Women in the Metaverse: Marie Franville of NABIYA

After spending four years in the blockchain gaming space, you might consider Marie Franville a Web3 veteran of sorts. From curating events for major tech companies to helping launch an early blockchain gaming project, Marie’s focus is now on building premium metaverse experiences for brands and gamers alike.

Marie now leads indie game studio NABIYA — which she co-founded with Sebastien Borget, co-founder and COO of The Sandbox. With The Sandbox as their chosen metaverse platform, Marie and her team of creative experts are now at the forefront of Web3 entry — creating “tailor-made worlds with games or architectural projects” and “state-of-the-art NFTs” for clients in the gaming, music, art and fashion industries. They’ve also got their own unique metaverse game in the works.

After seeing Marie speak at a panel discussion held at London’s annual Pocket Gamer Connects conference, we recently connected with her to discuss what she’s witnessed in her years within the blockchain gaming space. We also enjoyed covering her foray into building immersive experiences for high-end clients, as well as what she sees for female leadership in the growing Web3 space.

How did things start?

Marie began her career in IT, working as a business developer with Big Tech brands (including Samsung and Dell). Along the way, she found herself curating video game conferencing events — effectively hunting for sponsors and organising game connections in major cities across the globe.

In 2018, Marie began organising events sponsored by Unisoft in Lyon, France, where she’s based — primarily the Blockchain Game Summit, which cropped up quite early in the Web3 space. “At the time, there weren’t so many conventions — the general consensus was that massive adoption of blockchain would happen through video games. This is because game players have an inherent understanding of the value of digital assets.” She further adds: “Of course, the story says otherwise — more mass adoption came through art, with NFTs.”

Marie marks this occasion as her main turning point, describing how she “met really brilliant, bright visionaries — these people really understood what [Web3] was about and how exciting it was. That’s how I fell into that rabbit hole.” She continues: “Nowadays, things have changed — but these people understood how exciting things were and were trying to educate people.”

Marie spent the next four years serving as COO of blockchain video game studio B2Expand before founding NABIYA with longtime friend Sebastien Borget, co-founder and COO of The Sandbox (a popular decentralised metaverse gaming platform that has partnered with a growing list of brands and artists — including Snoop Dogg, Adidas and Deadmau5). 

When Borget caught wind of her idea, he offered his full support to set up the business. “He’s an industry friend and he’s always been very supportive,” she explains. He now serves as the publisher and developer of NABIYA. Amongst their team is also a creative director who has worked extensively in the Paris fashion industry, having previously collaborated with high-end labels such as Christian Dior and John Galliano.

Marie also comments on the power of friendship and community in Web3, describing how: “Many friends in the industry and people work together — that’s what’s so wonderful.”

What does NABIYA’s “all-in-one service” entail?

Today, NABIYA focuses on two missions: one, to conceive and develop their own video game ELEMENTS — and two, to build video games and architectural projects for landowners in The Sandbox.

Now backed by a team of seven experts in art, fashion and blockchain gaming, Marie has helped turn NABIYA into a uniquely creative and innovative collective. While some clients require their help with building artistic or architectural projects in the metaverse, “some people need really cool game mechanics and gameplay. So we are also architects and game builders — we do both.”

On building their client base, Marie claims that “many brands came to look for us”. Some of their most notable clients include popular rock band Avenged Sevenfold (who they’ve collaborated with to create a series of signature NFTs), mobile blockchain gaming pioneer Spells of Genesis and rising NFT project Cyberkongz (with whom they’ve recently formed a co-partnership with).

NABIYA’s wide range of services and approaches also means that their team aims “for high, premium quality — because there are many, many types of businesses and their positioning is different,” Marie explains. “People who have a very strong idea and very strong communities — they come to us and say ‘could you build something for us?’ There is a learning curve with The Sandbox, but we know the process really well.”

She elaborates: “We come up with the concept art, of course working with their director, to really reflect their universe and where they want to go. Then we create, from scratch, their own unique experience — and it’s very unique to their own brand.”

ELEMENTS and next steps

ELEMENTS is an exploration game based on the Chinese cosmogony. In the game’s overall storyline, the player’s mission is to restore equilibrium to a metaverse world using the five elements: Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire and Water. Through a series of 12 chapters, the player embarks on an in-depth and immersive journey through a colourful and historical universe.

On why they chose this theme for their flagship game, Marie simply states her belief that, due to climate change and other environmental issues, our current world is out of balance. In turn, “[the concept] is very modern — because the 5 elements — they are very complimentary and we need all of them to be in balance.”

Each asset created within ELEMENTS is an ERC-1155 token minted on The Sandbox — a fungibility-agnostic and gas-efficient token contract. “Of course, the big, big dream is the utility — we are really doing some research and trying to work with other chains so we can bring our assets that are native to The Sandbox.”

“Maybe it’s a bit naive,” Marie also remarks, “[but] my ambition is to make a game that is fun, enticing and compelling — and then the economy will follow.”

Frictions and next frontiers in blockchain gaming

It’s an issue we seem to keep raising — but gaming communities are still averse to the idea of NFTs and blockchain (an estimated 70% of them consider them to be a negative trend). We’ve already discussed it in previous pieces — and so have other thought leaders we’ve spoken with in the past. It’s become an unavoidable subject when speaking about the advancement of blockchain gaming — but like many others in the space, Marie sees ways for players to see greater incentives with blockchain technology.

“I can see the barriers to adoption — I can see why some people can be bitter or why they misunderstand the intention. At the moment, it’s a bit rough. Everything is still in the process of being built — nothing is laid down or perfectly clear,” she says.

“I think that the conventional games are more and more interested in integrating tokenomics based on Web3. But it’s not because [you] add NFTs.” Rather, she insists that the tension is on hiring: “I’ve observed that traditional video games are trying to input the Web3 component and it’s not done, in my humble opinion, by adding some NFTs.”

Moreover, Marie emphasises the need for more tokenomics experts to join the gaming space and apply a play-to-earn model to more projects and concepts. “We need more people in a new line of career for tokenomics — people who are completely into tokenomics and who understand what’s going on. But these people — they are really scarce.”

With that being said, however, she still notes that we have a long way to go before we see changes start to materialise. “In mobile games, you have free-to-play [models] and you have the economic model to understand how it works. But at the moment, we are still creating — everybody’s trying.”

A window of opportunity for women

Marie also describes the rise of female leadership she’s seen in her four years of working in the blockchain world, noting how the time has never been more optimal for women to find both footing and equal treatment in the space. “I think there is a very big window of opportunity right now and many new jobs are being created, which needs to be defined as we are working on [Web3].”

She continues: “Whatever your speciality is as a woman — whether you’re working as a CMO somewhere or a designer, or whatever your vertical is — there are many ways of connecting the dots at this Web3 layer — so it’s really the right timing now.”

Her advice for other women entering the space? “Whatever you do, whatever your expertise is — you learn by doing. And there are always, always possible connections to Web3, whatever you are doing. So it’s a good time.” She also adds that throughout her trajectory in the space, she’s been very glad “to see so many women taking leadership positions. I think it’s only the beginning.”

What’s next for NABIYA?

Along with wanting a more equitable space, Marie envisions a more interoperable and cross-functional metaverse. She mentions how certain experts “are a bit wary of interoperability, but it’s one big dream for me. It’s very, very hard technology and I don’t know how it’s going to unravel — but it’s a big dream for interoperability, where you [can] hold a piece of history through your NFT and have utility on different platforms.”

She looks forward to seeing a future where users can create [their] story within all the different metaverses. “It’s a new form of content creation,” she says.

NABIYA is also excited to launch what Marie refers to as “full experiences” this upcoming June, where they’ll be releasing part of ELEMENTS. “Of course, not all of it,” Marie clarifies. “We want to launch the game by degrees, so we can get feedback and build a community. That way, we can build the game with the community. This is how things are done nowadays.”

To stay updated on ELEMENTS and NABIYA’s upcoming projects and releases, be sure to follow their Twitter and Medium pages.