Jeremy Dela Rosa risked everything for his nonprofit company Leyline, which is using gamers’ needs for achievement, standing out and competing with friends to encourage them to donate their time and resources to important causes.
“We can do this because the gaming community wants to make a difference,” Dela Rosa said. “There’s an appetite for this generation to make things better, but the problem is that they don’t have a path. They don’t have a way to aggregate and come together in solving massive problems.”
In an interview with Heavy, Dela Rosa began the project after he noticed just how much the video game industry was making and how little of it was actually going back to the rest of the world, including the people that actually make the games.
Dela Rosa started working for Blizzard Entertainment, a subsidiary of Call of Duty Publisher Activision Blizzard, in September 2010 as a web and mobile producer, according to his Linkedin profile. Eventually, he worked his way up to the role of principal program manager at the company in June 2019. He oversaw the launch of several titles at Blizzard like Hearthstone, Diablo and Warcraft as well as the Overwatch League.
But now after 10 years with the company, he left his job, liquidated his savings, and even sold his house to put his resources and his experience working at Blizzard offices around the world toward founding Leyline in September 2020.
Dela Rosa told Heavy that he’s always been razor-focused on economic inequality. Both of his parents grew up in extreme poverty in the Philippines.
“It was a really hard, awful existence,” Dela Rosa said. “It is for many millions of people. I saw what it takes to get out of that situation and many things are out of people’s control.”
While we were having our video conference, Dela Rosa noticed my Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse poster hanging in my bedroom and said that when he was a kid he was a big fan of comic books and he wanted to be a super hero.
Dela Rosa noted the huge boost in revenue game companies made during the COVID-19 pandemic as players went under quarantine. Games industry analysis company Newzoo estimated that the global gaming market revenue will be worth $159.3 billion by the end of 2020, and that the industry will exceed $200 billion in revenue in 2023.
But as far as the game industry’s response to COVID goes, he said it was “unsatisfying.” He said that less than one percent of gross profit is going back to the people and the planet.
Game companies just aren’t giving back nearly as much as what they’re taking, and that’s especially apparent with Dela Rosa’s former employer. Activision Blizzard announced in its Q3 2020 financial report that it made $1.95 billion in overall revenue with $1.2 billion of that coming from microtransactions (a 69% increase from the previous year for microtransaction revenue), according to IGN India.
However, most of that money is going to the top with the rest of the company fighting for scraps at the bottom. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick was paid $40 million at the end of 2019, according to a report by Bloomberg Reporter Jason Schreier.
A shareholder group said that the average employee makes one third of one percent of what Kotick makes, according to a report by PC Gamer. The group, CtW Investment Group, is pushing back against Kotick’s future compensation package.
Despite rising revenue at Activision Blizzard, many employees struggle to make ends meet according to Schreier. Some producers and engineers make well over $100,000 a year, but others like video game testers and customer-service representatives make much less.
One employee told Schreier that they have to choose between eating and paying rent, so they use Activision Blizzard’s free coffee as an appetite suppressant. Another said they can’t afford to eat at the company cafeteria. A third decided with their partner not to have children because they couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile, senior employees at Blizzard enjoyed vacations at Disneyland with their families.
Dela Rosa said that the pay discrepancy at Activision Blizzard was a factor when he decided to create Leyline. He noted how the game industry is especially good at exploiting people’s passion and willingness to be a part of the industry even if it means taking a pay cut or a downgrade to one’s title.
Not only does Activision Blizzard not give back to its workers, but the company also doesn’t give back to the economy. According to public federal tax filings, Activison Blizzard not only paid zero tax in 2018 but received $228 million in tax credits. If you’re a US citizen, you pay Activision Blizzard money through taxes even if you never touch their games.
Dela Rosa says that there’s an imbalance between companies’ profits and them giving back to the world as well as workers because companies are optimized for the bottom line.
“It’s not because people don’t care or they’re evil or they’re corrupt, they’re just measuring the wrong things,” Dela Rosa said. “They just measure only the impact they have on making a bunch of money, but they don’t measure what’s the actual impact to the people and what’s the impact to our environment that’s going to sustain our customers to actually continue to be our customers.”
Dela Rosa tried working internally within Blizzard to see what kind of response they could make for the pandemic.
“People are still wonderful people, but at the end of the day the philosophy was ‘what is the smallest amount of money we can spend to check off that box to say that we did our corporate social responsibility?'” Dela Rosa said.
And then in April, his mother passed away.
“And that was incredibly painful and it made me think about how many more millions of people are going through this kind of tragedy, and what are we doing [about it]?” Dela Rosa said.
Companies are also drawing in the resource of user engagement as well as money. Dela Rosa said that Blizzard Entertainment alone had 16 million monthly active users. That represents a massive resource of not only raw computing power but in cognitive problem solving power. Dela Rosa noted that players are motivated to solve complex and interesting problems, explore new areas in games, grow their skills, hunt for achievements and build communities.
He said that the World of Warcraft wiki is one of the biggest in the world, with millions coming together to map regions, figure out mythic quests and learn how to defeat giant monsters. And so he thought “what if we took that kind of problem solving power and energy and passion and just start applying even a small portion to the real problems we have in the world?”
And that is the philosophy behind Leyline. Through the website, people can contribute to causes in different ways and get Leyline points in return that can be put toward digital goods like items for user avatars, gift cards and coupon codes. They’re also planning on recognizing milestones for how much users contributed. Dela Rosa said that the program works similarly to a rewards program where the more you contribute and use the service, the more rewards you get. Thanks to blockchain technology, nobody can hack or copy your digital items and they’re still yours even if Leyline disappears. Users can also trade digital items on the marketplace.
“So it creates this really wonderful social marketplace dynamic that we have already built,” Dela Rosa said. “My team has already built this stuff for Blizzard, so we know exactly how to design the economy, the system, the balance… That’s what we’re creating as we speak.”
Dela Rosa can confirm that there will be no loot boxes or other mechanics that resemble gambling on Leyline.
In just a few months they have 60 volunteers working on the project and over a thousand people have created user accounts for Leyline. While the marketplace isn’t set up yet, you can still sign up for the waitlist and they’ll bring in testers each week according to their website.
The first thing users can do to contribute and earn points is donate processing power. Leyline’s first partner is with Boinc, a project from UC Berkeley. The project was struggling with user acquisition and retention, so Dela Rosa is hoping that their partnership will give them a huge boost.
According to the official website, the Bonic app runs on your computer and downloads scientific computing jobs that run in the background.
Dela Rosa said a researcher can plug into Bonic for crunching data for protein modeling as part of research on DNA sequencing or to model the rate of temperature changes in ecosystems around the world. Researchers need a ton of computing power to crunch these massive data sets. The Leyline team claims that if you take the 2.7 billion video game players out there and have at least one percent of them donate processing power – especially gamers who invest in specialized rigs that can run all the latest games at top quality – all that is going to be a thousand times faster than the world’s fastest super computer.
“You just do a tiny little increment,” Dela Rosa said. “It may seem like nothing in the grand scheme, but when you multiply it by a billion, you can change anything.”
Dela Rosa reassured people that the processing power won’t go to bitcoin or paying for other people’s servers or anything like that. Leyline has a whitelist of projects that receive people’s computing power based on if the project is open source, if it’s directed toward humanitarian or environmental efforts and if the data will be publicly available. He also reassured people that there’s almost no incremental cost to running Bonic as a secondary application in the background.
Dela Rosa hopes that this processing power can go into ending COVID early.
Next they’ll implement a daily check-in for exercise to get points. The idea is that people who are healthier and happier will be more effective in helping others. Users will be able to say they exercised that day to get a limited amount of points, but the team also plans on letting users verify the exercise with a Fitbit or Apple Watch and double their points or give them points for every hour you exercised.
After that, they’ll look into ways of rewarding players for donating blood. Dela Rosa said that Leyline is in talks with multiple groups within the Red Cross. They plan to give users a unique item based on the Red Cross if they donate blood and validate it with them.
Dela Rosa said that the biggest challenge is securing funding since they’re such a radical organization. Investors don’t want to invest because all the money is going back toward the people and philanthropists are having a hard time of understanding what Leyline is all about because the organization is so tech heavy. So in addition to securing partnerships with custom gaming computer manufacturers Xidax and NZXT along with Geek Therapeutics (with more partnerships and grants on the way), they’re letting people directly contribute via a GoFundMe page because “we’re building things for the people so why don’t we get funded by the people?” as Dela Rosa said. While there is a goal of $500,000 on the page, they’re treating it more like a tip jar. He said that the key to securing funding is to simply your pitch, listen to people and be as transparent as possible.
While Dela Rosa isn’t planning on directly addressing inequality within the gaming industry, they are hoping to disrupt the industry by leading by example.
As a CEO, Dela Rosa isn’t intending on being the most paid person in the company. Dela Rosa is also implementing a system where leadership rotates; after four years he will step down and be a normal employee while somebody else takes over and bring new ideas to the company.
“As a CEO, the way you want to design this organization is that the leader should be the servant,” Dela Rosa said. “They should be here to support people and enable them to be their best selves.”
Everyone in the company will be compensated with a universal basic salary so they can survive comfortably, but on top of that people get compensated for the extra hours they work. Volunteers can also pop in and out as they please since the company is an open source project. They’re also building a student ambassador program so that people can learn and network so that they can eventually be hired by the company or get what they need for an opportunity elsewhere, which is especially important when a lot of job openings require a few years of experience and students have loans to pay. In addition, the team is 100% remote which means people can work anywhere on the planet, and they offer infinite vacation, total flex time and the opportunity to choose your team and projects. They can do that because it’s a decentralized organization and people back each other up.
“We’re just trying to create that kind of environment where people flourish, they feel motivated and passionate, and that creates a sense of abundance and positivity and family and love and that is what’s happening now at Leyline,” Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa told Heavy that he’s taking a pledge not to be a millionaire.
“I don’t want to be a millionaire,” Dela Rosa said. “I don’t need that stuff. I need a better world. I need a better teacher for my two young daughters… What does it matter if I have a mansion if they can’t even have a job or go to school or have a community?”
With Leyline, Dela Rosa hopes to give players a message to rally around and the support to help change the world.
“This generation of gamers are the ones that are gonna save the world because [they’re] unique people that are thinking innovatively,” Dela Rosa said. “We need people to come together en masse and say ‘this is gonna change and we are gonna do it.'”
You can sign up for the waitlist on Leyline right now and donate to their GoFundMe.