Worldspark Studios Raises $3M for NFT Games From Riot, Bungie Veterans
Developers have been building blockchain-based, crypto-infused games for years. But with last year’s explosive rise of the NFT market and the success of Axie Infinity, the space is starting to draw in developers who cut their teeth making games for some of the largest studios around.
Worldspark Studios is one of the latest examples. The startup has corralled talent from AAA game studios—including several former Riot Games (League of Legends) developers and others from Bungie (Halo/Destiny) and Blizzard (Warcraft)—to develop games that make use of blockchain networks. Today, the studio announced that it has raised $3 million to bring those plans to life.
Animoca Brands, one of the leading crypto gaming and metaverse investors, co-led the seed round alongside Shima Capital. Additional investors include Alameda Ventures, Jump Capital, AAG Ventures, Sfermion, and YGGSEA—the recently-formed Southeast Asian sub-DAO of leading crypto gaming guild, Yield Guild Games.
Worldspark’s first game is Edenbrawl, which takes its cues from popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends and Dota 2, albeit with a more streamlined focus on combat. The PC game, which they’ve dubbed a “mobrawler,” is built for compact play sessions, yet has the potential strategic depth to be a competitive esports game.
Chandler Thomlison, Worldspark founder and CEO, tells Decrypt that the game (previously called Circuits and Shields) has been in development for a few years now via an army of contractors—an estimated 240 people in total—that gradually built out the core, playable game over time.
Now, thanks to the seed funding, Thomlison has recruited veteran full-time developers from across the industry to not only overhaul and polish the experience, but also implement NFT elements and create a tokenized economy around Edenbrawl and accompanying games.
Leading Ethereum game Axie Infinity—which has generated over $4 billion in NFT trading volume to date—is notable in that it requires users to purchase NFT creatures to play. Even in crypto games that don’t require an upfront purchase, there is sometimes a tangible benefit to paying for more powerful cards or items.
Thomlison said that Edenbrawl will have no such features, and nothing that feels like a “pay-to-win” element. Instead, the game will sell NFTs purely for cosmetic items, echoing the approach to in-game items of the popular non-crypto game, Fortnite. However, it will have the added advantage of true player ownership and potential interoperability with other games.
In other words, players will be able to buy things like character and weapon skins, emotes (unique character animations), and mounts for creatures, all of which can then be freely resold or traded. Thomlison said that it was critical to create a competitive game that isn’t sullied by the ability for crypto whales to spend their way to some kind of functional advantage.
“Most MOBAs in the blockchain space right now—for lack of a better term, they're a little ‘pay-to-win,’ and that kind of ruins the competitiveness of it,” he told Decrypt. “We absolutely cannot do that if we want to be this long-term, sustainable, competitive game. The only thing NFTs can be in Edenbrawl is cosmetics.”
Worldspark’s wider ambitions in the crypto gaming space expand beyond just Edenbrawl, however. The team is also planning a larger Eden IP push, with World of Eden at its core. World of Eden will serve as both a launcher into games—such as a planned action role-playing game, Trials of Eden—and an NFT-driven hub world, letting players buy and customize NFT land that can be used for houses, guild halls, social clubs, and more.
All told, Worldspark hopes to create a gaming ecosystem that players want to invest both time and money into, and potentially benefit from long-term. NFT game items created for one Eden game could be used in another, if it supports that kind of item, while an accomplishment in Edenbrawl could earn you some kind of perk within World of Eden.
“You're hanging out with friends, and you're showing your status through NFTs,” Thomlison explained. “It's all about this interconnected economy, and that's where the blockchain piece comes in.”
Game before ‘chain
Worldspark Studios joins a growing list of NFT gaming startups founded by veteran developers, including Big Time Studios, Faraway, and Will Wright’s Gallium. The Sims co-creator Wright and another famed developer, Peter Molyneux (Populous, Dungeon Keeper), are also working with Gala Games on separate NFT gaming projects.
What’s drawing traditional game makers into the crypto space? No doubt, Axie Infinity’s eye-popping sales figures have shown demand for games built upon tokenized, user-controlled game assets, which provide incentive for players to invest cash and pour time into games.
Such NFTs can also fuel experimental new types of game experiences. An NFT acts like a deed of ownership to a unique digital item, and in the gaming space, it can represent things like player avatars, customizable digital land, weapons, outfits, and other cosmetic elements.
But NFTs have also faced considerable backlash from many traditional video game fans. Some see NFTs and crypto more broadly as a scam or grift, while others fear that developers will use NFTs as another way to extract money from players. The environmental impact of some NFT platforms also comes into play, and for some, early blockchain-based games are too simplistic.
Worldspark sees potential in building games around NFTs and crypto tokens, of course, but the team also understands that many players are concerned about the technology. Thomlison said that the studio’s aim is to create an entertaining and balanced game first, and then essentially use blockchain around the edges to boost engagement and incentives for players.
“We're making a game first,” he explained. “We care about the blockchain, but that's such a small focus for us in comparison to the need to make an actual fun game. We look across the blockchain game spectrum, and these games are all going to go away eventually because there's no true gameplay to it.”
Apparently proving that point, Thomlison said that Worldspark has yet to finalize which blockchain network will power its games. The studio has considered Solana, he said, but is still weighing its options. Worldspark plans to hold a token sale in approximately seven or eight months, with Edenbrawl likely to launch into closed beta early in 2023.
Worldspark’s team includes former leads and directors who helped bring Riot Games’ massive League of Legends entertainment franchise to life. Thomlison has similar ambitions for the wider Eden IP, with an eye to tap Worldspark’s extensive AAA gaming experience to create a compelling universe that can potentially expand beyond games, as well.
“You get that talent in from Riot, Blizzard, and Bungie and people are like: Oh, this isn’t a blockchain company. This is a gaming company,” he said. “It's really about having that talent to push forward what it takes to make it a super successful game that stands the test of time.”
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