Telling the tale of Nine Chronicles

In the latest episode of his Blockchain Gaming World podcast, editor-in-chief Jon Jordan talks to JC Kim, the CEO and founder of South Korean game and tech company Planetarium, which operates idle RPG Nine Chronicles.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can also listen to the podcast via the Fountain app and earn Bitcoin. Can you talk about how you got into blockchain games?

JC Kim: We started in 2018 because I wanted to make a Bitcoin-like game. I love Bitcoin because it’s trustless. We don’t need to know who Satoshi is and who operates it, because we can read the code. So I thought if we contain game history on the blockchain, we can make a Bitcoin-like game. It means the game players and community doesn’t depend on the company, and they can operate themselves. I just wanted to understand how blockchain works. That’s the starting point of our company and team.

Basically it was my hobby project, my personal open source project. It was with my friends but then we got some funding from VCs and that was the starting point of Planetarium. 

After three years of work, we launched Nine Chronicles M in October 2023. Before the launch, we were very nervous. We thought there were lots of developers already doing their own fully onchain projects, but actually we are early pioneers when it comes to fully on-chain gaming right now.

How many people are playing the game?

Right now, there are over 100,000 monthly active users playing Nine Chronicles. Our team is around 60, working in both South Korea and Singapore. As well as the game, we are also working with the other gaming projects who want to learn more about our technology and our go-to-market strategy. We are openly helping them.

Have you always had the same vision in terms of making fully onchain games?

I think building a fully onchain game is a very hard journey, even for us. I still agree with our original vision that everyone needs their own blockchain. It should be good for the game project itself because features can be added at the protocol level. But right now, we feel that it’s very, very hard. 

No other fully-onchain game has its own mainnet but we are making tutorials and developer resources to help people create fully onchain games. I think by the end of the year there will be at least four or five fully onchain gaming projects

How hard has it been to get this far?

Three or four years ago, I don’t think anyone agreed with us. I remember a major investor didn’t invest with us because they thought what we were doing was impossible. Building a good game is very hard. Building a good technology is very hard. It’s almost impossible to do both. They thought I was lying to them, which is why they rejected us. But now they are one of our major investors because they reviewed our source code and our technology and they admitted that we are building these weird things. We are also now getting more partners who hope to adapt our technology and our resources to their own game projects. We’re very happy about that but we still need to make more resources and have more community for building fully onchain games.

What do you think about the rise of L2 blockchains for gaming?

I’m very positive about that – Layer 2 or Layer 3 architectures – because I think the fully onchain experience is very important. So building your own blockchain is one of the ways developers can choose. It’s a very easy way to build your own fully onchain game, but you do need other tokens because you need to pay for transactions so there are some limitations. However, a lot of L2s have great marketing and publishing initiatives, so developers can get great support from that. It makes building a fully onchain game much easier when you can choose Cosmos, Arbitrum or OP Stack.

We are building our own tech stack but I don’t want to limit ourselves to our own tech stack. I want to use all of them but it depends on whether the project has a good fit. Maybe we can use Celestia, or OP Stack or maybe use Layer 1, building a fully onchain on Ethereum directly. It’s a cool idea.

Why did you decide to choose idle RPG as the genre for Nine Chronicles?

I love idle games. The first time I played one, I was shocked because at the time I loved action games. I thought when I play a game I need to time the attacks or defense just right. That was the core gaming experience for me. But when I played idle games, it was a very unique experience, more like a management simulator. I just need to decide which item I should get to clear the next stage, or when I should sell my items in the market to get the most benefit. I learned that idle RPGs can be very fun so I wanted to make them.

The second reason is I wanted to make a fully onchain game and at the time there were lots of limits for creating a fully onchain game. I could only choose a simulation RPG or some kind of puzzle game, so I chose the game based on the technology. 

Nine Chronicles originally launched as a PC game, but it’s much better as a mobile game. 

The reason why we launched the PC version first is that we wanted to launch the fully decentralized version on day one. For this, we needed to have the blockchain in the client, so when the client launched, the Nine Chronicles’ node launched in the background and they connected with each other. 

But the PC user base is not very large and there are lots of technical limitations to make proper P2P communications if we chose the local node communications. That’s why we launched our own trustless modes, which players can connect to. That’s why you don’t need a PC now, with the launch of Nine Chronicles M

Why did you call the new version Nine Chronicles M?

I rebranded it to Nine Chronicles M because I wanted to explain what we achieved before in terms of our multi-chain expansion and also wanted to explain the multi-planetary systems.

Nine Chronicles has its own mainnet but Nine Chronicles M runs on its own Layer 2 based on the same code. Also, the game is now multi-platform. We have mobile and we also launched the Mac OS version, so right now, it’s supporting Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS. So I just want to explain all this. 

Nine Chronicles’ original blockchain we called Odin and that original blockchain has lots of older users, including me. They have very powerful equipment and very competitive player levels too, which creates some problems for new players. We were afraid that new players would just leave the game, so we built a new Layer 2 blockchain, which we call Heimdall. 

This technology has a huge potential because anyone can launch their own Layer 2, which means anyone can make their own free server and invite other users or their own guild members to their own networks and provide unique experiences. In this way, we can expand our gaming experiences. It also serves our capacity issues, theoretically expanding it to infinity, because one network can contain around a million monthly active users, so if we expand the network, we can host double.

This approach also guarantees for our original players that Odin is the fully decentralized state network, with all other networking being a layer two, which relies on Odin for their security. Odin also has its own unique value whenever we deliver new content. 

What’s it been like working with Apple and Google to release the mobile version?

We dealt carefully with the App Store and Google Play Store for launching the game, but basically our strategy was that the mobile version just provides in-app purchases to users. Apple and Google will be okay with that because they can grab $30 of the revenue. However it is a challenge to have IAP in a fully onchain game because we want to make a game that doesn’t depend on our team.

The approach we took is providing great staking rewards for people who stake their tokens. We also stake our tokens, and we sell the staking rewards to players as IAPs, so any players who have staked their tokens are also rewarded for players making IAPs. 

What’s the breakdown in terms of people using the mobile or PC version?

Players start with the mobile version and then install the PC version. They’re mostly using both platforms because the PC version has its own features and the mobile version has its own features, so players are using both. 

This was our intention. Even if players don’t know what blockchain is, they can download and play the mobile version. And if they want to win more, they’ll also install the PC version and then we can unlock a lot of things that are restricted on the app stores. This is where players learn about staking and NFTs.

What’s the reaction been like since the launch of Nine Chronicles M?

It was a very successful launch. Previously our MAU was consistently growing but it was around a third of what it is now. It’s slightly down now from its peak but what’s interesting about mobile is some regions are growing a lot. We are getting a strong attraction at the long-term level. I’m happy that there’s a lot of staking too. 

Also, a few weeks ago, we launched our pilot guild program. We expected around 10 to 20 guilds but there are over 50, far more than our original expectations. So we are very happy with that. 

What geos are you popular in?

Most of our user base is from the Asia region. Our revenue is mostly from Korea and Japan. They are spending a lot and are also involved in the game’s ecosystem. In Vietnam, they are farming but also spending. In Indonesia and elsewhere in southeast Asia, they are actively playing the games, so it’s a harmonious user base.

Find out more at the Nine Chronicles’ website and download Nine Chronicles from Apple App Store and Google Play store. 

Fully Onchain GamesJC KimNine ChroniclesPlanetariumPodcastRPGSouth Korea