And so, this is it – our first Top 50 listing for the blockchain games sector.
In keeping with the approach honed by our sister website PocketGamer.biz for the mobile games sector, the point of this annual list is to highlight companies that are innovating within a fast-moving industry.
For sure, blockchain games remain nascent; few of these companies can point to strong market adoption for their products. It was exactly the same situation when our first Top 50 mobile game developer listing launched in 2009.
But what we’re saying is these are the companies who are trail-blazers for a new way of gaming. Not all will succeed, of course, but all have taken on the risk of doing something new, and for that should be celebrated.
50. ITAM Games
South Korean outfit ITAM Games certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. It launched both its blockchain-based mobile game store and its debut title RPG Blue Dawn in early 2019. And since then the company hasn’t wasted any time either, continuing to launch 10 more games including Dark Town, The Onion Knights and Spookiz, while building out its platform business. It has, however, been hit by congestion issues on the EOS blockchain, which was one of the reasons it announced it will also be using the EOS-based WAX blockchain in 2020.
Following its early 2018 ICO, 2019 has seen US game rewards and community platform Refereum building out partnerships with both blockchain and non-blockchain projects to keep its audience growing, engaged and rewarded, through watching, sharing, streaming and interacting with game content. In this context, one big addition has been getting personal by launching hubs to enable individual streamers and influencers to build their own audiences. On the business side, high profile campaigns have included promoting the likes of PUBG, Cheeze Wizards, Dauntless, Robot Cache and – most interestingly – emerging blockchain streaming platform DLive.
48. Robot Cache
Ethereum-based PC game distribution platform Robot Cache cautiously opened its doors in 2019, providing early access to a growing number of users. It also boosted industry partnerships completing deals with publishers such as THQ Nordic, Devolver and Deep Silver to enable the purchase – and resale – of titles ranging from Darksiders III and Trine 4 to Gris and GreedFall. Robot Cache further encouraged users to get involved by using their PCs to mine its IRON cryptocurrency with a games giveaway program. Perhaps its biggest deal of the year, however, was a marketing hook up with US chip outfit AMD.
Ever since it decloaked announcing a $3.75 million seed investment and its debut title SkyWeaver,Canadian game developer Horizon Games has progressed steadily. Work on SkyWeaver, one of many Ethereum-based trading card games in development, continues via a closed beta for PC and mobile devices with new players constantly being added. In conjunction, there will be what Horizon labels a “revolutionary marketplace for player-to-player card trading”. Perhaps more important is that the free-to-play game is designed to be accessible to all, both in terms of account set-up and the tutorial learning experience. That’s not something that can be said for many blockchain games.
Not formally part of the blockchain game sector, nevertheless during 2019 decentralized finance outfit MakerDAO partnered up with an increasing number of game projects. None of those deals in themselves have been particularly significant but as a whole they do highlight the future synergies to be realised through the combination of blockchain finance and blockchain games. On one level just integrating the DAI stablecoin as a payment method as used by CryptoWars and Infinity Star reduces complexity, while deploying Axie Infinity NFTs as a reward for DAI CDP holders demonstrates how games can drive wider DeFi engagement.
45. So Couch Studios
One of the new generation of developers committed to putting game before blockchain, Danish company So Couch Studios has been relentless in building a large and energetic community for its ambitious free-to-play PC MMORPG Ember Sword. Still in the early stages of development, Ember Sword’s strong visual aesthetic has certainly enabled it to stand out from the crowd. So Couch has also been careful positioning Ember Sword as an experience that will underpin a wider evolution of MMORPG gameplay by taking advantage of blockchain-based item ownership and trading, while avoiding ‘crypto hype’ that has characterised much of the sector’s early years.
US startup Upland isn’t the first developer to attempt to combine blockchain with the ownership and trading of real-world locations. Indeed, this type of game has long appealed to traditional mobile game developers. But, even excluding blockchain elements, the complexities of combining the multiple features and gameplay mechanics this Monopoly-style game requires has proved difficult. That’s something Upland will be looking to overcome in 2020 as its eponymous EOS-based game moves from open beta on mobile to a fully-fledged launch including browser support and a wider geographical spread than its current San Francisco test area.
Demonstrating first mover advantage comes with its own challenges, Swiss developer EverdreamSoft formed in 2010 and launched the first mobile game with blockchain features in 2017. Spells of Genesis was a technical success but with little publisher support and using the Bitcoin-based Counterparty technology for item ownership, it didn’t attract a mass audience. EverdreamSoft is hoping to change this in 2020 as it ports the game to use the more popular Ethereum blockchain. As well as working on Spells of Genesis, the company also licenses its Crystal Suite tools to developers and its Casa Tooken mobile token wallet is available for crypto users.
The open source Cocos-2d middleware is one of the world’s most popular game development tools, particularly in the Chinese mobile sector, and it’s this success which provides the basis for Cocos BlockChain Expedition (or Cocos-BCX). In a similar manner, it’s building a complete development environment for the creation and operation of multiplatform blockchain games which uses its own high performance Cocos-BCX blockchain, which went live in December. Tools include block explorers, wallets, and multiple programming tools. The company has also launched a monthly ‘Buidlers and Angels’ program to encourage developers to explore and adopt the new technology.
Created by the Portugese company behind the open source Aptoide app store, AppCoins is both a distribution channel for Android apps and a financial ecosystem connecting users and developers via its Ethereum-based APPC token. The advantage for mobile developers is they can submit one file which is distributed to multiple app stores. They also get a minimum 81% cut of gross revenue and it’s paid immediately via the APPC token. Users are rewarded by downloading and playing promoted games, and spending their tokens. To-date 2,900 apps are using the system, with over 3 million IAPs processed during December 2019.
Given its history is as a work-for-hire studio making ecommerce sites, AR/VR applications and mobile apps, German developer Qwellcode is now doing something very different with its blockchain game Chainbreakers. Announced in 2018, the first release of this browser-based MMORPG is designed to work in conjunction with the Decentraland virtual world, using both Ethereum for security and item ownership and Matic Network as a faster Layer 2 solution for gameplay. Indeed, it shipped a lightweight version of Chainbreakers called Trial of Artemis tailored towards an esport audience. A more fully-fledged persistent open world experience is planned for later in 2020.
39. Matic Network
Indian outfit Matic Network ended 2019 strongly with many Ethereum-based projects also adopting its Plasma-based proof-of-stake Layer 2 network to provide a better user experience. In particular, its integration with the Decentraland virtual world saw it pick up support from 40 dapps including games such as Chainbreaker and Battle Racers, which had already integrated with the much anticipated project. Other interesting projects using the technology include US universal gaming currency Pocketful of Quarters. The company also raised $5 million through its successful Binance-launched IEO, as well as receiving funding from Coinbase Ventures via a seed round.
In terms of trading volumes Estonian crypto exchange Kriptomat isn’t large, but it has demonstrated a willingness to think creatively about building a different user experience based on game mechanics. In particular, its hook up with Enjin has resulted in a neat gamification reward system – called the Dragon Riders of Kriptomat – whereby users get Kripto tokens the more crypto they buy. These tokens are then used to randomly win ingredients that can be crafted into boosts – in the shape of different dragons – to provide discounts on future crypto trading. More integrations with Enjin-powered blockchain games are planned in 2020.
37. VZ Games
Latvian developer VZ Games was hit hard by the crypto winter in late 2018, resulting in speculation over the ongoing status of its Ethereum-based PC strategy game Hash Rush. The good news, however, is the second half of 2019 saw the team reorganise and the game bounce back into activity with production now underway again. This has resulted in regular updates restarting for the ongoing closed alpha, with the most recent being the first phase of what will be comprehensive reworking of the game’s combat gameplay. A new desert planet has also been added to the original forest environment.
US blockchain-based rewards system Azarus is an interesting example of a game service that uses blockchain – EOS in this case – but hides this fact from its users. The main reason for this is to reduce complexity and ensure it can offer the sort of seamless UX users expect from standard web services. Another significant novelty is that while Azarus has its own AZA currency system, this can’t be used externally, only redeemed for digital goods within the dedicated Azarus marketplace. Currently only supporting Rainbow Six Siege, it will be fascinating to see how the service expands in 2020.
35. Nifty Gateway
The big news of 2019 for US fiat-to-crypto NFT payment system Nifty Gateway was its acquisition by the Winklevoss twins’ Gemini Trust Company. This was first M&A undertaken by Gemini and as well as giving Nifty Gateway access to its resources and institutional-grade infrastructure, also underlines a growing shift from investing only in tokens to considering other forms of crypto-based asset. In that context, Nifty Gateway’s business of enabling consumers to buy US-denominated NFTs without complexity using their credit cards is considered a key piece in solving the puzzle of making blockchain gaming accessible to the mass market.
One of the earliest blockchain gaming projects, Boston-headquartered esports platform FirstBlood raised $5.5 million through an ICO for its ERC20 token 1ST back in 2016. The full scale of its ambition has only recently been revealed, however, with the news it will be launching its own blockchain in 2020. Called Dawn, this technology is based on the Tendermint protocol using the Cosmos SDK and will link to Ethereum via a bridge contract. It will enable users to create immutable gamer IDs to track their history, developers to open their game APIs to the community, as well as providing esports tournament management tools.
33. The Abyss
Working with both traditional and blockchain game developers, Russian PC game distribution channel and engagement platform The Abyss had a busy 2019. It released browser and client versions of its software, signed a deal with Epic Games to support games using Unreal Engine 4, and launched both an item marketplace in conjunction with the Waves Platform and the beta version of Destiny.Games’ blockchain-based browser MMORPG Chain Warriors. Meanwhile its Ethereum-based ABYSS token was integrated with additional exchanges and liquidity providers such as Kyber Network, and is now supported as a payment option in Blockchain Cuties.
French developer B2Expand built on the experience from its 2018’s Ethereum-based space MOBA Beyond the Void with its 2019’s announcement of the forthcoming Light Trail Rush. Another PC game distributed via Steam, it’s a futuristic arcade racer, in which the race leader creates the track on which everyone else competes in the attempt to overtake and become the new leader. Currently available in a pre-alpha version prior to planned summer release, Light Trail Rush has also partnered up with the likes of Neon District and Battle Racer to host combined item sales including for interoperable NFTs.
One of blockchain gaming’s most open and active projects, 8 Circuit Studios’ hybrid space combat/team-based FPS Project Genesis labels its development process as being an ‘open kitchen’; something underlined by its public roadmap available on Trello. This attitude is also reflected in the frequent releases of playable builds for those on its private test program. One advantage of this approach is the strong community the Ethereum-based Unreal Engine 4 PC game has been building, including increasing coverage from streamers. Not bad given the Seattle-based developer says the current build remains pre-alpha.
Chinese blockchain game developer and tools provider MixMarvel can look back on a solid 2019. Not only did it raise $10 million but 2018 release HyperDragons continued to maintain its audience on Ethereum and – as HyperDragons Go – on the Ontology blockchain too. Meanwhile new release HyperSnakes launched well across Ethereum, TRON and Ontology. Such experience will be used in 2020 as the company looks to leverage its proprietary Rocket Protocol Layer 2 solution to develop and publish new content. It’s also announced 2020 will see the release of FPS Ground Hunter on the NEO blockchain, and strategy racing title ForceForFast.
Although South Korean developer SuperTree is best known for its cutesy, casual collection dapp CryptoDozer, which was one of the few titles selected for Samsung’s S10 blockchain wallet, the company’s ambitions are much broader. For one thing it has a whole series of Dozer games planned, as well as other titles in which the collectible Dozer characters can be used. All of this activity is underpinned by what it calls the PlayDapp service platform, which reduces the complexity of blockchain onboarding, both in terms of wallet creation and crypto payments. Of course, this approach also extends to supporting multiple chains.
South Korean tools provider and game developer Planetarium reckons every blockchain game should optimise its performance by running on its own custom chain. That’s the unique selling point of its open source Libplanet platform and something it’s hoping to demonstrate successfully with its own game Nine Chronicles. One advantage of this approach is games aren’t impacted by other network traffic and can optimise for their own social mechanics and monetisation requirements. Planetarium’s support for .NET and Unity eases development complexity. Underlining its potential, in October, Planetarium was accepted into Ubisoft’s Entrepreneur Labs program.
After a year in which it generated plenty of headlines, notably by attracting PewDiePie to ditch YouTube and adopt it as his exclusive live streaming platform, DLive ended 2019 with the shock news it had signed a strategic partnership with TRON and would be migrating from its own Lino blockchain to run on the BitTorrent protocol. The result will see DLive integrated into BitTorrent and uTorrent software, providing the blockchain game streaming platform with a greatly increased footprint. Its challenge in 2020, therefore, will be to convert this potential audience into engaged users who will supercharge its tokenised community.
Singapore-based Enjin is one of the most experienced and technically-adept blockchain game companies and that reputation was enhanced when its wallet was one of the few products integrated with the blockchain keystore feature of Samsung’s S10 smartphone. Its ERC1155 NFT standard was also adopted for the Ethereum blockchain and its game item Enjin Marketplace went live. However, progress was slower for the many third party blockchain games being built using its platform, although a number of these such as Dissolution, Forest Knight and Age of Rust are now in alpha testing.
Having launched its location-based AR mobile shooter Reality Clash on Android and iOS in early 2019, London-based Reality Gaming Group spent the rest of the year building out its wider technology platform. A large part of this included reworking and balancing the economic model for the game’s NFT marketplace, including its RCC token, and integrating with other marketplaces like OpenSea. Another aim is to enable third party developers to partner up, whether that be interoperability with the game’s extensive weapon arsenal, or use its underlying technology stack to make new location-based and/or AR mobile games.
Although Ubisoft didn’t announce any specific blockchain projects in 2019, it’s believed that its internal prototyping team remains active. In the meantime, what’s important is the company remains highly supportive of the wider sector, including the Blockchain Game Alliance. Its bi-annual Ubisoft Entrepreneur Labs program, which is now held in Paris and Singapore, also has a strong focus on incubating blockchain projects. Recent examples include Azarus, Sorare, EverdreamSoft, B2Expand and Planetarium. That stated, the big question on everyone’s lips remains will 2020 see Ubisoft follow up its promising test project HashCraft with a commercially released blockchain game?
23. Lucid Sight
LA developer Lucid Sight experienced a busy 2019, rebranding its official baseball game as MLB Champions and stepping up development on its much anticipated space exploration and combat title Crypto Space Commander. The PC game certainly generated headlines following its licensing deal with Star Trek, which saw some versions of the USS Enterprise selling for over $10,000. But, what was more significant was the ongoing work of building up a community around regular updates to the early access version available on Steam. 2020 promises much, with the PC version due for release in the summer and a mobile version in Q4.
Blockchain gaming platform XAYA takes a different approach to many other companies in the sector with a focus on full decentralisation. This means all aspects of its games – everything from game logic to item trading – runs on its open source XAYA blockchain. The first title to demonstrate this in action is turn-based strategy game Taurion, which ran two special treasure hunt events in 2019 to test the technology, also rewarding players with prizes such as crypto and NFTs. Football game Soccer Manager Elite is expected to start its first test program in early 2020.
21. Theta Labs
While Theta Labs’ technology hopes to solve general issues around video content delivery, the sheer scale of game-related streaming means its initial incarnation is highly focused on the gaming sector, especially esports. 2019 was a big year for the company. Not only did it launch its mainnet and its Tfuel platform currency, but it started deploying mainnet version 2.0, which is due to go live in March. Theta Labs also closed another funding round with Samsung NEXT and Blockchain Ventures participating. And the company’s Sliver.tv game streaming platform gained traction and will be rebranded as Theta.tv and syndicated more widely in 2020.
20. Loom Network
While its Basechain technology is being used in multiple blockchain games ranging from Axie Infinity to Sorare to CryptoWars, Loom Network is also eating its own dog food by developing its own game, Relentless. Originally launched in mid-2018 as a Kickstarter project called Zombie Battleground, the title has undergone plenty of changes, including going open source and gaining a revised art style, although at heart it remains a trading card game in the Hearthstone mould. Currently available in beta for Steam and mobile platforms, the Ethereum-based game also has a dedicated peer-to-peer marketplace for trading cards.
Not as well known as it should be, not only is Russian developer 0xGames relatively prolific for a blockchain game developer, it’s also keen to support multiple blockchains, with live titles on Ethereum, TRON, EOS and NEO. Yet it’s its original game 0xUniverse on Ethereum – now updated to v3.0 – which remains its most solid performer, rising from around 200 daily active wallets in January to over 900 by December. It will be interesting to see how this audience reacts to new expansion 0xUniverse: Battleships, which is due to be released in 2020.
Ethereum-powered virtual world Decentraland was announced in 2017 and remains one of the sector’s most cherished blockchain projects. It experienced plenty of change in 2019 as it got closer and closer to formal release. Of course, the complexity of the project, which combines user-generated environments in a persistent user-owned world, third party games such as Chainbreakers and Battle Racers, and a fully-featured customisable avatar system with collectibles, accounts for the project’s ongoing and lengthy development. Still, it will be fascinating to see whether it can pull off its ambitious metaverse-meets-blockchain goal sometime in 2020.
17. Blockade Games
Few blockchain game developers created as many headlines in 2019 as US startup Blockade Games. While the majority of this revolves around its edgy RPG Neon District, which generated plenty of buzz thanks to multiple reveals, NFT item sales and promotions, the most surprising news was the announcement of its development platform; a chain-agnostic tech stack, including support for Lightning Network payments and integration with multiple wallet solutions. Nevertheless, the much anticipated Neon District will be one of the titles everyone has their eye on as a potential breakout hit for blockchain gaming in 2020.
16. Team Prospectors
The Ukranian team behind complex 19th century gold rush economic simulator Prospectors experienced an eventful 2019. When originally launched on the EOS blockchain during the summer, Prospectors ranked as one of the most popular blockchain games in terms of daily activity. Significantly it was also one of the few blockchain games attempting to monetise its players using its own cryptocurrency rather than by trading in-game items. What was more interesting, however, was the game’s second launch on the EOS-based WAX blockchain in December, which – if briefly – saw it again becoming the most popular blockchain game.
As with most blockchain games, product development and community building were key features for Experimental’s CryptoWars in 2019. The game, which uses both Ethereum and Loom Network’s Basechain, accomplished both of these goals thanks to its novel tournament structure. This limited play opportunities to specific periods of time, usually during the weekend.
The result of running over 70 such tournaments with over 10,000 players was the decision to move on from what the Argentine developer now labels V1 to a fully-formed, more accessible and faster-paced V2, including an asymmetric gameplay mode, which is due later in 2020.
14. NOD Games
South Korean startup NOD Games hit the ground running with the launch of its EOS-based idle RPG Crypto Sword & Magic. Launched in late June, not only was it one of the more visually appealing and accessible blockchain games, it didn’t make its blockchain features – in this case item trading – overly complex either. The result was the game built up an audience of over 700 daily active wallets, although this was eventually impacted by EOS’ network congestion issues later in the year. The release of a version of the game on Kakao’s Klaytn blockchain provides a second opportunity for growth in 2020.
13. The Sandbox
Given the complexity of the project, it was no surprise that 2019 was all about development for The Sandbox Akin to Roblox on blockchain, the user-generated platform consists of a voxel editor for making and animating items; a marketplace for buying and selling items, and the actual sandbox environment in which users play and interact. The first two of these elements were released in early forms, while much underlying work was accomplished for the latter, including a successful sale of some of the game’s persistent land parcels. The company also raised $2.5 million o ensure it has the resources to fulfil its ambitious goals.
12. Altitude Games
Experienced Philippines mobile game developer Altitude Games catch our attention in 2019 with its first blockchain title Battle Racers. Originally cited as a launch title within the Decentraland virtual world, delays to that project resulted in an early access browser version being released in December. Based on Ethereum, the game also integrated Matic’s Layer 2 solution to improve its accessibility. Another success were its various item presales, which saw the game partnering with the likes of CryptoKitties, Axie Infinity, Neon District and Binance, releasing special branded vehicles parts, raising over $170,000 in the process.
Blockchain PC game distribution platform Ultra is shaping up for a big year and for that reason spent most of 2019 working to get important pieces of its 2020 masterplan into place. First up was a $3 million public fundraiser, although the company is believed to have raised substantially more through private VC rounds. It also started to gear up its publicity machine, releasing the first videos showing how its platform will operate. Finally, Ultra announced strategic partnerships, notably with AMD and Ubisoft, which will be one of the first companies to run a node on Ultra’s UOS blockchain testnet.
10. Mythical Games
US blockchain game developer and platform outfit Mythical Games takes a different approach to most of its peers. It hasn’t launched any item or token pre-sales, nor released early versions of its games to playtest and build community. Of course, to some extent, it hasn’t needed to do such things.
Some of this is about marketing; it talks about being a next-generation game studio and creating player-led economies, not blockchain games. But some is about smart design, notably focusing on creating a highly engaging experience in the knowledge that many players won’t be interested in owning and trading in-game items, at least to begin with. Certainly this attitude will be well reflected in Blankos Block Party, a user-generated game starring the visually appealing and hugely brandable blankos, effectively digitally mischievous representations of collectible vinyl toys.
2019 proved to be almost the perfect year for the WAX (Worldwide Asset eXchange) blockchain team. It launched its EOS-based mainnet in June, followed by the ability to stake tokens, and then fully decentralised block production in November.
The first dapps running on WAX went live in December, with the WAX version of EOS hit Prospectors launching as one of the most popular blockchain games in terms of daily activity. Network congestion issues on EOS also saw a number of EOS projects ranging from mobile app store ITAM Games to games Chain Clash and Dark Country, and the Karma social network announcing they were going to launch on WAX too.
That stated, compared to other more established blockchains, WAX remains a fairly nascent dapp ecosystem. In that context, 2020’s most pressing concern for the WAX team will be to build on its solid foundation and focus on developer relations, ensuring it can provide the tools and users to attract new projects. Easy onboarding through the WAX Cloud Wallet using standard social accounts and fiat credit card payment option will be key weapons in that initiative.
Australian developer Immutable (previously Fuel Games) had much to celebrate in 2019. Not only did it close a $15 million funding round led by Naspers Ventures and Galaxy Digital but it sold out of the Genesis card packs for its TCG Gods Unchained, generating over $6 million in the process. It also generated headlines through the batch minting of the resulting ERC721 tokens onto the Ethereum blockchain: 3.7 million in a single day.
Behind-the-scenes, however, it was the ongoing development of Gods Unchained which was the main focus of activity and remains the most important single factor in terms of the company’s future success in 2020. The appointment of Chris Clay, formerly a game director at Magic: The Gathering Arena, proved significant in this regard. Since joining in the summer, Clay has spearheaded a radical overhaul of many of the game’s features to ensure it can attract the widest audience when it formally goes live. The current version is labelled an open beta. Not that Immutable is limiting its ambitions to Gods Unchained. It has a second game planned and also announced its Immutable Platform, which includes streaming and esports features, for other studios to use.
7. We Can Games
Launched back in the summer of 2018, browser game Blockchain Cuties continued to expand in 2019. It launched on the TRON and NEO blockchains, making it the first game to support four blockchains, with more expected. It originally released on Ethereum and EOS. Latvian developer We Can Games didn’t rest on past glories though, announcing its plan to expand what had been a fairly simple blockchain breeding and battling game into a deeper and immersive experience; something it highlights using the umbrella term of Blockchain Cuties Universe.
One element of this will be the introduction of clans battles and persistent land in the forthcoming Wars of Cutieland update, which will allow players across the four different blockchains to battle for control and resources. Less ambitious but equally important for the current metagame was the introduction of the forge, enabling players to recycle and level up their items, and kickstarting the game’s economy. It was also interesting to see the launch of the game’s CUTE token; something that will provide more opportunities for player monetisation and engagement as Blockchain Cuties quickly becomes a much more sophisticated game in 2020.
6. Sky Mavis
It may not have the largest player base but Vietnam-based developer Sky Mavis has always stressed its game Axie Infinity boasts one of the friendliest and most passionate communities. Indeed, part of these characteristics arise from the project’s genesis, created as it was by fans of the first breakout blockchain game CryptoKitties, who wanted a deeper experience. More generally Axie Infinity and its team have often been in the forefront of innovation.
Axie Infinity was one of the first games to trial item interoperability. It also launched its sale for persistent land – a key trend for most blockchain games – early in 2019. Since then, it’s partnered up with DeFi outfit MakerDAO, as well as experimenting with novel features such as a loan-based financial product, collaterialised with rare Axie. But this isn’t to say Sky Mavis doesn’t take things seriously. It raised $1.5 million from Animoca Brands, ConsenSys and Hashed and is working on its own set of development tools. It also hopes to expand Axie Infinity’s reach from the hundreds into the thousands in 2020, as it supports new blockchains such as Kakao’s Klaytn, and launches a mobile version to create more accessible products.
In recent years, Hong Kong-based Animoca Brands has evolved from a successful if small-scale mobile game developer and publisher into one of the leading blockchain game companies in the world. It’s been particularly adept at raising new funds – over $12 million to-date – which it has deployed in an aggressive expansion strategy.
Part of this has involved buying some companies outright, such as The Sandbox, Stryking (Football-Stars), and desktop mining outfit Gamma. It’s invested in others, including Sky Mavis, Dapper Labs, Decentraland, Lucid Sight, wallet outfit Bitski and marketplace OpenSea. It’s also signed partnerships with WAX and Atari, as well as agreeing to make official games with the Formula One and MotoGP organisations, both of which are due to go live in Q1 2020. Indeed, the year is shaping up to be an important one for the validation of the company’s strategy. This is especially in the case of race simulator F1 Delta Time, which has already successfully completed 14 high profile vehicle auctions, and is due to launch alongside and reflect all the action in the F1 season, which starts on 15 March in Australia.
Given one of the main features of using a blockchain is the decentralised ownership of in-game items, marketplaces that provide a high level of liquidity for the trading of such items are a key infrastructure play. In that context, the success of US-based OpenSea as a marketplace for Ethereum-based NFTs shouldn’t be a surprise. What is remarkable, however, is how quickly it’s become the defacto solution. This status was reinforced by the $2.1 million investment it raised from interested parties including Animoca Brands and Gumi Cryptos.
Of course, given the nascent state of the market, its user base isn’t not large. OpenSea started the year with around 100 wallets active in terms of trading on a daily basis. Thanks, in particular, to the minting of Gods Unchained cards, 2019 ended with around 300 daily active wallets or 1,000 on a weekly basis. Trading value also rose, some days peaking at over 300 ETH (around $40,000) or over $150,000 on a weekly basis. Aside from Gods Unchained, the key games driving this growth included My Crypto Heroes, CSC, F1 Delta Time and Decentraland.
3. Dapper Labs
Arguably the studio that kickstarted the entire blockchain game sector with the 2017 release of CryptoKitties, Vancouver outfit Dapper Labs continued to innovate in 2019. Part of this included its continued efforts into CryptoKitties’ live operations, keeping the collectible title relevant into its third year and $30 million in lifetime value. More interesting, though, was its announcement of Cheeze Wizards, a game offering similar levels of interoperability and composability.
This approach was further encouraged with a month-long hackathon that resulted in the release of ways to organise guilds and other player tools. Cheeze Wizards also completed a successful character presale generating almost $180,000. That stated, the game’s battle royale mechanic resulted in more complex and less visible user experience than CryptoKitties. Such fundamental issues in terms of finding game and UX balance saw Dapper announce its own blockchain. Called Flow, and funded by a $11 million investment led by Andreesen Horowitz’s crypto fund, it’s designed to offer both high performance and high levels of decentralisation. The first title to use Flow will be Dapper’s forthcoming basketball game NBA Top Shot. Animoca Brands and Ubisoft have also expressed interest in the technology.
2. Biscuit Labs
It says much about the volatility of blockchain games that South Korean developer Biscuit Labs saw its debut title – mobile RPG EOS Knights – hit the heights of attracting well over 6,000 daily active wallets in March 2019, only to end the year with less than 300. The reasons for this performance were varied including anti-bot measures deployed by the developer, a lack of deep metagame and EOS’ network congestion. The good news was that a well designed experience distributed through standard app stores could quickly become the year’s most popular blockchain game.
The bad news, however, was the novelty of being a blockchain game wasn’t enough to retain an audience for multiple months. Yet, despite being a relatively small developer, Biscuit Labs had plans to leverage this experience for its second mobile game Knight Story. Released in November on Ethereum (and coming to TRON and Klaytn in 2020), the game can be thought of as EOS Knights 2, offering broadly similar features but wrapped up in an improved UX and with some smart additions. And it’s been well received too, with Knight Story being a top 5 game on Ethereum in terms of active wallets since launch, attracting over 1,000 weekly players.
When it comes to the blockchain game that defined 2019, there should be little argument it was My Crypto Heroes. This isn’t to say the quirky pixel art browser RPG is easy to understand or play. Despite Double Jump.Tokyo’s best efforts at providing tutorials and improving the UX, this continues to be the case for any players unfamiliar with hardcore Japanese game mechanics.
Nevertheless, the Ethereum-based title grew its audience steadily through the year, rising from around 1,000 to over 4,000 active wallets a week. And, as the developer points out, more than double the number play the game without interacting with the Ethereum blockchain and hence aren’t counted in this data. As well as users, the game performed well in terms of its occasional high value land sales and more generalised daily player-to-player character trading too. In that sense, My Crypto Heroes can claim to be the best example we currently have of what a successful collision between computer gaming and blockchain looks like. The blockchain elements don’t get in the way of the gameplay but they do enable new ways for players to engage both with the developer and each other.
That’s something Double Jump.Tokyo is hoping to spread further in future with its MCH+ platform and ecosystem, which other developers are already using to experiment with their own games. Examples include a tie-in with Alim for a version of My Crypto Heroes using characters from Brave Frontier, and a deal with VR game developer Yomuneco that will see NFTs from its Swords of Gargantua minted onto Ethereum.