Planet Mojo: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Blockchain Gaming
We recently unveiled our new company, Mystic Moose, and our new project, Planet Mojo!
This is our first blog post, aimed at explaining a little bit about what we are up to and why we are excited about blockchain games.
In A World …
Planet Mojo is a new world, a new game, and much more. Whether you are a traditional gamer or someone who already plays in the blockchain gaming space, we are building a game and virtual world (err, Metaverse!) that welcomes all. Our inclusive project is based heavily on community, sharing, helping our planet and each other, and most of all having fun! Are we building a Metaverse?! Well, let it be stated that we do not like buzzwords but our team has been building virtual worlds our entire careers. So hype aside, Planet Mojo will be a breathtaking new alien world for people to explore, inhabit, and take part in an adventure that will be unfolding in front of them.
Our first full game will be an Auto Chess game based on the world, characters, and story of Planet Mojo, an all-new original IP. We will also be releasing NFTs (non-fungible tokens) soon of our Mojo characters. This means players will be able to own their in-game characters and other game assets, verified on the blockchain (a secure, unique digital commodity and a fully transferable asset that holds value). The Mojos are 3D animated characters that can later be used in the Auto Chess game and other games we release. They can be customized further with unique skins and more. There will be a limited supply of Mojos and Biomes (land habitats) initially, and they will come with additional perks for early adopters to be announced shortly. The game will be built on a Layer-2 solution, resulting in minimal or no gas fees (more on this later), with the option to play for free with a play-and-earn economy and tournaments.
My name is Mike Levine. I’ve been making games since 1991, when I started working at LucasFilm Games, and where I was lucky enough to work on some classic titles with some amazingly talented people. That job at what later became LucasArts has been the foundation of my career, shaping how I approach every project I have worked on since. I got ahead there by being on the bleeding edge. It’s in my DNA, for better or worse. I gravitate towards the unknown and new, and often a little scary.
This theme has continued throughout my career. My first company was early into Flash games and launched one of the first flash-based virtual worlds called Planet Cazmo. We put on over fifty virtual concerts with major pop acts and bands — and this was in 2010. Hundreds of thousands attended events in Cazmo and we learned a great deal about building communities and more.
We also apparently pioneered remote working, as we have been doing it for over 15 years. This is something I have been a big proponent of for a long time, and it seems like the world was forced to catch on recently. Many seem to now appreciate the benefits and understand what we had for many years.
In 2012 I started HappyGiant. We made several mobile games on our own, but a visit to Magic Leap back in 2014 changed everything. That visit shaped HappyGiant’s future as we shifted focus to the AR/VR/XR space. We created our own games, and worked with the toy industry and consumer brands to push the envelope of games and technology using Augmented Reality and other new tech. Our title HoloGrid: Monster Battle was named Apple’s Game of the Day, and we were able to bring it to HoloLens, Google Tango, Oculus Go for VR, and other platforms as they emerged. We worked with Niantic and many other big players and start-ups in the AR space, but ultimately concluded that while Mobile AR is great in small short bursts like SnapChat or WebAR, the form factor and other limitations made it a less-than-fun experience for games.
HappyGiant had just pivoted to VR when the pandemic hit. Having tried the Oculus Quest, I got excited by the potential for true mass-market consumer VR. And HappyGiant was able to bring Sam & Max, one of the longest-running game and media franchises and an IP I’d worked on 30 years prior at LucasArts, to VR. The game received tremendous praise from fans, was reviewed well, and was even selected for the Venice Film Festival “Best of VR” section.
As we were making Sam & Max, I started to hear rumblings of what was happening in the blockchain world — first through NFTs, and my curiosity was piqued. However it didn’t take long to realize that with their low barrier to entry, the NFT “art” space would get crowded fast. But what about the next generation of NFTs? What would give them more value? The answer, of course, led me to blockchain games.
I set upon better understanding Blockchain, DeFi, Crypto and Blockchain games. This is not a space I dove into quickly, as I wanted to learn as much as possible before determining our path. Blockchain is a deep and quickly evolving wormhole to understand. No one knows it all. New trends and games emerge every week that make tons of money, yet have no actual games. Little seemed to make sense to me here at first. But there were a few fun and interesting games I discovered, and down the rabbit hole I went.
Perhaps the best thing I’ve read that explains blockchain game development is when someone called it “game development upside down”. Many things we have learned and practiced over thirty years do not apply here. A new way of thinking is required. I see many of my colleagues struggling to understand it because they are applying the old ways of thinking to a new paradigm.
There is a lot of vitriol from traditional gamers towards this space, so I wanted to address those issues head on first. If you already are in the crypto space or play blockchain games, this is not going to be news for you. But after doing my own research, it’s been a bit disheartening to see the same uninformed arguments about blockchain games repeated over and over.
It’s very early days. There is a lot of ignorance and misinformation about blockchain and crypto. Below I try to address the top criticisms I read about this space from game journalists, players and developers. But I would encourage you to do your own research, and read articles from people like Dean Takahashi, Jon Jordan, Peter Pan and others who have been brave enough to cover this space and look at the facts, not hyperbole.
It’s bad for the environment — The rap on crypto being bad for the environment is real, but it’s almost entirely based off of Bitcoin and the proof-of-work paradigm. At Mystic Moose, we are committed to building on a Layer-2 solution for Planet Mojo (i.e. ImmutableX, Polygon). Built on a Layer-2 proof-of-stake sidechain, we will have limited to no gas fees unless players choose to take their assets outside the game and into secondary markets. On top of that, we plan to regularly give a portion of the game’s profits back to environmental causes.
It’s a money laundering scam — Blockchain is not an anonymous medium. It is “pseudonymous”. Every transaction on blockchain is tracked and stored. Nothing is a secret. In addition, for Planet Mojo we will partner with companies who perform detailed KYC (Know Your Customer)/AML checks which have players verify their identities before performing any financial transactions.
It’s a profit grab for big game studios — This one can be filed under “It’s all relative”. When gamers see the big companies already making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit trying to force NFTs into their existing games, I totally get the backlash. But let’s take a minute to discuss the life of a small independent game developer in today’s gaming landscape, as there are a lot more of us than there are big studios. As noted above, we largely exist in a subservient role, praying we catch lightning in a bottle and that our next game is a hit. We do deals with publishers who fund our games and then take large chunks of the profit (after the platform’s take their 30% cut). We do service work to make a living and use the small profits to build a game demo that you then must sell around to get funding. Your only hope is that your next game will be the next big thing. You live game to game, and have little in the ways of retirement saved, if you were brave or dumb enough to try go this alone, without the comfort of a large company.
So for me and many others, this space is not a money grab, but a way to help level the playing field. To shift the power back to the developers and even more importantly, the community. To put it simply, we can take the 30% that Apple, Google and Steam take, and it give that back to the players, and give them real ownership and say in the future of the game. Study Axie Infinity and speak to people playing it. Decentralization shifts the power back to the community and players. The entire way the economy of these games are structured is based on this, with a community treasury that all transactions in the game flow through. As developers we take a very small cut of that to pay ourselves and continue to produce the game and new content. But the majority of the revenue flows into the game’s treasury, where it is saved and eventually distributed back to the community. If you understand these fundamentals of blockchain gaming, it is far from a cash grab. It’s really about building a real world game economy that everyone can be a part of.
A Paradigm Shift
To me, blockchain gaming represents a few profound changes to the videogame industry:
Play-to-Earn & Play-to-Own — These two concepts often get intermingled but to me, they are two separate things. Play-to-Earn — earning money in the form of tokens directly in the game — has sucked up much of the oxygen in the room due to the success of Axie Infinity and a few other games. But the second concept, what I call Play-to-Own, may resonate more with traditional gamers. Play-to-Own allows players to truly own the assets they purchase, collect and earn in a game. That means that, if they choose to, they can legitimately sell them in online marketplaces to other gamers. This has happened for decades illegally in games, but now blockchain and NFTs legitimize it and give the power back to the developers and community.
Independence — Blockchain gaming also represents independence for game developers and for our players. We no longer have to live under the rules and fees of the big platform holders. We can form our own communities and real economies around games, and have true freedom to build what we want. With decentralization and governance, this is the next level of community in gaming. For too long we have given large parts of a game’s profit to platform holders, retail and publishers. Blockchain gaming tilts the power back to the player and all those deductions can go back to the community in the form of profits. Take Steam or Apple’s cut and give it back to the community! Crazy, I know.
Kickstarter on Steroids — Last but not least, blockchain gaming represents a new way to fund a game or a game studio. Previously, as indie game developers, we only had so many options — platform holders, publishers and, more recently, venture capital. But they all come with a price and the user is usually the one holding the bill. With blockchain, we have many new ways to bring in capital to fund a game before it’s ever made. With Kickstarter, people pre-bought a game, gave a developer money, then waited and hoped the game was completed as promised. With Blockchain, players are now invested in the game. They are purchasing assets to help support the game and become early adopters. With staking and other crypto techniques, early adopters will have opportunities to be rewarded from the game as well. Players are part of the economy and can extract value from it if they choose, just like the developers. We are all in this together.
All of these add up to a paradigm shift for games. It’s not going to happen overnight. These are early days, but as gamers and others realize the benefits, the change is inevitable.
We’re incredibly grateful to our amazing partners, and fans who have already begun to follow the project. We’re building an amazing team of gaming and blockchain talent. Please contact us if you are interested in joining our team by using the form on our website. Please join our community on Discord and follow us on Twitter for all the latest news!
Until next time … #WeArePlanetMojo