Hi Everyone. Welcome back to another issue. Today we have two exciting announcments:
First, we’re thrilled to welcome Justin Stolzenberg as a contributing writer to Master the Meta! An entrepreneur from a young age, Justin has spent 10+ years in the industry. He co-founded European Games Group back in 2010 followed by a five-year stint at Flaregames, where he served as VP of Publishing. Today, Justin is the Co-founder and CMO at Phoenix Games, a company focused on helping gaming founders reach their full potential by providing the capital, resources, and talent to take their studios to the next level. As a previous mentor for the Naavik team, we’re excited to welcome him aboard!
Second, we’re also excited to welcome Chong Ahn as a contributor to both Master The Meta and The Metacast! Chong is a true industry veteran and has worked at companies like Ubisoft, Square Enix, Scopely, Take Two, EA and NCSOFT. Today, Chong is focused on the future and serves as the VP of Product at Mythical Games, the team that’s working to rewrite the world of digital ownership through crypto-led titles like Blankos Block Party. We’re excited to welcome Chong to our content team and share his insights with all of you.
Naavik Exclusive: Roundtable # 15
#1: Star Atlas Spotlight
When’s the last time you saw an AAA game open up its roadmap, release a game iteratively, and engage in blockchain-native sales? Right, never before.
Enter Star Atlas.
What is Star Atlas?
Star Atlas is an open-world, space exploration, grand strategy MMORPG set in a galactic universe, with play-and-earn mechanics and player ownership. Players pilot ships and engage in trade, commerce, and battle with other players over scarce resources. The team plans to build a AAA game on the Solana blockchain, a layer 1 blockchain protocol that can handle 50,000+ transactions per second. This will be key to handling the massive amounts of transactions made in-game, where players mine and explore, pay taxes, and trade assets — all powered by Solana and settled on Serum, a decentralized exchange.
In its grandest vision, the game aims to be:
- A space-fantasy RPG with a real-money economy and NFT assets.
- A grand strategy game with politics, trade routes, and economically productive territories.
- A 24/7 virtual economy where players can come together in real-time to trade, form contracts, and engage in battle.
- A fully immersive 3D world with film quality graphics powered by Unreal Engine’s Nanite that you can experience in VR.
Star Atlas has been capitalizing on the incredibly hot funding market for blockchain gaming. In the last two weeks, they’ve named Animoca Brands, a newly minted gaming unicorn, as one of their stakeholders, held town halls, and released a blockbuster trailer. This lines up with the first round of their non-fungible token (NFT) pre-sale and their Galactic Asset Offering (GAO).
In addition, a big part of Star Atlas’s appeal is the chance for players to have ownership in a video game, and to monetize their skills, passion, and time. Star Atlas is tantalizing to many players who dream of being able to make a living inside an immersive video game world. For example, players can earn by tracking down traders and plundering their ships before reselling them on the marketplace for $ATLAS (Star Atlas’ token), and then trading that $ATLAS into fiat (expect to YGG to also enter the Star Atlas space).
- Territory and Exploration. Star Atlas is a space and spatial game. Players start off at the corner of the map, and can begin scanning visible stars for celestial and terrestrial assets. These raw assets can be refined and then traded and sold. As they venture towards the center of the map, they get rewarded, but with reward comes risk — players can lose their hard-earned assets. It takes time to travel & transport goods in Star Atlas, which opens up markets for logistics, freight, and even infrastructure such as bridges.
- A Robust Virtual Economy and Society. Star Atlas plans to offer a robust virtual economy: matters of cargo shipping, travel, managing fuel, and powering defenses become economic considerations for players. According to their whitepaper, players can earn in-game in a variety of roles. Here’s a selection: “CEO, Bounty Hunter, Repair, Freight, Rescue, Refiners, Miners, Managers’. Metaverse economies are looking more and more like real-world ones — from their economics paper: “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”.
Star Atlas offers two main currencies, $ATLAS and $POLIS. $ATLAS, which is an inflatable currency intended for trading in-game assets, and $POLIS is a low-velocity store of value with a fixed supply (we’ve seen this model before in Axie Infinity’s $SLP and $AXS). While $ATLAS is earned (and spent) within the game through combat and exploration, $POLIS entitles players to ownership and management of space-cities. It also represents a financial stake in the game and governance rights over in-game issues like land tax rates.
- Star Atlas aims to embody the blockchain not just in function, but in form as well. In its whitepaper, Star Atlas outlines the core of its gameplay: mining. Yes, you stake out claims on celestial and terrestrial assets, and then begin mining them. You do this by piloting an NFT ship. Any assets you create are traded using a decentralized exchange (Serum’s on-chain orderbook), which allows for Star Atlas to fund its development by potentially taking a cut on secondary sales, and secures the uniqueness of player assets by ensuring no assets can ever be duplicated or deleted.
Star Atlas’ Future
Star Atlas may have raised over $20,000,000 USD in their recent NFT ship sale, but there’s still a lot to execute on. Where Star Citizen raised multiple rounds of funding over the years and actively clamped down on grey-markets, Star Atlas will have no choice but to keep them open due to the permissionless nature of the blockchain. This means any unhappy player can leave behind the game, and take their finances with them. They plan to contribute the USD raised from their ship sales to an ATLAS:USDC automated market maker. These funds are therefore available for any players with a desire to sell back in-game currency for alternative digital assets (USDC).
Additionally, Star Atlas has all-star support across the board: Animoca Brands, Serum, and Moonwhale Ventures will help with the necessary DeFi and NFT gaming expertise to bring Star Atlas to the next level. They also have a key AAA gaming partner: Sperasoft, which co-developed salient titles such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Wars: Battlefront, and more recently, Halo Infinite. Having a partner with AAA development experience will be crucial for Star Atlas’ long journey ahead, and their recent raise may allow them to marshall more resources towards the development of their universe.
Finally, Star Atlas plans to roll out its game in phases: the first phase began last Monday, with the first round of their Galactic Asset Offering (GAO), where they sold ships on their marketplace powered by Serum.
Star Atlas’s CEO, Michael Wagner, suggested that players and members of the community can begin earning from next month by engaging in the second phase: a web-minigame that allows them to use some of their assets, and that an immersive 3D world will be available to explore by the end of the year.This enables players to begin familiarizing themselves with the game systems and keeps them engaged with the game as it releases: typically, AAA games wait far too long to get feedback from their players and community. Famously, Cyberpunk 2077 sold eight million pre-orders purely on hype and trailers before allowing players to get a look at any of the gameplay systems.
Star Atlas’s approach around release flips the traditional secretive development process on its head: opening up information about gameplay systems, marketing its pre-sales, and facilitating a 58,200 person strong Discord group. This has its benefits. Players can begin immersing themselves in the world, taking on roles in the Discord, (Mercenary, Bounty Hunter, CEO…) and forming alliances and guilds. They can even get help onboarding into crypto from other prospective players and keep each other excited about the game.
As of today, clicking Play Now on their landing page brings you to… their marketplace. To be fair, they mention their economy will be a huge part of the game, as well as speculating and trading, but it could be a worrying sign if players are more interested in flipping ships than piloting them. Furthermore, it could turn off traditional gamers to be confronted with payments and trading even before their entry into the game.
For what it’s worth, Star Atlas will be the first AAA game that demonstrates how NFTs and digital asset ownership can be used to fund a game’s development and operations. By becoming the major liquidity provider of $ATLAS and $POLIS, they should be able to fund the development of the game. This will be a huge step for legitimizing play-and-earn as a business model for game developers and publishers.
Star Atlas is immensely promising, but with promise comes risk. In its best form, Star Atlas can teach game designers how to use true digital scarcity to heighten the experience for gamers by providing a play-and-earn metaverse. It’s up to their ~55 person-strong development team, their partners Hydra Studios and Sperasoft, and their 58,200 person-strong Discord community to bring this vision home. (Written by Ryan Foo)
#2: With iOS 15, New Changes to UA
Apple announced that they will release iOS 15 to the general public on September 20th, 2021.
With this version, app developers can hope for measurable uplift in marketing and organic traffic on iOS, as Apple finally introduces long overdue marketing tools to the App Store.
Based on historical patterns, it will probably take 8-12 weeks for iOS 15 to hit >70% market share, so it's time to get ready. Marketing teams will primarily benefit from three changes in iOS 15:
- Testing capabilities for product pages. Even though it only supports organic traffic and only up to three variants, it's a huge improvement over, well... no integrated testing capability in the status quo.
- UA teams can define up to 35 custom product pages — depending on how the large ad networks plan to support it, this could allow advertisers to create much more consistent messaging between ad creatives and product pages. For example: if a campaign's goal is to bring back lapsed users, it will be possible to focus that campaign's store page on new endgame features and content that normally aren't highlighted because they aren't most relevant for new users. However, the usefulness of custom store pages depends on how Facebook, Google and the other large networks support them. There haven’t been announcements on their timing and the potential implementation yet.
- Advertisers gain the option to receive SKAdNetwork postbacks directly, which will allow for more reliable modeling of true campaign performance and much easier debugging. Currently, Facebook and Google don't forward raw postbacks to advertisers. To receive these postbacks, app developers need to include their desired postback URL in their iOS app's client configuration (Info.plist).
Zooming out to macro view, what does all of this mean?
Apple executed the IDFA deprecation with seeming disregard for the mobile performance marketing ecosystem: lacking communication on the rollout-timing, technical issues in SKAdNetwork, opaque and constantly changing rules all led to even the biggest players in the market not being ready in time. Prior, Apple had changed its App Store in ways that for many app developers significantly reduced the usefulness of store promotions for discovery.
iOS 15 is a long overdue improvement for marketers and elevates SKAdNetwork to a quite useful state. I choose the optimistic interpretation: (somebody at) Apple does care about its app developers' ability to control their growth, and more improvements will come in future iOS releases. (Written by Justin Stolzenberg, Co-founder of Phoenix Games)
🎮 In Other News…
💸 Funding & Acquisitions:
- Mobile Premier League raised $150M at a $2.3B valuation. Link
- Makers of Splitgate, 1047 Games, raised $100M at a $1.5B (we previously wrote about them here). Link
- Immutable raised $60M to power NFT games on Ethereum. Link
- Gamplay training tool developer Statespace announced a $50M Series C. Link
- Elodie Games secured $32.5M in Series A funding. Link
- Tiny Build acquired Bad Pixel for $17M. Link
- Stardust raised $5M to provide dollar payments for NFTs in games. Link
- App Annie was charged with securities fraud, and will pay $10M. Link
- Stadia’s director of games joined Google Cloud. Link
- Google Cloud and Dapper Labs are partnering up. Link
🕹️ Culture & Games:
- Zynga announced its latest game, built on the Snap ecosystem. Link
- The Heist Finale (100T). Link
- Humankind is one of August’s best-selling PC games. Link
- Razer made gaming thimbles. Link
👾 Miscellaneous Musings:
- “But First, The Game” by Raph Koster. Link
- A Protocol for Continous NFTs (and their implications for games). Link
- A design sheet on Krafton’s upcoming game, Castle Craft. Link
- How Gaming Will Change Humanity As We Know it. Link
🔥 Featured Jobs
- Mythical Games: Principal Economy Designer (Remote, US)
- Mythical Games: Lead Product Manger (SF, LA, Seattle)
- Carry1st: Ad Monetization Manager (Remote, Global)
- BITKRAFT Ventures: Crypto and Gaming Analyst (Remote, US or EU)
- Supersocial: Head of Business Performance (Remote, US)
- Supersocial: Principal Analyst (Remote, US)
- Metafy: Senior Technical Recruiter (Remote, US)
- Metafy: Lead Marketing Designer (Remote, US)
You can view our entire job board — all of the open roles, as well as the ability to post new roles — below.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week! As always, if you have feedback let us know here.