Why Legions & Legends is a “web3-sensitive” game

With a career built on the back of developing eight successful hero collection RPGs, including the billion dollar-grossing Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes at EA, there was never any question of what Mark Otero’s next game would be – if he ever made another game.

At least that was the state of play for Otero, who’d effectively retired from making games until researching cryptocurrency as part of his financial portfolio in 2021 sparked his interest.

And as detailed in this interview as part of the Blockchain Gaming World podcast series — check out previous episodes on YouTube or Spotify — the result is Azra Games.

Announced in 2022, the 50-strong US developer has raised $25 million and is hard at work on Otero’s ninth hero collection RPG Legions & Legends; a game he notably labels “web3-sensitive”.

Check out the full video and an edited transcription below.

BlockchainGamer.biz: You have a deep knowledge about how RPGs work at a fundamental level, and you’ve thought of blockchain as a technology that fits within that concept. So can you share with us how your mind worked when you were putting those two different things together?

Mark Otero: Yeah, it was in Q4 of 2021. And earlier that year I had purchased some crypto as part of my portfolio allocation for the first time, just because it forced me to learn more about it, so I’m an engineer by trade as well.

I started to look into Solana and to do some programming. It dawned on me that there was true ownership on-chain, and the idea of ownership intrigued me. Because, as a dungeon master, players carry with them player character sheets and I liken them to early versions of paper NFTs.

Prior to that I had made eight F2P RPGs that sold hundreds of million dollars in virtual goods, so I understood the concept of virtual goods. Then there was this connection moment like, players have more utility when they’re not just defined by the constraints of the game in terms of what they can do with them. And that was when it dawned on me that perhaps this is the next evolution of digital goods. 

So I thought about it very practically and that got me really excited, because after making eight of these same type of games I grew bored and it was really the challenge and the opportunity to investigate this new technology that piqued my curiosity. 

And then I began to cast and say okay how is this going to evolve? What new potential player types can arise from this? And how can it make the experience stronger? I didn’t have good answers for that, which was great news at the time because it meant this will be my ninth game. Just like that. 

It didn’t take me long to make the decision. It was in December around Christmas that I started calling my old friends who I’ve built many games with before, and say I’m back, there’s a new opportunity, there’s some big problems to solve, let’s go solve them together. Pretty rapidly the studio came together. Over 50% of the studio have all worked together.

How do you think this game is shaping up to be different to what you’ve done before?

What would be helpful is a little bit of backstory. I grew up in South Korea, a very modest means. I fell upon a game called Dungeons & Dragons and immediately fell in love with the second edition rule set and became a player for years and eventually a dungeon master. I was always captivated by the breadth of unlimited storytelling that you could have, as well as playing with my toys, small and large toys, and that eventually led me to founding a gaming company above a yogurt shop that I founded. I’ve always wanted to create the large toy box experience where you play with small and large toys, and I think a lot of us can relate with that growing up, where we didn’t put rules in, like traditional games do. 

Where it says only your small figurines can fight small figurines, and your medium figurines can only fight medium figurines. This was generally a rule for all collectibles and combat RPG games, and I’ve tried to solve it a number of times, and we weren’t able to pull it off. So for our ninth RPG game, where you’re collecting heroes, you’re collecting monsters. We wanted to be able to mix and match small, medium, and large in the same way that we did as children growing up. 

We wanted to create a truly immersive sandbox experience for players to tell their stories through their collection, so in addition to web3 and the potential benefits it can provide for games, it was really the large toy box experience that inspired me to give this another crack. We tried this in Dragon Age, we did an okay job with that. We tried in Star Wars and gave up. So this was something that I knew that I’d eventually return to again, and I believe we have good solutions now that are balanced quite well for a night game.

I don’t think you’ve shown much gameplay of Legions & Legends. There’s been snippets of videos around that look like quite a standard RPG type thing. Would you say that the innovation is not really happening on the gameplay side of things? That it’s more around the thematic side and the ownership side you’re really trying to leverage the new opportunities.

I would say that we’re still very early in the development process, and we’re going to show a lot more towards the end of 2024, but it’s incredibly difficult to balance small, medium, and large figurines and I believe we have the right approach. 

For us, the first thing that’s part of sequencing is we’ve got to get the player controls down right in the camera so that the camera system is smart enough to know when to zoom out and change its positioning, not only depending on what’s happening in the environment and what you’re up against, but also to the size of the character that you decide to summon or bring into battle. Those are not easy problems to solve. 

Everything that we’ve shared so far is really answering questions about the perspective of the camera and the player controls, because without mastering that and doing that well, nothing else really matters. Players, when they feel it, are like, this is kind of janky, the player doesn’t feel really grounded to the ground. These tiny little details, they matter because you’re making a first impression and games are so competitive. 

Once we get that just right we can begin to introduce other concepts for the player, including golems, big things, and small things, and to really balance that out, then release and test parts of that to some of our fans. 

For me it’s more of a sequencing of what we’re doing. Do we get the art style right? Do we have enough polygons on the screen? Do we have the art budget? This is gonna be a mobile-first game, so we’re really pushing what’s possible on mobile devices to the max extreme. All these things are difficult to do, but we’re definitely on track. 

I’m very happy with where we’re at with the art style of the game. We’re deeply inspired by Elden Ring, it’s a great game. We’re deeply inspired by player controls of a lot of different console games, and we’re bringing that feel and quality to the mobile device in addition to the large toy box experience. 

There are a number of innovations here when you take them as a whole in experiencing a new game for a player. There are many tough challenges ahead, but we have spent a good amount of time on smart thinking of how to overcome these things and to deliver a balanced, satisfying experience that’s familiar yet unique at the same time.

You have a PFP NFT collection called The Hopeful, can we talk a bit more about why you have a collection like that? 

Because we have such profound respect for not having all the answers in web3, we wanted to provide a gift to the community where they had a game pass, as opposed to an in-game asset with unknown unknowns about the game that we were making. 

For us it’s something we see in the first generation of potential web3 games, that when you make commitments to the community and you start pre-selling in-game assets, you put yourself in a very tough position, where now the players have an expectation because they paid for these in-game assets, and they have expectations of the type of game you’re building. And the developers feel an incredible urgency to get something in the hands of the players, because the players are asking, when is the game coming out? You create a situation that’s very difficult to overcome, where the developers feel obligated to release something that’s not ready. Or maybe they change their mind later on and say, these game assets don’t make sense for our game. 

We didn’t want to be in that position. One of the things that we could absolutely count on is we’re going to release a great game, therefore, let’s give free passes to our game. Let’s build a community around it that can help inform some of our decision-making for feedback without risking what we need to build and what we need to discover as we’re building. A very thoughtful process of not disappointing our players and not committing to things that we simply don’t have answers to. 

We are first and foremost a game company, we’re an RPG game company. A first game for this studio is that our game will be web3 sensitive, but we don’t think of ourselves as a web3 game.

I think we’re now in the next cycle for web3, where people are thinking about the gameplay first and the traditional fun aspects of the game. Then they’re thinking about how to utilize this breakthrough technology to enhance the player experience. In web3, we’re going through this a lot faster, it’s contracted, than with mobile. 

This is why we say we are web3 sensitive. We will never do anything within our game that takes away or corrupts the entertaining value of a game because we believe one of our principles is that, for the game to be sustainable, it must be grounded in traditional gameplay and fun, first and foremost. Let that become the engine that drives the ecosystem around it and within it.

Do you think developers are now thinking more about the fundamentals of blockchain gaming?

In the first cycle of web3 games, due to the revolutionary nature of players for the first time owning their assets, there was a lot of volatility and almost like a Cambrian explosion of speculative ideas about what worked and what didn’t. And that’s pretty common with technology. 

What came out of that was some interesting models that were eventually not sustainable. I share that because we’re now in the sober phase where there’s less volatility in the thinking and the ideas on making games. 

I think that’s a great time for web3 and games, because there’s going to be a lot more accurate thinking about what the gameplay mechanics or the durable mechanics that are going to come from web3 in the future. I’m happy this is where we’re at

Does the game need a token?

The way I think about it is, what is the utility of this token? But to answer that question, we first have to ask ourselves, what is the game pattern for the game that we’re building? And then we ask the question, how does the token facilitate more fun within the game? We have our own tokenomic design that’s called the token of fun, and this is why we say that we’re web3 sensitive. 

When players come into our game, they’re not going to know they’re playing a web3 sensitive game. It’s going to have an easy onboarding process. We’re not going to ask you for your wallet and all that stuff. There are no hurdles or gymnastics to get into the game. 

Players are gonna go into it and feel like it’s a traditional free-to-play game. And it just so happens that as they fall in love with the game for the players that do, they’re gonna discover that the world itself is web3 sensitive and it could also be token sensitive. And now you understand why we call it web3 sensitive, because we literally mean that. 

We could be one of the first companies to implement it this way, where the token itself is a literal mathematical proxy for how much enjoyment players are having with the game, and I think that’s the way it should be as a utility of fun.

Keep up-to-date with Legions & Legends via its website.

Azra GamesInterviewLegions and LegendsMark Otero
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