Team & Resources: 3/5 - MetaKing has the necessary funds to make Blocklords a success. However, based on what we can tell, even though the team has strong art skills, its game design talent may need more attention.
Game Design & Fun: 4/5 - The multiple paths players can take are clear to understand and give ample choice for players to craft their own journeys. There is an emphasis on group play, which should likely aid retention.
Tokenomics & Sustainability: 3/5 - We like the prudent approach that Blocklords is taking with its tokenomics. The focus on increasing trading activity through the Banner-based Hero crafting system and asymmetrical economy is the right direction. What remains to be seen is how this all comes together.
Team & Resources: 1.5/5 - The founders do not have experience in game development but have hired veterans from the games industry to help cover that gap. However, it is a long way from Alpha to launch, and losing roughly 50% of the project’s runway as a result of being caught in the FTX debacle poses serious risks to project.
Game Design & Fun: 4/5 - Star Atlas is aware of its competition and the playerbase of the genre that it is aiming for. It is an ambitious target, and the game design aims to marry it with multiple interconnected systems. It looks interesting; however, executing on the complexities here will be key.
Tokenomics & Sustainability: 3/5 - Star Atlas follows the two-token model, with POLIS being the revenue-bearing asset and governance token, while ATLAS is the inflationary in-game currency. There is an 8-year distribution schedule indicating long-term thinking, and the implementation of a Land Value Tax is a step in the right direction. However, the proof of the economy will be in the pudding when it goes live. Star Atlas is a complex game, and managing the economy will be no easy feat, especially considering that in the past two years comparatively simpler economies have not managed to succeed.
Team & Resources: 2/5 - The team timed its fundraise well, giving itself enough runway to execute its proof-of-concept. However, given the team’s lack of experience in game development — plus the fact the company will most likely need another round of fundraising — we’re taking a wait and see approach.
Game Design & Fun: 3/5 - AI Arena is a smart example of value accrual in NFTs and makes it a very good use case of ownership provided by blockchain technology. What remains to be seen is how many fighting game players will actually find fun when it’s the AIs who are doing the most fighting.
Tokenomics & Sustainability: 2/5 - Most details about the tokenomics are currently not available. Though the model looks fine so far, the game’s scalability might be affected by the fact that it requires NFTs to play and that the design puts the motivation of earning at its center.
The blockchain space is undoubtedly in the midst of winter. However, over the course of 2022, the blockchain gaming space saw several billions of capital invested across hundreds of teams working to define the next era of the industry. Since games take time to build, it’ll take a while before we see the true impact of this investment. However, since many blockchain games are built more publicly (alongside their active communities), we still have a good amount of info to dig into and figure out which contenders are most likely to succeed (or not).
In this deconstruction, we look at three blockchain games that are currently in development:
- Star Atlas
- AI Arena
We analyze these games through the lenses of Team / Resources, Game Design / Fun, and Tokenomics / Sustainability and score each factor on a scale of 1.0 (terrible) to 5.0 (amazing). A 3.0 is a neutral but non-negative evaluation. There will also be a Summary section for each game that gives an overall score and evaluation.
This is our third iteration of this style of analysis. In our first Game Radar piece, we covered Genopets, Cross the Ages, and Aurory; in our second piece, we covered Guild of Guardians, Illuvium, and Phantom Galaxies.
Note that in most cases this analysis is based on a combination of whitepapers, official Medium posts, and videos of gameplay. Our evaluations may change as games launch or more information becomes available. If you would like to see a full deconstruction of one of these games when they launch more fully, let us know!
Blocklords, developed by MetaKing Studios, is an immersive multiplayer experience and strategy game that aims to enable players to craft their own unique adventures within a shared medieval universe. It aims to be free-to-play on PC. Through the various engaging playstyles — including farming, fighting, resource management, and ruling — players’ decisions and skills will impact the game’s open economy, giving them full freedom to shape the game world.
The team is focused on creating a fun and accessible experience that will not only stand the test of time but empower players by giving them full ownership of their assets. Using technology developed by the Seascape Network, Blocklords has been in development since 2017.
Blocklords is still in its early release phase. The first of its cinematic minisodes (Phase 7) has been released, but there is no build for the community to test yet.
Team & Resources
MetaKing is a global studio with distributed teams across eight countries. Notably, David Johansson (CEO), Nicky Li (COO), and Medet Ahmetson (CTO) have also worked with each other in the past, with a notable overlap at Seascape Network (a gaming-related platform — also founded by David — based on DeFi and NFT economies).
One thing that stands out about this leadership team, especially with David and Nicky, is that they have a very strong background in art. This shows in the quality of Blocklords’ marketing materials that have come out. According to LinkedIn, the total team size is approximately 30 members, but the website claims that Blocklords works with 100 folks. That’s a lot of people for an early stage game, and we see a dearth of experienced game/economy design talent, which is a bit concerning.
MetaKing raised $15M in seed-stage funding for Blocklords in May 2022. Makers Fund and BITKRAFT Ventures led the round, with investment from Delphi Digital, Animoca Brands, Shima Capital, WW Ventures, Spartan Group, Huobi Ventures, and others. It also raised an undisclosed round in October 2022 from Jets Capital.
Team & Resources Score: 3
MetaKing has the necessary funds to make Blocklords a success ($15M is a large seed raise!), but, despite the strong skills in art, there’s more for the team to prove when it comes to game/economy design skills. Of course, hiring that talent is totally feasible, and the team has had ample time to study up over this long development cycle.
Game Design & Fun
Blocklords’ gameplay is built around giving players the freedom to make their own decisions and shape the world on the highest level. Whether a player decides to live a fulfilling life on a farm or create a grand strategy to rise to the throne, the path and ultimate fate of their Hero is directly determined by their in-game choices and skills.
Each player will begin the game with their own one-of-a-kind Blocklords Hero. Unless players already own a Hero, they will start with a basic Farmer Hero that has randomly generated stats and traits. As players progress in the game, they will have the opportunity to make new choices and evolve their characters.
The role players choose directly affects what gameplay choices are available and how players interact with other players. These roles can range from gathering resources as a Farmer, pillaging resources as a Raider, earning a salary as a Knight, ruling the land as a Lord or Lady, or even achieving rulership as a King or Queen over other players. The foundation of Blocklords’ gameplay can be broken down into four basic parts:
Farmers are responsible for gathering, mining, processing, and crafting materials to refine into useable currency. Unless players already own a character, they will begin Blocklords as a Farmer. From the start, they will be able to see the world map and choose a region to settle in. Each region is controlled by a Lord or Lady.
As a Farmer, players will play a farm-style game in which they work, harvest, and build houses to recruit other Heroes. Additional worker NPCs may populate the farm as helping hands. However, like any worker, they will consume food. Meanwhile, additional Farmers can be rented from other players. Placing them in buildings on the farm will award bonuses to the player’s village.
Farming isn’t just limited to gathering. Managing animals and livestock is another way to live off the land. Meat is crucial for building armies. By processing resources, crafting better items and buildings, and trading at markets, players will be able to explore multiple avenues of cultivating profit. Cooperation is key for receiving additional rewards.
Players who save up enough resources and no longer want to be a Farmer may choose to leave their farm behind in favor of building an army. From there, two more paths will open for them to choose from: Raider or Knight.
As a Raider, players have full freedom to attack innocent Farmers, steal resources from Lords, and wreak havoc on villages. Limited timeframes to steal as much as possible come with high risk, but with a little luck and the right strategy at play, the rewards can be great.
Knights, on the other hand, swear fealty to a Lord in exchange for a more stable salary. As a Knight, the duty is simple: defend Farmers and villages, and kill any Raider that is encountered. By claiming successful bounties on Raiders and protecting Farmers, Knights can profit handsomely and rise through the ranks. A Knight who’s saved up enough may then have the option of claiming a new role of Ruling.
Players who make successful and effective decisions in Blocklords and rise through the ranks may have the opportunity to claim a ruling role. The first type of ruling role (Lords and Ladies) carries its own unique functions and responsibilities.
Lords and Ladies control entire regions and carry a great deal of power. Among their tasks, they are responsible for collecting taxes and resources from Farmers (which includes other players), offering rewards and salaries to Knights, as well as managing and developing cities and infrastructure.
Power also comes with its perks. As a Lord or Lady, players get a cut of everything that happens on their land. By carefully allocating the resources gathered, players can build their cities into lucrative centers of trade and commerce and defend their people.
However, there are checks and balances in the system. High taxes might cause the citizens to rebel. Raiders and rival Lords are a constant threat. Therefore, Lords and Ladies must commit themselves to keeping their cities safe with battlements and developing defensive siege tactics.
Powerful Lords and Ladies who master the art of rule can choose to band together as a community and form alliances. With the support of at least three other Lords and Ladies, players may be able to graduate to the most powerful role in all the land — the King or the Queen.
As a King or Queen, it’s your duty to determine the priorities of your kingdom. Rulers govern nations, which are the largest territory type in Blocklords. Their role includes managing currency, national policies, diplomacy, trade agreements, and research available to their armies and regions. They may also choose to start or engage in realm-altering wars on a national scale.
Rulership extends to ruling other players too, and that includes the lucrative rewards that come with successful war campaigns. Winning wars not only rewards players as Rulers but also rewards other players who are Rulers’ subjects. Yet, war can be costly. Not only will armies need resources like food, but they’ll require training and advancements in tactics and weaponry to stand their best chance against enemies. The permadeath nature of the Heroes adds a lot of weight to the decision-making behind waging a war.
All Heroes have a limited lifespan and must continue their bloodline through heirs if their attributes are to survive. Blocklords features a Dynasty system that allows players to pass on the unique traits and attributes of their Heroes to their descendants. In this way, the legacy of players’ most beloved Heroes can live on regardless of their fate and grow even more powerful over the next generations.
The descendants are also Heroes and belong to players upon birth. As they mature, they can be married, hired, and trained as mercenaries, or distributed to other leaders and territories. Furthermore, players can opt to exchange these Heroes in order to acquire even more coveted characters.
Gameplay & Fun Score: 4
Since all players will first start off as Farmers, a majority of them will initially experience the farming gameplay. This experience seems similar to the Farmville mechanic with the addition of a shared economy enabled by web3. Given the medieval theme, the expectation of players would be to engage in a more kinetic experience. Blocklords will have to balance out how much time players would need to spend in this aspect of the game before the progression systems kick in for them to experience fighting, ruling, and conquering.
The multiple paths are clear to understand and give ample choice for players to craft their own journeys. There is an emphasis on group play, which would likely aid retention. As a principle, the MetaKing team wants to focus on fun. However, given the expansive nature of the project and the multiple paths that a player can take, not to mention an open economy where one player can affect the gameplay of everyone else, balancing will be an uphill task. This balance will have to be proven once the game goes live. In short, we’re curious and eager about what we see so far, but there’s a lot more to prove as the game slowly comes out.
Tokenomics & Sustainability
The Blocklords’ team aims to create a vibrant, scalable, and sustainable experience, and the game’s tokenomics will hopefully go a long way in achieving that goal. From the available information, the business model seems to be oriented toward NFT sales. Unfortunately, the whitepaper does not have a separate tokenomics section, so having an accurate understanding right now is difficult. That said, we believe that this cautious approach of balancing the game before making a commitment about its tokenomics is a prudent one, given both the current state of blockchain games and the natural learnings that will occur as the team further builds and tests things out. This also falls in line with its fun-focused approach to game development. Let’s try to understand the team’s intent based on the information we have.
Blocklords uses the wallet, NFT, and marketplace tech of ETH-based IMX for its Hero NFTs, and acquiring Heroes is an interesting process. Players need to first purchase a Banner Chest (containing 5 Banners) from the store. There are 3 rarities of Banners and Banner Chests (Basic, Silver, and Gold), and they can have one of 60 different symbols. These Banners can also be bought from the marketplace. In order to claim a Hero, players need to exchange 5 Banners. Currently, only the Farmer is available in the store, and players can exchange any 5 basic Banners for a basic Farmer. However, in order to get a Legacy Farmer (with better attributes), players need to have at least one silver Banner. Along with that, the symbols on the Banners required for a Legacy Farmer change every week. Given enough demand, this can lead to a healthy marketplace activity for Banners on a weekly basis.
Depending on the player’s efforts and in-game skill, their Hero’s value will directly correlate with the utility that it has within Blocklords’ asymmetrical economy. Our understanding of this economic model is that different Heroes will produce and consume different resources. This should ideally lead to a self-adjusting economy based on individual roles, responsibilities, abilities, playstyles, and market forces. The difficulty of balancing this economy will be proportional to the number of tradable assets and the interconnections between them. Blocklords needs to have ample levers to manage this and not completely leave it up to market forces. However, it needs to be careful with its decision to tokenize assets, as the complexity will increase with the number of tokenized assets.
Tokenomics & Sustainability Score: 3
We like the prudent approach that Blocklords is taking with its tokenomics so far. The focus on increasing trading activity through the Banner-based Hero crafting system and asymmetrical economy is the right direction to take. It will not be easy, but it looks like the beginning of a robust system (at least with the information we have). What remains to be seen is how it will all come together.
Summary: Average Score of 3.3/5
MetaKing has the necessary funds to make Blocklords a success, but, despite the strong skills in art, there’s more for the team to prove when it comes to game/economy design skills. That said, its prudent approach towards managing the economy combined with systems to increase trade volume is a good move. The business model and governance system is still to be defined in detail by the team, and given that it’s a complex game, it remains to be seen how MetaKing delivers on its promise of a fun-first gameplay. There’s a lot left to prove, but it looks like a potentially fun game, so we’re curious to see where it goes next and whether it can successfully manage the complexity it’s taking on.
Star Atlas, developed by ATMTA, is a grand strategy game of space exploration, territorial conquest, political domination, and more built on Solana for PC. One of the first things to notice about Star Atlas in its marketing materials are its cinematic-quality video game visuals, which have been developed using Unreal Engine 5’s Nanite. The game has been in development since at least the start of 2021 and stirred up a lot of noise at the height of the NFT craze.
Star Atlas can be considered a 4X space strategy game similar to the likes of Eve Online and Star Citizen. According to Michael Wagner (co-founder and CEO), “Star Atlas is an ideal product to emerge from the confluence of state of the art blockchain, real-time graphics, multiplayer video game, and decentralized financial technologies. Our vision at Star Atlas is to deliver a purely blockchain-driven universe that will change the gaming industry forever.”
Let’s understand how the team aims to achieve this ambitious vision.
Team & Resources
Star Atlas is led by Michael Wagner (CEO), Jacob Floyd (Tech), Pablo Quiroga (Revenue), and Danny Floyd (Product). There is an overlap with the team that built Multichain Ventures (which has focused on the blockchain space for years), including the CEO, CTO, and CPO. Though the founders have minimal experience in game development (apart from Danny who has art-based experience in the gaming industry), they have managed to hire a team whose past experience includes shipping AAA titles with Electronic Arts, Mythic Entertainment, 3G Studios, and 1047 Games. The ethos of Star Atlas’ development team is to encourage the monetization of the time spent in this virtual world. According to LinkedIn, the team size is approximately 100 members.
To fund the development of such a massively ambitious project, major resources are needed. According to Crunchbase, Star Atlas raised its first pre-seed capital in February 2021 for an undisclosed amount. The official seed round was led by PetRock Capital for $10M in June 2021. It also raised a venture round for an undisclosed amount in January 2022, $2M in August 2021 through a token sale, and $3M in NFT sales in December 2021.
However, the FTX debacle has seriously impacted the Star Atlas team, with the game losing almost half of its runway. The team chose to keep its funds in FTX (instead of a multi-sig cold wallet or even a bank) in order to earn additional profits. In a recent AMA, the team mentioned that it has nine months of runway left. In order to raise capital after this, the team announced new NFT sales in which the base price of the most expensive option is $5M!! Given that we are in a bear market, selling NFTs to fund operations might be difficult. On top of this, the ATLAS and POLIS tokens of Star Atlas are down more than 95% from their highs, which does not spur confidence in the project.
Team & Resources Score: 1.5
The vision and art quality of the project are definitely top-notch. However, the founders do not have experience in game development but have hired a few veterans from the game industry. The Alpha gameplay reel also looks visually promising, but much more clarity is still desired when it comes to actual gameplay. The game is a long way from Alpha to launch, and losing 50% of its runway (plus decimated token prices) poses serious risks to project. The hype created around Star Atlas created extremely high expectations that are going to be very difficult to live up to, especially given the project’s turbulence of late.
Game Design & Fun
Star Atlas is a virtual gaming universe based in the year 2620. In this distant future, three major factions have emerged: 1) the MUD Territory governed by humankind, 2) The ONI Region as a consortium of alien races, and 3) The Ustur Sector controlled by sentient androids. These factions are in an ongoing struggle for resources, territorial conquest, and political domination. As a faction citizen of Star Atlas, players will have the ability to influence the outcome of this intergalactic conflict while creating the opportunity to earn rewards for their contributions. The overall game design can broadly be broken down into two main parts — Production and Piloting — with multiple overarching mechanics.
The team has also released an episodic graphic novel to aid the world-building.
While there are several activities within Star Atlas to create economic value, mining is an important pillar to production within the game’s economy. In order to partake in this activity, users must make an initial investment via purchasing the token (ATLAS) or equipment. Basic resources (NFTs) will be needed as an input to maintain the mining output for natural resources. Mining yields resources, which are then used to trade or create in-game assets to allow users to carry out their jobs and produce value within the in-game economy.
Blueprints are acquired by leveling-up skills in the Building category, which are then used to unlock the recipes required to make each in-game asset. A player’s productivity in mining progresses based on skill. Mining skill progression grants improved quantity and speed of resource harvesting as well as discounts in crafting and maintaining farm establishments.
Mining requires a special building (together with land and an NPC worker), player character’s skills, and power (supplied by power-generating buildings). Resources produced from mining have to be refined before they are usable.
All visible stars are real assets and can be visited, although some distant stars can be prohibitively distant and will require proper fueling to reach. There will be no actual skybox, so exploration can be done visually. This gives all players open exploration to go anywhere in the Star Atlas universe. Players will pilot their ships manually to uncover all the riches the universe has to offer using their upgradable scanning modules. Higher-tier scanning equipment performs deeper and broader scans and leads to a higher amount of assets that can be discovered. Scanning data can be staked or placed on the marketplace to be sold. Explorers are charged with bringing back materials for miners to potentially reproduce or for builders to craft new technologies. These new materials can either be utilized to gain additional competitive advantage or sold for ATLAS.
Ships are outfitted with weapon turrets and missile bays for combat. Turrets can be of an energy, ballistic, or disruption type to target different components of enemy ships and installations. Turrets are powered by a power supply and protected by shields and a hull. When encountering an enemy ship, if scanned properly, the player can target subsystems to gain advantage in a fight. Ships can also target land- and space-based installations to free up competitor’s claims. However, those installations can also have their own weaponry installed ready for attacks. All players can mark their stance as aggressive or passive to signal their desired combat engagements. Passive stance affords a shield and maneuverability buff to allow for escape if attacked without formal declarations. Fighters earn ATLAS and resources from the salvage of fallen opponents and from winning matches. They can use them to either repair equipment and vehicles or reinvest into new technology/production or farming, and can improve their skills, which leads to increased damage output bonuses and defenses.
New players choose a faction and start in a faction-secured safe zone. This allows the player to explore all the basic functions of the game except destructive-based gameplay loops such as rescue, combat, and salvage. Once the player is confident enough to venture out, there is a medium-tiered safety zone that is secured by mercenary groups. Combat is allowed, but players’ assets will be reset if destroyed. The final distant zone of Star Atlas is a wild frontier where full combat and the destruction of assets is a permanent event. However, only a portion of assets in combat are destroyed permanently. For example, the result from a destroyed ship in combat is that the ship asset is decimated into components, scrap, crew members in escape pods, and a certain amount is lost forever.
A key concept in understanding the production system is land. The universe of Star Atlas consists of regions, solar systems, and planets, and a basic land parcel represents partial ownership of a planet’s territory. Production buildings are built on land, with more advanced buildings having additional requirements to the land they can work on. On top of that, land ownership is required to participate in some of the governance levels. All land in Star Atlas is subject to Land Value Tax, incentivizing owners to use it rather than simply holding it.
Different roles within the game create unique opportunities and levels of economic output for the player. Extractors are responsible for mining raw materials, Refiners are responsible for taking raw materials and converting them into usable resources, and Managers are responsible for making sure resources are used efficiently in order to create value and utility. Some manager-type roles include a Power Plant Manager and Salvage Operator. R&D roles are akin to crafting or alchemy, where players experiment with different combinations of refined and raw materials in order to produce new technology. Builders are responsible for the production and maintenance of technology at scale, Utility Roles are responsible for carrying out the actions for ship maintenance, Combat Roles are responsible for fighting, and Executive Roles are responsible for ordering the Combat Roles and Utility Roles to carry out actions.
The vision of Star Atlas’ Governance module is to be fully decentralized and sustainable. However, in the early stages, it is critically important to get the game “right” and see it through to the fully-envisioned version. To this effect, the Star Atlas DAO is designed to allow the investors and players to take over the reins eventually yet still allow a reasonable degree of control for the developers in the beginning.
Players have been waiting for a while to lay their hands on the game. The roadmap has focused on selling tokens and NFTs and the marketing activity. Details about the timelines for the actual gameplay are still murky.
Gameplay & Fun Score: 4
Star Atlas is very aware of its competition and the playerbase of the genre that it is aiming for. It is an ambitious target and the game design aims to marry it with multiple interconnected systems. The good-looking visuals achieved with the use of Unreal 5 are the cherry on top.
There is a focus on fun and freedom, with multiple playstyles and roles available to players within the broad categories of Mining, Exploration, Combat, and Governance. The faction-secured safe zones allow players of different risk profiles and skill to engage with the game. The progressive governance structure also ensures that the Star Atlas team can optimize for a good experience initially before handing over the reins to the community. What remains to be seen is how the team executes on those ideas.
Tokenomics & Sustainability
The goal of the Star Atlas economy is to align the production of goods at scale with both a sense of long-term progression and short-term enjoyment to the players, while making the collaboration beneficial to their teammates and faction. This is achieved through multiple components.
POLIS (revenue-bearing asset & governance token)
POLIS is the governance token used at each level of governance, representing a financial stake in the game, voting power in the DAOs where it is staked, and control of the Treasury. It has a fixed supply that will not grow (unless a decision to the contrary be made by governance further down the line). As an asset, POLIS is theoretically a low-velocity, long-term store-of-value that incentivizes governance of the ATLAS economy for its long-run production.
The total supply of the POLIS token is 360M, which will be distributed as follows:
The emission pool will be injected directly into the POLIS reward pools via a smooth curve over eight years, dropping the entire reward pool over this time, unless a supermajority DAO vote rules otherwise.
The vision for the DAO interventions is that the organization will set semiannual targets based on the observed economic metrics, which will adjust the dropping schedule accordingly.
ATLAS (medium of exchange and inflationary in-game currency)
ATLAS is the payment token used as a medium of exchange. It is inflationary, aiming to match the growth of the in-game economy and provide a solid monetary base for in-game economic interactions and onramps to enter the game. ATLAS is the form of currency/income in the game. The market clears at the price at which the buy side perceives the value of the production of in-game assets, as ATLAS can be earned within the game. This currency is inflatable, and the aim is to grow the monetary mass at roughly the same rate as the in-game economy. New ATLAS is created to reward in-game activities. The POLIS DAO can adjust the parameters regulating monetary rewards for different in-game activities, both on the global level and granularly, per activity type.
The total supply of the ATLAS token is 36B, which will be distributed as follows:
The life cycle of ATLAS is defined through natural cash flows — in-game fees and taxation as inflows, and rewards for in-game activities as outflows — orchestrated by several parametric automatons and DAO decisions.
The core loop flows between in-game fees (such as fuel costs for ships) and rewards (such as mission payouts). There is a fixed percent of currency recycling that fills the rewards fund (ATLAS Recirculation Fund) directly from fees and sends the rest into the DAO Treasury. The DAO can subsidize the Recirculation Fund directly or by adjusting parameters of the monetary system: perpetual inflation target (activated after year 8) and rewards fund distribution curve (before year 8). It is also possible to adjust the monetary mass by burning a part of the fund. Granular control over the cash flow from the Recirculation Fund into the specialized reward funds allows the DAO to balance the in-game economy by selectively incentivizing or disincentivizing particular groups of activities.
ITEMS (used directly for in-game activities)
The Star Atlas Marketplace is already filled with multiple categories of items such as:
- Ships - The main structures in the game
- Resources - Include consumables like Ammo, Food, Fuel, and Toolkits
- Collectibles - Primarily decorations, with some having small passive boosts
- Access - These contain badges and licenses and will provide special access to future features.
- Structures - Three categories: Mining, Staking, and Space Station structures — all are resource generators.
- Story - Players can buy limited editions of the graphic novels that tell the story of Star Atlas.
Every Star Atlas item is an NFT recorded on the blockchain. This means that the origin of each item can be back-tracked to its creation event, and, as such, every item used in-game can’t be faked. NFTs can be purchased within Star Atlas using ATLAS or on secondary marketplaces using other Solana-supported currencies. Star Atlas items can be either dropped (i.e., acquired via completing quests/exploration missions/P2P or P2E duels/digging on planets’ archeological sites) or crafted (by combining necessary resources). Any Star Atlas item can also be improved to increase its rarity.
Each planet is divided into parcels. The specifics of each parcel (i.e., size, borders, location, current ownership) are recorded as an on-chain NFT. All buildings are naturally built on land, with higher-end facilities requiring more developed land to function. All land is owned rather than rented, protecting users from eviction or discrimination by rent application. To disincentivize flipping —whereby a market agent would buy and simply hold land, planning to gain revenue from its value appreciation rather than its usage — the game utilizes Land Value Tax (LVT). The DAO prices land tax in ATLAS, depending on its level (the more developed land is taxed more), with the global limits adjustable by the top-level DAOs. This mechanism provides dynamic protection from flipping and balances land value with its potential productive capabilities. If the land owner does not pay taxes, the land will eventually be foreclosed, disabling all buildings (but not stopping tax accrual). After an additional period, the land can be auctioned by local governance, recapturing back taxes and fines and returning the remaining funds to the original owner.
Tokenomics & Sustainability Score: 3
Star Atlas follows the two-token model, with POLIS being the revenue-bearing asset and governance token, while ATLAS is the inflationary in-game currency. There is an 8-year distribution schedule, indicating long-term thinking. The idea around the LVT (Land Value Tax) focus on game engagement is a step in the right direction.
Another important consideration here is the P2E nature of Star Atlas. There is no doubt that the game is financialized, but the question that needs to be asked is if the P2E aspect gets in the way of fun. Players can create different assets and value for each other, so in that aspect, the P2E nature of the game is embedded in the fun. However, we will need to see how the economy plays out once live. Star Atlas is a complex game, and managing the economy will be no easy feat, especially considering the past two years, when comparatively simpler economies have not managed to succeed.
Summary: Average Score of 2.8/5
Star Atlas is an ambitious and good-looking project that is aware of what its audience wants. The game design and tokenomics focus on long-term engagement and fun. However, being in the genre that it’s in, achieving this balance — not to mention living up to high expectations — will be difficult. The team executing the project seems capable, but being caught in the FTX quagmire and losing lots of money will make achieving that goal even more challenging.
AI Arena is a web3 gaming platform designed to empower AI talent around the world. AI researchers and gamers compete to design, train, and battle AI-powered NFTs in a PC-based PvP fighting game.
The team believes AI and web3 are defining technologies that will transform the world, but many find these concepts complex and intimidating. It wants to make AI more approachable via a web3 game so it can have a greater, more positive impact on society.
Team & Resources
ArenaX Labs is the software development company building AI Arena. It is led by three co-founders: Brandon Da Silva (Engineering), Wei Xie (Strategy & Operations), and Dylan Pereira (Art & Design). Brandon and Wei were part of OPTrust, which invests and manages Canada’s largest pension funds. Though Brandon has experience in deep tech, the leadership team lacks experience in game development. It currently has 20 people working full-time on the project. This small team looks good when it comes to development and art, but game design expertise seems to be missing (at least based on the LinkedIn listing.) This is a common folly with projects that are not led by gaming founders.
In October 2021, ArenaX Labs raised a $5M seed round led by Paradigm, with participation from Framework. Given the team size and scope, this is a good amount to get started with, but the team might soon need to raise another round.
Team & Resources Score: 2
The team timed the fundraise well, giving itself enough runway to execute a proof-of-concept. However, given the team’s lack of experience in game development, it will need to learn fast and work hard to successfully launch the game. The project will also most likely need another round of fundraising to keep moving.
Game Design & Fun
In AI Arena, gamers can purchase, train, and battle AI-enabled NFTs in a PvP platform fighting game in which the objective is to knock your opponent off of a platform. Players train their NFT character through Imitation Learning, where the AI learns to play the game by copying the players’ actions in the training mode. When players feel their character is ready to start fighting, they submit the NFT into the arena to compete. The NFT then fights autonomously against opponents near its skill level. The objective of the game is to train the most powerful AI NFT, climb the global leaderboard, and earn rewards in the native token called Neurons (or $NRN).
The gameplay is similar to Super Smash Bros, with AIs battling it out. Let’s look at the different systems in the game.
In the first half of the Meta Competition, talented Researchers from around the world compete to create the best Machine Learning (ML) model to battle in the game. Researchers drag and drop their ML models onto the platform and get real-time feedback using a full suite of indicators and analytics against pre-designed benchmarks. Once researchers are satisfied with their model’s performance, they can enter into the Arena and compete against other researchers’ models submitted from around the world. They are able to earn the native token — Neuron ($NRN) — for performing well on the global leaderboard. In the future, they will have the ability to sell certain types of models directly into the marketplace to power NFTs in the Gaming Competition.
This aspect of AI Arena is definitely unique and helps the team crowdsource its efforts. Details of this competition can be found here, but for the purpose of this deconstruction, we will focus more on the Gaming Competition.
In the other half of the Meta Competition, Gamers from around the world compete to develop the optimal training strategy to maximize their NFTs’ performance in the Arena. Gamers are able to earn $NRN as they climb the global leaderboard. The $NRNs can be used in many ways within the game to solidify competitive advantage. Gamers also have the opportunity to win new NFTs through the Merging Pool, further improving their chances for global domination.
The NFT has three categories of attributes: Skin, Frame, and Core.
The Skin represents the visual attributes. There are 8 of those, each with 4 rarities.
There are two types of NFTs: AR-X Bots and Dendroids. Most NFTs are AR-X Bots (short for ArenaX Bots). They are the standard class of NFTs battling in the Arena. Dendroids are a more exclusive class of NFTs. They have the ability to incorporate other metaverse assets (e.g., NFTs from other projects) into the Arena and are more difficult to obtain.
The Frame is the NFT’s robot body. The metal alloy that makes up the Frame determines the fighter’s distinct strengths and weaknesses, or Battle Attributes. In addition, each robot body is endowed with a special Elemental Power. Frames are built using a metal alloy composed of Titanium and Black Zirconium. Each Frame has a randomized composition of these metals. Based on the metal composition for the Frame, each NFT falls into one of three different weight classes: Striker, Scrapper, and Slugger. Battle attributes like weight, power, and speed are endowments that do not change. One can think about training as learning to fight given the potential that a fighter is "born with." In addition to standard battle attributes, each NFT is endowed with special powers based on its element. There are three featured elements, each with corresponding elemental moves. These moves have relative strengths and weaknesses in a typical rock, paper, scissors fashion.
The Core is the distinct energy source that powers the NFT. This is where the AI is contained. The current generation of Cores are a type of Machine Learning model called neural networks. These neural networks have two components: the architecture (nature) and the parameters (nurture). The architecture of the model is stored on IPFS, and it determines the method for which states are transformed to actions. The game uses a feedforward neural network for the model architecture. It is helpful to think of the architecture as the framing for the machine learning model. The parameters of the model are also stored on IPFS. These can be thought of as the “intelligence” that the model acquires through training. Each time a fighter is trained and the user chooses to save the progress, the parameters are updated on IPFS, and the new hash is updated on-chain. Multiple models can share the same architecture, but all models have unique parameters.
An important aspect of AI Arena is that the training of the AI needs to be done by a human. This helps creating a “humans-in-the-loop” experience. Once a player is confident of the training, the AIs are pit against each other in an asynchronous battle based on the ELO Ranking score of the player’s and the opponent’s AI. A Reward Pool of $NRN will be distributed at the end of each Round of the Ranked Battle competition. The size of the Reward Pool is determined by ArenaX Labs on a discretionary basis. Each NFT accumulates Points, which are claims on the Reward Pool, during a Round. The Points are settled for $NRN from the Reward Pool at the end of each Round.
Points = Battle Results, Staking Factor, and Elo
Battle Result is either 0 for a loss / tie or 1 for a win. Staking Factor is a number representing the amount of $NRN a player has staked behind their Challenger NFT for the Round. The more $NRN a player stakes, the more Points their Challenger NFT can accumulate. Elo is the Elo score of each Challenger NFT and represents its skill level relative to other NFTs. To ensure the proper incentives, there are risks involved for losing matches. Points gained during a round are not considered safe until the round is over. The penalty for losing matches are loss of points accumulated in the current Round and a potential loss of stake.
Apart from training, the other way of getting better at the game is to win NFTs through Merging. The merging process allows for the creation of new NFTs. These new NFTs — along with $NRNs — are used as rewards to gamers. The process is controlled by a central apparatus called the Merging Pool. This pool gives ArenaX Labs the ability to control the levels of NFT inflation within the game. To begin the Merging Pool process, the game takes all of the NFTs (more specifically, their embedded neural networks) that have been staked for a given round in Ranked Battle and has them compete against each other. The competition allows the game to select which NFTs it wants to merge in order to create more powerful NFTs. Once the merging is complete, the game then gets the new crop of NFTs and runs the competition again. Each new competition in a genetic algorithm is called a generation. As the generations pass, the NFTs evolve into stronger NFTs. Before entering into a round in Ranked Battle, gamers can elect to put a proportion of their $NRN winnings in that round towards the Merging Pool. The more winnings they redirect, the higher their probability of winning an NFT.
At the time of writing, the AI Arena website is very cryptic. The last playtest was done in March 2022, with not many updates published on the official channels since then.
Game Design & Fun Score: 3
AI Arena is a very unique idea in gaming (be it web2 or web3). It leverages machine learning and blockchain technology and meaningfully incorporates them in the game design.
One can argue that letting an AI fight your battles for you in a fighting game might not be engaging enough. However, there is a human element involved in training the AI. Players need to spend time and put effort into training the AI models of their NFTs. Once that’s done, the feeling is akin to watching your child play soccer and cheering him/her from the sidelines like an enthusiastic parent.
This is a brilliant example of value accrual in NFTs and makes it a very good use case of ownership provided by blockchain technology. The Ranking, Reward, Staking, and Merging loops are simple yet engaging in an ever-evolving experience. What remains to be seen is how many fighting game players will actually find fun in this reversal of experience. The team will also need to be careful about the randomness that is part of training any AI and the time required in training to make the movements of an AI close to humanlike.
Tokenomics & Sustainability
The main elements of the economy are the NFTs and the utility token, which are connected as shown above. The researchers, as described in the last section, will also be able to sell their models in the future.
Neuron ($NRN) lies at the heart of the AI Arena economic system, helping coordinate and align the incentives of players and stakeholders in the economy. $NRN is a utility token and serves as a strategic resource within the game. The exact details of the token being inflationary or deflationary are not known right now, but we can look at its sources and sinks.
NFTs power the Gaming Competition. Gamers can purchase NFTs from ArenaX Labs via new drops (primary market). They can also buy & sell NFTs in the Arena Marketplace (secondary market). ArenaX Labs retains full discretion on the issuance rate of NFTs and will be data-driven in its approach. In periods of strong growth, it may be aggressive in raising the NFT supply. Conversely, in periods of moderate growth, it may slow the pace of supply increase.
Players need an NFT in order to play, but the team controls the number of NFTs in the system. This will definitely limit the scalability of the project. Hopefully, there is a free version of the NFT that will help the players sample the game.
The primary source of new supply will be new NFT drops via the Arena Marketplace. The team aims to maintain a steady rate of inflation via new NFTs rewarded from the Merging Pool. In the future, Researchers will be able to list and sell new AI models on the marketplace to power future generations of NFTs.
Currently, there is only one in-game asset for sale called Batteries. NFTs require Voltage to fight in the Ranked Battle Arena. Each NFT has 10 Voltage units, which are recharged every 24 hours. Each fight in the Ranked Battle Arena expends 1 Voltage unit. This allows for 10 fights a day. Gamers can purchase up to 10 Batteries a day, to increase their number of fights. All proceeds go to the Arena Treasury.
The Arena Treasury will accrue $NRNs through the sale of NFTs and Batteries. The staked tokens that players lose are burnt. The purpose of the Arena Treasury is to deliver long-term value to the AI Arena ecosystem. Capital allocation decisions are initially controlled by ArenaX Labs. Examples of uses include Gaming Competition Rewards, Researcher Competition Rewards, Incentive Programs, Grants, Bug Bounties, Mergers & Acquisitions, $NRN Buyback and Burn, etc.
The AI Arena economy will have a diverse set of stakeholders, including gamers, researchers, guilds, sponsors, fans, speculators, and investors. The team wants to progressively decentralize the platform so that it is beyond any single party’s control. However, it also believes that in the early days of development, projects benefit from the focus and driving energy of a core team. As such, ArenaX Labs will initially control most decisions related to the economy.
Tokenomics & Sustainability Score: 2
A lot of details regarding the tokenomics are not currently available. Initially, the team would like to have control over the economy and is committed to a data-driven approach. The comparatively simple system combined with the team’s prudent approach of managing it is a step in the right direction. Though the model looks fine, the scalability might be affected by the fact that the game requires NFTs to play and puts the motivation of earning at its center.
Summary: Average Score of 2.3/5
AI Arena is definitely a unique and exciting project and a perfect use case for AI and blockchain tech. Though the idea is great, the lack of gaming experience in the team might slow things down a bit. However, its prudent approach to dealing with the economy and the relatively simple core loop with an evolving meta makes this a project to keep an eye on.