It’s been a quiet summer for the web3 gaming industry, with new announcements few and far between. But that made it all the more surprising when nWay, a subsidiary of The Sandbox parent company Animoca Brands, announced Wreck League on August 3rd and proceeded to reveal a ton of info about the new game. The announcement was followed up by videos, blog posts, tweets, and, most importantly, a Yuga Labs tie-in.
The game is a 1v1 fighting game that doesn’t offer direct character control and instead uses essentially a Clash Royale-like card and energy system to activate “skills." Energy is gained in real time, and each skill has an energy cost to use it. Players essentially have a “hand” of four random skills at a time from a player’s deck. Skills are discarded when played and replaced by another random skill from the deck. Overall, it’s been a frequently copied system since Clash Royale’s success, although in Wreck League, instead of a deck, players are building a mech to fight that brings skill cards based on its parts, giving it some similarity to Axie Infinity as well.
The system is mostly carried over from the developer’s previous mobile Mighty Morphin Power Rangers game, Power Rangers: Legacy Wars. There are a few changes — such as the addition of a special power meter, the removal of three-character teams with assists, and character switching — that better suit the solo custom-built mech style of gameplay.
The first Power Rangers fighting game developed by nWay, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, was a fairly decent traditional fighting game for console and PC, with the same three-character team system and real-time control over the characters. But it received a relatively poor Metacritic rating in the 50-70 range. Switching to a card and energy-based system for Legacy Wars was clearly an adaptation for mobile, but that game was also somewhat poorly received at a 3.9 on Google Play and a 4.0 on iOS.
While Wreck League will also be released on PC, the title is clearly targeted at mobile as nWay could have also chosen to use its Battle for the Grid system if the target had been PC and console. The choice of gameplay style also heavily determines the demographic, as the card-based system doesn’t require much dexterity, coordination, or deep animation frame and hitbox knowledge like a traditional fighting game. This makes it accessible to a more casual audience and also avoids wading into the 2023-2024 battle between franchise heavyweights Street Fighter 6, Tekken 8, and the newest Mortal Kombat entry.
The biggest difference between Wreck League and the above-mentioned titles is its web3 features. Rather than simply selecting a character, players in Wreck League can build their own mech fighters that are composed of 10 different types of NFT-based parts. This is similar to the mech-building system in Spider Tanks. While in Spider Tanks parts can be swapped around before each match, creating a mech in Wreck League involves burning 10 NFTs to mint the unique mech (which is also itself a unique NFT) and vice versa for deconstructing it. The choice of mechs makes thematic sense for such a high level of customization, although it’s plausible to create a similar level of flexibility through equipment NFTs instead of mech parts.
There is still inherent risk in centering the game’s theme around mech fighting. Fighting games have traditionally relied on distinctive character rosters to not only help sell the game, but also communicate gameplay elements and play styles. Allowing for a mishmash of visual parts and skill sets is bound to create a generic look and feel for the characters.
The game touts over 1.5 quadrillion potential part combinations, but having such a huge variety might make it so nothing really stands out or feels unique, as evidenced by the transition from the weapon systems in Borderlands 1 to the 17.75 million variations possible in Borderlands 2. Street Fighter 6, by contrast, lets you create a character with whatever look you want, but the move set is copied from the existing roster of characters.
The mech parts roughly fall into two groups: body parts and attachments. Body parts include the head, torso, legs, weapon (in the form of weapon arms), and a special assistant S-Bot. Attachments each correspond to one of the body parts with a head crest, torso emblem, weapon arm pauldrons, leg knee guards, and S-Bot antenna. Body parts provide skill ability cards, while the attachments provide a variety of stats such as health, offense, armor, and block proficiency.
Each of the 10 different part types is also categorized by a “constructor,” similar to how weapon manufacturer brands were used in the Borderlands series. There are only five constructors native to the game, but four of the Yuga Labs brands are used as additional constructor categories, and as individual rarities that are a special subset of the legendary rarity: Bored Ape Yacht Club, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, Bored Ape Kennel Club, and the more recent Koda. Play styles will likely focus first on the combination of weapon arms and constructor, with the rest of the parts helping to tailor to more specific preferences. It’s very likely the game will see certain meta builds develop around specific dominant combinations that will directly influence the secondary market for the part NFTs in combination with part rarity, similar to what happens in trading card games.
The NFT combination system makes sense from a financial standpoint. Considering the major limitations to spend depth when selling characters from a finite roster, cosmetic variations can’t make up the difference on their own. As with Spider Tanks, Wreck League’s system allows for minting, trading, and purchasing parts of varying rarities like common, uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary to compose mechs.
The varying rarities are a system nWay is clearly looking to capitalize on by providing mints in “blind boxes,” with some ways to modify the odds towards higher rarities. Yet a combination of customization, rarities, and monetization usually creates a conflict around fairness due to a strong pay-to-win incentive that will inevitably exist around rarer NFTs This is an issue most collectible games have to deal with, but nWay has already laid out its strong esports ambitions. To follow through will require creating a game with a high level of competitive integrity.
The company is planning for players to compete in esports-style tournaments for NFT mech part rewards, including one-of-a-kind NFTs. Since the game lacks most of the execution skill demanded of traditional fighting games, the focus is more on building the right mech and knowing how to use it correctly in real time. This makes the esports play somewhat similar to Supercell’s Clash Royale. But there will be a big difference in part distribution, and unlike Clash Royale, not all players will have access to the same parts, so mirror matches are much less likely.
This creates some potential issues around access to harder-to-obtain parts that might be both powerful and out of reach for most competitors. There is potential for counterplay, but with mechs more likely to be at least slightly differentiated from each other, it can be hard to properly account for what needs to be countered. nWay hopes to help alleviate some of the access issues by creating a system for mech owners to partner up with skilled players, much like the owner/scholar system in Axie Infinity’s competitive scene.
In addition to the earning potential of competitive play, nWay also mentioned it has patents pending for an “NFT-to-IAP Publishing System” that allows mech owners to create copies of their mech for sale as web2 in-app purchases and earn a share of the profits. This creates opportunities for well-known esports winners and content creators to make additional revenue from their work, which stands in contrast to how traditional CCGs like Pokémon monetize World Championship decks without a profit-share for winners. Depending on how these are priced, the system may allow players to obtain very difficult-to-build mechs for much cheaper than the composite NFTs, but it’s likely these copied mechs won’t be able to be disassembled into parts and won’t be tradeable or sellable NFTs.
Wreck League will be free-to-play without requiring participation in its web3 elements, with a focus on standard IAP purchases instead. The ability to use NFTs in such a functional way is likely why the game was announced for Android but not iOS, due to Apple’s restrictions on NFTs having any in-app functionality. According to data.ai, the Power Rangers mobile game performed far better on Android in both downloads and revenue, something we also saw in our previous analysis of web3 mobile games. That may have factored into the decision to skip Apple’s platform.
While nWay could potentially sell NFTs on Android due to Google’s more permissive web3 policy, it wouldn’t be able to offer blind boxes, which Google classifies as real-money gambling. This means nWay will either have to forgo selling NFTs in the Android version, or create a secondary step to mint IAP-purchased parts into NFTs for a fee, something we’re expecting more developers to rely on as a workaround to mobile web3 restrictions.
The developers announced the game with an aggressive roadmap, which includes a September 14th launch. In the time leading up to the launch, potential players could join a whitelist for minting the boxes, which required KYC verification and closed on August 15th. After that date, a snapshot will be taken of the wallet contents for any of the previously mentioned Yuga Labs project NFTs, which will go toward a bonus increase in rarity chance upon rarity reveal and a free Founders box.
On August 17th, those on the whitelist were able to join a 30-minute pre-queue for the mint, a process that randomized who is allowed to ultimately mint NFTs. The mint itself will be paid for in Apecoin, further tying the project to Yuga Labs and the Apecoin community. The rarity of the box itself won’t be revealed until August 24th to create a brief blind trading window, and the boxes themselves can’t be opened until the September 14th launch for an additional trade window. Both the success of the mint and the secondary market transactions following it will be a good test of overall interest in the project, combined with how impactful the Yuga Labs tie-in is on speculative purchases.
Overall, it’s a promising sign that nWay announced Wreck League with so much in-depth information and a very short roadmap to an actual launch. Given the failure to find success with its first gameplay iteration using a major IP like Power Rangers, in addition to its somewhat generic mech theme, there is a sizable risk that the game falls flat. While nWay is a solid developer, it has struggled to find success on mobile, with its Battlepalooza game hovering around 500 active users, its WWE-themed fighting game no longer on app stores, and its only web3 game after the Animoca Brands purchase being an odd Olympic Games Jam Beijing 2022, though the latter game surprisingly managed to retain about 2,500 players post-Olympics.
At the very least, the fighting game genre is one nWay knows well. Although it peaked in late 2022, Power Rangers: Legacy Wars did manage to pull in 400,000 active players in the U.S., but unfortunately, at a very lackluster $100,000 to $180,000 in revenue per month, according to data.ai. Animoca Brands bought the company to put its development experience toward web3, and Wreck League seems like its best shot to see if a sizeable number of real web3 players will show up to battle mechs rather than automated bots just looking to make a quick buck and moving on.
This article appeared in the Sunday, August 20th version of Naavik Digest. If you enjoyed it, please consider forwarding it or sharing the piece with your followers. Also, remember to subscribe to Naavik Digest here.
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#2 Starfield Preps for Launch, Baldur’s Gate 3 Sparks Debate, October’s Crowded Schedule
By Nick Statt, Naavik Managing Editor
Starfield goes gold. Microsoft and Bethesda’s Starfield is gearing up to launch on September 6th, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The game is arguably the most important Xbox exclusive in years and the most pivotal Game Pass release since the platform’s inception.
- On Wednesday of last week, Starfield officially went gold after multiple delays, bringing an end to the game’s seven-year development cycle. But there will surely be a lengthy, perhaps years-long, post-launch support phase for the game going forward.
- The game is currently in the hands of reviewers, with a press embargo set for the morning of Thursday, August 31st. That means critics have roughly two weeks to play what is promised to be a gargantuan experience and post their impressions. It’s not an ideal time window, but it does appear to be one of the more favorable ones of late.
- For Xbox, Starfield’s success will be a major bellwether of both the health of its first-party catalog and the benefits such games can bring to Game Pass. If, like Redfall, Starfield flops, it might trigger a substantial change in strategy and potentially even leadership shakeups among Xbox and Bethesda’s higher ranks.
- Yet if Starfield is the major home run that Bethesda hopes it will be, there will likely be a surge in Game Pass sign-ups as players flock to the service to give the game a try without paying $70 for the experience upfront. Of course, this will also test Microsoft’s theory that the Xbox ecosystem is better served by bringing in more players rather than focusing on unit sales.
- Starfield isn’t without major competition. Much of the PC gaming crowd has been enamored with Larian Studios’ hugely successful Baldur’s Gate 3, which releases on PlayStation 5 on the same day Starfield launches on Xbox and PC. But Starfield is now climbing the Steam charts, thanks to a steady uptick in pre-purchases.
Understanding the Baldur’s Gate 3 controversy. While Larian’s CRPG has been hailed as a milestone moment for the niche genre and a groundbreaking achievement in game design, the game has been thrust into the center of an uncomfortable debate around consumer expectations and the economic compromises of big-budget game design.
- The controversy started with a social media thread from Xalavier Nelson Jr., the studio head at developer Strange Scaffold, in which Nelson argued that a game as impressive as Baldur’s Gate 3 might have the adverse effect of making the average game developer’s life harder by setting unrealistic expectations around what is achievable.
- The argument sparked some insightful debate about the realities of modern game development, especially in the AAA space where game budgets are getting ever larger, development cycles are becoming more drawn out, and monetization has become more aggressive to help recoup the higher investment.
- Baldur’s Gate 3, in that context, is a bit of an anomaly, because it was not published by a major public gaming company and was developed over an extended Early Access period using a license Larian purchased from Dungeons & Dragons’ parent company Wizards of the Coast. The game is also not a live service title and forgoes microtransactions completely.
- The controversy burst into the mainstream conversation, however, when IGN then used Nelson's posts to claim that Baldur’s Gate 3 was “causing some developers to panic” in a lengthy video essay complaining about microtransactions, buggy game launches and delays, and the general sour attitude toward the state of gaming in 2023.
- This was an unfair and ultimately disingenuous take, as Damien Lawardorn at The Escapist convincingly argued, on the state of game development. That’s both because it ignores the rather unique circumstances under which Baldur’s Gate 3 was developed, and also because it paints other game developers as greedy, lazy, and generally disinterested in making good products in favor of milking customers for more revenue.
- Of course, the reality is much different. Games are increasingly expensive and exceedingly difficult to produce, and developers are no more responsible for the economic conditions they have to operate in as consumers are responsible for continuing to tolerate and engage with microtransactions in console and PC gaming.
- At the end of the day, gaming is a business. And the monetization strategies underpinning everything from artistic indie games to live service battle royale shooters are products of a much larger and more immovable economic system, and no amount of complaining or demonizing individual studios or games changes those circumstances.
- Larian Head of Publishing Michael Douse put it best: “The unwavering passion to create games that people will enjoy is the binding force in the industry. That’s really the thing that we should all focus on. Everything else — the economics, etc. — is just a means to an end. Let’s try not to dehumanize what makes it all tick.”
A jam-packed October. If trying to work your way through both Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield in less than two months wasn’t posing enough of a challenge, October stands to make a crowded release calendar downright claustrophobic.
- Kotaku was kind enough to round up the month’s biggest releases: Assassin’s Creed Mirage (October 5th), Detective Pikachu Returns (October 6th), Forza Motorsport (October 10th), Lords of the Fallen (October 13th), Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Super Mario Bros. Wonder (both October 20th).
- It’s such a competitive time for game releases that Remedy Entertainment announced on Thursday it would delay the release of Alan Wake II by 10 days not because it needs more time, but in an effort to give fans some breathing room “for everyone to enjoy their favorite games."
- The fall is always a busy time for big game releases, and it’s easy for even a well-reviewed new title to fall through the cracks and get lost while players work their way through big single-player hits or drop everything to play the latest Call of Duty.
- So let this be a good reminder not to get overwhelmed or bogged down by a stuffed game calendar. Play at your own pace, move on if you’re not feeling it, and don’t be afraid to return to an old game you might have once put down. All these big releases will still be there when you’re ready.
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