How Guild of Guardians moves from launch into liveops

In the latest episode of his Blockchain Gaming World podcast, editor-in-chief Jon Jordan talks to Chris Clay, who’s the game director of Immutable’s Guild of Guardians mobile RPG which has just gone live via app stores.

They talk about the relatively smooth launch of the game, how crypto fans are leaning into the experience, how players who know nothing about blockchain can create NFTs, and plans for the game as it leaves launch and starts to roll out live operations, and new modes including guilds.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can also listen to the podcast via the Fountain app and earn Bitcoin.

BlockchainGamer: From my point of view, the launch seemed to go well. There was a small wobble where you took the server down for an hour, but otherwise it seemed smooth.

Chris Clay: Essentially, we launched and pretty quickly hit about 10x compared to our regional test launch in terms of concurrent users, and anytime you’re 10x-ing, something’s going to go wrong. We kept having the weirdest crashes. It really wasn’t making sense, but we worked out there was an issue with the databases so we did have to take the servers down to do a little bit of maintenance and to split out a database. After that, luckily, nobody woke me up during the little bit of sleep I got last night. Things have been pretty stable since.

We had one more little wobble about 20 minutes ago. We did a major update and during that we saw some players drop. One of the great things about Guild of Guardians is we can update live without taking the servers down. We’ve been catching bugs nonstop and fixing them really quickly. There will be some that we’ll wait for a maintenance window to do so. But it’s gone well.

I guess there’s only so much you can simulate without real players?

Yes, and the regional test was read-only so this is the first time in the wild on production that we’re seeing some of those things come through. But as you say, as much load testing as you do, bot accounts are never quite the same as real people but I think we’re in a pretty good place now. We’ve started to turn on more of the advertising, starting to pull more players in. From here on out, it is just a scaling challenge in terms of user acquisition and continuing to make sure that the services and everything scale smoothly.

It looks like the players are having fun. We saw our first 15-star enlightenment character way faster than I expected. A lot of people had prepped with their Cracked Hearts (NFTs).

It’s always one of those slightly terrifying things when a game goes live and within three hours someone’s done everything, which is really hard to do in a game that’s energy capped to some extent. Also expensive in terms of the NFTs.

Yes, that was not cheap but it’s important to have those people. It’s one of the wonderful things about our community, they do care a lot. That really comes through too, at launch. There were a lot of questions and people spent a fair amount of time in Discord, fielding issues. It’s one of the things that I love about this space, the amount of players who spend a lot of time in Discord helping new players get onboarded through some of the web3 stuff, answering problems. Having that extra community support really helps. 

It’s about getting a balance between web3 and web2 players over time?

It’s crypto so there’s always FOMO and FUD. One thing is some people think that because there are already these high level players, there’s no reason for me to play. Yes, the elite of the elite are playing in their own rarefied air, but the way the systems are set up, you can win in your tier on the leaderboards. Not everyone in any sort of competitive game is up at the top echelon. They are competing economically, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get through the game free-to-play. 

That’s something that’s a little bit hard for people to wrap their heads around. I do think as we get through these first couple of weeks, people who are playing free-to-play will start getting some of those leaderboard rewards. We have been seeing some people are starting to mint the characters they’re getting from the free summons and this has reduced the price of those guardians. It’s taken the floor price down a lot, partly because they were previously in limited supply. Now the supply is more open. You’ve got bonding curves to balance it out. Did we get it right? Time’s gonna tell pretty quickly.

But for these people who are coming into the game, being able to mint a guardian, go to Token Trove and sell it and get a return. That’s why a lot of people crypto. Get more back than you spent. And some of my job is to make sure that the dream stays alive.

It’s interesting that you don’t use the term blockchain and instead of NFT, you call them Radiant Guardians.

That’s some of the hope, actually. One of the ways that I put it is a decade ago, you’d see ads on TV going ‘Is your company in the cloud?’ Now we’re all in the cloud, nobody cares, because it just does what we want. There are no more ads for being ‘in the cloud’. It’s just expected. And this is some of our pitch. Do players need to know that it’s on a blockchain or can you set up the systems to do good things for them and the technology doesn’t necessarily matter? Being able to ascend guardians and keep that language fantastical for a fantasy game, it’s a little bit more fun to go by ascension seals than minting energy. We’re not trying to trick people. We’re just trying to make it easy. 

Another aspect is the Immutable Passport. It’s easy to log into the game. It’s pretty straightforward and smooth. That’s been a lot of work. It was really, really hard to make it that easy. Of course, the next part is going to the marketplace to sell an NFT. That’s still a little bit scarier than I’d like, but I think it’s a good first step. 

Guild of Guardians sits in the web2.5 space where we’re trying to straddle web2 and web3. It’s difficult. I don’t think we’ve necessarily gotten it perfect, but in terms of guiding people into web 3 smoothly, I think we’re doing the mission we set out when we first started talking about the economy in earnest about 15 months ago. It’s really cool to see that realized.

It’s worth pointing out that Guild of Guardians is one of the first games to launch on the Immutable zkEVM blockchain, which must have been another worry for you – will that work at scale?

Yes, having been in the blockchain space for quite a long time now, from ETH to ImmutableX to now Immutable zkEVM, some of my worry has often been ‘How is the blockchain side going to perform?’ I have often been disappointed in the past in terms of how that component worked into the mix, but it’s been really good so far. It’s been rock solid, stable. 

The actions have been quick. It really makes a difference in the client when you do something like an ascension and the little hourglass spins. It takes a little bit of time, but it’s very clean. Compared to a pop-up on the web and waiting for the transaction to load. 

As a game designer, one of the things you note is the dopamine. Even though there’s that little bit of delay, when it finally comes through, there is this moment of ‘I got it’. It feels good. I’ve bought my ascension seals, I’m ascending guardians and it’s just fun. It’s even fun to sacrifice them, which I was a little bit concerned about. But it still feels kind of powerful. 

Yes, I was surprised how smooth everything was, even sacrificing your NFTs.

Game designers always talk about sources and sinks. Guild of Guardians was built with a whole bunch of sinks in place. Anytime you’re making NFTs more scarce, it’s a good thing. Obviously we’ve got minting, so we’re making more of them too. You need to have those two things balanced out, but it’s going well. Definitely we have some things that we’re gonna be watching closely in terms of abuse. Anytime you have a game like this, there’s always the potential there.

One thing I wanted to ask on the NFT minting side, it looked like you have dynamic pricing?

Yes, the price goes up or down based on the circulating supply so if more get burned, the price goes down. 

So now the game’s live, I guess you switch into live ops mode?

We’re set up well for that. We’ve got the adventure mode that people are playing through. That’s where you’re leveling your characters and everything. Then there are three big competitive modes. So you’ve got the endless dungeon, you’ve got boss rush, which we’ll unlock in a week and you’ve got PVP, which people are already playing. Really, live ops is about how can we keep people entertained and keep it interesting? Some of it is going to be on the economy, can we make the rewards exciting for people to keep participating. 

The other side is new content. We’ve got a whole suite of new guardians that are going to come into the mix, shake up the meta, all of those things. These are going to be more limited than the core guardians. That’s going to be for the hardcore crypto degens. I think that’s one of the next big beats in terms of noise, like ‘Did you get in?’ ‘Did you get the sale?’ I’m pretty confident our math is right, but we will see. 

And then the other part is continuing to build the game. Right now it’s launch, it’s bug fixing, it’s stabilizing, it’s polishing, it’s improving systems that people are finding a little bit clunky. And then it’s guilds. Guilds are in right now, but it’s very basic. We’ve got our roadmap to get guilds really up and running, and then further down the line, we’ve got pets coming into the mix. Most people love pets. Pets are cute. Pets are fun. 

One thing I’m pretty confident about is that we can move really quickly and get new content into the game. We’ve just got to go and execute. This project, from the reboot to shipping was 15 months. We’ve just been executing. That’s the only way you get it done. Now we’ve got to keep doing it. 

You can download Guild of Guardians now via Apple and Google app stores.

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