How Aurory is building a web3 gaming universe

One noticeable theme from GDC 2023 was the number of entertaining web3 games on display. Not theoretical crypto concepts waiting to be gamified, but solid titles, playable now, intended to appeal to the broadest audience of mainstream gamers.

Aurory is one such project. Featuring connected stories, challenges and assets on the Solana blockchain, the first title in the series, Aurory Tactics, was playable at GDC. The turn-based battle game had a whiff of Advance Wars about it, with top notes of Into The Breach and base notes of Marvel’s Midnight Suns in the way you slide around an isometric grid choosing cards to deploy that launch powers against your opponent. The visual style is all cute Japanese-inspired wildlife, though.

Cramming in as many buzzwords as possible, executive producer and head of production Jonathan Campeau calls it “Pokémon meets The Matrix for the Roblox generation”.

Turn-based challenges

We sat down with Campeau on the show floor to play a round of Aurory Tactics while chatting about its principles.

“Do you like competitive, tactical, turn-based games? It’s not for everybody!” he jokes. “I’m going to say that right now. It’s highly competitive. It’s highly tactical. But it showcases our promises and dedication to delivering something of substance.”

Aurory Tactics tutorial
The first level of Aurory Tactics open alpha.

His team are all veterans of the triple-A gaming industry. Campeau has nearly 20 years of experience at firms like Ubisoft, EA and Gameloft. Aurory’s art director Yann Penno has over a decade of experience at indie studios, including Pamplemousse Games and Minority Inc. And creative director Stephan Carmignani is a veteran of Atari, Eidos, Warner Bros, Rovio and more.

“We all come with our own experiences of making incredible games,” says Campeau by way of introduction. “The way I see it is, we’re adding a blockchain layer on top of that.”

Aiming for the mass market

Even though one of the creature types you can own is the archly-named “Nefties”, the team is pointedly avoiding the term NFT in its game description. “I don’t even want to hear it,” says Campeau. “The market started super technical, attracting speculators more than anything else, those wanting to make some money and play around with the prices. It was a hybrid between DeFi and gaming. I think it’s run its course, the crazy NFT speculation. People want substance. We came out with Tactics because we wanted to finish a game. It promised what we could deliver as a team, in terms of gameplay, aesthetic, and fun. Really what’s been lacking in the space is immersive games.”

This is an opinion Campeau has shared on social media too.

“I don’t want you to need a couple of hundred bucks even to start playing,” insists Campeau. “If we’re trying to onboard more people from web2 to web3, it doesn’t make sense to have such a barrier to entry. I want it to be free-to-play with options after that to monetise.”

A background in AAA games

The team comes from a traditional gaming background. It is approaching Aurory the same way but leveraging a tech that can be decentralised and give ownership and value back to the players. A traditional game is a closed economy, where everything goes back to the publisher and developer at the end. This is different.

“Traditionally, the players get a fun game experience, but they don’t walk away with anything,” enthuses Campeau. “Whereas we can add even more value – if the player wishes – by giving some of their items, some of their time, back to them.”

That’s the Pokémon-style approach. It will be social, and you’ll be able to connect, play, and meet your friends in hubs

Jonathan Campeau, Aurory

He has an example of where the model works for free-to-play gamers: “We already have a huge following in Brazil. One guy started with nothing – the three Nefties we give you – and week by week, he managed to win enough to purchase better Nefties on the marketplace. Shortly after, we released our first community event around Tactics. This guy actually managed to land second place. And he won over $1,500 US in total. From starting with nothing.”

A shared Aurory universe

More games in the Aurory universe will come and will use the same creatures and assets, albeit with some expansion. After Tactics, we’ll see Aurory Speed Blitz arriving on the scene and then Aurory Adventure. Speed Blitz will resemble a lightweight version of Tactics that will dovetail neatly with the heavyweight Adventure experience.

“The prologue to Adventure that will be releasing soon is Speed Blitz,” explains Campeau. “It’s a different game mode than Tactics because Tactics was way too heavy to integrate into Adventure. Speed Blitz is a quick auto battler for people whose attention span is five seconds. You need to be fast; you need to be smart; you need to be to the point. It’s Rock Paper Scissors.”

If we’re trying to onboard more people from web2 to web3, I want it to be free-to-play

Jonathan Campeau, Aurory

And after that? Campeau says the ‘full blitz’ Adventure will be “very similar” to Pokémon.

“In Tactics, your creature’s stats are the skills or abilities of each Nefty. Whereas in Adventure, we’re going to tack on elements: fire elements and water elements,” he explains. “We’re going to be adding on a little bit more meat. But it’s still essentially the same Nefty; it’s just being used differently. It’s always going to be turn-based. But you’re going to have many different options that you can choose from.”

Monetising land sales

The team is targeting the end of April for Aurory Adventure. “It’s more for the casual side – the people who want to get involved in the storytelling part,” says Campeau. “That’s the Pokémon-style approach. It will be social, and you’ll be able to connect, play, and meet your friends in hubs.”

Currently, the Aurory team only generates revenue through hatching fees, as people incubate and grow their characters, and marketplace fees as they trade them. They have already raised over $100 million in investment from selling NFTs during the Solana boom times. “But we’re going to introduce new monetisation methods,” says Campeau. “We’re going to be introducing Nefty skins, for instance.”

Aurory Tactics Nefties
Aurory has been working with Macroverse to plan a whole universe of stories.

It seems the team will look into land sales as well, finding ways for gamers to invest in the world of the game. Each parcel of land will be automatically generated by procedural tech. Still, the team are adamant that the inclusion of land sales and the way the land works will feel central to the story and not just a tacked-on money-generator.

“A lot of projects sold land to generate revenue or funding,” continues Campeau. “We want to go about it differently where the land sales will be part of the gameplay. If you purchase some land, players will actually play on that land, and you will generate some additional revenue from that. It’s like a cover charge. You’ll be able to capture Nefties and farm resources – and you’ll be able to have dungeons and follow a storyline.”

Telling a story in the blockchain

There’s a narrative tied to the Aurory world, which will play out across the different games on the platform. “And not just be like something that’s tacked onto it, but really build the narrative through many different mediums,” says Jonathan Campeau. “You could go out on expeditions on the platform, and eventually, you’ll get your reward back.”

The Aurory team has been working with Macroverse for the past year. Macroverse is a company in Hollywood specialising in 2D comics and community activities. It’s embraced the web3 world too and considers itself an “entertainment studio that rewards its community, collectors, creators and collaborators for supporting upcoming blockbuster franchises spanning comics, TV, gaming, animation, movies and more.”

I think it’s run its course, the crazy NFT speculation. People want substance

Jonathan Campeau, Aurory

Aurory hired Macroverse to create a story for an ongoing franchise. Campeau hints about TV and film: “The Last of Us made a great example of what it could be if done right. That’s essentially what we want to do. We’ll take a narrative that we built into different seasons and chapters; this whole backstory gets you involved with the characters. Okay, you like creatures? Yes, it looks like Pokémon! But I said The Matrix too – that’s because of the narrative.”

The worlds of web2 and web3

As we sit in GDC playing the game, Jonathan Campeau explains the plot. As with the Nefties name, there’s an archness about it. It’s a fantasy story inspired by how people are onboarded into the blockchain, so it partly reflects the mechanics as it unfolds, revealing terms that hint at wallets and seed phrases.

“This great universe was created, and then the bad corporations did not want this utopia,” he says. “They wanted to stop it, and that created fractures. It created two worlds… which are essentially the web2 world and the web3 world in a way! We’re having fun with it. We’re spinning it in a way that fits with our universe. There’s a place called The Blockspace. You unlock that, and it will unlock the next one. And the next one. Similar to how the blockchain operates and works…”

Aurory Tactics campfire
Part of the Aurory experience will be the social interactions.

Aurory is a universe of interrelated games and collectables, and you can play Tactics right now from the game dashboard at the Aurory site. It’s currently in open alpha. You can incubate and hatch eggs and send them on expeditions from the site. If you fancy featuring Aurory NFTs in your own creative projects, there’s currently a Google form to express your interest.

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