After Axie Infinity and Steem Monsters, it’s time for another DGame review. With a dedicated following of active players, Blockchain Cuties is one of the more popular DGames currently available. As you’ll have noticed reading through our bi-weekly digest, the people behind Cuties relentlessly add new features and are eager to grow their game through partnerships and deep community engagement.

You can start playing Blockchain Cuties without having to spend any money. When signing up, you receive an intro cutie that you can examine and send on an adventure. You can browse through the marketplace to see all the other Cuties and the items that you can equip them with. But the intro cutie is very limited in its functionality. Contrary to the card pack you get for free in Steem Monsters, there’s very little you can do with your intro cutie, and you’ll find yourself quickly having to buy other Cuties if you want to fully experience the game.

So I set out to buy a few Cuties. Looking through the marketplace, I realized that Blockchain Cuties runs on Ethereum, EOS, and TRON! In fact, it became the first game to run on three separate blockchains, as well as the first DGame to be launched on TRON Arcade. Considering Blockchain Cuties is a well-known and popular game, this is mostly a win for TRON, which many by now consider one of the strongest competitors of Ethereum, if not the strongest.

While this is good for those who already own EOS or TRON tokens, it doesn’t really change much for people new to blockchain gaming. Additionally, I personally don’t know of any cryptocurrency exchange where you can directly trade EOS or TRON for fiat currency. ETH and BTC remain the two primary gateway tokens to buy altcoins. I didn’t have any crypto left, so I had to go through the whole process of buying ETH, which meant sending euros to Coinbase Pro (much lower fees), waiting a few hours, exchanging it for ETH and sending it to Metamask.

Mind you, I started this process when I had the website of Blockchain Cuties open and when I was ready to play. The whole process of buying cryptocurrencies and sending it to a Google Chrome extension introduces so much friction that I fully believe it discourages the vast majority of people wanting to try out a DGame. Finding a solution to this problem feels like it should be top priority, particularly as traditional AAA games are trending towards a frictionless cloud gaming experience (e.g. Google Stadia).

But I eventually loaded my Metamask wallet with ETH and was ready to play. Back to the Blockchain Cuties marketplace. Many DGames excel in their design, and Blockchain Cuties is no exception. The clue’s in the title, but all Cuties are adorable. Whether a cat, dog, pig, lizard, hedgehog, or something else, you wish your actual pet looked like a Cutie does.

Some of the Cuties in the marketplace

Then I noticed what I came to deeply appreciate about Blockchain Cuties. Contrary to Axie Infinity, Blockchain Cuties is cheap. While prices vary and some Cuties cost a few thousand dollars, most Cuties cost less than a dollar. I loaded €15 worth of ETH on Metamask, bought five cuties, several items to equip them with, and I still have around €10 left. I could probably buy close to fifty Cuties and still have money left.

I do wish you could filter through the Cuties in a more robust way. Currently, you can filter by blockchain network, Cutie type, nobility, rarity, and breeding cooldown, but I wish you could also sort by adventure cooldown, and I wish there was a way to list all the Cuties you favorited. Currently there’s not, and so you can end up having several tabs open with Cuties that you shortlisted for buying (at least, that’s how I did it).

The five Cuties I ended up buying and two kids (Kiddo and Lord Ugly)

As you can see from the screenshot above, some of my Cuties I’ve equipped with items. Punk Peter, my strongest Cutie, is equipped with a helmet that gives him +2 attack and +2 defense, as well as leather wrist bracelets that give him +1 attack and +1 defense. He’s tough as nails, that one. Droolius is wearing the cap that I got from the adventure I sent my intro Cutie on, and Sting is wearing leather wrist bracelets, just like Punk Peter.

Items play a bigger role in Blockchain Cuties than I thought they would. Unsurprisingly, cheaper Cuties aren’t very strong. So you’ll need to equip them with items so they can go on adventures and not get trashed terribly. Luckily, these items are again very cheap and will only cost you a few cents.

Some of the items from the items market. As you can see, they’re very cheap

There are two main things you can do with a Cutie: you can use them to breed with other Cuties or you can send them on an adventure. Each activity has a cooldown too. If you look at the Cuties in the screenshots above, you’ll see they have labels like “swift”, “powerful”, “nimble”, “hard”, etc… underneath their names. The first label is the breeding cooldown and the second label the adventure cooldown.

Cooldowns range from one minute all the way down to eight days. Certain adventures also change your Cutie’s cooldown, so it needs to recover for longer if you keep on sending it on adventures. However much I understand that these cooldowns are there for a number of reasons - to prevent bots or to prevent people from raising the experience level of their Cuties too quickly - it still doesn’t feel like a good dynamic.

You send your Cutie on an adventure with one click, you need to wait a couple of minutes before it finds a foe, you receive a report with the outcome of the battle, and you have to wait until the cooldown is over. But people who want to play a game want a continuous experience. I’m addicted to Steem Monsters because I can play fifteen games in thirty minutes. Clicking once and then having to wait fifteen minutes before you can send a Cutie on another adventure just encourages me to quit the game and go do something else.

The report from one of Punk Peter’s adventures (when I hadn’t bought his helmet yet)

The cooldown is more naturally integrated when it comes to breeding. You select two of your Cuties to breed and they’ll produce an egg that takes a while before it hatches into a new Cutie. That’s the kind of gameplay design I’m looking for. It’s much easier to accept a waiting time if it’s presented in the form of an egg that needs to hatch.

The downside of breeding, however, is that you’ll need to pay a small fee ($0.14 at the time of writing) and an additional GAS fee. The GAS fee hurts, because when I was playing, it was nearly always about twice the price of the actual fee (between $0.20 and $0.28). While that’s in total still less than half a dollar, it feels wrong that the service fee for the Ethereum network is double the cost of the in-game fee.

In general, the fact that you have to pay transaction fees for almost every action is another point of friction that makes the game less fluid than it could be. This is the same for any other DGame that mostly runs on Ethereum. Additionally, you can feel that Ethereum is a slow network. Buying a Cutie takes a few minutes before it’s verified and before it appears in your inventory, and it’s the same for buying items.

My Cuties profile

But let’s take a step back. It’s 2019 and we’re used to fast and frictionless gaming experiences. However, it’s unfair to transfer those expectations to DGames, because a DGame runs on completely different technology. We should compare DGames today to traditional games in the early nineties, and we should applaud the efforts of developers who put time, money, and a lot of effort in creating the best possible DGame on today’s blockchain technology.

There’s a loving community around Blockchain Cuties and I understand why. It’s beautifully designed and there’s a lot of depth to it that I haven’t touched upon, but most importantly it’s an early attempt to fundamentally change gaming, to propagate a technology that might well change our society. While it might not run as smooth as a AAA game, no AAA game runs on blockchain technology.

These are talented developers, but instead of making a traditional game, they chose to create a game on an immature, but promising new technology. That’s a courageous choice. Give Blockchain Cuties a try. Buy a few Cuties. Play around, explore what’s possible, and get an idea of what a DGame looks like today, so you can compare it with the DGames of tomorrow.