Clem Chambers – serial entrepreneur, early game developer, cryptocurrency advocate and best selling author – has a varied and impressive CV. Now living in Monaco, where it’s hilly but pretty, he attributes his success to being a workaholic – and not watching TV.
His background was not privileged and he did not get accepted into university as a result of his mild dyslexia, despite having the required results to study industrial archaeology.
“If I knew then what I know now, I could probably have rung them up and got a place. It’s not as though it was a popular course.”
Chambers feels he did not have the required background. His father was a ‘boy soldier’, which would be illegal today of course, and neither parent had attended college. Instead, he opted to start one of the first British computer game companies, also not an obvious choice.
“I had ten years of hell running that company, with no funding in a nascent industry where other game companies were also folding left, right and centre. I was surrounded by drowning men who were all drowning each other.”
How did he keep on going? A bit like Churchill’s oft quoted instruction ‘when you are going through hell, keep going’ and he did. Chambers reckoned he still has PSTD from this period. He rented a large warehouse, an former sweet factory in London, and set up his offices where he seemed to specialise in employing runaways.
“I was only a child myself, but I also hired lots of other 16-year-olds who managed to both work and live on the premises. Afterwards, many employees went on to college and got big jobs in the game development industry – and the warehouse has been referenced in more than one trade article as a fabled site in the early gaming industry.”
He hasn’t been contacted by these early runaways since, but he reckons that while the pay may have been fair, the work was a little insane. On more than one Christmas Day he remembers sitting on the floor of the factory packing boxes.
The early years in game development did not necessarily ensure he understood Bitcoin at first. In fact, he had a conversation in 2012 with a taxi driver who spoke to him about Bitcoin and he was reminded of Joe Kennedy, father of JF Kennedy, and his exit from the stock market after getting tips from shoe shine boys. The taxi driver in question had made £80,000 from a tiny investment and Chambers reckoned the Bitcoin bubble was well and truly burst.
However, it wasn’t until he went on Silk Road in 2015 that he realised the power of Bitcoin. Tor, the anonymous network on which Silk Road ran, was developed by the US Navy – Chambers points out. He also says that his interaction with Silk Road was innocent.
“I was like – holy cow – people can buy discounted cash on this site. That was simple, raw, money laundering, but I wasn’t engaging with the ethics of the site, I was blown away by the technology that could open such a pandoras box.”
Actually, Chambers was still not convinced of Bitcoin, writing a piece for Forbes in which he still felt it was a bubble.
“But in 2016, the big Monty Python foot came out of the sky and squashed me. A kraken was released. And all those middlemen started getting very scared and angry at being put out of a job.”
In fact, now Chambers reckons AI is going to be much more devastating and dangerous but back in 2016, cryptocurrencies were getting everyone riled up and Chambers interested.
Chambers founded Online, later renamed Blockchain Online, which is now one of the oldest publicly listed company on AIM in the UK. It incubates different projects in the Web3 space including Umbria, an infrastructure project which allows people move assets from one chain to another.
Here Chambers diverts to a pet peeve. How many police are involved in road management he asks. And how many times are people scammed online?
“If you walked down your high street and people tried to rob you three times, there’d be an outcry. But most people have crooks trying to scam them several times a day via email, social media or SMS and there is the barest number of officers checking that out.”
He is also involved with the Rocky Horror Show to help celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Previously, back in the 80s, he’d been asked to make the computer game for the famous 1973 musical. Now, he is returning to create NFTs which will include a charitable element.
His fondness for the musical is palpable.
“The Rocky Horror Show was so far ahead of its time. I mean Elton John had not even come out at that stage. All that pink hair, sweet transvestite talk and full-on LGBTQ+ before we even had that acronym.”
He even suspects that author Richard O’Brien had styled the protagonist Frank N Furter on Elvis and sings a few bars to illustrate his point.
NFTs have also made an impact on Chambers. He views them as keys.
“Art was only the beginning, now it’s keys and access to other stuff, especially stuff in the metaverse.”
Back in his gaming career, the Massively Multiplayer Online Games were early examples of metaverses and he sees the current incarnations as escape pods for unhappy citizens.
“There are people who live in the metaverse who don’t live in the real world. It’s becoming mainstream. As the digital economies grow, the real world will shrink. The whole world is shifting dynamically.
“Governments like money to flow up the hill, and problems to flow downhill. But with crypto that is reversed and that is why crypto is not popular.”
Other related mainstream platitudes faced by Chambers include the notion that money is evil as a means of keeping ordinary people out of wealth creation.
‘People’s potential has been crushed and that blocks them from prosperity – now that’s a passive crime. If someone steals money, they get locked up. But if you set up a situation where people cannot make money, nothing happens and nobody cares.”
While lamenting the bad education offered in Western countries, Chamber is also highly critical of the lies being told on many levels. If advising young people, he would say ‘Trust no one.’
“Influencers lie, scammer lie and there is a level of fakery that needs to be challenged. Be a Columbo on everything. Double check everything.”
Then Chambers peals off into a related topic – dopamine and social media – which he views as causing huge anxiety and depression in young people.
“Dopamine is a brain chemical released by the sort of positive stimulation you get from Facebook or TicTok.
“If you are constantly flooded with Dopamine because of your social media use, you build up a high tolerance and you will need a high level of Dopamine to maintain your normal mood balance. Suddenly when you are not online, your facing Dopamine withdrawal which is exactly like the symptoms so many young people are suffering, depression, panic attacks etc.”
At this stage, I interject and suggest that Web3 and its disruptive impact may be a way to change that dependence. If dopamine is a way to drive traffic and traffic is a way to raise money, what if we don’t need traffic to make money. What if the 1000 true fans can be tied to a single creator?
Chamber is not convinced, not least of which is his reasonable contention that it would take about 100,000 fans to find 1,000 true ones. We agree to defer this topic to another day – we’ve already covered a lot.
“People tend to consume what they are given. Whoever owns the distribution channels controls the people.”
Chambers says he has the receipts on this, and I believe him.
Finally, I ask him what he would like written on his tombstone. He parries and quotes US financer Charlie Munger who said all he wanted to know is where he is going to die, so he never goes there.
Then Chambers reckons that when people are buried, ‘they’ dig up the coffin and later use the place for another person.
As the interview draws to a close, we quibble over famous tombstone’s inscriptions. I suggest comedian Spike Milligan’s quote ‘I told you I was sick’ in Irish, which Chambers felt belonged to WC Fields. WC Fields separately said in his long running comedy routine that his tombstone would read: ‘Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.’ Only it doesn’t. While the joke lives on in urban myths, the actual WC Fields’ inscription is much more prosaic and consists of his name and dates: ‘W. C. Fields 1880 – 1946’
And so we never get to Chamber’s epitaph. Maybe that is for another day. But I was right about Spike.