Is Nintendogs the ideal model for blockchain gaming?

Susan Cummings, CEO of Tiny Rebel Games’ Petaverse Network, is bullish about the rampant friction surrounding blockchain and NFT gaming: “It is as controversial as can be. Hardcore gamers tend to be – understandably – sceptical about new business models and seeing the motives behind them.”

It is as controversial as can be. Hardcore gamers tend to be – understandably – sceptical about new business models and seeing the motives behind them.

Susan Cummings

But you don’t get to be CEO of a new blockchain gaming initiative built on the foundation of interactive pets without committing to the idea that NFTs will have an incontrovertible role in the future. Blockchain gaming is currently squarely targeting the converted, but Cummings argued we can look to our industry’s history for a better direction.

“We have to look at the journey from F2P, which hardcore gamers also hated, which led to the birth of hypercasual and social games – Candy Crush and gaming on Facebook – and this in turn led to mid-core content. It took years for us to get to the likes of Call of Duty Mobile, but for some reason, blockchain gaming is jumping straight to the hardcore.

“There is a huge potential value proposition for hardcore gamers. But we’re not there yet, and that’s why that scepticism and desire to see the utility as transparently as possible is understandable. Right now, you’re spending a huge amount of energy in a fierce, uphill battle.”

Gimme your wallet

Instead, Cummings is directing that energy towards “the broader, casual mass market, just like mobile”. But that brings along its own bespoke challenges – how do you translate the complex language and technicalities of blockchain into something widely understandable? How do you remove the barriers of onboarding when the processes are yet to be fully defined? How many people have a MetaMask account anyway (and if you need to ask, you know blockchain is not yet ready to be truly mass market)?

“We spent a lot of time looking at the friction in blockchain spaces, talking with middleware companies about wallets, engaging with the variety of blockchains. There is still tremendous friction, but I want to note that almost all of our investors are Web3, rather than traditional games investors. This friction is something we knew we would come up against.”

The Petaverse is instead looking to custodial wallets – in which full control is assigned to a third-party, while the owner primarily has permission to send or receive payments – akin to Binance, BitGo, and FreeWallet. Cummings argued that the experience of custodial wallets is akin to the ease of credit card payments.

“Apple Pay recently announced compatibility with MetaMask. These are truly the things that are going to help remove the confusion around wallet addresses and options of wallets and which blockchain to use.”

Meowth, that’s right

Overcoming the technical elements and easing the consumer journey is an integral part of making blockchain gaming and NFTs accessible. But just as important is expressing the appeal of NFTs. Garish ape jpegs are a choice, but Cummings has chosen a different battlefield: “What better fit than virtual cats?”

Petaverse is working on its Pet Creation Kit, a Unity-based tool “that allows us to create a near-infinite number of adorable cats”. Ownership of each pet will be linked to an NFT, but Cumming is keen to express the potential of metadata within each NFT.

“We call it the DNA of the pet: their behavioural and social characteristics – down to the equivalent of their D&D alignment or spellcasting abilities. This metadata can be read and reinterpreted by other projects, and we want everyone else to be able to use our assets. Here’s our rig, our model, our animations – this is the key to interoperability.”

17 years in the making

Cummings cites two key inspirations, one unsurprising – “CryptoKitties is the grandfather of all of this” – and the other a little more unusual.

“24 million people played Nintendogs. It is the most played Nintendo DS game of all time. If those pets were all NFTs, that’s 24 million NFTs we could be creating content and utility for right now.

We want to incentivise you to keep your pets – that it actually pains you to sell them.

Susan Cummings

“In our mind, people will continue to develop and support these NFTs for decades to come. For us, honestly, it’s all about AR glasses: I want you to be able to have your pet follow you around the house. And even though it’s about giving players ownership, we want to incentivise you to keep your pets – that it actually pains you to sell them.”

This article was first published on PocketGamer.biz.

NintendogsPetaverseSusan CummingsTiny Rebel Games