A game engine to play them all

0x3882
April 9th, 2022
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is an immense and central sacred tree. Every world, each one telling a compelling story of its own, is linked back to Yggdrasil one way or another: everything revolves around it. The web3 game engine will be the Yggdrasil of all worlds and games published on its decentralized infrastructure.
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is an immense and central sacred tree. Every world, each one telling a compelling story of its own, is linked back to Yggdrasil one way or another: everything revolves around it. The web3 game engine will be the Yggdrasil of all worlds and games published on its decentralized infrastructure.

Introduction

I’ve been a gamer all my life. 15 years ago, I played as Santo, a blood elf mage in World of Warcraft. For the last 2 years, I’ve been playing as 0xSoliton a new type of game called “web3”.

Just like in WoW:

  • I chose a server-world (Ethereum, because others ‘servers’ (blockchains) were less populated and reliable) to enjoy the game.
  • I started low level, had to XP and improve my skills in order to eventually make sound gold
  • In order to finish some quests, I had to find hidden items (new protocols, new pools, new features, new narratives..) without any helping addons (questie) to orient myself on this blurred and constantly transforming map but the guilds (DAOs & Discord servers) I joined (The Forge, CryptoTesters, and many many more)
  • I looked with envy at the epic armor set & spoils of wars (portfolios) owned by the best players using inspector tools (Nansen, Zapper, ..)
  • I died (got yammed 🍠) in Dungeons I did not study enough (or were buggy) before raiding.
  • I looted random epic stuff (Uniswap airdrop, Ribbon Airdrop, etc...) I did not expect at all.
  • I traded rare items peer-to-peer (NFT) in exchange for gold (eth) at the auction house (OpenSea).
  • I learned about this new game’s lore (The story of the great battle for decentralization) and its next-to-biblical fathers’ figures (Satoshi Nakamoto, Vitalik Buterin..)

Most importantly, I had a lot of fun playing this metagame.

Being a great web3 user is more like being a great e-sport player
Being a great web3 user is more like being a great e-sport player

It seems something big is about to happen

As much as web3 dynamics can be associated with gaming, there are a few fundamentals on which it differs. Because they inherited from a web2 legacy setup, most existing games are currently sitting at the polar opposite of web3 raisons d’être. But what is web3 really about and why it’s going to be big for the gaming industry?

The following are the main foundational features of web3:

open-source: you can read/inspect the source code | open state: the database state is accessible to anyone | open-execution: anyone can participate and change the state of the database
open-source: you can read/inspect the source code | open state: the database state is accessible to anyone | open-execution: anyone can participate and change the state of the database

But as we focus on gaming, I think it’s also interesting to also include the following criteria:

Just like DeFi will eventually be the best viable alternative to Tradfi because it’s much more powerful (even only in terms of source of truth) thanks to all of the pre-mentioned criteria, crypto-gaming (or blockchain gaming, or web3 gaming) will be the ultimate disruptor of traditional gaming companies. It’s a paradigm shift no one seems to be fully grasping, mostly because blockchain gaming is still in its early phase and hasn’t yet fully reached level 2 of Maslow's pyramid of needs.

There are a lot of intermediary models for crypto-games: some trade-offs between decentralization and playfulness are made everyday.
There are a lot of intermediary models for crypto-games: some trade-offs between decentralization and playfulness are made everyday.

No doubt web3 builders are very inclined to follow that opportunity: Axie Infinity (Sky Mavis) was amongst the first to build a real play-to-earn game, building on top of a blockchain before creating its own (Ronin). It showed a way of building crypto-games and created a flourishing ecosystem of goods and services like guilds and scholarships. Sure, Axie Infinity and other play-to-earn games tick a lot of boxes in the grand scheme of blockchain gaming, but I think something even bigger could occur.

Roblox, the leading web2 UGC platform

Let’s have a look at Roblox in the light of what was just explained, as it’s a great example of a company that could be disrupted by blockchain gaming features. Roblox Corporation, founded in 2004, is a game platform where users can create games and play them. Roblox is a user-generated content (UGC) platform. It means it bets on the following network effect: Independent creators will create games that will attract more players which in turn will attract more creators and new experiences. More than 20 million experiences exist on Roblox.

Some interesting stats/facts about Roblox:

  • It records a peak of 202 million MAU
  • It records a peak CCU of 5,7 million
  • It’s worth $30 billion on the public market
  • The coding language for Roblox creators is LUA
  • 25 million+ virtual items were created by the Roblox community in 2021
  • 5.8 billion+ virtual items (both free and paid) got acquired.
  • $1.9B in revenues in 2021
  • $2.7B in Bookings ($ROBUX bought by users) in 2021 (1 $ROBUX = $0,1 so 27 additional billions of $ROBUX were sold.. Number of $ROBUX in circulation is astonishing)

Roblox is clearly a web2 gaming business:

Even though Roblox has its own in-game currency, it faces a lot of issues with its publicly unfair economy.Developers only earn 25% of the revenues their games are generating, and less than 1% of the Roblox developers are currently earning revenues at all. Roblox seizes 30% of all transactions on the platform and to access some important features (like selling items on the marketplace) you’ve to pay a monthly subscription. Only 10 Roblox Developers (professional teams) made more than $10m in revenue with their games.

But the network effect of this UGC platform is so strong that users don’t seem to churn.. for now?

Would a web3 Roblox be more efficient?

I believe so.

➡️ What would happen if creators really owned their items/games and the revenues it’s generating?

➡️ What would happen if the economy was so well thought-through that players could actually earn something if they scored in crypto-games?

➡️ What would happen if a dozen decentralized marketplaces could pop up and compete to get players and collectors to use them? Wouldn’t that make the experience (and ROI) of users potentially even better? Users would finally be the big focus of everyone and treated well.

➡️ If the state of the game was decentralized and open-state, would that make all the games more transparent to their players? Wouldn’t it also apply to revenues streams that are currently very opaque?

➡️ Wouldn’t we create more exciting games if it was possible to use the composability function? What kind of new games would be created?

➡️ Last but not least, wouldn’t that be much more powerful if players and creators really knew that they could ultimately fork the project and still use their creation somewhere else?

A powerful network effect is inherent to web3: it’s its natural inner core feature.

What will happen when we find the perfect formula to ride both at the same time the network effects of UGC platforms and the network effects of web3?

NFT were not playable.. until now?

Just as a great UGC platform let creators build new use cases with its tech, you can think of NFTs as organic user-generated content made on a blockchain. The thing is, except for speculation (and sometimes emotional value), there isn’t much usage attached to current NFT collections.

Choose any NFT collections of your choice, look at the project roadmap, and you’ll find they all claim to be building in the same direction:

“We plan on creating the first of its kind play-and-earn/metaverse/{bs}.”

It doesn’t take a Harvard PhD in computer science to know most of them will never build anything. Why?

Simple. Creating a play-and-earn game worth playing from scratch is:

  • Hard: you need to hire game devs & game designers, a solid blockchain dev, and create a great -but sustainable- economy. And then, you need to find to way to make everyone work together in this booming web3 industry with a lot of options for employees.
  • Long: It can take from 4 months to 1 year to create a good -but kinda basic- game. If it’s your first time, you can easily double that range.
  • Expensive: Most sold-out NFT collections probably raised on average between $400k-$4m. $2m is reasonable funding to build a game. Which NFT collection has still $2m in the bank to hire and build a cool play-and-earn game? Not so many..

As a collector-player, you want to have fun as soon as possible. Time-to-fun is the most overlooked KPI of this industry.

There should be a way to quickly enable those NFT projects to build games. In a matter of weeks instead of years.

Better: There should be a way for any person interested in creating fun games for those NFT holders to do so quickly, and without waiting for permission.

Even better: NFT creators should be able to drastically enhance the collector experience by making games to actually collect attributes (based on performance, for example). You can’t sniper or gas-war that: real players, instead of speculators, will finally be able to get their fair share of the cake. The days of “Mint that NFT fast bruh” are gone.

Loot, the now-famous NFT collection by Dom, enabled anyone to build derivatives on top of its voluntarily abstract collection. Surprisingly (!), there was no real game created as a loot derivative: everyone went one and build another money/nft lego on top of Loot (which was kind of fun I admit).

Why can the Roblox dev community create a plethora of games for anyone to join but web3 builders can’t? There must be a missing enabler: a true web3 native game engine, the first metaverses enabler.

The Metaverse™️ fallacy

There are a lot of projects building their vision of the Metaverse™️, The Sandbox being one of them.

Let’s first agree on what a metaverse is. As Shaan Puri puts it: “The metaverse is the moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life.”

99% of the projects building metaverses (and also crypto-games in general) chose to do it by creating a fake scarcity system out of thin air by arbitrarily limiting the supply of chosen assets. In The Sandbox world, there are only 166464 lands, which are 96x96ft. A great chunk of this supply is owned by speculators/opportunists (like HSBC, Axa, Carrefour) who act like campers. They don’t have a clue on how they can build anything fun on it (worst: I think they probably don’t give a fu*k) which drives the price way too high for the real value it offers.

“Let’s take the “metaverse” to its logical conclusion. It’s 2030, and we’re all spending time in the metaverse. You didn’t buy that Earthcube metaverse land back 9 years ago, so you’re stuck renting a room in a small apartment to display the only NFT you can afford, a virtual figurine from your kid’s McDonalds Happy Meal” (ab.dev)

Of course, the brilliant minds behind those kinds of systems thought about this problem and they came up with an even more brilliant solution: a modern serfdom system. You can now rent your land to builders and share a portion of the profits it generated with them. Noice fix for the long term, isn’t it?

Let’s take Twitter as an example: since anyone can signup to Twitter, there is potentially an infinite number of Twitter accounts. Twitter didn’t start off by stating there should only be 166464 Twitter accounts ever. Does that mean that all Twitter accounts have no value? Of course not. The intrinsic value of a Twitter account comes from the content the owner creates and shares for a long time, with a small premium to the first arrived on the platform and the username they reserved. Real scarcity can only come from a really unique experience. Experiences that make us laugh, cry, learn something new, .. that leave us craving for the next chapter.

The useless frictions are only here to re-enforce the value of just owning a piece of the cake forever, just like you could be a landlord collecting money on the house you’re renting: it creates a rent-seekers economy and ultimately drive down creativity and innovation. That is exactly why I bet The Sandbox will never be a real Metaverse nor even a leading web3 UGC platform in the future: they’re not set up to create 1.000.000 experiences (= games) in the next 5 years. The fruit was rotten from the beginning: it would take a radical 180 degrees turn to stop following this path, and there are no incentives for this company to auto-disrupt itself out of its current model.

Here are some numbers to prove my point:

source: https://naavik.co/deep-dives/jan-2022-premium-sandbox
source: https://naavik.co/deep-dives/jan-2022-premium-sandbox

If you want to be a leading UGC platform in gaming, you need to build a great loop so that more creators come to build for more and more players. The more your community builds, the more iterations you have as a platform to make a hit with a new game/experience. And that’s what will bring you your next million users.

We need 1000x more iterations to create good crypto-games

Here are some key enabling features to create a decentralized Yggdrasil-like Metaverse, the enabler of multiples games and worlds:

  • A metaverse should have a good and sustainable economic layer that (re)distributes resources fairly but never acts as a barrier to new entrants (tokenomics)
  • A metaverse should also have a coherent visual layer (with no arbitrary hard cap on supply) so that assets created and owned by the community tend to be interoperable (assets composability)
  • A metaverse should be built bottom-up by its various communities (creators, players, and collectors)
  • A metaverse enabler should offer free non-opinionated tools (creators kit and dev kits) and smart-contracts kit to creators (smart-contract composability)
  • Anyone should be able to join and build/play in a matter of seconds and even fork the metaverse economic and visual layers (permissionless)
  • Assets ownership should be registered on a public blockchain (persistence)

Last but not least, the game engine itself should be decentralized. The ability to render graphics (in 2D and 3D), the suits of tools to create games and publish them, the physics, the networking, the libraries… should be in the hands of the builders. Forever. Builders should be able to forecast the persistence of the code they’re using to build their games: a decentralized and open-source game engine is the key factor for the success of a web3 game engine in the long run.

Market is ready - The JohnDoe Effect

A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a small test on our prototype game engine (more on that at the end). For the first time in my life, I used Fiverr to find potential candidates to do the test. The test was simple: I wanted to find a Roblox scripter to build in 2 days a small game using our game engine. That’s when “JohnDoe” appears in the story: he quoted me $60 to contribute to the small game. I was surprised, I even thought it might be a scam but went ahead with him. John Doe joined the discord and in 2 days, the game was up and running. I talked a little bit more with him and that’s when I discovered the following:

  • JohnDoe is from Vietnam
  • JohnDoe is aged 16
  • JohnDoe is part of the millions Roblox scripters who hustle on Roblox in the hope of having a hit with a game and earning revenue (which is not the case for him and for millions)
  • JohnDoe already had Metamask installed (⚠️) and was very financially educated for his age
  • JohnDoe was very eager to learn more about NFTs

Was it a pure hazard? I don’t think so

“Chao” joined our test a few days after JohnDoe.

  • Chao is from US
  • Chao is also a minor (50% of kids in the US play Roblox)
  • Chao installed Metamask to receive payment for his contribution in a matter of minutes
  • Chao is a big Minecraft player

Another clue that the market is ready: the third country in the world with the most Roblox developpers is The Philippines. The Philippines is also the place where Axie Infinity broke out to the point it became a national event. It educated a great portion of the population on Play-and-earn and NFTs.

Teenagers and young adults all over the world were trained by Minecraft and Roblox to be ready for web3, just like I was trained by WoW to be a good DeFi and NFT researcher. And now they’re about to get paid for it, and don’t trust my words on it: they want it.

If you take web3 users and mix them with Roblox and Minecraft builders/players, what will it look like? I believe we’re about to enable the next Cambrian explosion in crypto-gaming.

Improbable recently raising $150M with a16z is just the tip of the iceberg the web2 gaming industry has collided into.

The possibility of ∞ islands

Before becoming a worldwide success for his work in poetry and literature, Michel Houellebecq was an unknown computer scientist. Thanks to this previous occupation, Michel Houellebecq has original thoughts on technology and its relation to human beings.
Before becoming a worldwide success for his work in poetry and literature, Michel Houellebecq was an unknown computer scientist. Thanks to this previous occupation, Michel Houellebecq has original thoughts on technology and its relation to human beings.

To rephrase Michel Houellebecq: There will exist, in the midst of the 21st century, the possibility of hundreds of thousands of metaverses. There will never be one metaverse, just like there isn’t one single web page to rule the entire internet. Instead, there will be an infinity of places people call “metaverses”. We need the tools to enable anyone to do so. There needs to be the Yggdrasil of web3 gaming.


About us

If you want to get in touch, just add me on Twitter / Telegram.


Acknowledgments:

  • ab.dev who’s building Shrine
  • Swapp19902 who wrote a great blog post on crypto game engine
Arweave TX
5DnoOn1Ue3sZeQVhlnKkoPXEfk1osMgwBWITcJbSlO0
Ethereum Address
0x388213E1dEB3c9EaF4c67F4043F82F5D87dc16F0
Content Digest
6U4NP7p8ZtMogQocc22soI1UnyFWQU4fDjO9xEXUK5w