It’s hard to appreciate how fast the blockchain industry evolves. New projects gain rapid momentum, old projects fizzle out, and it’s not always easy to know which project is worth your time and which one is not. Thankfully, a few projects have stood the test of time and serve as useful indicators of the rapid pace of the blockchain industry.
One such project is Blockchain Cuties Universe, the popular DGame that I reviewed almost six months ago. Since then, judging from the homepage alone, the game has changed significantly. Firstly, they launched on NEO, which makes Blockchain Cuties Universe the only DGame that I know of that runs on four (!) blockchains, the others being ETH, EOS, and TRON.
Secondly, they’re rolling out Wars of Cutieland, an expansion that will allow players to explore the biggest world built in any DGame yet. Players will be able to buy land, build capitals, mine resources, unite into clans, and wage wars. It will turn Blockchain Cuties Universe into a strategically complex DGame the likes of which the industry hasn’t seen before.
Thirdly, let’s not forget the innumerable, smaller improvements that the developers of Blockchain Cuties Universe have been pushing through on a very consistent basis. Just have a look at their Medium page to see the pace at which Blockchain Cuties is innovating and changing.
Vladimir Tomko is the man behind the vision. He’s the CEO of Blockchain Cuties Universe and a veteran of the gaming industry. DGaming interviewed Vladimir and asked him about his journey into gaming, the challenges of running Blockchain Cuties Universe, and the future of the DGaming industry.
A Creative Gamer Through and Through
Vladimir has been a gamer ever since his parents handed him an 8-bit console system that was a copy of the Super Nintendo back in 1992. A SEGA console soon followed and in 1999 he had his first PC with an Internet connection. He began playing games on a daily basis. So far, a story not uncommon to most millennials.
But Vladimir quickly showed his creative side. In 2002, EA released the Sims. The game allowed its players to create new characters and change their textures, so Vladimir decided to recreate celebrities that were popular at the time (e.g. Britney Spears & Christina Aguilera). It was his first step into content creation for games. Although he didn’t put his creations online, his celebrity Sims became quite popular in his neighborhood, where people would exchange them on CDs.
Next, Vladimir turned his attention to Neverwinter Nights. The popular RPG, released in 2002 by Bioware, allowed end users to create their own worlds (which were called shards) that players could enter and play in. Vladimir created the Nameless Lands shard, with its own mythology and creatures. It became an incredibly popular world, particularly in the Baltics and Russia.
In fact, many players offered to help Vladimir with the creation of his world. At its peak, the Nameless Lands shard had sixteen people working on it. It’s where Vladimir learned how to productively solve tasks and how to manage a team. The shard exists to this day, although Vladimir is no longer in charge of it.
You might think the above required a lot of programming, but it didn’t. Although Vladimir is a computer science graduate, he prefers to draw, design, create big systems and make the calculations behind them. It led him to join a Latvian gaming company in 2011 as a Game Designer. He worked there for four years before joining OK.RU, one of Russia’s largest social networks, in 2014.
Back then, OK.RU had 35 million players (MAU), and 60 million users (MAU). Vladimir helped other companies grow their business through the social network. He analyzed games and created reports on how they could improve their game. On average, he was able to increase a game’s revenue by 15%. He also saw OK.RU launch two additional game platforms, one for native mobile apps and one for FB Messenger games (which was launched before FB’s Instant Games).
All the above makes Vladimir an industry vet. He’s seen the rise and fall of different gaming markets, from casual games distributed on CDs to social gaming markets to native mobile gaming markets. All of these markets seemed to follow a similar curve. When he saw the success of CryptoKitties late 2017, he understood a new gaming market was forming. And he wanted in on the action...
The Rise of Blockchain Cuties Universe
CryptoKitties had shown that people were willing to spend money. However, just because they were willing to spend money on blockchain collectible games didn’t mean that they were willing to spend money on any type of decentralized game.
As such, Vladimir devised a strategy to develop a game that would start as a collectible game and end up as a strategy game two to three years later. Additionally, he wanted to create his own infrastructure. He’d noticed that companies who built their own infrastructure when a new gaming market was forming had an advantage over those that relied on the infrastructure of third parties.
It’s the reason why Blockchain Cuties Universe provides a non-custodial wallet for their players, why they’ve introduced four different blockchains, and why people are now able to play the game with fiat currency. It’s a better experience for DGamers and it has made Blockchain Cuties into a market leader and an innovator.
The game has grown rapidly and so has the Blockchain Cuties Universe team. They’re now 24 people, 17 of which work from their headquarters in Riga, Latvia. Vladimir focuses on bringing in partners that will help grow the Cutie ecosystem, while also negotiating relationships with the separate blockchains and managing the game’s marketing activities.
He also visits several conferences, not to sell Blockchain Cuties Universe, but to share valuable information and build the Cutie brand. Blockchain Cuties Universe wants to be seen as the most experienced innovator on the market.
Of course, it’s not been an easy ride to grow to the size they have right now. The most difficult technical challenge for Blockchain Cuties Universe has been managing the separate blockchains. Although TRON is similar to ETH, because it uses the same virtual machine, EOS and NEO are very different blockchains from ETH. Additionally, Vladimir said that four different blockchains slow you down. Every new update and every new feature needs to work on all blockchains. In a fast-moving industry, that’s a disadvantage.
However, the upside is that each new blockchain introduces you to a whole new set of gamers. This is particularly interesting for chains that might not have many DGames yet, such as NEO. It’s an open market that many other DGames are unwilling to touch because of the technical complexity that comes with managing an extra blockchain.
This being said, it’s not a given that a new blockchain will bring in new users. Blockchain Cuties Universe was the second big game on EOS (not counting gambling games) after EOS Knights and the first game to run on two blockchains. Vladimir considers EOS the most suitable blockchain for the majority of DGames, as it can handle many transactions per second and because it’s written in C.
But its onboarding was hard back then (it’s gotten better now). You had to pay for wallet creation and you still can’t buy EOS without going through a strict KYC process. That’s why, when Blockchain Cuties Universe added EOS as a blockchain, they weren’t able to attract as many users as they’d hoped.
This being said, extra blockchains give players more options. If you want to have some NEO, you can sell your Cutie items for NEO (even if you originally bought them for ETH). Any new audience that’s introduced to the game becomes part of the game’s global market, regardless of the blockchain they play the game on.
Vladimir said that the biggest challenge overall has been marketing the game. All regular marketing channels for games are closed when it comes to DGames. It’s either not effective or it’s forbidden altogether. It’s very difficult for a decentralized game to advertise through FB ads. You can’t use Twitter ads. You can’t use Google ads.
Instead, you need to work with your audience and with crypto influencers, although there aren’t that many influencers who can bring in a significant amount of new users to your game. It’s a process that requires a lot of experimentation. Medium has worked quite well for Blockchain Cuties Universe, as it brings in a good amount of organic traffic that converts into users. But it might not work in the future. Given the pace of change in the industry, it’s hard to say.
Vladimir’s favorite aspect of Blockchain Cuties Universe is the ability to customize your cutie. Players can create a Cutie out of any photo and any image. It’s something that other DGames either don’t do or can’t manage at the scale of Blockchain Cuties. It’s a popular feature, as the majority of players have at least one custom Cutie.
Originally, the team thought people would send through pictures of their relatives and friends. Turns out that people are more likely to send through popular characters, such as a Wolverine or a Spiderman figure. Within the boundaries of copyright law, the Blockchain Cuties Universe team create a Cutie that resembles the figure their players send through.
The Future of the DGaming Industry
There are a few trends that Vladimir thinks will accelerate over the next few years. Firstly, he believes that we’ll see some drastic changes this year and the next when it comes to buying cryptocurrencies with credit cards. Initiatives like dGoods on EOS will make it easier to negotiate deals with financial institutions, as the emphasis will shift from “you’re buying crypto” to “you’re playing a game.”
Secondly, within two to three years, it should be possible to buy a small amount of crypto without having to undergo KYC procedures. Vladimir considers this very important, as it will drastically change the adoption rate of DGames. Regular gamers will be able to play DGames without obstacles.
Another big driver of blockchain adoption rate will be bigger players entering the market. Kakao, a giant South Korean messaging platform, recently released the Klaytn blockchain. Telegram, with its 200 million users, is set to release their Mainnet this October. This will inevitably introduce a huge number of new people to blockchain technology, some of whom will be developers eager to create new DGames.
Not to be forgotten, the launch of Facebook’s Libra will be an enormous event as well. Vladimir believes that the current US Senate scrutiny of the project is mostly showmanship. The future of finance is a market of global importance and there aren’t many companies that can drive mass adoption while having control over new monetary markets. Facebook is one such company and it’s in the best interests of the United States for a US company to be in control over emerging monetary markets, instead of a competing nation such as China.
Vladimir doesn’t see Libra as a threat to the blockchain industry either. Although the project might not embody the decentralized ethos, it will move people from being uneducated about blockchain to being at least partially educated. It’ll make it easier for people to understand and use other blockchains, which means more traffic, more developers, and a bigger DGaming pie.
Over the next few years, many different blockchain platforms will compete against one another. It’ll be a scenario similar to the Android market in China, where Google is banned and where there are hundreds of different Android platforms. It’ll be a four to five year fight for dominance until, eventually, two or three blockchains will emerge that will become the go-to platforms for DApps.
Some Advice For Budding DGame Devs
Vladimir had one piece of advice for developers looking to create a new DGame. It’s not enough to create a great game. People need to know about your game. Make sure you spend enough time marketing your game. Think strategically how you will acquire new users and find partners that will help bring you traffic.
The market will see huge user adoption soon. It’s better to start now than it is to hold off.