#1: MapleStory Goes Big on Blockchain
Game publisher Nexon, the company behind MMORPG MapleStory, had been considering jumping into blockchain gaming for quite some time, but it first wanted to make sure the move made sense, according to a recent video from Nexon Korea COO Daehyun Kang posted to the MapleStory website.
After considering the potential of the technology, Kang said Nexon settled on three properties to focus on: transparency for records and governance, openness of distribution and contribution, and store of value via NFTs and tokens. Nexon eventually felt so confident it could use blockchain tech to improve virtual worlds that it decided to take the risk of implementing it into MapleStory, its most valuable IP.
While Western audiences may be less familiar with MapleStory, the game has been a massive RPG for close to 20 years in Asia. According to data Nexon provided in a new Medium post about MapleStory Universe in the run up to the game’s 20th anniversary, MapleStory games have enjoyed more than 180 million cumulative players with around 160,000 currently active.
Over time, however, Nexon has seen its share of problems from running long-lasting gaming services. One of the bigger issues the company has struggled with is bots and item inflation, and this inspired rethinking its business and user engagement models. What Nexon found was that leveraging blockchain technology would allow it to shift to a business model in which players act more as partners than customers, a trend we’ve seen a fair amount in web3’s burgeoning game economies.
Nexon sees this helping MapleStory by focusing more on rewarding ecosystem contribution than strictly on play-to-earn systems. It’s unclear how the company plans to fight inflation, but the angle may be through controlling supply and peer-to-peer marketplaces differently using blockchain tech rather than pure centralization. Interestingly, Nexon also brought up trust in the developer as a serious concern that blockchain transparency and financial alignment can help solve.
Nexon’s public plan is fairly ambitious in scope and encompasses four products under the umbrella of MapleStory Universe. The first two, MapleStory N and MapleStory N Mobile, are web3 games. The other two, MOD N and the MapleStory N SDK, are a sandbox and toolkit respectively for building and sharing game and app experiences to populate this ecosystem.
Much of the gameplay in the two MapleStory N entries will no doubt feel familiar to MapleStory players, but with a few web3 twists. Nexon is completely eschewing in-game purchases and making all items acquirable through gameplay and available as NFTs as well. Instead of directly monetizing game items itself, Nexon wants to collect ecosystem fees like transaction cuts alongside other player creators, in essence acting as a somewhat equal partner.
The company specifically mentioned that there won’t be any NFT pre-sales. This business model carries risk because a lack of NFT pre-sales means short-term profits will be much lower than if Nexon directly began selling tokens to players. Nexon is instead building a much longer-term vision for growth, given that it does have experience managing the MapleStory IP for two decades. Initial gameplay is likely targeting the existing MapleStory IP audience, so if successful, then it may directly cannibalize the existing in-game shop sales and initially make a much lower amount through just fees.
While not specifically using terms like user-generated content, Nexon is building much of this new ecosystem around creators. The intention is for profit sharing with a mix of user content and Nexon’s IP. The company is presenting the idea as if it’s building a platform and then simply becoming just another creator on a level playing field with third parties. That way, all participants, including Nexon itself, are eligible to make profit from content contributions.
Nexon wants the NFT content of MapleStory N to act as a source and inspiration for user generated content both to extend the IP and to expand the utility of the NFTs. There doesn’t seem to be plans for players to create content or experiences within MapleStory N, but instead with the MOD N and SDK tools. Obviously Nexon will have far higher costs and development needs as a platform maintainer than a content creator would, and its expected fee shares will reflect that, although those kinds of details aren’t yet given.
The MOD N project is being built as a sandbox for creators to build experiences around MapleStory N NFTs, but also in a surprising twist through the incorporation of other NFTs. This is a way of putting the responsibility for interoperability on the creators rather than on Nexon itself, much as other virtual worlds like Decentraland do. The central idea is for creators to continue building utility for NFTs, as Nexon doesn’t want to be solely responsible for NFTs being valuable indefinitely. It’s unclear how easy to use these tools will be compared to other UGC ecosystems, including entrenched game platforms like Roblox and soon Fortnite as well.
The other ecosystem toolkit Nexon is building isn’t focused on games, but instead on expanding the ecosystem of NFTs and IP to other types of projects via the MapleStory N SDK. While MOD N extends the IP within a sandbox environment, the SDK will extend the IP beyond that to all kinds of projects. Some examples given are NFT merch stores and a health monitoring app that uses a player’s MapleStory avatar. This is again a push for creators to extend the utility of the MapleStory NFTs and IP as far as possible and help foster a long-term ecosystem.
It will be interesting to contrast all these MapleStory projects with something like the Axie Infinity Builder’s Program, especially in terms of what level of control Nexon will exercise given the presentation’s anti-centralized approach. The SDK presents an opportunity for other games to integrate MapleStory NFTs in a way that should be easier than manually reading blockchain data. Unfortunately, no details are yet available on what blockchain technology would be used. Still, it does come across as if Nexon wants to place a lot of game and transaction data on-chain based on its comments about the transparency of such data, which rules out some of the more cumbersome or expensive blockchains. One could imagine Nexon is at least considering some of the more regional gaming focused blockchains like Oasys, Klaytn, and WeMix.
It’s clear Nexon’s is serious about its web3 ambitions, yet the lack of details does create some uncertainty about how this project will take shape and gives the impression that execution is some ways off. Nexon seems very committed while acknowledging the risks and unknowns at the end of its presentation, and it clearly states it’s using the flagship MapleStory IP as a signal of commitment to figuring out the issues and fully realizing the benefits of blockchain technology.
Regardless of when the universe finally manifests, it’s a bullish signal to web3 gamers and game developers by committing such a beloved IP. With so many big name game devs in Asia pushing heavily into web3, we also hope that South Korea finally reverses its ban on web3 games in the near future.
#2: Square Enix Innovates Web3 with Symbiogenesis
After a long wait, we finally have significant details about Square Enix’s big web3 game, Symbiogenesis, including a website with a whitepaper-style breakdown of the project and a Discord. Symbiogenesis lacks a lot of traditional gameplay elements and instead focuses on NFTs, narrative, and community interaction. Square Enix calls the genre of game, "narrative-unlocked NFT entertainment.”
Symbiogenesis is a game focused on exploring this new world’s fiction and characters through NFTs and an interactive map, while unlocking more of that story by performing different actions solo or collaboratively with other players. Realistically, players won’t do much in the game itself besides daily check-ins, reading, and lots of tapping for hidden items, but it’s still an advance over many of the attempts at attaching lore to PFP-style NFTs and calling it “utility.”
Symbiogenesis is broken into six chapters, each lasting around two months before a final “World Mission” that only three players can participate in to decide how the game ends. This gives the entire game a duration of about a year, which is an interesting divergence from typical live service game design and more in line with something like a web-based alternate reality game (ARG). Each of the six chapters unlocks more story content, as well as additional new character NFTs to purchase from the total 10,000-token pool.
Character NFTs are the main tokens of the game and the vehicle with which players can unlock more story content. Owning a character NFT will provide advantages and rewards to players, but the game is designed so at least the six chapters of its main story can be completed without owning one. Character NFTs will have a combination of private and public information, but exist in limited supply. As a way to help expand access to a lesser form of characters, there are multiple copies of each character called “replicas” that provide some of the needed story bits, but not the other reward systems. Unfortunately, characters aren’t played with in any traditional sense. Instead, players perform a daily check-in with these NFTs in their wallets to earn points that can be used to unlock corresponding story content over time.
There is a pseudo-breeding system through the replica NFTs, of which five are given to players who purchase a primary character NF, as well as a system for Character NFT holders to mint more replica NFTs as part of the overall progression system. The replica NFTs only give the same important narrative elements of the main NFTs, but don’t provide participation in the point systems critical to power players. Square Enix states that it wants to incorporate a mix of play from web2 players and web3 NFT owners, although there is definitely a lot more meat for the web3 participants.
The gameplay is divided into two categories that sound misleadingly synonymous based on their names: missions and quests. Missions are the more open participatory gameplay provided at a “low difficulty” for the community and can be completed without owning a character NFT. It’s unclear what actual game mechanics there might be outside of tapping on a map, but “completing” the missions is how chapters are cleared to unlock more narrative content. Supposedly, completing the missions will require information obtained from the game’s story and lore as well as hints made publicly available on character or replica NFTs.
Quests are a bit more complicated as they are designed to be “high difficulty” and require unlocking information on character NFTs as well as collaboration with other players to find hidden items around the world with the help of hints and other useful in-game information. The quests are unlocked as each new chapter is released, which provides a parallel goal system alongside missions to pursue.
The quest system underpins much of the other interesting elements of the game. Character NFTs have a few different types of story “slots” that have to be unlocked to provide important information for quests. This is done using a point system called “Slot Release Points” that are gained via daily check-ins based on how many character NFTs a player holds. The daily check-in system also provides character NFT holders with “member rank” experience points that lets the player level up during the two-month season with rewards doled out based on leaderboard placement. Interestingly, one of the rewards is the option to purchase a character NFTs for the next chapter at a discount.
The main purpose of the quests is finding hidden Items around the world that can be important to game progress or tradable as NFTs. Some items are limited to one per account, or one per day, dropped at random and with a finite supply. These mechanics are meant to encourage players to trade some items to those who don’t have character NFTs as a way of helping those players progress.
How accessible these hidden items may be to non-NFT holders will depend on how generous players are with unlocked private slot information. Square Enix suggests players consider carefully whether to keep information to themselves, share it with a small group of friends, or share it globally as an important part of the game’s dynamic and philosophy.
By design, this gives a fair amount of power to players who bought NFTs, so hopefully there will be enough motivation for them to cooperate at least a little with those who decide not to purchase tokens. The three-player limitation for the final game mission is meant to keep the competitive spirit in the back of players’ minds once chapter six is unlocked. While the game is designed to have a number of item collection requirements to be one of these three, it seems like a restrictively low number off the back of a year of player cooperation. Hopefully Square Enix finds ways for the other players to participate besides just spectating in the final world mission, to avoid making the rest of the player base feel cheated.
As a way to encourage participation and conversion for web2 players, there is also a community-driven NFT called “Member Cards.” Square Enix will run competitive community events on Discord and Twitter to drive engagement and reward these NFTs, which come in a few different types with benefits that may offer simultaneous stacking benefits to multiple card holders if types align.
Holding one of these NFTs also enables the same daily check-ins that character NFT holders can perform to gain member rank experience points and slot release points. This system allows a way for free participation in the web3 aspect and should encourage heavier community participation, though of course this won’t contribute to Square Enix’s revenue. The game uses a system we expect to see more frequently in which in-game NFTs are not actually on-chain NFTs until they are converted explicitly and taken out of the game by doing so. The conversion process also works in reverse to burn NFTs and bring them back into the game. Square Enix plans to cover the gas fee for these conversions a limited number of times.
Overall, Symbiogenesis is an interesting way to expand ideas around NFT collecting and incentivize diving into game world fiction. The gameplay aspect certainly sounds shallow, especially since searching for hidden items involves zooming and panning around a world map until a “tap” button appears, which may subvert any fiction-based detective work with manual “pixel hunting.”
Motivating players to read, interpret, and discuss the games fiction will still engage the more passionate parts of the community, and if received well this may do some worldbuilding that Square Enix can capitalize on further in the future. The broad design definitely borrows a lot from ARGs, but in a way that allows web3 elements to take those designs much further than simple marketing schemes. That makes Symbiogenesis a pretty innovative tool for leveraging an under-monetized game genre. It’s unclear what primary character NFT prices and secondary trade royalties will be like, but those seem like the main monetization for Square Enix although with this only a year-long project it could build towards something bigger in the future.
The short-term roadmap for Symbiogenesis has Square Enix focused on early community engagement this month with an active Discord quiz campaign, a Twitter giveaway of 20 Member Card NFTs, and 30,000 free NFT mints. Pre-sales, both private and public, are planned for next month, and a release of the first game chapter with gameplay is scheduled around mid-May. Despite the project falling somewhere between a PFP lore project and a full on web3-enabled game, the dedicated fan base Square Enix commands could make Symbiogenesis worth paying attention to this summer.
If successful, it’s likely Square Enix builds future games with more robust gameplay and continues leveraging the evolving web3 space. With a new president, however, a failure to build significant enough traction for the project might push the publisher to reconsider the level of dedication and resource allocation it’s currently giving to web3 initiatives.
With the heavy emphasis on text, Symbiogenesis may also appeal more strongly to Japanese audiences than Western ones, but thankfully Square Enix plans to support both English and Japanese language options, although some of the current English translation remains rough. We look forward to seeing details on gameplay come May, and we anticipate in the meantime that existing PFP projects built on Symbiogenesis “lore” will continue taking cues from the game’s ongoing narrative.
Upcoming Game Announcements
- Chainmonsters launched early access on Epic Games Store. (Link)
- WeMade announced a new baseball game called Round 1 Baseball built by Round 1 Studio, the team behind the Magumagu baseball game. (Link)
- Continuum World launched the First Explorers phase of its game. (Link)
- Chronos added crafting functionality to its open beta. (Link)
- Immutable announced a partnership with trading card game Roboworld for marketplace trading. (Link)
- Ethermon announced a major 3D update. (Link)
- Yuga Labs announced March 25th as the release date for the Second Trip of The Otherside. (Link)
- Champions Ascension added Team Arena Battles. (Link)
- NFT Worlds released the first part of its post-Minecraft reboot with Armory. (Link)
- Citizen Conflict announced an Alpha 2.0 for Q2. (Link)
- Cross the Ages launched a three week Arkhante Event. (Link)
- Forest Knight announced a content creator program. (Link)
- Intella X announced a web3 social casino game, House of Slots. (Link)
- The Walking Dead: Empires announced details of its next playtest. (Link)
- Netmarble launched pre-registration for Meta World: My City. (Link)
- Raiders Rumble released an open beta. (Link)
- Mighty Action Heroes ran a weekend early access playtest. (Link)
- Myria released its official whitepaper. (Link)
- Eternal Paradox is running a two-week playtest. (Link)
- The company behind popular anime Naruto announced it will be launching a web3 game in 2023. (Link)
Live Game Announcements
- Mini Royale: Nations announced a partnership with Ready Player Me for two-way avatar integration. (Link)
- Gamee announced updates for Arc8 with new games and lots of improvements. (Link)
- The Sandbox announced a partnership with Scenario for AI content creation. (Link)
- Decentraland launched the beta of its new version 7 SDK. (Link)
- The Sandbox launched its March festival with 1M $SAND in prizes. (Link)
- Tearing Spaces released information on new features and functionality. (Link)
- Splinterlands announced a revamped energy system that simplifies daily earning rates. (Link)
- Alien Worlds released a series of player experience improvements. (Link)
- Jungle raised $6 million for a web3 mobile shooter in a round led by BitKraft and Framework Ventures. (Link)
- DressX raised $15 million for web3 digital fashion in a round led by Greenfield. (Link)
- Tilia raised $22 million for game economy payment systems led by Dunamu. (Link)
- Animoca Brands raised $5.5 million in sales from its MocaVerse NFT mint. (Link)
- Limit Break acquired the platform it’s been using for free mints, FreeNFT. (Link)
- The Pokémon Company released a job listing for a web3 lead, leading to speculation on potential web3 Pokémon projects. (Link)
- Epic Games announced positive reception and future for web3 games on its store. (Link)
- Ethereum deployed the new ERC-4337 standard on the mainnet for improved blockchain usability. (Link)
- Community Gaming, Game7 and 3XP announced a game focused web3 conference for June in LA. (Link)
- Animoca Brands announced a partnership with Planet Hollywood to launch a private physical club for web3 members called Club 3. (Link)
- Nefta announced a partnership with Block Born for services on Tezos. (Link)
- South Korea invested $18M into its new “Metaverse Fund”. (Link)
- Binance NFT launched an upgrade to now support Polygon. (Link)
- Starbucks Odyssey program released its limited edition NFT stamps. (Link)
- Meta announced it’s backing away from NFTs on Facebook and Instagram. (Link)
- TSM announced a partnership with Avalanche for its web3 esports content. (Link)
Notable Market Moves
- Despite what may be a bad thing in the long run, crypto hugely benefited from the recent bank collapses of SVB and Signature Bank, leaving all tokens in the green. Bitcoin and Ethereum went up significantly as traditional banks suddenly looked less attractive than crypto, despite the fact that both bank collapses affected crypto as Circle had USDC backing in SVB (causing a brief de-peg) and Signature Bank was pretty involved in crypto.
- Render Token did quite well with a short extra pump at the end of the week as many crypto traders were predicting some strong price increases.
- Magic also had a strong finish thanks to new Treasure DAO game announcements like Zeeverse, events for Smolverse and The Beacon, and Bitmates pre-launch testing.
- Gala also performed well this week thanks to strong updates on games like Last Expedition, Eternal Paradox, Legends Reborn and Battlestar Galactica. As some more games start getting released on Gala we may see the token boosted further as it will be tied into games economies.
- StepN also benefited from a series of events and releases for International Panda Day, alongside updates about the resilience and health point systems.
- As always, we recommend looking and thinking long term. It was nice to see the crypto industry respond positively to bank issues as a banking alternative, but there are also many ways the current market instability can hurt crypto in the short and long-term. We expect further diversification of assets in response, which may instigate further moves into crypto in general, although ways that may not always directly benefit games.
Content Worth Consuming
- Unleashing the Secrets to Gamefi's Success: A 20-Year Journey of Open Economic Gaming Mastery (FrostLam) - “The economic system in Fantasy Westward Journey is entirely free and open, and the game resembles a single-token gamefi. The mobile version has a different economic model than the PC version but is largely based on the latter's design. Although there are few articles discussing the economic model of this game, I strongly recommend that all gamefi teams study it carefully, as the PC version is a classic of open economies. Recently, I was asked by a portfolio company to talk about the game's design, so I bought an account and returned to it after nearly 10 years. I am taking this opportunity to organize my analyses into articles, hoping to provide readers with some reference and to let more people be aware of this Chinese game's light.” (Link)
- Our Questions About Web 2.5 Gaming (Maverick Crypto) - “Today, many crypto game studios and investors are focused on remaking the gameplay of popular genres like MMORPG, FPS, and MOBA. While it makes prima facie sense to go after the largest seen TAM, these are also places where PMF or TMF -- team-market fit -- is least clear. Crypto upstarts typically spend a lot of resources on gameplay before gamers even come in and experiment with risky but crucial crypto-economic designs. Historically, it has been extremely difficult to disrupt gaming incumbents with data, distribution, and social moats.” (Link)
- Let’s get phygital (Nami) - “When it comes to games, trading card games have had an interesting history that spans both physical and digital realms. Trading cards are essentially just printed information and so it makes sense to translate them in both directions. One early example of this was the Eye of Judgement game for the Playstation EyeToy camera, where players could use physical cards to play matches against opponents online. The camera would track the cards and translate the gameplay into the digital realm, creating an early form of augmented reality. To this day, playing online matches using a webcam remains popular. However, there is no foolproof way to prevent players from simply using printed copies of the cards, as there is no way to track their true uniqueness. The counterfeit issue is not just limited to trading cards - Nintendo’s Amiibos and the popular ‘toys-to-life’ game Skylanders have also suffered from piracy of their encrypted NFC chip data.” (Link)
- Voodoo’s Ongoing Evolution (Naavik Gaming Podcast) - “In this episode, – VP of Casual Games at Voodoo – joins Naavik co-founder to discuss: #1 Is hypercasual dead? We explore the changes Voodoo’s seen in its own business and dig into why the company is shifting its focus to (hybrid)casual. #2 Why Voodoo’s entrance into casual shouldn’t be underestimated and why the team is thinking about web3. #3 How Voodoo’s culture is designed for it to move fast, try many things, and support several internal and external teams” (Link)
- Avalon: Building the Future of MMOs (FOGcast) - “In this week’s FOGcast, your hosts Nico Vereecke and Devin Becker are joined by Sean Pinnock and Jeff Butler to take a deep dive into Avalon. The company just raised $13m to build an interoperable digital universe. Sean and Jeff are veterans and have unique insights into the future of MMOs. We discuss: What's wrong with MMOs today, what technologies are needed to fix it, how to solve the Cold Start problem, what Web3 bring to games, and much more” (Link)