The NFT market hit a fever pitch at the end of 2021, with nearly every millennial and Gen Zer addressing the topic of Thanksgiving. But buying pixel art and all its hype overshadowed some of the highlights of the crypto space - mainly gaming. Although 2021 was a HUGE year for the burgeoning industry, seeing many games and platforms rise to multi-billion dollar evaluations (some before they even had a playable 😱), 2022 looks to solidify the space as a legitimate evolution in the value proposition to players - owning their digital assets.
There are many benefits that the end-user and developers will share, as long as the practical application makes sense (take note of Ubisoft), but I want to keep this to the games themselves. Pull out a few interesting tidbits and give some additional sources for those interested to see what is going on with the current or future offerings in the space.
This writing aims to give those that don't have the time or general interest in crypto games. I won't go too deep into explaining the underlying tech and its use cases, but I'll write something soon on that.
Before we get started, I will be transparent upfront:
These are expanded versions of my notes when examining new games I tried to make them more readable, but I am no writer!
I might be what others would call bullish on crypto and digital assets as a future medium of commerce. Still, we are far from the reality of its potential under current circumstances.
I believe the game industry will be a spearhead in the adoption due to an actual use case beyond the collection of one-off art or “key” to unlocking potential benefits in the future.
I'm not too fond of the term Play to Earn (P2E) and its comparisons to Free to Play (F2P). One describes the value proposition to the end-user while the other depicts a player motivation, of which there are many.
This period and the current conversations give me PTSD of the Browser/Facebook to mobile conversations that closed and/or crippled many companies.
Also, here is a three-sentence primer on what all this means. The tokens connected to in-game collectibles will be "created" by a program that runs on the blockchain, called a "smart contract." This program ensures the digital scarcity of all collectibles, ensuring that nobody, not even us developers, can ever create more copies of a collectible. Think of the rarity of a Honus Wagner baseball card, Black Lotus MTG card, limited edition art, Off White shoes, etc., just digital and provably authentically scarce.
Tl;dr of the games I'll cover:
Star Atlas - ATLAS - Solana
Yup, let's get Star Atlas out of the way - Ambitious, immersive, massive but is this the next No Man's Sky, or worse, Cyberpunk 2077? So far, I would argue they are flat out one of the more exciting gaming projects in the industry, let alone crypto gaming. One of the main criticisms from those looking into the crypto gaming space is the lack of quality offerings, which Star Atlas is taking head-on.
Enough about the hype, which reached a fever pitch when they recently released a spectacular trailer leveraging every bit of the Unreal 5 engine and showing a genuinely expansive sci-fi look into the year 2620. The developers say it was gameplay but let's be honest, it was a beautiful cinematic - if not, get your 3090's GPUs ready!
Speaking about the perceived scale of the game from the trailer, it reminds me of No Mans Sky with a proper narrative foundation, which builds around the alien races and factions.
Currently, the only thing you can do apart from purchasing is choose a faction. It is the R/Y/B that you'll recognize from many games but immediately brought memories of Pokemon GO's system. But in Star Atlas, the Mud (R), Ustur (Y), and Oni (B) promise to come with more in terms of gameplay and strategy to leverage your faction's knowledge and resources as a strength.
Looking into its Marketplace (requires a Phantom wallet), it's broken into multiple categories like Ships, Structures, Resources, Collectables, and Access. Everything is already open for buying and selling, except for Structures with access opening on April 21st.
Each item is assigned a rarity, as you can see below. With each rarity comes different specs and use cases.
It's clear to see an item's rarity and even more apparent when your Anomaly level ship doubles as a planet destroyer and a portable living vessel. At the same time, a Common ship is a souped-up pod racer. Each item comes with various details, crew members needed, and the vessel's components. Depending on the size/rarity, each has a drastically different crew and component set. As seen below, the ECOS takes 47 crew members. I don't think I need to put the Opal Jet up to compare its single-person crew requirements.
We should expect something playable sooner than later with a roadmap already tackling items like "Global polish," we should expect something playable sooner than later. But I, like the next person, am a sucker for hyper-ambitious projects hoping to have the next genre-defining experience, and you don't have to look much further than Star Atlas, even if it is seemingly unobtainable.
DeRace - DERC - Polygon
They say it best right smack dab on their site:
"DeRace is a play-to-earn NFT horse racing metaverse where you can participate in horse races, breed NFT horses with unique characteristics, build your own NFT hippodrome and make profit while doing it."
DeRace is a brilliant play on the multi-billion dollar-a-year horse racing industry. The game itself mimics real-world horse racing, breeding, and management. Of course, this lends itself well to the usage of NFT's! The game is interesting from a few directions, but most importantly, it seems to fix some of the issues that have plagued the sport. Issues like corruption, scientific/technological advancements, animal treatment, and general lack of variety. Of course, some may claim it makes gambling on such things more accessible, but I am generally pro-autonomy and agency.
The game is simple having players collect, race, and breed horses. The player is essentially reenacting the actual management and chase of purchasing or breeding the next Secretariat, Man o' War, or Seattle Slew. It's currently in beta and seems to have a reasonably active release schedule. There are already races in beta every few minutes, including a spectator mode and 360° replays.
You can purchase tickets, which act as cards packs, or purchase one-off horses based on the five rarities.
Thetan Arena - THG - Binance
Like Gods Unchained above, Thetan Arena is, uhh, "inspired" by another behemoth in the industry - Brawl Stars. But, frankly, when I began playing this game, it felt more like a vertical slice of a game than the foundation of one. They have cleaned up a lot but are not without their warts.
The gameplay seems more like a prototype (at least on iOS), having inconsistent gameplay/balancing, placeholderish art in areas (I hope), and minor issues like the sound play's from the device and not connected headphones. Frankly, it's very far away from the level of Brawl Stars polish. Not to mention the progression and meta-game are almost non-existent in Thetan.
What it does have going for it is some catchy gameplay with short matches that last anywhere from 2-5 mins depending on the game mode. In addition, you always have the option between Battle Royale (BR) and 4v4 team play. Each game mode cycles every hour between the two BR choices of solo/duo and team play with three recognizable modes you see in Brawl.
For example, the 4v4 game mode Tower is the shortened version of Siege mode from Brawl Stars. The one with the robot that a single side can spawn and created incredibly limited gameplay/counterplay - Ya, that one.
Additions from Brawl Stars are selectable character skills that rotate every week - think of Flash and Ignite in League of Legends being available for intermittent use. Once in-game, you have to unlock and level up these abilities as you would in most MOBA's, which theoretically should add some variation. Unfortunately, this quickly turns into all characters having the same selected op abilities (back to that balancing issue).
BUT... Let's see what improvements Wolffun can whip up while hitting the milestones seen on their roadmap.
What I find interesting here, as explained above, is that being a first-mover as a smaller studio can change the trajectory of your company, but couple that with risk mitigation only helps their probability of success. Something as simple as adopting new technology and translating traditional games to crypto games only helps with a clear value proposition to players navigating this new medium. And as we see investment dollars flooding crypto gaming, it makes the business case understandable to investors.
Let's see which publishers will work proactively or stand by waiting to react to the market. Regardless, Thetan Arena could be an easy analog to show what a big player like SuperCell could achieve if/when decides to move into this space.
Gods Unchained - GODS - ImmutableX
I'm a sucker for CCGs. So, of course, whenever explaining a real-world analog to NFTs, my go-to example was collectible cards and depending on the person, it was either sports cards or Magic the Gathering. So here enters God's Unchained, which is more like Hearthstone than MTG, and damn is this the first great example of what an early mover can accomplish.
As for its gameplay, this is the first of a few that we will see taking some serious "inspiration" from current genre mainstays - this being digital Collectable Card Games (CCGs) like Runeterra or Hearthstone. But, of course, if you have played either, you know exactly what you are getting into.
God-specific decks like Nature, Death, and Magic have distinct play styles. When entering a match, you can choose between 3 abilities or god powers - this is the ability you can play through your god. Mana increases every turn until the fifth turn, then one mana every two turns. The fun in games like this is based around collecting, tweaking, and powering up your decks, which lends itself to leveraging NFTs.
The more interesting aspect to watch for with Gods Unchained is how they grow their userbase. The theory is sound, but the execution may prove difficult at scale since tapping into a new user experience. Luckily I believe their target audience is prime for earlier adoption than most gaming user bases.
A second thing to watch for is the health of their secondary market, which saw $25m worth of cards exchange hands between players in 2021. Impressive, especially at the promise of the underlying business model of royalties that NFTs show. Every time an item exchanges hands, the company takes a "tax" of 10%. This becomes highly lucrative with a healthy market with large volumes of transactions. Only time will tell, but I am keeping an eye on God's Unchained updates and its effect on the secondary economy.
Splinterlands - SPS - Etherium
Since their $3.6m private token sale (ICO) last July, for only 6.6% of SPS tokens, Splinterlands has been on a mini tear. According to Dapp Radar, they have been in a range of 300k-400k daily active users (DAU) since September. In addition, they've already experienced a handful of $600k days around the December holidays. It doesn't sound like much, but we're still early in the adoption curve of crypto gaming, and they are holding a user base that many mobile games would love to have this early in their lifecycle.
So, on the game itself - surprise, it's another CCG but has an easy to learn but hard to master gameplay that's a fast and intriguing adaption of auto chess. It doubles down on the autoplay mechanics that mid-core players love, with the actual gameplay taking a back seat to the strategize or setup aspect.
The game is simple - you set your six cards in a specific order, which also dictates placement on the board. Each card (depending on stats and abilities) plays in order from one to six and repeats until one side's cards are defeated.
I can't say the art style is wowing anyone and being honest looks basic af. IT LOOKS LOW QUALITY when I do a side-by-side to other top CCGs. I think it holds some concern when trying to expand to players used to a degree of quality in the products they play. This issue can be addressed quickly, and the possible nostalgic value could be enduring a la early art in MTG. For a more recent example, look at this old art from one of the most beloved games ever - Clash of Clans.
As with almost every game in this segment, the growth into something more significant should be found as the interesting point and not necessarily the current product. Taking simple ideas and pushing a product to a totally new, well, everything is generally dangerous, so its always good to observe the canaries!
BONUS - Ok, not exactly games, but an exciting approach to a gaming vertical!
Dawn Protocol - DAWN - Etherium
I know this isn't a game, but I find this too good not to share for personal reasons.
Dawn Protocol, initially named First blood, is an esports platform that organizes, runs, and rewards players for partaking in professional-style gaming tournaments. Thank god this didn't exist when I was younger.
I know e-sports has not lived up to the monumental hype from years prior, but with Newzoo predicting audience compounded growth of 7.8% through 2024, it's not even close to dead on the vine!
It's not necessarily ground breaking, but it simply adds more "actual" demand side offerings for coins outside of the typical NFT sale. It currently holds tournaments for a few popular titles, but I would expect them to update this stable of games soon.
It seems to have a bit of a following in Korea, but adding a few more games would be an easy growth strategy. Imagine adding FIFA, APEX Legends, CS:GO, or League of Legends and you would have a solid community that scales far beyond the 18k seen on their discord.
Anyway, this has been enough for one week. I'm really interested to see what strategies and decisions are made for these products in the near, mid, and long-term. They have first mover advantage (or disadvantage) in a very competitive landscape with lots of hope. Regardless of the outcome it will be very entertaining to watch.