#1: Unity Goes Big On Web3
Until now, web3 gaming has mostly been stuck in browser windows due to the complexity of building on top of a decentralized network and, in some cases, maneuvering app store gatekeepers like Apple and Valve. But Unity came out swinging last week when it announced 13 verified solution providers to help jumpstart development in its “decentralized technologies for gaming” section.
While technically anyone can develop plugins and assets for Unity, the company’s Verified Solutions program comes with higher standards, effectively acting as a tacit recommendation from Unity itself. While there has been plenty of talk over the years about official support from platform providers, this marks the first substantial extension of support from a major game industry player.
The first and arguably most important category is blockchain support with plugins for Algorand, Aptos, Flow, Immutable, Solana, and Tezos networks. The second is support for some basic blockchain tech with Infura, Metamask, and Truffle to enhance Ethereum development. Lastly is useful support systems from Aikon Ore ID, Altura, Nefta, and Pocketful of Quarters.
The increased ease of developing web3 apps should help improve the quality of games going forward, but not without some complications. The quality of web3 games ranks among players’ biggest complaints, and being able to leverage one of the most widely used game engines should help raise the bar.
The flip side, of course, is that more accessible and useful tools might result in an influx of web3 shovelware. More amateur projects purporting to be AAA or AA in quality might leverage Unity for asset flips and other low-grade products prioritizing a quick buck over genuine effort. We’ve already seen a number of projects in the space imply a higher level of quality simply by mentioning the use of Epic’s Unreal Engine.
While having an easy-to-use plugin doesn’t always reduce the ease and time of development, where this kind of support might have the most impact is on Unity-powered games already in development that haven’t yet fully committed to specific web3 technology. This is where the support for ImmutableX and Flow may prove to be big wins for Immutable and Flow creator Dapper Labs.
Immutable has been pushing to transition more games over to its Layer 2 network, even if the games were already being built for a competing one. Not only has Immutable managed to pull over a few games from Polygon, but it also recently nabbed one of the few games coming to Flow, Chainmonsters. The Pokémon-inspired title is developed using Unity, and developer B-Side Games had been working with Flow’s technology for some time. So it’s telling that even with a Unity SDK for both chains, Immutable was able to convince the studio to switch, no doubt leveraging the new Unity plugin.
Immutable definitely considers the plugin a big deal with Immutable President Robbie Ferguson tweeting out his excitement over the announcement. “Announcing the Immutable Unity SDK: enabling game developers to build Web3 games directly in Unity,” Ferguson wrote. “This is an enormous step for us, but also for the entire industry. More than >50% of *all* games are built with Unity.”
Considering the only game fully live on ImmutableX at the moment is the game it was created for, Gods Unchained, anything that can speed up the process of developers moving to the network is a major advantage. Immutable has also made some key moves of late to encourage adoption of its network, including a royalty enforcement for its gas-free NFT trading and its onboarding tool Immutable Passport.
For Immutable, which has been suffering from growing pains, this is a step in the right direction. The company shifted quickly from a smaller player in the blockchain scene to a much larger one last year, with a $200 million Series C in March and then the launch of a $500 million developer and venture investment fund in June. Additionally, the company underwent a reorganization, too, which has included two rounds of layoffs in the last 12 months.
Easing the technical burden, especially when dealing with a ZK-rollup-based Layer 2 network, could go a long way. Hopefully Polygon will consider developing a Unity and Unreal plugin for the pending release of its zkEVM network, too.
It’s not just Immutable and Flow that benefit, of course. Algorand, Aptos, Solana, and Tezos also have SDKs in the mix. Aptos, for example, has yet to support any launched games, with the only notable announcement being NPixel’s Gran Saga: Unlimited. Algorand and Tezos are also not notable gaming chains and may not see any significant adoption increases from Unity’s announcement.
Solana, however, stands to benefit greatly as there are already a number of notable games on the chain, while developing for Solana requires a different toolset and knowledge than Ethereum-based chains. We can’t say for sure just how easy these SDKs make developing for various chains, but at least Unity’s verified solutions program does guarantee a level of technical quality, assuming these solutions continue to receive developer support as the chains themselves evolve.
Considering Epic has been fairly pro-web3 — namely with the Epic Game Store allowing web3 games — it’s likely we’ll see some Unreal Engine plugins start popping up as well. Immutable has its Unreal Engine SDK listed as “coming soon,” and you can imagine it’s likely a high priority given the excellent production quality of the engine.
Support from both engines would cover the majority of game development scenarios, especially considering Unity has a dominant share of the mobile at more than 70% of the market. So these plugins could greatly speed up web3 adoption for smartphone-centric experiences, especially on Android where developers enjoy laxer enforcement of platform and app store policies and greater freedom than on Apple’s iOS.
While we may be in a bit of a crypto slump at the moment, it’s clear that technological progress is still occurring at a rapid clip, especially when it comes to development tools, infrastructure, and ease of use for consumers. Developers of Unity-made games interested in adding web3 elements to existing projects like Castle Crush may benefit from these sorts of plugins on a much shorter timescale than games still in early development.
We do hope, however, that any kind of ad hoc additions of web3 elements to more traditional gaming products is considered carefully, and not just for quick attention or an easy buck. Easing the tech burden on developers so they can focus on content, technical development, and economy design will result in future waves of web3 games living up to their potential.
#2: A Trip with Elemental Raiders
Elemental Raiders, despite being available in its free-to-play version on Steam, has not received significant attention to date. However, the game and its developer, Games For a Living (GFAL), recently garnered the interest of more seasoned gamers with the announcement of industry veteran Trip Hawkins as GFAL’s new Chief Strategy Officer.
Trip Hawkins is a well-known figure in the gaming industry, as a founder of EA and, later on, the founder of The 3DO Company. He later went on to lead Digital Chocolate's successful foray into social games. As the debate rages on regarding traditional game developers' embrace (or rejection) of blockchain gaming, the addition of veterans like Hawkins signifies a broader shift toward acceptability of blockchain tech in the game industry.
Hawkins' successful transition from console to social games demonstrated his willingness to embrace new technology and platforms, which he continues to do with web3. It's worth noting that Hawkins' addition to GFAL as CSO is not a random happening; he joins another successful former Digital Chocolate member, Manel Sort, GFAL’s co-founder and CEO and a former top executive at Candy Crush maker King.
GFAL is not only working on developing a web3 game, but also creating a private layer 1 blockchain with the eventual goal of decentralizing and distributing governance. However, despite Elemental Raiders being available in playable form, the GFAL blockchain appears to be non-existent even in testnet form.
GFAL's decision to build a blockchain was motivated by the fact that current layer 1 networks were not designed to handle games efficiently for various reasons. The GFAL whitepaper outlines several features aimed at benefiting game developers, including developer tools, a wallet and identification system, easy token and NFT creation, game analytics, and live event management. Since developing a layer 1 blockchain requires extensive testing and time, GFAL plans to use other networks such as BNB and Ethereum to launch tokens and NFTs, with the intention of bridging and migrating to their private blockchain at a later date. According to the roadmap, the IEO launch of the $GFAL token is scheduled for March 9th on the BNB chain, and we may see game use in the coming quarter according to the company’s published roadmap.
It’s worth noting that GFAL was formed in 2021 and since then both dedicated gaming blockchains and Layer 2 networks like Polygon and Immutable have shown potential to alleviate the issue with Ethereum that spurred developing a Layer 1 in the first place. Axie Infinity, of course, was the first game to build its own network, Ronin, to serve its needs, but growing and maintaining that network on its own alongside the game proved a massive endeavor for developer Sky Mavis.
While little has been said about the GFAL chain in some time, we’re left wondering whether the company may eventually cease network development in lieu of using an existing option. This could be especially enticing given the new Unity plugin options; Elemental Raiders, after all, was built using Unity, making it a perfect test case for the utility of Unity’s new verified solutions.
As it stands, Elemental Raiders in its playable state is a rather decent game. It can be downloaded and played for free on Steam, Elixir, or via GFAL’s own game launcher. There are some in-progress areas listed as “coming soon,” like the guild and battle pass sections, although a battle pass NFT already exists on Ethereum with a floor price of around $51.
In its current form, the gameplay consists of fairly approachable card battler mechanics, with teams of three heroes battling one another with customized decks of cards called “skills.” Both PvE and PvP battles take place over a number of turns, with a card resource restriction similar to standard TCD mana systems. The game differs from typical TCGs, however, in both the individual hero system as well as a unique mechanic in which killed heroes are able to return the next turn at the cost of one life. This makes the win condition of the game to kill the opposing players’ heroes as much as possible either before a turn limit is reached or one player runs out of lives.
The gameplay appears complete, with a solid tutorial, rewards system, PvE/PvP, and solid progression systems. GFAL is even incentivizing players to pick up the game and participate in PvP with a tournament running from March 2nd to 8th and a prize pool of $35,000.
With three different possible platforms to play the game on, it’s difficult to gauge how active it is, with SteamCharts currently showing only 13 average players and an all-time peak of 34. While the play-and-earn components are slated for some time later this quarter, along with a mobile launch, players can already start tapping into existing progression systems.
The important element of the earning progression system is obtaining more copies of cards to upgrade using the in-game soft currency Rune Stones. There’s also a premium currency, Elemental Crystals, priced at $0.01 each, while Rune Stones are purchasable using Elemental Crystals at around $0.001 each, with bonuses for bulk purchases.
The most apt comparison for the play-and-earn component of Elemental Raiders is Immutable’s Gods Unchained. GFAL enables players to monetize their time spent in Elemental Raiders by spending $GFAL tokens to mint skill cards into NFTs, which players can then sell to other players.
There are some key differences compared to Gods Unchained, however, in which cards can be upgraded in rarity, but stay functionally the same and where NFT minting is for “core cards” while the remainder of cards already come as NFTs Immutable sells in set packs. It's uncertain whether GFAL plans to sell NFT cards to players, but it appears unlikely.
In contrast, blockchain-based TCG Skyweaver uses a unique system in which NFT cards come from a specific competition format and are obtained by playing the game. The primary focus of GFAL's game design remains F2P gaming, with the web3 element mostly catering to player-to-player sales. However, players can also use $GFAL to receive discounts over fiat prices and purchase cosmetic skins. GFAL plans to offer $GFAL through events, tournaments, and leaderboard rewards, similar to the AXS rewards system in Axie Infinity.
The game’s current economy design is not without its issues. For one, bots or multi-accounts run the risk of potentially inflating the supply of NFT cards or undermining the integrity of tournament competitions. To protect against this, GFAL has a cost for minting NFTs to act as a price floor, ensuring a loss at scale for bulk minting.
What’s unclear is how that pricing will work in relation to $GFAL’s dollar value, especially if a crash in token value brings down the value of the NFTs as well. Sky Mavis, for example. uses a dollar price-fixed AXS cost for minting charms to guarantee a floor. The entire premise of course relies on players being motivated to purchase NFT cards to skip the in-game grind, a form of what you could consider pay-to-win.
It’s likely that there will be some form of matchmaking that takes card upgrades into account to try and balance this, but good matchmaking relies on a large enough pool of players. There’s also the question of whether the more mainstream clients on Steam and mobile will have any of the web3 functionality or if players will be required to use another client or even the website to interact with the token and NFTs. Lastly, there’s also the risk of using a single token for multiple games, something we haven’t seen web3 companies do before.
It is encouraging to see experienced game developers like Sort and Hawkins exploring the integration of ownership and earning concepts into standard F2P models. Elemental Raiders itself is well-designed and entertaining, but it’s entering a crowded, arguably saturated, market. The web3 player base may not be large enough to support the game on its own, so GFAL will need to attract interested F2P gamers who are willing to spend money.
There’s still some time for GFAL to pivot and avoid potential risks by leveraging existing tech, but the company has made no announcements outside of Hawkins joining and the current tournament. We’ll have to wait and see how $GFAL IEO pans out in the current economic climate, especially considering its launch on a BNB chain and with game functionality still forthcoming. Success for GFAL, with Hawkins onboard, would certainly be encouraging to traditional game developers still on the fence about web3.
Upcoming Game Announcements
- Guild of Guardians announced it’s replacing developer Stepico with Mineloader to get the game back on track (Link)
- Grease Monkey Games announced a partnership with Mishimoto for licensed NFTs in Torque Drift 2 (Link)
- DraftKings and PGA Tour announced a promotional NFT game (Link)
- The Fabled announced a new alpha phase for March 15th (Link)
- StarHeroes, a web3 space shooter, launched an alpha (Link)
- Haunted Space, an open-world space game, released a single player beta for NFT holders (Link)
- Star Atlas released a new roadmap and announced a partnership with Jupiter Aggregator for an improved marketplace experience (Link)
- BigTime announced a new patch with new features and a player progress wipe (Link)
- Hunters On-chain announced an upcoming testnet release with P2E features (Link)
- Andrew "Zyori" Campbell, former Axie Infinity esports director moved over to Product and Market Growth Lead on Crypto Unicorns (Link)
- Mirandus announced an upcoming Tavern Games mode playtest (Link)
- Stella Fantasy, an anime RPG, announced pre-registration for early access (Link)
- Parallel began its wave 1 alpha test, with wave 2 set to begin in early March (Link)
Live Game Announcements
- Undead Blocks announced a daily play-to-earn system for Gold ZBUX (Link)
- Mini-Royale: Nations announced a partnership with Audius for streaming in-game music (Link)
- Genopets added Feed and Fetch mini-games to play with pets (Link)
- Gods Unchained is testing a private alpha of its mobile version with heavily invested players (Link)
- Ev.io announced a new program around NFT burning to convert non-earning NFTs (Link)
- Mojo Melee announced a free Champion NFT mint for whitelisted players (Link)
- Nine Chronicles announced a proposal for a more sustainable protocol (Link)
- Eternal Dragons announced the release of PvP (Link)
- Decentral Games announced player progression levels for ICE Poker (Link)
- Planet IX announced the Cargo Drop 3 NFT series (Link)
- Alien Worlds suffered a $100K embezzlement from a planetary DAO (Link)
- Kratos Studios raised $20M at a valuation of $150 to acquire IndiGG in a seed round led by Accel (Link)
- Worldwide Webb raised $10M in a Series A round from Pantera Capital (Link)
- Avalon Corp raised $13M its metaverse project in a round led by Bitkraft Ventures, Hashed, Delphi Digital, and Mechanism Capital (Link)
- Curio raised $2.9M for its on-chain game in a seed round led by Bain Cap Crypto and TCG Crypto (Link)
- Major Japanese companies announced plans for a “Metaverse Economic Zone” with interoperable services (Link)
- Binance released its 2023 roadmap for BNB Chain (Link)
- Uniswap launched a feature to allow trading for NFTs using any Ethereum-based token (Link)
- Huawei Cloud announced the formation of the metaverse and web3 alliance that includes Morpheus Labs, DeepBrain Chain, Blockchain Solutions, and Polygon (Link)
- Tencent announced new “metaverse-in-a-box” services for Asian markets (Link)
- Spotify released a pilot of NFT gated music playlists(Link)
- Dapper Labs lost a court motion to prevent a case proceeding on whether NBA Top Shot NFTs are securities (Link)
- Coinbase celebrated the launch of its Layer2 Optimism network with a free NFT mint (Link)
- Ordinals was ported over to Litecoin to allow for NFT support on that network as well (Link)
- Game7 released a new governance platform at EthDenver called Summon (Link)
Notable Market Moves
- It was a rough week for the crypto market with the majority of tokens down around 10% to 20%. There was also a new entry into the list that bumped WAX off the bottom.
- Stepn started the week down, just like every other token, but it managed to reverse some of its losses to virtually break even by the end. The lift was due in part to Startn’s promises of new features in an interview with Decrypt.
- Axie Infinity fared the second best with only a 7.4% drop. Sky Mavis managed to launch the new AxieInfinity.com website, and an article in Bloomberg noted the company’s ambitions to be even more aggressive this year in its token experimentation.
- Floki managed to make it onto the top 10 this week thanks to some price recovery returning the token to where it was a year ago. The ecosystem token has been announcing listings on multiple cryptocurrency exchanges, like Huobi, with leverage available for trading that may be spurring price jumps.
- As always, we recommend thinking long term. The year started with strong performance weeks and we’re in a bit of a downswing, but there is still plenty of activity, building, and speculation to drive lots of movement this year.
Content Worth Consuming
- Five Lessons From My First Year Working In Web3 (Rolling Stone) — “Much of what goes by the name of ‘crypto’ is financial applications that let users trade, borrow, lend and stake tokens. While an important part of Web3, the so-called “money crypto” engages only a narrow spectrum of mostly early adopters. For blockchains to live up to their societal paradigm-shifting potential, we will also need to build what many more people will want to use. Like a free-to-play game simulating the physics of a monkey swinging from trees. Benji Bananas was the fastest-growing game on the Polygon network last year, adding over 1.45 million unique addresses. It rewards users with a native token that players can then use to leverage financial engineering tools previously available only to hedge funds, if they choose to.” (Link)
- Free mints, a breath of fresh air? (Nami) — “A third example of a free-to-own project, Champions Ascension, seems to have created an optimal model. There was comparatively little speculation after the mint as a reasonably complicated whitelisting mechanism was introduced, which reduced the participation of bots and speculators by some degree. The supply of around 7’500 pieces was also sufficiently large to not create too much excess demand. The NFTs did decrease in price in the short and medium term after the mint, which does not matter much in principle, as the mint was free in the first place. Moreover, long-term community members who have participated in the mint will be relatively uninterested in the price and bots and speculators could also be deterred from participating in such mints in the future.” (Link)
- Gaming Distribution platforms and their transition to Web3 (LoneWolf) — “Web3 gaming distribution platforms have been on the rise since what more profitable than making a single game? Create a game distribution platform and launch multiple games to earn a larger community and even greater revenue. We have seen this with Gala Games launching multiple successful games and even included multiple economic layers around these games. Many projects are following similar procedures or adding a bit of creativity and coming up with gaming platforms on their own.” (Link)
- Digital Physics in On-Chain Games (David Amor) — “So items crafted in the game inherit attributes according to the resources they’re made from, and then those items can be named in a way such that other parts of the game can respond to them. Additionally, those items themselves can be used to craft new items, so that 10 Shields of Solomon and a Dragon Tooth can be used to make a Ring of the Elders, giving holders access to a road network on the map with inherited SPEED atoms. The contract is written in a way such that the road network is only available to players with Ring of the Elders equipped. Now factories that create the Ring of the Elders serve an important function in the game and become a target for attackers. Perhaps a good strategy would be to build that factory using the most ATTACK and DEFENCE atoms available.” (Link)
- Building Economically Sustainable, Hyperstructures Through On-Chain Games (loaf) — “Some games may be high-risk and require payment only upon death, while others may carry a small initial fee (in the order of cents) but present little risk to the player. The core idea is that players have fun while developers get paid. Fun is the currency here, and as long as developers create compelling games, they will receive compensation. Ultimately, the success of this platform depends on the quality of the games that are built. Developers who build well will be rewarded, while those who do not will not receive compensation. This system rewards developers who prioritize creating engaging and entertaining games and ensures that players have access to the best possible experiences. To note, we say Play2Die, but not every game you will totally die, but hey, it's a great meme for the meme economy.” (Link)
- Even Neal Stephenson doesn't seem keen on crypto anymore (GameDeveloper) — “In Stephenson's analogy, the magic beans Jack sells the cow for (when he'd been sent to get...uh, FIAT currency) are a good stand-in for cryptocurrency. They're supposed to be able to do all these wonderful things, but in the end they only lead Jack to a violent world of wealth, power, and eventually doom and downfall. But Stephenson seemed less interested in the magic beans themselves and more about what Jack used to procure them: the cow. In Stephenson's analysis, what made this cow so valuable anyway? The answer is clear in the context of the story. Jack's family is poor, the cow is starving, they can survive without owning it, there is a market for cows, and selling it will give them cash they can use to buy food.” (Link)
- Next Up with N3TWORK: Mobile Pivots to Web3 (Naavik Gaming Podcast) — “Founded in 2012, N3TWORK Inc made its mobile gaming debut with Legendary Game of Heroes, a hit match 3 gameplay mobile hero collector RPG. Today, N3TWORK Inc has fundamentally changed its tune and is pivoting the business from web2 to web3. Today, your host Alexandra Takei, sits down with Matt Ricchetti, President of N3TWORK Studios, a spin out from the merger of N3TWORK Inc with Forte. Backed by Griffin Gaming Partners and talent from legendary juggernauts like Zynga, Glu, and Kabam, what is N3TWORK’s strategy, what are they building, and what’s their perspective on the web3 in the bear?” (Link)