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#1: Guild of Guardians Shifts Targets

Disclosure: It’s important to be transparent that Naavik played a minor advisory role to the team behind Guild of Guardians. However, the author here was not part of the project and is providing their unbiased opinion.

In March 2021, blockchain gaming company Immutable announced a web3 mobile-first action RPG, Guild of Guardians, as its next major step after Gods Unchained. At that point, Gods Unchained was the sole game hosted on the Immutable X blockchain, which was specifically designed to support it. 

Immutable originally intended to assume the role of the publisher while outsourcing the game development to Stepico Games. Stepico was tasked with creating an economically complex, team-based mobile action RPG, an ambitious project that fell behind its intended schedule. Despite these setbacks, Stepico successfully launched the game in a pre-alpha state in 2022. However, feedback from test players was decidedly mixed.

By March 2023, Immutable decided to switch from Stepico to Mineloader, a transition supposedly prompted by the former's inability to maintain the projected timeline. The change sparked renewed interest among players and investors, who expected the new developer to adhere to the original roadmap, albeit at an accelerated pace to make up for lost time. This week, however, Immutable surprised the industry by introducing a comprehensive new roadmap and significant changes to the title’s gameplay and in-game economy.

One of the most shocking revelations in the roadmap announcement was the shift in the game genre from action RPG (ARPG) to roguelite squad RPG. Immutable had justified its initial genre selection using extensive market research, as detailed in its original whitepaper. The whitepaper suggested the genre selection was intended to appeal to a broader audience and drive web3 gaming into the mainstream. While the core RPG element is still present in the revamped game, the gameplay's real-time dynamics will undergo a significant transformation.

In the transition to roguelite squad RPG, the combat system will be switched to an auto-battler rather than a turn-based system like most squad RPGs, though it will maintain its real-time nature. In the previous Stepico-developed closed alpha, the gameplay was similar to a typical ARPG like Diablo, but with some elements of team management. 

This shift will emphasize team composition and character progression more than player performance, marking a significant shift in the gaming experience. The move was again backed by market research on mobile RPG sub-genres, with Immutable outlining the main reasons: fostering long-term sustained engagement, enlarging the player base, increasing chances of success, and leveraging Mineloader's development expertise.

This new gameplay direction is expected to better sustain player engagement by accommodating players who multitask, as an auto-battler system doesn't demand the same level of attention as traditional ARPGs. Furthermore, the hope is to tap into a larger player base, given that ARPGs haven't gained massive traction on mobile platforms, save for the notable exception of Diablo Immortal. However, shifting to an auto-battler system and transitioning toward the idle RPG genre could potentially simplify the gameplay, focusing more on progression than gameplay dynamics and resulting in a loss of depth.

Several concerns have arisen from Immutable's genre switch, which has already begun negatively affecting the $GOG token price. The decision may have been influenced by a need to expedite development rather than ensure a better fit with the genre. This assumption is supported by Immutable's own explanation of choosing Mineloader as the new developer, citing their specific expertise in the genre, which could speed up the development process. This expedited development approach is apparent in the roguelite genre's emphasis on procedurally generated content, allowing players to replay levels and reducing the resource requirements on the development team. This method reduces the need for handcrafted content, allowing for faster game development as well. 

The shift in genre has sparked debate among the community, with players questioning whether they signed up for a game that might prioritize development shortcuts over its original vision. Auto-battlers have been a common choice for the current wave of web3 games partially because of the ease of developing a game that doesn’t allow the player to control as many aspects of the experience. A prime example is Illuvium, which was able to get its auto-battle gameplay playable much faster than other pieces of content like the Overworld exploration. It's notable that the announcement also unveiled plans for an NFT staking program with $GOG token rewards, seemingly designed to retain the support of NFT holders.

Immutable also announced significant changes to the game's economy, aiming to add more depth to the experience. The first is merging resources to upgrade them and using the resulting resources for crafting, marking a departure from the previous design that limited crafting materials and made resources non-tradable. The new crafting system would allow players to craft items more easily, with inventory management that features elements of the merge genre.

Another economy change includes the introduction of a star/rank/tier system to heroes, a feature prevalent in gacha and idle RPGs. This system involves burning NFT duplicates or at least same faction heroes to upgrade hero ranks, acting as a sink for excess NFT heroes. This feature is expected to help balance hero supply but may also contribute to a sense of grind for players. The contrast with just leveling is that acquiring XP to level a hero is generally linear, whereas hero acquisition to burn is likely to be much less linear. The previous design did have a system with some similarity that was based on rarity instead of a star tier. In that design, a player would merge five duplicates of the same rarity to get the next rarity up.

The game also plans to allow non-NFT (web2) players to convert freely acquired heroes into NFTs with unique bonuses by spending gems. It's worth noting that Founder's heroes will be inherently superior to those acquired in this way, reassuring the NFT holders. This is part of a broader initiative to make web2 gameplay as feasible, albeit suboptimal, as web3 gameplay. Immutable is also looking to ease onboarding by utilizing the new Immutable Passport tech.

The roadmap update also outlines the timeline for the game's release. It includes an invite-only demo of the revised gameplay systems, referred to as "The Beautiful Corner," planned for Q2. This will be followed by a limited beta in Q3 focusing on web3 integrations. Finally, there will be an open beta planned for Q4. Immutable remains confident in Mineloader's abilities, having witnessed the team’s 10-week progress during a visit to its Shanghai office, with another visit scheduled for early July. However, while these changes should speed up the game's development, a significant amount of work lies ahead.

The good news is that the shift in developer and overall game design should prevent the title from being abandoned. While the changes align the game with popular mobile games, it seems to deviate from its original web3 focus. The auto-battler mechanics, roguelite branching, and resource merging systems will likely skew the game a little away from mid-core and more toward casual, which could expand the game’s audience. 

Yet given the current state of mobile and the significant number of roguelite, squad-based, and idle RPGs available, it may be tough to expand the addressable audience beyond core web3 fans. The question remains whether that web3 audience, which may have dwindled with these changes and a long roadmap ahead, will be replaced or surpassed by a broader audience attracted by the new, more casual gameplay. 

#2: GRIT Pulls the Trigger

GRIT, the first web3 game announced for the Epic Games Store (EGS), has at last achieved a full release. From its initial announcement in July 2022, GRIT underwent various developmental phases and spent considerable time in both closed beta testing and early access. The game, developed by Team Grit, offers a third-person battle royale experience set in the Wild West. 

This new team is headed by seasoned game industry veterans Bob Berry and Jon Mavor, operating under the Gala Games umbrella. Initially, GRIT maintained a presence on Steam, but the developers later pivoted to EGS due to Valve's reluctance to embrace web3 gaming. What sets GRIT apart is its integration of NFTs and token support into the gaming experience. 

The studio intended to unveil its litepaper alongside the full release of GRIT, but the paper was ultimately delayed for further tweaking. Litepapers traditionally serve as preliminary documents outlining how web3 components of a game will function. However, in the case of GRIT, the litepaper's late release signifies the developers' commitment to building an engaging game over generating pre-sale hype. 

This is not to suggest that Gala Games refrained from pre-sale initiatives. In 2022, during its Galaverse event in Malta, Gala conducted a sale of NFT Gunslinger Boxes. Regrettably, the expected returns from this pre-sale were undermined due to the volatility of NFT pricing. Gala originally announced that with the release of the game, the NFT Gunslinger Boxes would be discounted from its $1,498 pricing down to $200, but it had to quietly reverse this decision after backlash from the original Malta buyers.

Gala Games
Source: OpenSea

GRIT's gameplay requires players to link their Gala Games account with an Epic Games account. Despite its web3 underpinnings, GRIT does not necessitate any web3 assets for gameplay, functioning much like any standard battle royale game. The Gunslinger Boxes, one of the key aspects of the game's monetization strategy, contain one of 10,000 unique character NFTs. These are currently being traded for a floor price of approximately $677 on OpenSea.

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

GRIT offers a battle pass available for purchase from Gala Games' marketplace. The pass costs $9 in Gala tokens or Ethereum and has a two-tier reward system: a free track offering rewards every five levels up to a level 100 cap and a premium track offering rewards at every level. Importantly, all the rewards offered are purely cosmetic, emphasizing the game's focus on aesthetics over gameplay advantage.

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

The game also stands out for its extensive cosmetic customization options, with varying skins for characters, horses, and parachutes. Players can customize their identity with player card cosmetics like a badge icon, background, and playful player titles like “The Midnight Rider” and “Moonrise Scamp.” There are also up to 10 skins available for each of the 24 distinct weapons in the game. Players can access these cosmetic options not through direct purchases but by earning them through the battle pass or by completing one of the game’s many Logbook missions.

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

The Logbooks comprise eight missions each and four of the Logbooks are based on the four playing card suit types — Hearts, Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds. These suits directly tie into gameplay styles and weapons. Upon completing pairs of these missions, players are rewarded with cosmetic rewards of varying types. There is also a Mission Journal set of missions around different game mechanics, and a Spring County Travel Guide book that has to be purchased from Gala Games’ marketplace for $3.59 to unlock its missions and rewards. 

Selling access to those eight missions and their rewards is an interesting upsell tactic that goes beyond the battle pass. The game does let you pin specific missions to your HUD, making it easier to track goals. There is also a daily challenge, which should give players who have completed all the missions something new to do and a reason to login. 

GRIT also offers an additional NFT type that influences gameplay, albeit subtly. Gala Games' marketplace sells consumables linked to the various weapons and items in the game, each offering between one and five "charges" of the respective item. Players with these NFTs can use a single charge to start a match with the given item for a slight advantage. 

With most weapons and items in the game being spread pretty widely, it’s not a major time saver. But players who really want to play with their preferred loadout or complete a weapon- or item-specific mission can certainly take advantage. Consumable prices are based on how many charges they have (also marked by rarity), with prices for one to five charges being $1/$1.50/$1.99/$2.99/$5.99, respectively. That’s certainly not out of the budget of many streamers or whales looking to show off.

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

In terms of joining and playing the game, there are three regions selectable: North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific, with an unfortunate restart required to switch regions should players want to play during off hours. Players can then join match lobbies solo, in pairs, or in groups of four. Players can invite friends from their Epic Games friends list or let the game provide team-mates randomly. Notably, the game does not use bots to fill matches, allowing a solo player lobby to begin with as few as five players. The shrinking circle of play, called The Calamity in GRIT, forces players into a smaller area as the game progresses in standard battle royale fashion. 

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

Travel in the wide expanses of the Wild West game map is predominantly done on horseback, with frequent horseback gunfights. Interestingly, GRIT also incorporates running trains, providing an extra element of strategy and contest. These trains carry all the consumable items in the game along with the best weapons and ammo, incentivizing players to vie for control of the trains. 

The trains provide brakes and a start lever (affectionately referred to as “toot toot”), allowing for at least some control as other competing players can catch trains on horseback and leap aboard. The trains automatically stop whenever passing through a town, which also provides some opportunity to board them. 

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

A noteworthy feature of GRIT is its use of playing cards in two inventive ways. At the start of a match, three "wildcards" are drawn, each introducing a different modifier to the game. Moreover, weapons in the game are grouped and ranked according to playing card suits and ranks, with 10 being common up to Ace for legendary. While the ranks aren’t important, the suits matter for triggering bonuses in a system reminiscent of synergies in auto-chess games. 

Players have two main weapon slots for rifles and shotguns, one slot for a sidearm, and one for a melee weapon. Having two of these weapons equipped with the same suit will activate a bonus depending on the suit, and having four will activate a second level bonus. The bonuses are themed around playstyles like The Tracker, The Chaplain, The Merchant, and The Cavalry. Each carries effects around marking enemies, healing, damage dealing, and horse bonuses. This set collection aspect provides a little extra incentive to search for particular weapons or even use the NFT consumables to start with them.

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

The game also uses a relatively simplistic armor system consisting of a hat and body armor. The cowboy hat prevents a single headshot and flies off cartoonishly when shot. The level one to three armor slot gives players a chest-mounted metal door in reference to Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars. There are also standard battle royale items like varying backpack sizes to carry more items and a throwable slot for dynamite and smoke bombs. 

Guns require different types of ammo and there are the expected basics, like healing and armor repair items. One humorous element is the titular Grit meter that provides health regeneration and faster movement. The meter can be replenished by drinking bottles of tonic or snake oil as well as by taking damage from other players, which helps it serve as a minor comeback mechanic.

GRIT| In-Game Image
Source: In-game image

On top of this, GRIT offers a unique form of in-match currency: Soul Coins. Players begin the match with a small number of these coins, and more can be looted from defeated players' caskets. These coins can be used for a variety of functions, from buying items and respawning a teammate at The Devil’s Wagon to granting players a second chance at life through an Underworld Duel (mirroring Call of Duty: Warzone's Gulag mechanic). 

In-game image
Source: In-game image

Match performance is determined by placement, time survived, kills, and missions completed. This all affects the amount of XP earned toward battle pass progression and victory points earned towards $GALA token rewards. The details of exactly how $GALA is rewarded aren’t public yet,  as the litepaper is still being tweaked. Still, there is mention from the Grit team that Gunslinger character NFT players will receive more $GALA rewards from victory points. Grit likely uses a system somewhat similar to Spider Tanks, given the shared victory point name.

In-game image
Source: In-game image

Overall, the game is a competent battle royale game that embraces its theme well and is fairly fun. Unfortunately, the choice of launching a battle royale game without bots to fill lobbies can lead to major cold-start problems, especially with the genre being so saturated. 

The unique Wild West theme and the ability to earn $GALA tokens are the only major differentiating factors that could potentially give GRIT a chance at gaining steam. Epic can also help in potentially encouraging some non-web3 gamers to give it a try by promoting it on the Epic Games Store, seeing as it’s still a F2P game (even if it’s competing with Epic’s own Fortnite to an extent). Even if the game ultimately fails to gain traction, Gala Games can add another AA-quality title to its catalog and the expanding $GALA ecosystem. 

Upcoming Game Announcements

Illuvium Overworld
Source: PlayToEarn
  • Illuvium launched its 2nd Overworld closed beta. (Link)
  • MetalCore ran its weekend Alpha 2.5 playtest. (Link)
  • Shrapnel airdropped SHRAP tokens and started Callsign NFT minting. (Link)
  • Superior announced an Open Season Leaderboard competition. (Link)
  • MetaGods, a P2E RPG, launched its P2E functionality. (Link)
  • Eldarune launched its Testnet tournament. (Link)
  • Topia released new documentation and tokenomics. (Link)

Live Game Announcements

Battle Bears heroes
Source: BlockchainGamer
  • Ronin game Battle Bears Heroes soft-launched on both app stores. (Link)
  • Alien Worlds launched MineQuest. (Link)
  • Gods Unchained released its roadmap for 2023. (Link)
  • STEPN made NFT purchasing on iOS possible, but with high fees. (Link)
  • Gala announced integration of NFTs into Dragon Strike. (Link)
  • Nine Chronicles announced upgrades to World 7 equipment. (Link)
  • Blockchain Brawlers announced a B.E.S.T Regional Play competition. (Link)
  • City States: Medieval and Axes Metaverse both announced a server shutdown. (Link)
  • Sorare announced a new entry method for French users. (Link)

Funding Announcements

Funding Announcements| Cover
Source: VentureBeat
  • Openfort raised $3M for a gaming wallet-as-a-service infrastructure. (Link)
  • Firechain, a smart contract platform, raised $3M in a pre-seed round. (Link)
  • The Cross-Chain Ecosystem Fund raised $50M for the Wormhole protocol. (Link)

Ecosystem Updates

Source: CardPlayer
  • Gala Games announced a partnership with PokerGO to develop PokerGo Play. (Link)
  • Immutable announced a partnership with MetaStudio. (Link)
  • Seedify announced an IDO for its generative AI project, Orbofi AI. (Link)
  • Ethereum Proposal ERC-6551 has been making the rounds. (Link)
  • Pudgy Penguins, a popular NFT project, had a large physical toy launch. (Link)
  • Nanjing launched a government-backed metaverse platform. (Link)
  • Square Enix officially joined the Blockchain Game Alliance. (Link)
  • Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed NFTs coming to Polygon. (Link)

Notable Market Moves

render Token| Crypto Market Trend
Data Source: Coinmarketcap
  • Render Token continued its recent rise against the trend of the rest of the crypto market. The increased confidence comes as Render Network introduced a new feature targeting popular rendering software Octane. The token is also benefitting from the recent launch of the new Render Network Foundation website that better showcases its tech. It’s also interesting to note that Render Token is the only gaming token with a positive 90D change in the list.
  • Despite ending the week down like the rest of the market, STEPN saw a big jump initially around the announcement of the ability to buy NFTs in the iOS app. The feature allows users to use Apple’s payment system to buy an in-app-only virtual currency to be used for NFT purchases, but this does compete with the token price, which could ultimately be negative for GMT. The upside for GMT holders is that the new in-app purchase is significantly more expensive to cover the 30% Apple cut.
  • As always, we suggest looking long-term. In late 2023 and early 2024, we should see some higher-quality games come out, which should impact the market by renewing interest. 

Content Worth Consuming

  • Cronos and Venly discuss the future of blockchain gaming (BlockchainGamer): “On a comprehensive scale, NFTs are driving the future of gaming toward a player-first ecosystem whereby user experience is heavily concentrated on the utility of individualized and interoperable in-game assets. This will galvanize a decentralized structure within the gaming world by stripping AAA developers of their hold over players, who will now be able own and transfer their own items across platforms and titles and ultimately dictate the swing of their own experience.” (Link)
  • Blocklords’ David Johansson on building a fully decentralized, player-driven economy (BlockchainGamer): “Our strategy to onboard these gamers is three-fold. First, we’re building a game that’s not just technologically advanced, but also fun to play. At the end of the day, a game’s success hinges on how enjoyable it is. We’re creating deep, complex game mechanics that can rival any traditional strategy game. Second, we’re actively educating players about the advantages of web3 gaming. We’re showing them how they can truly own their in-game assets, profit from their skills, and be part of a real, player-driven economy. Finally, we’re leveraging our community. The Blocklords’ community is incredibly passionate and engaged. They’re our greatest advocates, and their word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable in bringing new players into the fold.” (Link)
  • The rise of direct to community (TPan): “Building on this, direct-to-consumer (now more broadly known as ecommerce) was an evolution of social media, through which brands could now leverage social media and the ad networks built on top, to sell directly to their customers, without any need for wholesale middlemen for distribution. And while both of these innovations completely transformed how brands interact with their customers, in recent years we have come to recognize one big glaring issue: while brands are closer to their customers than ever, they still rely on centralized middlemen — such as Facebook and Google — that have every incentive to extract maximum value from brands and their customers.” (Link)
  • Shape-shifters (Nami): “The advantage of using ERC-1155s is that you no longer have to make the choice between supporting something as a fungible or non-fungible token. ERC-1155 tokens can effectively function as both, which is particularly useful if your game incorporates multiple types of tokens. Initially, PFP projects spearheaded by Cryptokitties, BAYC, etc. were designed around single NFT lines because they weren’t games. However, games have different requirements and should encompass multiple resources, surpassing the limited ‘one token or two tokens?’ primitive design of web3 in 2021.” (Link)
  • What will the Saga Phone do for web3? (Naavik Gaming Podcast): “In this episode, we dive into the frustrations of bringing web3 experiences to mobile platforms and explore a unique solution that Solana has taken: building their own phone, the Saga phone. Your host, Niko Vuori, speaks with Laura Shen, the marketing lead for Solana Mobile, to learn more about the Saga phone and its significance. We explore the challenges of mobile-unfriendly web3, including app store restrictions, and the importance of making web3 accessible on mobile devices to drive mass market adoption.” (Link)

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

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