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Turnt Gaming has raised $4.3 million to build a fighting game that uses the blockchain and nonfungible tokens (NFTs).
The money will help the company accelerate the building of Taunt Battleworld, a skill-based fighting game simulator that features boxing icon Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Cris Cyborg.
Polygon’s gaming NFT arm, Polygon Studios, led the round, and other participants included blockchain investors AU21 Capital, GenBlock Capital, and Shima Capital.
“We’re bringing traditional video game experience to like the blockchain world,” said Jeff Liboon, founder of Turnt Gaming, in an interview with GamesBeat. “The reaction has been really good.”
That is, it’s been good considering hardcore fans have been railing against NFT games, which use the transparency and security of the digital ledger of blockchain to authenticate unique digital items. But rather than pitch its games at hardcore gamers, Turnt Gaming is targeting the crypto-savvy fans who don’t mind experimenting.
Liboon’s audience isn’t the NFT haters among hardcore gamers. Rather, it’s the people who already accept and like playing around with cyrptocurrencies.
“That’s where we’re starting,” he said. “If you take a look at our graphics, it’s not the latest version of Mortal Kombat on the PS5. But it’s also not just a 2D fighter. It lands squarely in the middle.”
As for the resistance that NFTs ran into from hardcore gamers, he said, “It’s an interesting question. I think the current desire to talk about this is similar to the resistance to free-to-play games. There was huge resistance to ad-based games, and they are much more common today. He noted there are scams but he wants to take a long-term approach to the NFT games market. He thinks the current fans to target are “crypto native” gamers who are willing to experiment.
“They’re already operating in the space with the right kind of mindset,” said Liboon. “We’ve been working in gaming for 20 years and really want to adapt that to what crypto-native audiences are looking for today.”
The game’s first NFT drop is scheduled for March 5, 2022. The event, dubbed “Skull Pass,” will allow players to buy up to 2,500 NFT fighter passes that include one NFT fighter and other special benefits for players.
When implemented with the proper safeguards in place, NFT-based entertainment offerings such as Taunt Battleworld represent a new era in gaming delivering new experiences to sophisticated players.
“Not only are we partnering with Turnt Gaming to bring their NFT based game to life with our blockchain solution, but we are pleased to be a part of this funding round as well,” said Shreyansh Singh, head of investments at Polygon, in a statement. “We anticipate this funding to be just the start of a prosperous and successful relationship as we continue to support Polygon’s gaming sector with Taunt Battleworld.”
Engage to earn
Fueled by a stable of early community followers, Taunt Battleworld marks a new generation in gaming by being the first to combine multiple ways to play with its new “engage to earn” model.
The game combines live interactive entertainment with the ability to own real fighters that can be purchased or earned within the game as NFTs.
In the game, players can play-to-earn, as they can enter their NFT’s into simulated fights and the most skilled players have a higher chance of winning.
They can also watch-to-earn, where viewers can earn Turnt’s native in-game Taunt token for watching fight streams and being a valued part of the community.
And they can predict-to-earn, where spectators can compete with other viewers to predict outcomes of the simulated fights and win Taunt tokens for free. The company has about 1,500 members in its Discord channel.
In addition to the capital raise, Cris Cyborg joins Turnt’s stable of real world fighters. Widely regarded as one of the greatest female fighters of all time, Cyborg is the only MMA fighter in history, male or female, to become a Grand Slam Champion.
Bilal Junaid of Genblock Capital, said in a statement, “Since 2017, we’ve been deeply entrenched in the crypto market and are very bullish on the gaming sector in particular. Turnt’s novel ‘engage-to-earn’ model is a game changer. Their community is growing quickly, and we are pleased to be on the ground floor of a major shift in gaming culture.”
The team has just six people now and it is expanding. They’re working on their prototypes and planning to do a soft launch around the end of March. After that debuts, the company will absorb feedback and it will offer $100,000 in free tournaments for its NFT holders during a three-month period. Another version would be ready this summer.
As for the funding process, it was quick and many of the incumbent venture capital crypto funds participated. The funds know that the market is fairly strong for blockchain games, particularly those that are backed by teams with experience in both games and crypto like Turnt’s pedigree. The team has veterans from Amazon, Unity, Sky Grid, and other companies.
“We’ve done a good job of assembling an array of team members who have different experiences and can enable us to move really quickly in this space,” Liboon said. “People are trying new things every day and there is no playbook.”
How it got started
One of the founders was really into the blockchain game Zed Run, which was like CryptoKitties except you bred race horses instead of kitties. So Liboon’s team figure out that applying some of the same ideas to fighting games made sense. They could also introduce mechanics like punching power, kicking power, the fighting rules, and boosts.
“Immediately, I was drawn to that idea,” Liboon said.
Liboon has been in games for about 20 years, working at places such as Microsoft’s Xbox Live division, Electronic Arts, DoubleDown Interactive, Amazon, and Estars.
“I’ve had a really good grasp of monetization from a traditional gaming side. And I acquired some assets from from a company called Taunt,” he said.
Taunt started as a livestreaming engagement platform for Twitch streamers. It was a kind of metagame for the viewers, who could guess what happens next in a match and then move up or down a leaderboard.
“It made the passive viewing experience for a viewer much more active,” said Liboon.
Liboon watched closely how esports monetized through wagering. About a year ago, he was watching the blockchain gaming sector heat up and he looked into it.
“I spent the next six months right diving deep into those products, really kind of figuring out what product I could build combining NFTs and blockchain gaming and this idea which we called engage-to-earn,” he said. “That laid the groundwork for Taunt Battleworld.”
The idea is you can buy your own fighters as NFT characters, he said. You can put them into tournaments to battle others. There is also a breeding mechanic where fighters can be combined into more powerful fighters. The company is also capturing a lot of videos of matches and sharing it with players. Players can watch those matches and earn rewards at the same time. Players can also predict what happens next and place wagers on that.
The company is using the Unity game engine to make its 3D characters. He said the team pours a lot of effort into making its characters and its 3D arenas, but it also wants those characters to be accessible. The game can run on most smartphones.
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