The impressive growth of Gods Unchained in 2019 helped cement the narrative that blockchain technology and online gaming are a potential growth industry. Game developers began to consider the unique possibilities of blockchain. Blockchain tech can enable decentralization, transparency, and true ownership of non-fungible tokens and game items in virtual environments. Once blockchain technology integrates with the gaming industry, the gaming market may offer one of the most compelling use cases for blockchain.
However, as is often in the case in the crypto industry, the reality of the situation can be all too easily hidden behind hype. If blockchain gaming is to expand beyond its existing niche audience, the technology will need to be scalable and fit for purpose. This is the challenge that blockchain game developers Immutable, makers of Gods Unchained, are seeking to solve.
What is Gods Unchained?
Gods Unchained was developed by Australia-based blockchain gaming startup Immutable. The Immutable mission statement is to “make virtual worlds real.” To turn its vision into a reality, Immutable secured $2.4 million from Coinbase Ventures, Continue Capital, Nirvana Capital, and Sora Ventures during its first funding round in 2018.
Following the success of Gods Unchained’s beta, the startup was able to secure an additional $15 million during a second funding round in September 2019 from Naspers Ventures and Galaxy Digital’s EOS VC Fund. The raised funds will be used to further develop Gods Unchained and “to build out the Immutable Platform, an open-source blockchain toolkit that lets developers create immutable gaming assets,” according to the company.
Gods Unchained is a turn-based collectible digital card trading game that operates on the Ethereum blockchain. Each match is a one-on-one battle between two players or one player and a computer. The aim is to reduce the opponent’s life to zero by beating their gods with yours. Each player can choose a deck of 30 cards from their collection of gods to battle their opponent. Players earn digital cards when they play the game. If a player has two identical cards these can be minted into one blockchain-based card. Players can trade, sell, lend, or borrow these cards. Each collectible card is a non-fungible token (NFT) stored on the Ethereum blockchain. This enables players to own their in-game assets in the same way they own crypto assets.
The game first became playable during a closed beta in late 2018. In the months to follow, the game’s popularity skyrocketed. By the time Gods Unchained opened up its beta to the public in July 2019, the game had already generated around $4 million in revenue through the sale of four million collectible cards.
In August of 2019, Immutable hired former Magic: The Gathering Arena executive, Chris Clay, to bolster its team. The addition of an experienced game director may help the game attract more gamers outside of the blockchain space. It also suggests that experienced gaming professionals are taking blockchain gaming seriously.
At the time Clay stated, “I believe blockchain represents a new frontier for game developers. Digital asset ownership on the blockchain lets developers support games and their communities in ways we’ve never seen before in electronic gaming. Blockchain isn’t just for digital currency; it is laying the foundation for a whole new digital economy.”
The Gods Unchained marketplace
In November 2019, Gods Unchained launched its marketplace – enabling users to buy and trade the game’s digital collectible cards in the form of ERC721 tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. Gamers can log onto the marketplace and buy new cards using ETH by connecting an Ethereum client, such as MetaMask, or trade cards with other players.
Within 24 hours of opening its marketplace, Gods Unchained experienced the highest dollar-denominated volume in the NFT market. However, Gods Unchained has since dropped to 15th place in the NFT market, by seven-day volume.
It’s a similar story on Dapp ranking site DappRadar. Gods Unchained once ranked first in the Ethereum gaming category, measured by seven-day volumes, but has since dropped to 57th. In fact, DappRadar data shows that after steady user, volume, and transaction growth in 2019, this year, users have fallen dramatically. This hasn’t deterred Immutable from pushing forward with a round of updates designed to make the game more user friendly, and attract a new user base.
The planned updates include a new expansion pack and Immutable X – a new decentralized exchange designed to support non-fungible token trading (NFTs) without overloading the Ethereum blockchain.
Trial of the Gods
If blockchain gaming is to gain traction, existing games will need to be user-friendly. The Immutable game studio has introduced a Welcome Set that gives new players access to a collection of non-tokenized playing cards. The Welcome Set is a collection of 70 cards without any rarity. Each card has two copies in the set, bringing the total number of cards to 140. These common cards can’t be traded or sold on the blockchain-powered marketplace but players can use them as an introduction into the game.
This week Immutable has released the Trial of the Gods expansion set. The set currently contains 151 cards to collect. Trial of the Gods will introduce new cards, champions and other new mechanics. There will also be an one-of-a-kind mythic card that will be given away in a raffle. The card is called Citadel of the Gods. Citadel of the Gods is a 1 mana spell that summons three legendary champions for each player, gives both gods protected, ward, a relic and unlocks all mana locks. The card will allow players to play out the story of Trial of the Gods within a match itself.
Immutable backs Ethereum for gaming
Immutable’s founders believe that blockchain technology is the future of gaming. In a blog post to announce Gods Unchained, the game developers stated that they are building the game on the Ethereum blockchain “to bring transparency into the opaque world of in-game economies.”
The Ethereum blockchain enables gamers to have true asset ownership, forever. “Buy them, sell them, hoard them, burn them — it’s up to you and we can’t tell you what not to do,” Immutable wrote.
Moreover, the public Ethereum blockchain provides traceability for virtual assets, which means gamers can track every owner of the collectible card they currently hold. If a famous gamer held a card and digitally signed it, for example, other gamers who end up with the card would know about it.
Robbie Ferguson, co-founder, and CEO of Gods Unchained, said, “In almost every game, players are buying items, cards, skins and upgrades which they don’t truly own. Blockchain actually gives players digital-asset ownership, with the same property rights you can find in the real world. With Gods Unchained, we’ve captured the allure of traditional print card collectibles like Magic, married them with appealing visuals of digital games like Hearthstone, and added true ownership through the Ethereum blockchain.”
In the wider gaming industry, during 2020, gamers will spend approximately 32 billion dollars on in-game items. For example, while Fortnite is free to play, the average player will spend $58 annually on in-game items, such as the popular Battle Pass, and cosmetic skins and weapons. Blockchain gaming has the potential to disrupt this centralized model, by allowing individual players to own and sell items on the blockchain.
Immutable also points out that the centralization of gaming was one of the reasons that Vitalk Buterin was first inspired to create Ethereum. “I happily played World of Warcraft during 2007–2010, but one day Blizzard removed the damage component from my beloved warlock’s Siphon Life spell. I cried myself to sleep, and on that day I realized what horrors centralized services can bring,” said Buterin.
In May, Immutable announced that it was building a non-custodial decentralized exchange in partnership with blockchain developers StarkWare. The new exchange will be capable of handling 200m+ NFT transactions per day.
Immutable says that with the launch of the game’s first official season (Trial of the Gods) the company wants to get back on a growth trajectory. Part of the roadmap to achieve this is Immutable X, a decentralized, non-custodial exchange that scales trading on the Ethereum network with instant settlement and zero gas fees.
In 2020, as growing numbers of DeFi users and traders transact on Ethereum, the mainchain and the DeFi ecosystem has been put under strain – Ethereum transaction speeds have fallen, while Ethereum gas fees have hit all time highs.
To ensure that Gods Unchained can scale as they grow their user base, Immutable has partnered with StarkWare to build Immutable X. Immutable X will use StarkEX, StarkWare’s ZK-STARK-based scalability engine, which has demonstrated the ability to process over 9,000 non-custodial trades/sec. The goal is for Immutable X to support more than 200 million NFT trades per day while consuming less than 30% of Ethereum’s capacity. A launch date for Immutable X has not been announced, however, Immutable admits that it is still a “fair way off.”
Despite struggling to live up to early, unrealistic expectations, Gods Unchained remains one of the best examples of blockchain in gaming. By providing gamers with true in-game asset ownership, Immutable is a pioneer in merging blockchain technology and online gaming. As blockchain matures we can expect to see more game development companies following suit, which should benefit the growing e-gaming and blockchain communities across the globe.