Level 4: Funding, Freedom, Free Guy: The Creator Economy
Funding projects, goods, and creators: Crypto Raiders, Animetas
All the ways we have of funding video games kind of suck in different ways.
But they’re what we are used to. They’re the water we swim in.1
Some provide enormous barriers to entry & lock in.
A lot of them don’t give creators what they deserve.
People have been asking since the start of crypto: what’s our killer app?
What can we do with this? Even now, beyond rocks and penguins?
Let’s find out more today.
Let’s summarize the problem here: undercapitalization of creative efforts.
There is a mismatch in the volume of blood and sweat creators put into their work, and the bread that is put on the table.
The creative class has been undercapitalized: they can garner millions of followers, but find it difficult to monetize them.
Typically, this has led to proliferation of agents and middlemen, which can lead to fraught and complex relationships. (Britney Spears. Mariah Carey. Backstreet Boys. Whitney Houston.)
Crypto as a means of funding creatives is even more promising: it allows every transaction to be conducted directly with the customer, and helps creators retain fanbases across multiple services. (Your take rate is my opportunity.)
It is also persistent, which allows creators to stay in contact with their fans when a platform crumbles. “All apps live in the same shared ecosystem.”
Quick refresher: in Level 2, we spoke about the two main money challenges of game developers:
(1) finding ways to fund initial development,
(2) finding ways to generate revenue from their game that outstrips expenses.
Let’s grind through some challenges together.
Let’s find out how web3 empowers creators to tackle both these challenges.
It has never been easier for creators to raise capital to pursue their vision.
Venture Capital firms, Angel Networks, crowdfunding, Patreon…
Crypto brings this to the next level.
Here’s some projects that raised on a landing page and a whitepaper:
How often do you see games raise from an interested and invested community, and grow its community organically to 4,000+ followers within 45 days?
Animetas created their twitter account in June, launched at the end of Jul with their (lovingly crafted) generative project, & sold 10,000 different Animetas at a mint2 price of 0.08 Ethereum (ETH) each.
That’s 800 ETH, or 2.4 million USD from their primary sale. (You could buy a lot of coffees with that.)
Kickstarter has a take rate on primary sales of 5%. Blockchain reduces this take rate to almost 0. No centralized party or platform takes a cut from the initial sale besides the creator.3
Additionally: the pattern has flipped from sales after the build, to raising for the development of your world upfront.
But this wasn’t the first time this happened. Allow me a short digression on blockchain history.
Vitalik Buterin, one of many shadowy super coders4, wrote a whitepaper for Ethereum in 2013. Subsequently, the development was crowdfunded between July and August 2014, and the network went live in 2015.
The points on margin and opportunity are not fundamentally new.
We’re just getting started. The gaming industry was valued at $160 billion in 2020. Guild of Guardians claims it can be a $1 trillion economy.
Community and Value Alchemy
Community is key to the success of any crypto project, even moreso than web2 projects.
The difference: access to these communities and their economies are not gated by geography, or even money.5
Even if you don’t possess one of their NFTs, opportunities to contribute to that community’s economy opens up. I can hang around in the Animetas discord even without my own Animeta.
In these communities, people will commission derivative art. Projects open up positions for writing, programming, and world-building endeavours.
This is an economy. I call it value alchemy: the creation of value from seemingly ‘nothing’.
Crypto Raiders, for example, started the hiring process for writers, and programmers from within its own Discord community.
Now, you can work with people, whose faces you’ve never seen, on projects you find personally interesting. Bring your skillset, and find Work in the Metaverse.
We will teach you for free.
Financial and Social Incentives
With NFTs, you create a tribe of players invested in the success of the game, not least due to their financial incentive.
Early adopters start with an up-front investment in the game. First, they get to enjoy the game, and any financial upside from appreciation of the game can be an upside for the players.6
The gold sword you just forged in that game? The one with the rare stats, with a 1/1,000,000 chance to roll?
Now worth more than its weight in gold.
Jokes aside, through the power of financial and social incentives, NFTs have made it possible for these digital artefacts to accrue value.
Of course, it is not just pure upside. One new challenge game projects will face is managing the expectations of a section of stakeholders: investors, and the new player persona: the Dealer.
Of course, this expectation happens in both the web2 world, and the web3 world: games still have to remain financially sustainable. (See Level 2 for a more in-depth discussion.)
Web3 provides us new tools we can use to sustain our games, but also new expectations. Investors (of time, and money: as we know, Time is Money, friend), will expect not just to get their initial investment back. In fact, they will expect a yield. If they fail to receive that yield, this can lead to volatility in the game’s economy as investors exit.7
Because we monetize with tax on secondary market sales of assets, we can focus on designing the game to (1) be fun (so players stick around long enough to trade their assets!) and (2) to encourage player-driven economies & trading.8
Secondary Market Sales
You might ask: why would secondary market sales for P2E games do better than primary market sales for F2P games?
Well, one of the key differences for secondary market sales in P2E games is provenance, along with strong web3 transaction norms.
Grey markets lead to a 0% tax rate on transactions into real money. They also come with a host of strange problems, like trusting that the other person will not run away with your money. See: d2jsp, and other forms of grey market trading.9
I touched upon this in my NFT primer back in March 2021.
“NFTs allow (creators) additional incentives to create, by providing more avenues to capture value”. Any work creators make can continue providing them returns into perpetuity on the secondary market.10
The majority of transactions in web3 games will be peer-to-peer, rather than player-to-developer.11
In web2 traditional games, any purchase one makes in a game is an illiquid asset. For example, the $49.99 I spent on Hearthstone for 40 card packs (200 cards) is worth $0 on a secondary marketplace. Primarily because there are no secondary marketplaces for you to transact your cards.12
In web3 games, players can transact directly with other players, and a small percentage goes to the developers. In comparison, if I spend $49.99 on my cards in an NFT game, I can resell them. It could be for $49.99, or $1000.00, but it’s non-zero as long as there’s interest.
Psychologically, this may make me more willing to spend $49.99 on my cards. In fact, according to actual transaction data, it can apparently make one willing to spend up to 135 ETH on one card (400,000 USD).
This is tantalizing: as a player, I get to sell the assets I spent farming to other players, a theme we touched upon in Level 2.
Individual creators seed a world with their work, and reap the fruits of their labour, in dividends. As for the life-affirming piece; is it not tremendously life-affirming to create the worlds you find most enjoyable and meaningful?
Interoperability and Composability
Beyond discussion of the development of internet civilization, Zhu Su touches upon a sweet point for NFTs in the metaverse. Composition of value.
The value and the IP they generate, can be built upon, composed and reused. Interoperable. Cells, interlinked.
An NFT that represents a character in an RPG, has a certain set of stats associated with that NFT.13
These stats and skill trees on the character can be reused in multiple battle systems. In principle, any developer can build out new battle systems for that character, and get paid by the community. Whenever an operator gets traded because of this new value created for the game’s ecosystem, the original creators will get a royalty too.
Rewarding Community Value Creation
People regularly rock up and add value to communities, all for no monetary compensation. See Wikipedia. See game wikis. See fan art.
Now there’s a way to easily reward those community contributors.
Here’s some of the art that has been created in response to Animetas by artists around the world.
Animetas launched less than 30 days ago, and they’ve already started an Animetas Derivative Artwork initiative. They also affirm the above: that community is their most important asset.
We’ve established a lot this level.
Probably the difficulty curve: lots of grinding required. Hopefully you got some good loot drops.
Styles of Game Development, and Freedom
Mobile F2P games have been trending towards quantitative and analytical forms of evaluation. You are encouraged to judge your game by your D1, D7, CPI, CAC, LTV. The mobile advertising playbook. Don’t hold too tightly to any vision or any idea (kill your darlings).
This has led to financial success for games, yes. It has helped propelled games into a multiple billion dollar industry. We have put Candy Crush in the hands of every subway commuter.15
Investors also feel more comfortable investing in data-driven companies.
“…When games were packaged goods, they were like movies. In other words, when you invested in a game, you had to think, do I have the best director? Do I have the best art? Do I have the best storyteller, the best of everything. Because if I don’t, it’s not going to succeed.
(Data-Driven games companies) have a process of continuous improvement, and improving CAC to LTV equation. I know that when you do it right, you can grow the company exponentially.”"
- Gigi Levy-Weiss
But that approach doesn’t lead to Stardew Valleys,16 and it doesn’t lead to Life Itself / Free Life.
It’s hard to generate labors of love with such a data-driven approach.
And it’s difficult to generate deep and immersive worlds if we emphasize snackability.
This doesn’t discount the possibility of using data to improve our gameplay models, of course.
NFTs offer games a new track to success. A different model for funding.
The creator economy, is at core, helping people be free to pursue their interests and their best work.
People can meet each other online and work on projects of mutual interest, tied together by their love and vision for a world yet to come.
The value they put into making these communities more attractive can be paid off via the growth of the ecosystem, and as Zhu Su noted: composition.
Consider the musical: the motif is enriched upon each return...
Why does someone side-hustle?
“Folks everywhere are trying to get a little bit more income, so they can be free…”17
Free to do what?
A desire for freedom, a desire to have more resources, so they can spend their time working on the projects they care most about.
Perhaps, to bring the art and visions within themselves out into the world. Web3 offers a very real chance to enable the type of work not dictated by the demands of an external real-world economy or population, but the desires of your tribe.
When we started Animetas, it was never about making money off a 10k avatars collection. It was always about creating a new world to have fun in.
- cyberh49, co-creator of Animetas
P.S: Hope you enjoyed Level 4. It was a really grindy level, but it has been the most satisfying. Will look to revise this one over the next few days.
The topics of future articles might include:
The success of Yield Guild Games (YGG), which received a $4.5m infusion from a16z
Value Alchemy, the Social Contract & Ethical Monetization in Play-and-Earn Games
Sharing resources on Game Economy Design
The Instant Crypto Games Tech Stack
Anyhow, here’s my favorite Animetas derivative, but perhaps I’m a little biased :)
This is water.
A blockchain-native term which refers to the act of creating an instance of an NFT. Used as such: “I just ‘minted’ CryptoPunk #2140 and forgot about it, and I just sold it to Gary Vee for $3,764,576.”
Miners profit from gas wars, but indirectly.
Surprising, I know. One can argue that the ‘member’s club’ access can be exclusive. But often, an interest in creating value is enough to consider you a part of those communities.
In fact, one can derive an anticipatory pleasure from being part of the community and waiting for the game to be released, chatting excitedly with others in the Discord.
Being the person in the Discord saying “gm” and pointing people to the correct information is a form of value that, hitherto, oft has not been rational financially. (like contributing to open source software.)
Gitcoin changes the incentives behind open source, and I believe web3 will allow a recurrence in video game communities.
Handling these liquidity runs will be a topic of interest for future articles.
Topic for another article :)
A topic for another article too.
In the best case scenario, even when the game client is no longer maintained, part of the community can choose to build a new client, or run a client for themselves.
In fact, I’ve seen this done with old games whose assets were not even open source: old versions of MapleStory (v0.62 represent), Diablo II (Path of Diablo), and Monster & Me Reborn.
A riff on Chris Dixon’s thread.
More specifically, in Hearthstone, you can ‘disenchant’ cards to make new cards. You need to disenchant approximately 8 cards of the same rarity to make 1 new card of the same rarity. You’re technically trading with the game system. Web3 makes it possible for you to trade cards with other players, 1:1.
In NFT parlance, we call that metadata, which refers to the additional attributes associated with the NFT.
Read more here: https://elitegamedevelopers.com/egd-news-38-ma-creatively-lead-and-data-driven-game-development/
I must confess I am partial to Clash Royale and Crazy Defense Heroes.
Read Chapter 3 of Blood, Sweat, Pixels, where the author interviews Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe) on their 5 year journey to release Stardew Valley.
For the love of coffee and books.