchanges, BTCC, OkCoin, Huobi, and we’re happy to do compliance. Why would you want to close down these venues that are happily cooperating and doing compliance and KYC on all these customers? If you close us down, then you effectively drive people to OTC, and you’re not going to be able to get much data at that point. But I guess closing down the exchanges was more important in the long run.
I’m still of the belief it’s better to have those exchanges running than people doing OTC trades. And it’s not illegal to own Bitcoin to buy and own Bitcoin, so the net effect is you just lose the stable, secure store fronts for people to access cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin.
Are there any myths or misconceptions that you’ve run into a lot since you started working in cryptocurrency that you wanted to debunk for us?
For a new person entering this space, I think one of the first myths that you encounter is that Bitcoin is old technology and it’s outdated. But that’s probably the furthest from the truth. There’s actually a lot of development happening on Bitcoin, but that development is not on shiny features or things that people can see. It’s a lot of protocol level work.
I think it’s a lot to do with the marketing of altcoins. They like to say, “We are better at Bitcoin than various things”. There’s a lot of messaging around that out there. But Bitcoin can pretty much do everything that every other project aspires to do, but more securely.
People just need to dig deeper and really read up on why Bitcoin matters, why it exists and what’s happening with it currently.
Do you have any other advice on what new people entering the space should (or shouldn’t) do?
The guiding principle is still if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. And if you’re hearing about something that sounds too good to be true, you’re probably late.
Do you think that that applies to DeFi yield farming right now?
Oh, yeah. To benefit from….what was it, the last big one…Compound? You had to be in it early, now that you’re earning insane amounts of return on the yield.
I would say it’s too late to extract any real benefit from it. It’s only going to normalize as time progresses, and that’s what traps a lot of people into holding bags. They just get into the FOMO and then they’re stuck, but the savvy people that started the project or pump the project are already gone.
I saw someone say, “You must hate money if you’re not into DeFi yield’s farming.” But you have to go back a bit, and you have to have been around, but OneCoin and Bitconnect were marketing themselves on being high yield. I think Bitconnect’s thing was HYIP, or “high yield investment…something.” But it’s the same stuff repackaged in a different format or form factor.
I’m not [calling Compound a Ponzi scheme], but just for the new people coming in, it’s probably going to be too late for them by the time they figure it out and move their funds in. It’s not going to be as lucrative.
The best thing for anyone to do that’s new is just by Bitcoin and wait. The only caveat to that is, don’t buy Bitcoin when everyone is going crazy about buying Bitcoin, because that’s usually when it’s taking the form of a bubble.
If you remember 2017, when Bitcoin was at $10K, $20K, buying at that time was not a good idea. You want to buy when things are normal, or the best time to buy is actually when everyone says Bitcoin is dead. That’s the best time to buy. Full stop.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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