We met with Phil Tossell, the Designer and Game Director for CryptoPioneers a game that allows players to buy islands or small plots of land on the islands to then mine resources. However, we discovered that there's a lot more than meets the eye. In this interview, we found out CryptoPioneers will be transforming itself into much more than just mining, possibly turn into a city building project.
I guess it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Two of the guys that I'm working with, there's 6 of us in total, I had worked with previously on another project. That project had nothing to do with blockchain technology, but we formed a strong bond, and we shared a common interest in cryptocurrencies.
Around November/December of last year, when CryptoKitties was becoming successful, we began thinking about combining our passion for games with cryptocurrency. At the time I didn't know all that much about the specifics of Smart Contracts and Ethereum, so we kind of just dove-in and thought about what we could do. I got in contact with a couple of other old friends that I used to work with to see if they would also be interested in joining. That left us with our current team of 6 that has been working on CryptoPioneers ever since.
We are spread out around the globe; decentralized if you will! The time differences can be challenging, particularly between here and the US. Finding times when everyone is available to catch-up is difficult especially since we all still have full-time jobs. It’s a constant juggling act. As a result, we tend to do a lot of communication asynchronously with Slack, leaving messages for others to pick up later. So far it’s been working really well.
Normally what I do with new technology, from a design point of view, is look at the things that make the technology totally unique and figure out how to apply these new features to games. Previously I worked on projects with the Microsoft Kinect system, and I created some of the early prototypes for it. I'm used to taking new technology and figuring out ways to make games with them.
With blockchain, the obvious feature is ownership, the idea of owning digital assets and trading them. At the time there weren’t any games doing anything with land ownership, so we played around with that idea. The game was originally based around the idea of being able to buy islands to rent the land on those islands to other players then so they could develop and mine on that land. Subsequently, we shifted slightly from this original idea, but the core concepts remain the same. For the idea itself, it came through our discussions and what we thought was cool. Like someone had the idea of creating a globe that was visualized in a 3D way, then somebody else said that we could sell the islands as assets, and it just took off from there.
We designed the game with two kinds of player in mind. The first kind of player is called a Settler. Settlers are players who purchase, own and administer islands. Settlers can gradually settle and unlock their island allowing other players to then purchase and use the plots on their island. The second kind of player is called a Prospector. Prospectors can buy plots on which they can prospect for resources like it would be done in the old days. More than this though they can construct buildings on their plots and slowly build up a larger and larger settlement.
Settlers were designed for people who want to play the game in a more passive way. Prospectors were designed more for people who want to play the game more actively and have more excitement. We obviously allow players to be both a Settler and a Prospector so that they can enjoy the game in full.
The game is primarily about building up your civilization through gathering and trading resources and constructing increasingly advanced buildings on plots that you own that further increase your potential.
Islands are made of a collection of plots. A Settler will buy an island and then Prospectors will buy the individual plots on that island. Selling plots and gathering resources from plots incurs a cost, a percentage of which gets passed to the owner of the island. Once a player has bought a plot or plots, then they can build on those plots and gather resources from it. In the beginning, you’ll be gathering simple things like stone or wood, but later you’ll be building all kinds of mines to find metal ores and precious gems that will further your civilization and help you progress through a series of ‘Ages.’
In the beginning, we were focused on the basic mechanics of island and plot ownership, where now we are working towards something that most closely resembles a Civilization light.
No, plots and resources are handled separately. Any resources you gather are yours permanently. Selling a plot just gives the new owner the right to use it from then on. The resources themselves can be traded on an in-game marketplace for other resources or Ether if you want.
No, you can buy lots of land wherever you want and however many you want. There are 6 different biomes with different resources in each of them. If you want to buy a plot of land to gather those resources, you can do that. The resources just go into your inventory which can be traded in the market at any time.
We’ve tried to make the model around resource gathering interesting and knowledge-based. It takes into consideration the conditions of where you're gathering for example: what biome are you on? What is surrounding your plot? What kind of terrain are you on? When you gather resources, you will always get some resources back, but in addition, there is a chance of finding rare and hard to find resources. Kind of like when hitting that rich vein of gold that you didn’t know was there.
Another important feature is that resources are not finite, they do have a rarity associated with them. We did consider a finite resource model, but the worry was knowing how much of each resource to allow for and more importantly what happens when the resource runs out. Instead, we opted for a rarity model which makes some resources much rarer and harder to find than others.
It's something that we have discussed and thought about. We could do it, but only if there was enough demand. Essentially if this world sold out, was really popular, and we had enough players, we would consider doing it. We don't want to devalue the initial world that we created. For now, we are focused on expanding the number of players which is really hard at the moment. The biggest issue with crypto games is the number of players that exist in the crypto community. We think that at the moment we are seeing players in the crypto gaming space averaging around 100 users in any one given dapp. These players tend to be jumping between all the games, and I think that's probably not sustainable if we're going to turn crypto-games into a viable platform in the future.
I think it needs to be almost invisible in the way that users don't really think about what platform they're on. When you spend money in the app store on iOS or Android, you don't really think about it, because your credit card is already linked to your account. For all you know you may as well be spending Ethereum, but it just happens to be your local currency. The process currently is too long and too technical for many people; they need to go through an exchange, buy some Ethereum, send the Ether to their Ether wallet, sign in to MetaMask, and transfer the Ether to their MetaMask. Until that process is compressed or becomes invisible, the barrier to entry is just too high. Don't get me wrong MetaMask is a big step forward and it gets better as it goes along, but there's still a lot of work to do.
The other issue is the lack of mobile support, particularly on iOS which is currently almost impossible to support. The reason it's so difficult on iOS is that they want their 30%, which is fair enough as they're providing the platform. However, with the way blockchain works it’s difficult to do this at the moment.
There's also scalability of transactions. Faster transactions with more volume are needed as the technology and market develop.
We really haven't spent that much time on mobile mainly because we're stretched for resources. We do want to add mobile support, particularly for Android. We have had players ask about mobile support and in theory, it already works because we support any web 3 wallet. Though we haven't done any testing other than on MetaMask. The game does run on mobile devices and need some work in terms of layout optimization and so on. We intend to spend some time to get it to work on mobile devices later on.
The overall plan for the game is to have 3 phases. You've got Phase 1, the island game which is the buying and selling of islands which is not much of a game but more of a buying and selling of assets, which is setting the scene. Phase 2 we have the Resource game which is making players gather resources, improve their technology and build on the islands. Phase 3 which is still speculative at the moment, but is definitely something that we want to do, will be a PvP aspect of the game. It’s also important to emphasize that any PvP aspect will be entirely optional for players. People who want to casually play the game SimCity style can do that without being disturbed.
One of the problems stopping us from applying phase 3 is that smart contracts have to be perfectly designed otherwise it will be difficult to change it later. The way we are thinking about the game is like an onion with successive layers. The resource game is one layer, and then we will add another layer which will be the PvP. You can you can assign your resources to be stashed on your Island or plot while building up your attack and defense in different ways. However, to get involved in the PvP you would have to pledge either all of your resources or only a fraction of your resources. If you don't want to be involved, you don't have to do this, but if you want to be involved, you have to pledge your resources. Once you have pledged your resources, they can be stolen or raided by others which means that you can also raid and steal other players' resources in the PvP mode.
Resources can be anything; we have "people" as a resource. You can put people into different advanced professions, you can have them be soldiers, or you can have them be academics. We designed it so that more resources can be added in future. We might include weapons as a resource or weapon parts for building tanks. In a nutshell that's the idea that we're playing around with.
The ability to have a PvP aspect with real consequences is what I feel makes the blockchain very powerful. I see games like Clash of Clans where you can raid, and yes you are kind of losing resources, but it doesn't have a real-world value. Yes, some people will have put money into the game to make their base better, but the fact that you can risk something that has an actual value makes it a lot more exciting. At the same time, that's why this feature needs to be optional if players don't want to take that risk they shouldn't be forced to. That's one of the interesting things about designing on the blockchain; traditional mechanisms need to be rethought to make it work on the blockchain.
Yeah, this is what makes blockchain really challenging. You have a number of different choices: the extreme choice is once the contract has been made it should not be changed because otherwise, you're cheating the system. Regarding games, that's really difficult to make viable because if you find a bug or a glitch, your game can be ruined because you made a simple mistake. Therefore, your only choice would be to remove the game completely and then redeploy with all the new contracts. Which then you are forced to either have your players lose everything or find a way to remember what everybody had and give it back to them, and that's just a huge job.
What I think most games are doing is striking a balance so certain things are fixed so players can trust that their assets are their own and there's no way of taking their assets away. Then other things that you might want to adjust, for example, let's say you had to adjust the stats of a certain building because you're finding it to be too expensive, you store as data that can be updated in the contract. We are trying to separate data as much as possible from the core functionality. In our system, we can update existing resources and buildings, and we can add new resources and buildings without conflicting with anything. I would say that this is a number one problem for all games on the blockchain.
We want to be totally on chain, at least for our first game to see if it's actually possible and see what the limitations actually are. Ultimately my view is that essentially the blockchain is a simplistic computer like the very first computers that were ever invented. When we talk about it in terms of storage and processing power, currently it's absolutely tiny. But if we truly believe that blockchain is going to become a fundamental technology then that must scale, the computational power and storage that we have on chain has to increase, and for it to be viable and meaningful to me the whole game needs to run on chain. Or at least as much as possible.
We started a Discord right from day one which is slowly accumulating new followers. We don't have the most followers because we have avoided any of these invite contests and things like that on the basis that they tend to accumulate members that join for the wrong reasons. We've just focused on the organic acquisition of members; we hope that these members will like the game and recommend it to people they know. It is a slow process, but we have a really great little community, and we try to be as open as possible with them. If anyone asks anything even if it's a difficult question we will always answer as honestly as we can. Obviously, not everyone will always like the answers that they get, but we are as open as we can be.
We have just launched our Beta for the next phase, a couple of weeks ago. That was when the community really started getting involved, and it was the first time they were able to see what was coming. We have received loads of great feedback from players regarding what they like, what they don't like, and things they'd like to see. All the feedback has gone into our list of things that we are going to be doing.
I think that overall the Beta was well-received, people's initial reactions were that we delivered more than they were expecting in terms of quality. What we need to do now is balance the content and make sure the progression is right. One of the biggest comments was that there needs to be a greater sense of progression in the game. We have progression in the game, but it's not really rewarded or notified in any way. A lot of people want to see a yardstick that says you've gone through this age now you’re on this age. They want to see some measure of overall success compared to other players.
Hopefully, we will release the next phase of the game on December 1st! Functionally everything is working we are mainly debugging the game and responding to feedback. You can buy plots, you can build buildings, gather resources, auction off the plots, and we included a Continent Fund feature.
The Continent Fund feature works like this: every transaction that happens on an island a small percentage goes to the Continent Fund which gets shared between island owners based on how much of that continent do they own. The Continent Fund can only be claimed every 30 days it's a long-term bonus that accumulates.
Yes, and we actually haven't created them all yet! We have two artists Karl and Ricky, who use a hex editor where they can paint the islands, they can adjust the heights of the plots, and decide which overlays they can use, that's all done by hand. As the islands get bigger and bigger and it takes longer and longer to finish. The very biggest one will probably take them at least 3 or 4 days, maybe even a week. We were previously releasing one Island a day; however, at the moment, we aren't releasing any because we're focusing on polishing the next phase of the game. Once we've launched CryptoPioneers, we will get back to releasing more islands.
I think that people should look forward to our next phase which is the launch to MainNet of the main game in December. We're really excited about this because that will be the first time when players can really use their islands and get a benefit from it, as well as have fun playing the game. For new players who just want to dabble a little bit the cost barrier for them is also much lower, so we hope to attract more players.
The idea is that people will buy a few plots gather some resources and if they like what they see they can go further and buy an island or buy more plots. CryptoPioneers is designed to be a fairly slow-paced game; when you produce resources, there will be a cooldown on it so you cannot go crazy and just spend lots of money. The game has a daily rhythm intended to make players come back every day to manage their plots, gather resources, leave it for the rest of the day, and come back the next day.
Well, we're all primarily devs and we are not the best at evangelizing stuff! We're good at community, I mean we're doing well on Discord and engaging with people once we got them. I think the bit that we are a bit weak on is reaching out to people in the first place and selling the concept. We have to do more in creating a simple explanation of the game, so people can understand exactly what's there and what to expect. I think post 1st of December we will be spending more time on trying to promote the game.
We can definitely say that we discovered a lot from CryptoPioneers. In the end, we felt that it has so much potential and we hope it will gather momentum once the game is released in December. We wish them the best of luck in developing the rest of their 200 islands, and we hope to see their vision of a completely decentralized game come true.
In the meantime, if you like what CryptoPioneers is doing why not join to become a Settler, or a Prospector or both.