Source: Shrapnel

Ever since blockchain gaming started, the space has been hungry for its first bona fide AAA title. There have been some notable breakouts like Axie Infinity and The Sandbox, but none of them could be classified as a true AAA game. Interestingly, this intersection of AAA and blockchain could very well be coming in the form of a first-person shooter (FPS) blockchain game. In this essay, we’ll discuss what an AAA FPS game could look like on the blockchain, the unique qualities that blockchain brings to the genre, and take a deeper look at two notable upcoming titles: Last Expedition and Shrapnel.

What Might a Web3 AAA FPS Look Like?

Multiplayer FPS With NFT Gates

Among the hallmarks of the FPS experience is being able to play with friends in a multiplayer mode. This takes many different forms — from battle royale and capture the flag to deathmatch, with many variations in-between. And when you add blockchain to the mix, it can greatly impact participation. If the game requires NFTs to play, and the NFTs are cost-prohibitive, then the audience and players will be greatly reduced. If, however, the game design lets guest players play with “free” or “loaned” NFTs, then that scenario can be avoided. Another aspect of NFT ownership is that players can more easily skip/jump levels, creating an even more unbalanced “pay to win” model. In traditional games, players could “accelerate” their leveling up by paying, but they usually still need to grind and put in the hours. But with NFT ownership, someone who never played at all can just pick up a highly-leveled character, weapon, or gear and wipe out the competition. This creates interesting balancing challenges for developers, but in some ways blockchain helps level out the field, as other players could also just buy equally leveled items too. Another option would be to keep NFTs purely cosmetic — like we see already in many shooters — but it really boils down to the intricacies, incentives, and type of trading game designers want to embed into their games.

As a comparison, something similar happened recently with Diablo Immortal — a popular streamer spent $100K to max-level his character out and now can no longer PvP match in the game, so now the player is stuck. With blockchain, the player could recoup some of this investment by selling into a marketplace, but instead it’s all stuck in the game with no means to extract all the effort or capital put in. 

Naturally, how NFTs are to be used in-game completely boils down to game and economy design. These design choices can critically impact the balance, and any leaning toward “pay to win” will likely alienate any new players and not prove sustainable. 

Story and Lore With Deep Community Involvement

Blockchain tech brings many unique aspects to traditional gaming. One key ethos of web3 is that it’s community-driven, and it can usher in a new era of gaming with much deeper community involvement and possibly UGC (as digital assets are composable). Within the world of web3, community involvement is embraced, if not expected, and players take part in creating the backstory and lore of the games there. This was achieved in Champion’s Ascension (a blockchain arena combat battler) with great success, and it’s also the entire premise of Loot.

Taking it a step further, players who own certain NFTs could be granted voting rights and be part of the conversation with the developers. This level of community involvement is unprecedented in traditional gaming and could become a new way of approaching game development even outside of blockchain games. In the area of tokenomics, brand new economic models are forming, such as service models where players can “pay” other players to do certain tasks or goals or just rent out digital goods. This creates deeper and broader player community relationships and social connections. Further, these unique incentive structures will impact player behavior in ways that didn’t exist before.

Well-funded and Seasoned Teams With Blockchain Chops

A commonly heard phrase in gaming is that for an AAA game, you need an AAA budget. Being well-funded is key, if not the most critical piece. As mentioned before, a good game takes time, especially a top-tier AAA title, which means solid backing with a seasoned dev team that can execute without blowing up its burn rate. These types of projects can’t be funded through simple NFT drops; they require substantial funding almost akin to a blockbuster movie budget. Suffice to say, it will take at least a low to mid 8-figure budget to provide the sufficient runway a team requires for creating a top-tier AAA FPS game. Not only do you have all the challenges of building an AAA-quality game, but you also need the personnel to integrate and build the blockchain part. The latter can be a sliding scale — piggybacking on existing chains and tools/libraries is much easier than, say, building out your own custom blockchain.

The main point is that for any project to succeed, especially one with AAA expectations, it needs the runway to build. Star Atlas, a much anticipated AAA MMO on Solana, got its runway cut in half due to locked funds on FTX. This inevitably will make it more challenging for the project to succeed. Funding is key. It doesn’t guarantee success, but the lack of it can definitely cripple a project.

Brand New Tech

Excluding all the tech required for building an FPS game on its own — from match-making, backend servers, and hi-fi graphic rendering — the whole crypto blockchain side is brand new and needs to be integrated. The idea that a blockchain can essentially act as the backend server database is widely optimistic, as waiting for a blockchain transaction to finish and confirm can take up to several minutes, while in an FPS game, mere milliseconds can be the difference between taking the shot vs being shot. The level of blockchain integration is also super important — will it be used in real-time gameplay, which will be a scaling and throughput nightmare, or is blockchain regulated solely to an online store of skins and gears to be transacted in-between matches? This will require some deep thinking on what's the right level of blockchain integration, as a "play it by ear" approach could be a costly mistake down the road. The high demand that a FPS game entails will be beyond what many blockchains can process even if they “look” sufficient on paper.

What’s most likely to occur is a light to medium blockchain integration mainly on NFT assets like cosmetics, gears, weapons, and trophies. It’s doubtful that any would use blockchain to record real-time transactions of shots and kills. Go-to-market studios will likely lead with the game first and blockchain second, especially given the current negative sentiments around NFTs and crypto. We already see this with more mass-market products like Starbucks Odyssey and Reddit Avatars, in which the NFTs are significantly downplayed but the end user benefits are surfaced to the top.

Another unique concern of blockchain is that teams are building on top of chains that they will be dependent on. Any seasoned developer knows that building on stable tech is important, and anyone that has gone through a backend migration of moving game engines or cloud providers will vouch that it’s no trivial task. That is why developing on a blockchain has its perils. The deeper the integration with custom contracts or configurations like unique gas fees and native tokens is, the harder it is to migrate to another blockchain if needed. Just ask the crypto developers on the Terra blockchain who witnessed the spectacular demise of LUNA, which brought down that entire chain, essentially halting all projects. Blockchain risk is real, and selecting the right chain should not only be based on game-specific needs but also based on the overall health of the chain ecosystem: how stable or volatile it is, the prospect of continued support/funding, how active the development community is, and the switching costs in case migrating elsewhere is ever required.

Platform Accessibility Challenges

Another important factor for success will be platform accessibility. Blockchain gaming remains controversial and is currently banned on Steam — a major distribution channel for AAA games. Mobile is another massive platform for adoption which is cautiously allowing blockchain titles as long as they are willing to pay the 30% platform fees. Additionally, given the demanding performance and hi-fi graphics requirements, many of the AAA’s are likely to remain on desktop initially, where blockchain support and integration is far friendlier than on mobile.  

Vying For The Crown - Two Contenders

We discussed what a top-tier blockchain AAA FPS might look like as well as what are the unique challenges that come with blockchain integration. Now, let's delve into a couple of upcoming titles that are legitimately vying for the crown of the "first" AAA FPS blockchain game.

Doing a simple internet search will reveal a plethora of wannabe titles that claim to be a top-tier AAA FPS blockchain game. In fact, there are many claiming to be the first AAA FPS blockchain game out there. In some ways, AAA has now been co-opted as more of a marketing spin than a legitimate grading, funding, or quality level.

However, two blockchain FPS games gaining quite a bit of buzz are Last Expedition from Gala Games and Shrapnel from Shrapnel/Neon Media. Let’s discuss what makes them stand out, why they have a good “shot” at claiming victory, and finally, what will it take to actually succeed. 

Last Expedition

Last Expedition
Last Expedition - Gala Games

Gala Games made a big splash with its Vegas Galaverse event (December 2021) where it announced its first AAA FPS blockchain game — Last Expedition. Galaverse is essentially Gala's very own E3 or BlizzCon convention for Gala die-hards. The game is currently only PC-based.

Last Expedition is a game that has been in the works as far back as 2017 at Certain Affinity, which was founded by several ex-Bungie employees and other industry veterans. They are most well-known for their map work on the Halo franchise, creating some of the richest and most beautiful scenery among top-tier AAA FPS games. With the partnership, it seems that Gala decided that bringing the development in-house made the most sense. The likely reason is that a successful AAA FPS game would cement its name in blockchain gaming, similar to how the Halo franchise helped put Xbox on the map. So, Gala decided to license Last Expedition from Certain Affinity and hired many of the original team members into a Gala-owned gaming studio called 5By5 Interactive.

As mentioned before, some keys to a successful top-tier AAA FPS are a team with deep pedigree, good funding (Gala personally built a dedicated studio for this project), rich graphics, and great gameplay. This gives it a really good head start, and the regular dev streams and AMAs showcasing real gameplay and in-game footage shows there’s significant progress being made to ensure this will be a top-class title.

Last Expedition is described as a PvPvE (Player Vs Player Vs Environment) with a focus on resource collection and combat; 4 teams of 4 will compete to collect alien fragments that unlock the alien core. The first team to get the alien core and return to their ship wins. For now, this is the main core loop. There will be an overall meta for upgrading and leveling up to track and encourage progress. The game is being built on the latest and greatest Unreal 5 engine.

In-game footage can be found on the most recent developer stream here. It seems that the game is pretty far along and progressing at a good pace.

The AAA FPS genre is a crowded market, and the eventual goal is that any top-tier blockchain AAA FPS will be able to hold its own against the current top players in the market. However, doing that requires something unique, something that can't be found anywhere else. Enter Nodes.

Last Expedition


One interesting concept being pioneered by Gala that we have not seen in other studios is letting players/supporters partake in the operations and hosting side. Gala is very unique in that it offers node licenses to players, which allows them to operate their own servers for themselves and any friends to play on. Additionally, the node license comes bundled with a lifetime subscription (as long as the license stays owned) on server mod NFTs which might include special enemy, gear, or environment mods that can be applied to their own operator servers to customize the play experience. These mod drops, of course, are NFTs, so it will be interesting if a secondary market can be created with just server mods. Nonetheless, it's a very fascinating concept if it manages to get traction.

The buy-in is not for the faint of heart. With $2K per operator license bundle, this is truly aimed at the die-hard fans and early supporters. What's also interesting is that Gala is positioning these nodes away from the play-to-earn model. Play-to-earn was how the earlier Gala gaming nodes (like Town Star Nodes) were initially marketed, in which operating them to help run the game would earn daily native coins that could then be spent in the game economy or sold. More recently, Gala has smartly steered away from focusing on the tokenomics of earning daily coins and instead toward gameplay and special game mods. 

Bundled with the Node License is the Last Expedition subscription that earns a new node mod NFT with each new node sale. This lifetime of node mod NFT drops is somewhat akin to a battle pass subscription, providing the subscriber with exclusive goodies. The twist here, since a new node mod NFT is dropped on every new sale, is that the earliest adopters will receive the most mod NFTs, as any new node owner only gets new node mod NFTs from the time at which they bought in.

Last Expedition Operator Node License Bundle Content:

  • 1x license to operate very own node for the game
  • 1x mod NFT (each node license sale features a new mod)
  • 25x keys for exclusive early access (to give out for friends to play on your server)
  • Bonus: 1x subscription which automatically gets ALL future operator node mod NFTs

For the die-hard true believers, this offers a chance to be part of the game’s early development and own a piece of the action. Most notably, missing from the license node bundle is any mention of minting or earning native coin tokens. Instead, it indicates the continued shift away from the play-to-earn model and towards a more play-to-own model. In short, with a $2K buy-in and an unclear way of recouping that cost, the node license is better viewed as more of an early adopter "donation"/“support” than a "money-making" investment play. 

Either way, blockchain technology helps enable all this, which is unique to AAA FPS games. It remains to be seen if the benefits of node ownership will only be mod NFTs or if these Last Expedition Nodes will eventually feature daily token rewards, too. No doubt, Gala will be proceeding cautiously if it decides to add daily coin rewards and will think carefully about how this would impact the overall game economy.

Last Expedition - WIP
Last Expedition - WIP

Last Expedition’s Current Status

As mentioned before, the game has been in development for several years, which is normal for a AAA title. Gala bringing it in-house accelerates this a bit and shows that the company is committed to the game. Gala has already done multiple playtests and recent AMAs, showing the progress of the game in terms of maps/scenery, characters and gear 3D rendering, and actual core loop gameplay. There are still a number of blockout elements visible in the sneak peaks, which are expected to be filled out by external art and dev shops. Gala is purposely trying to keep the team on the lean side with around 30 employees (according to LinkedIn). Nevertheless, it has the support of the entire Gala side which numbers in the 240+. It’s a sizable team with seasoned experience leveraging smart outsourcing so the core team can focus on the most critical bits of the game. Last Expedition is being built on Gala's own L1 chain tentatively named Gyri. Given the backing and progress of playable test builds, this project is coming along and may very well be a true top-tier AAA FPS in the blockchain space. 


Source: SHRAPNEL on Twitter

Shrapnel is another buzzy project that is being built by Shrapnel/Neon Media, which spun out of HBO Interactive several years ago and raised $10.5M this past November in a round led by Griffin Gaming Partners (also featuring Forte and Polychain Capital). The game is set to be released in late 2024, which seems like a reasonable time frame for an AAA game. Shrapnel is currently targeted to be PC-based.

The Shrapnel team has been getting a lot of coverage from the traditional gaming media as well as the blockchain side. It has several makings of a breakout hit: a seasoned team, good funding, and a popular extraction team FPS format that is similar to "Escape From Tarkov." We won't rehash the AAA qualities this title checks off but instead will dig deeper into the various aspects of what makes it unique as a blockchain AAA FPS.

Some in-game footage can be found in the most recent release teaser video here. The Hollywood-style cinematic trailer can also be found here.

SHRAPNEL Operator NFTs w/ Comic Book Series

NFT Merch

In traditional media, it's well known that merchandise and collectibles related to a movie or show can be a significant source of revenue. What's interesting with Shrapnel is it led its first NFT drop (in June 2022) with a merch NFT related to the game but currently not used in-game. Officially, Shrapnel markets these as "Collect each Operator to get access to the comic for that character — along with much more to be announced in the coming weeks." The initial mint was priced at 0.05 ETH, and the current floor is at 0.08 ETH. If we do some quick math — the 10K collection with royalty cuts on overall trading translates into a respectable $700K that can be further invested in the game. It is notable that the Operator NFTs are on the Ethereum blockchain whereas the game itself is planned to be built using the Avalanche blockchain. 

Participation with Gameplay Mods

One of the major premises of Shrapnel is that it will be a highly modifiable FPS game. What's not too clear are the details around this. Will it be an open-access-type system where community members can just build their own wide-ranging mods and servers that can be plugged in? Or will the mods be more restrictive, similar to Last Expedition? It does seem that the philosophy of the Shrapnel team is to allow for greater open development of the game assets. As part of this vision, the team touts: "Digital ecosystems will no longer restrict game asset usage, instead allowing compatibility in different digital realms." In further interviews, this is explained as having NFT game assets that can be freely used and applied in different ways, which could be in another game or other sources of entertainment (like in the case of unlocking special merch, similar to the Operator NFT comic books). This is a grand vision, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time, but clearly Shrapnel is pushing digital ownership very strongly.

Blockchain DeFi

The rest of the vision mentioned on the website highlights other common (buzzword-y) blockchain advantages you will hear, such as a DeFi economy, community participation, digital ownership, and interoperability. The DeFi element is particularly interesting, as the team envisions creating a sustainable economy on the blockchain without a central authority. However, as we've seen in many previous projects, this is much easier said than done. The tokenomics part is not fully known, but it’s an ambitious goal given there hasn’t really been any proven sustainable tokenomics model to date. Staking is something popular in blockchain gaming, and whether it’s a critical component in the game highly depends on how it’s integrated. 


Given the extraction theme, the primary enemies will be other human players. This is different than Last Expedition with its environment of alien creatures that will be trying to eat you as you race against other players. Overall, Shrapnel’s theme is likely secondary to the core loop and game objectives, which will be to get to the extraction point without being killed.

Shrapnel - WIP

Current Status

Shrapnel has made big splashes recently, releasing a Hollywood-style trailer (falling back on its HBO entertainment roots) with an established production house. It has also dropped a couple of development peeks of the game being built in Unreal 5.

The release date is late-2024, so there's still quite a ways to go. The team’s size is substantial (around 50, according to LinkedIn), and it seems to be making good progress based on recent in-game footage, but it hasn't yet gone to a pre-alpha or an external playtesting stage. Nonetheless, the vision is interesting (if not overly ambitious on the blockchain side), and how much of the "blockchain" aspects will make it to the first release remains to be seen.

Key things to be looking out for are quality of gameplay and the eventual NFT tokenomics. It will be critical to get additional footage drops in order to measure progress, as well as some private or public beta, where players actually get to kick the tires. Also, it’s worth watching out for any upcoming NFT drops. Thus far, they’ve only been game adjacent, such as the Operator NFTs which secure a comic book based on the character's lore — that’s great as a fan collectible but not the in-depth game integration promise of true "digital owners" of game assets.


Also worth mentioning are the existing traditional AAA studios that have been exploring blockchain tech. The most famous example is Ubisoft with its old Quartz platform, which initially launched with Ghost Recon NFTs of helmets, guns, and pants. Although community feedback was largely negative and trading activity flopped, Ubisoft still seems committed to its blockchain project and continues experimenting and learning. The next AAA FPS blockchain game could very well come from the current incumbents that are bravely looking to figure out how to incorporate this new blockchain tech while not completely alienating their current bases. 

FPS Blockchain Pioneers 

Both Last Expedition and Shrapnel are substantial projects with serious investments. Each team is well funded and staffed with seasoned veterans within the AAA FPS space. They are utilizing the latest tech, both being built on Unreal 5. 

Gala, with Last Expedition, has an early start, taking a game that’s been in development, bringing it in-house, and supercharging it. It already has game-related NFT drops, node drops, as well as a private playtest. Shrapnel is a little further behind with mild in-game footage plus a buzzy Hollywood-style trailer (however, we all know a trailer always shows off the best parts of the movie). Even if Last Expedition is to reach the finish line first, that doesn't mean it will ultimately succeed. They are also not alone, as traditional AAA studios like Ubisoft are actively experimenting with blockchain tech.

To become a top-tier AAA FPS blockchain game will require more than the expected characteristics of a traditional AAA FPS title (HD graphics, stunning visuals, smooth gameplay, compelling storyline, and game modes, to name a few.) If it's to attract current AAA FPS players, its unique aspects will need to win them over, and it needs to go beyond just “digital ownership,” which every blockchain game promotes. Instead, it will need unique blockchain aspects, like node licenses with personal mod NFTs in Last Expedition, or mix use NFTs that extend way beyond the game, as promised in Shrapnel. Finally, the player communities will ultimately determine success, and how each team brings the players into the game via ownership and an ability to customize things (via mods) may be critical. As blockchain games evolve and find success, traditional games are likely to take note and adopt. Eventually, blockchain vs non-blockchain games may start merging and blending, where key aspects of player benefits and value will be at the forefront and blockchain is just a tech piece in the background.

In this essay, we strictly discussed FPS, yet many of the same challenges and concerns will equally apply to other types of shooters… and beyond.

Who will ultimately win? We'll just have to watch and wait, but like in the traditional AAA FPS space, there is room for several winners. Last Expedition and Shrapnel may just be the first batch of FPS AAA-quality games to hit the blockchain, with many more to come later. And, who knows, maybe the first AAA FPS blockchain hit may come from a place that isn’t even obvious yet. This will be a fun space to watch in the upcoming months and years.

A big thanks to Lawrence Hsieh for writing this essay! If Naavik can be of help as you build or fund games, please reach out.

Don’t miss our next issue!

Sign up to receive the #1 games industry newsletter, straight in your inbox.