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Jam City is releasing 10,000 of its limited-edition Prime Eternals NFTs this week in its first upcoming blockchain game Champions: Ascension.
The prime Eternals are the first characters known as champions that will be available for the Champions: Ascension fantasy-themed gladiatorial arena game with role-playing elements. It’s going to be a real test about whether gamers will accept blockchain games as mainstream entertainment.
The first Prime Eternals will be sold in a whitelist-only private sale on February 24 and a public sale on February 25. It’s a first for Jam City, which normally makes broad market mobile games such as Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery and Cookie Jam. This move will be closely watched because not many big game companies have ventured into games based on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which use blockchain to authenticate unique digital items.
The 10,000 one-of-a-kind, high-fidelity Prime Eternals NFTs represent the highest ascension tier in Massina, a player-driven fantasy world with high risks — you could lose your character in duels. Chris DeWolfe, CEO of Jam City, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the title is a serious effort to create a mainstream game using blockchain. He said the title has been in the works for about a year, and it has a team of around 50 working on it.
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“We’re starting out with these 10,000 Prime Eternal champions, which are going to be completely unique,” said DeWolfe in an interview. “And they’re going to be in the form of NFTs. We’re going to be releasing them for a private sale this Thursday. And then Friday, they’re going to be open to the public.”
DeWolfe said the individually crafted alchemical creations will never be minted again and will be immune from death, imbued with divine powers, and possess special abilities. It’s sort of like selling a founder’s edition of a game in a non-NFT context, DeWolfe said. Only 10,000 of the Prime Eternals will ever exist, DeWolfe said. Players will be able to sell them in an NFT market later.
“The Prime Eternals are the center of an evolving metaverse where we initially focus on combat between the different champions and they can get stronger and stronger,” DeWolfe said. “But then that evolves into a much bigger world where there can potentially be new games and real estate and different arenas and different areas where these champions will have come from.”
While NFTs were popular in art, music, and celebrities in 2021, they ran into resistance with gamers by the end of the year. Ubisoft launched NFTs in its Ghost Recon: Breakpoint game and players objected on a variety of grounds: environmental concerns, the lack of utility, the grind required to earn them, and Ubisoft’s participation in what seemed like a scammy industry full of money laundering and crappy games.
Gamers also objected to NFTs announced by Team17, GSC Game World, and voice actor Troy Baker. Game companies like Electronic Arts, Sega, and Square Enix have become more careful about how they communicate about NFTs. On the other hand, game leaders have moved into NFT game companies and projects. Those diving in include Zynga cofounder Eric Schiermeyer, former Coca-Cola gaming exec Matthew Wolf, Sim City designer Will Wright, former Magic Leap chief creative director Graeme Devine, former Glu business chief Chris Akhavan, former Activision exec John Linden, former Google Play leader Koh Kim, and Black & White creator Peter Molyneux.
Jam City has joined mobile game companies such as Com2Us, Zynga, and Netmarble in choosing to move into blockchain games, in part because they have different audiences that may be more willing to experiment. In this case, DeWolfe said that many of the members of the company’s 100,000 members of the Discord channel for the game are in the 18-year-old to 34-year-old range.
“If you’re not thoughtful and listening to users and reaching out to them, you’re not going to be successful,” DeWolfe said. “You’re not going to be successful if you feel like you know better than they do. I think there is interest here. Collection mechanics have been around forever. Instead of working hard to collect different characters and not having anything to show for it, you actually have utility in the game. You have ownership in the game. You have agency over your characters in the game. This is a much better model for the users.”
He added, “Whenever you’re moving to a new platform, or a new entertainment payment platform, there is always going to be some skepticism. Once there is some exposure to it, people end up getting really excited about it. It was the same switching over to mobile. It was the same with free-to-play. And now it is play-to-earn or play-and-earn. But one aspect never changes. We make deep, rich entertainment experiences that are always going to be there. The main difference is, as a player, you have more agency in the future of the game. And you actually have ownership in the game.”
DeWolfe said his team has both game design and blockchain experience. He said the team has experience with economics and data science and what it takes to balance a world where you have things to buy like NFTs. He said the goal is to create “forever franchises” that people play forever.
To get players to come back, you have to create more fun things for players to do in a game, he said.
“The current games that are out there are being criticized for a good reason,” DeWolfe said. “Some are designed to work only if you are always adding more players. As soon as that slows down, the game falls apart. We know that to balance an economy you always need a source and a drain. You need a sink. You need to balance it.”
Holders of Prime Eternals have the opportunity to collect and create unique NFT Champions, battle other players for in-game rewards, and stake claims in a developing token economy. Whitelist members have the opportunity to acquire Prime Eternals for 0.3 ETH, and the public sale will be conducted as a Dutch auction beginning at 1 ETH.
He noted that Jam City has built and continues to grow a dynamic, engaged community with tens of millions of loyal
players around the world. To date, Jam City games have generated more than 1.3 billion lifetime installs and 26 billion hours played, with an engaged and a rapidly-growing social media audience of 11 million.
“One thing I really want to emphasize is that this is not an experiment,” DeWolfe said. “We believe that Web 3 games are a big part of the future. And we have fully invested in Web 3 games. And this is the first big one that we announced. We’re working on some other projects. We’re making a great game, first and foremost, and we have some of the best game developers in the world that have a massive experience with literally every single type of gameplay from hardcore to MMO, to more casual collection mechanics, to the economy. So we’re very well equipped to execute on this properly.”
He said this highly curated social audience is directly contributing to the direction and lore of the game. Fan engagement is a differentiator for “Champions: Ascension” and critical to Jam City’s approach to
building blockchain games where exciting gameplay and intriguing narratives sit at the heart of players’
experiences, he explained.
The iterative approach the company is taking to develop Champions: Ascension is designed to create value and reward players for their involvement each step of the way. Prime Eternals holders will have the exclusive opportunity to play early iterations of the game, helping to inform its continued evolution and earning rewards based on their engagement that can be used when the game launches.
“We’re leveraging the blockchain as a tool to create value for our players with direct influence into the game design and opportunity for digital ownership,” said Aber Whitcomb, chief technology officer of Jam City, in a statement. “As players look for more freedom with their digital experiences, our history in creating high-quality, easily-accessible games firmly positions us to bring next-generation Web3 products to everyone.”
Owning a Prime Eternal NFT comes with a number of unique, exclusive perks. But DeWolfe said the company is being careful not to enable play-to-win or other designs that gamers wouldn’t like. He said feedback is critical.
The Prime Eternals won’t be subject to being lost during combat. The only way a gamer would stop owning it would be if they elected to sell the Eternal on a secondary market. That is possible because of the NFTs, De Wolfe said. Each Eternal is unique with different fighting attributes, attire, and physical characteristics. He said a team of artists has spent a lot of time creating a variety of Eternals.
Each Eternal gets a Halo headpiece that reflects the core essence of the Champion. The Prime Eternals have Divine parts that set them apart from the rest, and these have special visual effects. And the longer a player holds and stakes a Prime Eternal, the more land tokens ($MASSINA) they earn, and the closer they get to purchase a piece of land that will be available in the future.
Players get a vote
Prime Eternal owners will also get voting privileges on Discord to guide the development and design of Champions: Ascension. They can also collaborate with the team to craft the lore of Massina, which has been ruled by generations of emperors who are entertained by gladiatorial games in a grand arena. They will also get VIP access to closed betas, early features, and mechanics before they release, and get a behind-the-scenes look at new Champions: Ascension content first.
“These players are more like partners,” DeWolfe said.
I asked DeWolfe if there might be too many perks for the first 10,000 Prime Eternals, and that might create a division with the rest of the players. Would players in the second tier feel like second-class citizens?
“There is no ultimate winner or loser in this game,” DeWolfe said. “Jam City builds games from day one with all the players in mind. And we’ve built it for a very approachable, broad audience base. So you can play without a Champion. In fact, you can play without any NFTs. When we say that we’re only releasing 10,000 unique Champions right now, these are the immortal champions. And there will be additional NFTs that will be in the game that will come out. There are different items that you can collect that give you utility in the game. You can very much enjoy the game, play the game, participate in the metaverse, explore the world without owning these immortal Champions.”
He said that the company is doing special drops for those who are friends of the company or supporters in the Discord. Those are the players who will be whitelisted to buy Prime Eternals on Wednesday for 0.3 Eth. On Thursday, other players will be eligible to buy Prime Eternals for 1 Eth. Those prices aren’t cheap. 0.3 Eth has a value of $791.08, while 1 Eth is valued at $2,732.
“We think that is the appropriate value,” DeWolfe said.
The public sale of the Prime Eternals on Thursday will take place via a Dutch auction, which can help combat bots. In a Dutch auction, the price keeps dropping and players offer what they want to pay. All the initial Prime Eternal transactions will take place on Jam City’s Champions: Ascension website. Secondary sales can take place elsewhere.
Players will pay the gas fees or the costs of computing on the Ethereum platform. That will result in environmental costs, DeWolfe acknowledged. However, he noted that these 10,000 items will be the only time that Jam City uses the Ethereum platform for transactions. If Jam City can be faulted for anything here, this is it. It probably ought to offset these environmental costs with a donation to clean energy options.
Later on, the company will announce that it is using a transaction-efficient and energy-efficient blockchain to handle the bigger volumes of the player transactions in the future.
But he said the game will be free-to-play for the millions of other players who might come afterward. The players with Prime Eternals can play against each other, but they won’t be able to play against the free-to-play players and win easy victories. The free-to-play players will be able to enjoy the game without having to buy anything, DeWolfe said. The late-coming players won’t have to create a MetaMask account for their NFT transactions. Credit cards will work in an easy-to-use custodial wallet, DeWolfe said.
DeWolfe emphasized that he believes the game will be fun. He believes players will engage in strategic, high-stakes decision-making, allowing them to outsmart, outmaneuver and overpower opponents during combat. The company will run the game as it does any other title, with live operations that offer a lot of value to players, DeWolfe said.
The game will have sinks for in-game currency, or things to buy. That includes cosmetics, wearable items, and consumables that serve as sinks that generate in-game purchases and revenues. In that way, it won’t be like other scammy blockchain games that are like Ponzi schemes, DeWolfe said. Such games often rely on later players to pour money into the game to bear the costs of earlier players, DeWolfe said.
“There will be breeding mechanics in the game, and burning mechanics as well,” he said.
I brought up that some fans worry that we have Ponzi schemes when you release characters for sale before a game ships.
He said in general that is a valid concern. But he said that gamers can trust Jam City as it has made some of the best and biggest games in the world, in partnership with companies such as Disney, Warner Bros., and NBC Universal.
“We make great entertainment,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s about great gameplay, and it’s enhanced with blockchain underpinnings and with the vision to expand into a metaverse.”
The game is designed to be fully accessible to both novices and crypto experts. He said Champions: Ascension will give players the opportunity to impact and drive the evolution of the world of Massina. The game will launch on Web 3 and mobile platforms in the future.
A metaverse in the making
DeWolfe iterated it’s a big effort, and Champions: Ascension is just part of it.
“We’re one of the first major companies to put this much effort into a blockchain game. We are proud of it. I was in the early days of Web 1.0,” DeWolfe said. “We really believe in it. We started MySpace as one of the founders of Web 2.0. And we were at the forefront of mobile games. This matches the decentralized trend we’re seeing in the market where people don’t want every transaction to go through a central database and get stuck in the middle. We think we can enhance the entertainment experience with blockchain technology. We have the whole reputation that we are staking on that. We have 12 years of building amazing games.” He added, “The proof is in the pudding as we execute. But there is zero chance we won’t execute on that. We hope people will love the game. There were a lot of ridiculous companies in the dot-com crash that shouldn’t have been going public and raising money. The naysayers were saying advertising is not a monetization model. This is like that. I think it’s going to take more time for people to adapt to it.”
Asked to say what NFTs bring to a game, DeWolfe repeated that it gives you an asset that you can own.
“These are like VIP founders edition packs, he said.
Ultimately, DeWolfe hopes the world of Massina will be like a metaverse, with multiple games where players can have more experiences and feel like they’re in a living world. The Prime Eternals owners will get a chance to contribute to that larger metaverse.
That metaverse will have features like virtual real estate tokens.
“We’re creating the world of Massina and it will expand into additional games,” DeWolfe said. “It will certainly expand into different experiences, like a living breathing world.”
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