Interview with Cosmic Champs, a real-time, team-play game shooting for the stars and a crossover gaming audience.
We can send a rover to Mars, why can’t we make a AAA-quality game come to life on blockchain?
Cryptocurrency owes much of its roots to gaming and, more specifically, in-game currency. Before there was Bitcoin, there was World of Warcraft gold which was mined and sold online. In an interview, Brock Pierce, Chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation and co-founder of EOS and Tether recounted a distributed WoW mining operation as among his earliest tech ventures.
You can see why blockchain startups looking for a way to onboard users to the wonders of Web3 would turn to gaming to access this highly active and opinionated group of users. But how can we make it worth their while to stop playing Fortnite and try something new?
Axie Infinity started to solve the equation in 2021 when they introduced the idea of Play to Earn (P2E). The concept makes a lot of emotional sense for gamers – they put tremendous effort and sometimes hundreds of hours into a major title, MMO, or MOBA. The stress and concentration – even research – that goes into seriously playing a game makes this hobby hard to distinguish from work.
Axie Infinity requires users to have at least three monsters (or Axies) to play – which means the point of entry to play is hundreds of dollars at a minimum. So why does this game that sits comfortably at the top of the heap in blockchain gaming and in NFT sales offer gameplay that relies on turn-based mechanics, one basic character model, and a leveling-up system that compares favorably to browser-based games.
The fact that we lack a game in the space that can function in real-time, allow team play, and is generally fun to play is not for want of trying. A report by DappRadar showed that $1 billion was invested in blockchain gaming and infrastructure in January this year alone. DappRadar is currently tracking over 1,500 blockchain games. Try asking a non-blockchain acquaintance if they can name one, besides Axie Infinity.
It seems that these gaming titles being released by blockchain startups are more concerned with NFTs and tokenomics than with actual gameplay. More consideration goes into the gamification of staking utility tokens than goes into the game itself. The result is often a user experience that is not going to lure people away from Elden Ring or Rocket League, and is not ultimately going to bring many new people into Web3. If the games are intended as trojan horses to lead people merrily into crypto and NFTs, the horse is going to have to be a bit more attractive and a lot more fun. For that matter, the horse needs to be launched and playable as most games raising money in the blockchain space are not.
Enter Cosmic Champs – a blockchain game developed in the mobile-first Unity engine set to launch in closed Beta in roughly two months. Cosmic Champs is set in the vast expanse of space, but it has its sights set even higher – on a crossover audience outside of the blockchain space.
Cosmic Champs is the first real-time, P2E game with teaming and integrated NFTs launching on the Yieldly launchpad and is part of the Algorand ecosystem.
When asked for a quote, David Markley Head of Ecosystem of Algorand said: “Gaming has had a long history of facilitating mainstream adoption of cutting-edge technology, and Gaming is ushering in the adoption of blockchain technology today. Gaming is… a key enabler for the growth of the Algorand network and of the blockchain industry as a whole. In addition to Cosmic Champs we have a number of exciting projects, such as the Drone Racing League’s P2E game, launching on the Algorand network… We’ll see a number of AAA titles emerge on the Algorand platform, and we’re very excited to watch the ecosystem evolve.”
We interviewed three key members of Cosmic Champs team – Matty Blanchard, Co-Founder, Simon Belingar, CTO & Co-Founder, and Akasha Rose, Growth Lead – on the goals of the project that will be the first real-time, P2E, team-play, NFT-integrated game on Algorand.
What is the lore behind Cosmic Champs?
“It is set 1,000 years into the future. Humanity has traveled across the cosmos, taken our technology with us, and met the inhabitants of other planets in our travels. And the main thing to know is that the universe is a pretty peaceful place up into this point in time. There is a lot of commerce between different kinds of beings, there are merchant fleets and guilds and there is really not much war…
But there is a fracture point where an entity or entities come into this universe from another place, through a wormhole. They come here, and they're basically not interested in anything that we have to offer, they operate on a different plane – they survive through the consumption of planets. That's why there's only a few planets left in our universe. And the main role of our characters is to go and find these planets and find the resources. And because there's only a few beings left alive after the destruction of most of the planets,
There are 12 Different guilds, representing all types of beings. There are beings who use magic, those who are multi-dimensional, beings you could think of as steampunk scrappers, machines that AI has brought to life, and human entities.
The first few NFTs that have been shown are just a small taste of what the complete Cosmic Champs world is going to look like,” Rose said.
Is the game going to be a browser accessible or a downloadable app?
“Cosmic Champs is mobile first. So that's our priority, but we will be launching a browser-based version as well. Later on, we plan to release a high performance desktop client version of it. So if people want to stream or participate in tournaments, they have that option,” Blanchard said.
Who is the intended audience for the game? Are you aiming for a crossover audience?
“Our initial audience will come from our Algorand ecosystem because we are Algorand natives at the moment. Those are the people that are invested in seeing the potential. But down the line we're aiming at non-crypto natives and at other blockchains. We're aiming at this whole larger audience,” Belingar said.
How do NFTs tie in with the game? Do players need to buy NFTs to play?
“The player doesn't need NFTs to play to access the game, they can start playing right away without any NFTs in their wallet or even connecting a wallet. But if they would like to participate in the crypto side of the game, then the NFTs will have different stats. So there'll be the base characters, and they'll have six stats that you can upgrade them and can level up. But each level produces the exact same stats. With the NFTs, they'll have unique statistics, and they'll have different appearances as well. So there's an incentive for people to participate in the NFT aspect of the game, because they can build potentially a stronger deck.
And there's more than just the Champs as NFTs – we have the planets, which are where the arenas are based and the battles take place, and the owners of the planets will receive a share of the income that's generated by each battle. So when the Champs battle in the arena, the winner will take some amount of tokens to play to one token, and the planet owner will get a small share of that.
One of the cool things that we can do on Algorand is create fractional NFTs. So we can have planets that are owned by a collective or community, not just one person. So we could have 1,000 fractions and 1,000 Different people owning a proportion of that planet, and then they'd receive part of the earnings from the battles that take place on that planet,” Blanchard said.
You have a token launch coming up?
“The Cosmic Gold ($COSG) token launches on the 20th in the US and Europe. The NFT drop is planned for late May. Once the token launches we will also launch staking pools so people that buy the token and hold it can get staking rewards… 25% of the $COSG is allocated for staking rewards,” Blanchard said.
What should we expect from the upcoming NFT drop?
“There's going to be 1400 NFTs including 8 champs and 2 spaceships. The player’s battle deck is made up of eight champs, they can be all NFTs, they can just be standard champs or you can have a mix. We're not setting any restrictions there.
And there's two different types of spaceships that will be in that first drop of NFTs as well. Spaceships are essential as bases for your champs and also to fly between the different planets where the arena's are located. So when people join the game, we'll give them a starship. And we'll give them the standard champs to start with, so that they can get playing right away without having to buy any NFTs. If players want to, they can continue playing with those free ships and free champs and they can upgrade them as they go and make them stronger. Every NFT character will have a non-NFT version of it as well. So it's not by not participating in the NFT side of things you're gonna miss out on any of the characters, you'll still be able to retain all of them. You just won't have special skins and the different stats that are associated with the NFTs. We want superior strategy to be just as effective if not more effective than owning NFTs,” Blanchard said.
“So if you have any NFT version of that champ, you will have the option to switch between them. When you're comparing our NFTs, just from the art perspective, to those to the randomly generated things, a lot more effort gets put into ours. It’s more comparable to a skin in a AAA game, it’s that type of effort we're talking about,” Belingar added.
So strategy and teamwork are part of the game?
“We are going to launch with 1v1, but we do want to add team play to the game. We think people really love that. Who doesn't love getting together with their friends and versing some other friends of us and strangers or even battling against your friends and groups,” Blanchard said.
Is the closed Beta in join specifically for token and NFT holders?
“We will be running a whitelist for our communities to give them first, the first preference for joining the beta. We will conduct a closed beta first with our community, and then we'll open up after we've received some feedback and done some rebalancing and fine tuning,” Blanchard said.
How is the game going to move a mainstream/non-blockchain player over to Web3?
“Well, you know how much people love skins in games. That is what Fortnight's economy is built around. It's skins that don't add any functionality to the gameplay... And people want to have unique skins in their games – they want to have a skin that is representative of their personality in some way, or just looks really cool. So there's a huge appetite for that.
I think there's a few pathways to convert people from being the free-to-play players into the P2E. I think they're going to come up against players who have these really cool looking skins on their characters. And that might make them curious about how they got these characters and what they are, and they'll discover the NFTs,” Blanchard said.
“When you play versus other players, you'll see different types of entities and different skins for those entities. In that way we can do a lot to incentivize people to actually want to own some of the NFTs. And again, you can play this without owning any of this without having a wallet, you can just play it for its face value as a game,” Belingar added.
How are you going to overcome the friction of making a novice create a wallet?
“Algorand offers functionality that allows us to create a wallet for someone as soon as they join the game... And while they're playing the assets that they win will flow to that wallet, and they will be able to see that in the app. So at some point in time, they might say, I've been playing this game for two months. I really like it, and there seems to be actually $500 worth of earnings in my wallet and it's not going to cost anything to claim those assets. You just have to opt into the wallet, and you have immediate access to them,” Blanchard said.
What is your take on NFT projects that are adding games to add utility?
“I think the difference is with Cosmic Champs, we have a game that was built with NFTs in mind, not a game that we just tacked NFTs on.
You can tell when someone doesn't have a track record or actual hands-on experience of going through the whole pipeline of building a game. It's not as simple as people think it is – even 2d games are hard to get right, they are hard to build. With 3d games, they have so much more complexity. We're using Unity Engine, so we're going mobile first.
When you look at a game like the one added by Sneaky Vampire Syndicate NFT collection, and then you have a forced upon utility by repurposing a platformer game that couldn't stand on its own anywhere. And it gets attention because it's now linked with NFTs. That's what I see happening at the moment in crypto space. In general, when you're talking about games, you're just talking about forced utility for the NFTs and for the tokens. Having an actual game, that's a whole different world. And that's why we're so lucky,” Belingar said.
What is ultimately the goal of the project?
“We want to reach a wider audience outside of crypto, and we want to be a funnel that brings people who aren't in the crypto ecosystems into the space. At the moment, there's a real divide between Play-to-Earn games and Free-to-Play games. People aren't able to access Play-to-Earn games, because they have all those barriers to entry. So we would really like to be just seen as a game that has all these cool, funky, this cool functionality added to it. We want to have a sustainable P2E model ecosystem where we can provide real money to people through tokens, and they can use that to supplement their income and improve their lives in some way,” Blanchard said.
“There is a huge opportunity there for us right now. Create a game that really is fun and doesn't have those barriers that most (blockchain) games have,” Belingar said.
Having worked with an indie game dev team for more than 5 years, I know the pain and near inevitable setbacks that go along with creating a genuinely playable game.
Gamers are already philosophically aligned with crypto-native audiences, believing in freedom and independence of the user, and demanding a great user experience. Gaming audiences have grown every year and continue to grow in every sector, according to the yearly report from Newzoo. Best of all, gamers have shown an unusual tolerance for changing their behavior to play and win rewards – installing huge apps, desktop clients, mobile apps, and constant updates which sometimes break the game (I’m thinking of you, Electronic Arts) just for the sake of getting access to the game they love.
In speaking to Cosmic Champs, I see a groundbreaking leap forward in blockchain gaming compared to the unscientific sampling of NFT and blockchain projects I’ve spoken with over the last two years. They have team members who have launched games before and know what’s really required. They are focused on the greater gaming audience, outside of the safe space of crypto, and that means they are working toward making a game that stands on its own merits – even if you don’t connect a crypto wallet with the game.
I applaud those innovations alone. It doesn’t have to be objectively the best game of 2022 – it needs to be playable and fun and let people use their NFTs in game so you can actually interact with other NFT holders and build community with real utility. So, before the launch of the closed Beta this seems like a project that already has the right ideas.
Full disclosure – when an already successful NFT project tells me it is planning a game in 2022, I consider that a red flag. But if anyone does manage to develop a great game in the one- or two-year plan they tend to lay out, then I’ll want to talk about what they are doing with Unreal Engine – if they know something other game devs don't know about the platform, then we may want to offer them a job.
If Cosmic Champs launches in roughly the timeline they have laid out for themselves, they will already have beaten the great majority of blockchain games just by actually launching with something intended to stand on its own merits as a playable game. I hope other projects will step up to the challenge and try to match them. As the blockchain world takes a reality check around what goes into making a game, perhaps we can stop seeing a proclamation of an upcoming, near-term game as an idea to bolt on utility to projects that clearly started with attitude, art and not much else.
Cover Image: Based on an image by 0fjd125gk87 on Pixabay. Other art provided by Cosmos Champs.
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