Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) are an extremely popular segment of the gaming industry. The best-known subgenre of MMOs are MMORPGs, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, such as Eve Online and World of Warcraft. Tens of millions of people play MMOs, and Statista estimated the market to be worth $31 billion in 2017. Interestingly, much of the revenue of MMOs come from free-to-play (F2P) games. Fortnite, another MMO, is entirely free-to-play, and yet it generated $3 billion in profit for its developer Epic Games in 2018.

Nearly all of Fortnite’s revenue comes from its wacky skins that players can buy

Right at about the same time when Eve Online and World of Warcraft came out, in the early 2000s, something else happened. Something quite inconspicuous, at the time. Valve released Steam, a digital game distribution platform. It wasn’t a big deal, and it also wasn’t that great. I remember playing Counter-Strike through Steam and not really understanding why players now had to load Steam and then Counter-Strike, instead of just loading up the game right away. Also, updating the platform was a process rife with errors and fault messages.

Only a slight exaggeration

The reality today is quite different. What seemed like a strange move back in 2003 turned out to be one of Valve’s best moves, to the point where Valve hardly makes video games anymore (HL3 when?). Steam has now grown into the dominant market leader of digital game distribution platforms, with tens of thousands of game titles and billions of dollars in revenue. Its closest competitors are EA’s platform Origin and UPlay by Ubisoft, but neither of them is much of a threat to Steam.

But popular digital game distribution platforms can’t effectively solve the biggest problem for the vast majority of game developers today: getting their game noticed. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you live in a world of abundance. Whether it be information, TV shows, music, or games, there’s so much content consistently being brought out that it’s hard for anything to stick out. As a result, it’s particularly hard for indie developers to attract an audience.

Digital distribution platforms are inflexible when it comes to interacting with smaller developers. Advertising options are either non-existent or too expensive. Most developers are at risk of creating a game that they’ve put their hearts and souls in, only for it to be dead on release, gone unnoticed in a sea of other titles.

Introducing The Abyss

The Abyss is a digital distribution platform that wants to be your only gateway into the MMO universe. It differs from other distribution platforms in that it has quite a unique motivational and referral system that benefits both players and developers, who can earn an additional stream of income that will be paid out either in fiat or in the platform’s ERC-20 token ABYSS.

The vision is that the platform will be available on desktop, mobile, and web, and will have all kinds of video games, including AAA titles, although it will focus on MMO games first and foremost. Many of these games will be free-to-play, with in-game purchases to enhance the playing experience.

The platform uses the principles of affiliate marketing: anyone who refers new players to the platform will receive a percentage of the money that these people spend on the platform. But The Abyss goes a step further, because it doesn’t just pay you out for the purchases of your own referrals, but for the purchases of their referrals too. In fact, The Abyss’s referral program pays you out for referrals five levels deep:

  • 4% for a 1st-level referral;
  • 2% for a 2nd- and 3rd-level referral;
  • 1% for a 4th- and 5th-level referral.

Here’s an example to clarify this: Thomas refers John to The Abyss. John signs up and spends $100 on games and in-game purchases. Thomas receives $4 in referral income. John invites Kate to The Abyss, who spends $50 on the platform. John receives $2 and Thomas receives $1. Kate then invites big spender William, who spends $1,000 over the course of a few weeks. Kate receives $40 and John and Thomas both receive $20 (2nd- and 3rd-level referral, respectively).

It’s an interesting referral system because of the combination of two things. Firstly, while the vast majority of gamers who play F2P games never pay a cent, a select few gamers spend thousands of dollars a month on these games. Secondly, the six degrees of separation theory says that no two people are more than six social connections away from each other. At least theoretically, this means there’s a reasonable chance you could land a big fish in your referral network for The Abyss, who can earn you an additional income stream.

This referral system isn’t just for the players either. It counts for developers too. Developers who attract new players to their platform are under the same referral system, regardless of whether players end up playing their game or another developer’s game. I like that. Many indie developers run on a shoestring budget and will benefit from any new income streams.

That’s not the only new feature for developers. They will also have access to an internal Cost Per Action (CPA) network, where they can offer their own traffic to other games for money, or purchase traffic from other games through in-game targeting and offers. They can also pay to get traffic from outside of the platform.

Additionally, developers don’t need to verify their documents or wait until the end of a reporting period if they opt to receive their payment in ABYSS tokens instead of fiat money. This being said, they can receive their money in fiat even if they usually pay in a different currency (crypto or not). Developers will also have 24/7 access to The Abyss’s customer support service and the opportunity to launch their project in alpha or beta mode, to get some early feedback from players.

The Abyss DAICO

The Abyss is raising money in a unique way. Usually, cryptocurrency projects fund their activities either through regular VC funding or through an ICO. However, getting VC funding is difficult if you’re not in the right country and don’t know the right people. And an ICO has a host of disadvantages.

First of all, once an ICO crowdsale finishes, developers have complete access to all the contributed funds. As we’ve seen in some of the 2017 ICOs, this leaves investors at risk of being scammed. Secondly, successfully introducing a new blockchain project to the world inevitably requires long hours and some degree of suffering. If developers see millions of dollars streaming in through an ICO, it’s easy to understand some of them would be less motivated to go the extra mile. Thirdly, an ICO is quite a centralized event, which contradicts the nature of blockchain technology. Many crowdsale conditions aren’t very transparent.

These are some of the reasons why the founder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, proposed a DAICO. It’s a new fundraising model that combines the best features of a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) with the best features of an ICO. It allows investors to control the withdrawal of their funds and it provides an option to vote for a refund of the remaining contributed money if the developer team fails to implement the project. Additionally, funds are released over time instead of in a lump sum.

The Abyss has done the world’s first DAICO. Investors can vote on two things: firstly, they can decide to increase the amount of ETH the developers will receive on a monthly basis, up to 50% at a time. This is called a tap increase. The vote for it is held on the 10th of every month and lasts for three days.

The tap is currently at 2531.25 ETH a month (approx. $380,000 a month)

Secondly, once a quarter, investors can vote for their remaining money to be refunded. Every investor can initiate the refund poll and voting will last one week. It’s considered a success if more than ⅓ of the token holders voted yes, after which another refund vote will be carried out. If the situation is repeated, the DAICO smart contract will automatically switch to refund mode. The refund is available for two years after the end of the initial crowdsale, which is until April 1, 2020 for The Abyss.

The Abyss Platform Today

On the 29th of March, just under a year after the initial crowdsale, The Abyss released the beta version of its Minimum Viable Product (MVP). You can now access and register for the platform through your browser here. You’ll see nine games on the platform, three of which you can already play: Lords of the Arena, Music Wars, and WORLDS.

I enjoyed WORLDS most. It’s a world builder where you can shape the environment using the forces of nature, and build a city that you can progress all the way up to the space age. The game is surprisingly deep for a browser game, as well as quite taxing on my potato Surface tablet. All in all, I was impressed with the quality of this game.

My city when I started out

Music Wars, too, is a surprisingly deep MMORPG, where you defend your music preference by upgrading your character and your studio. You can form bands with other players and fight other bands with all the weapons at your disposal. There are dozens of skills, tons of items, and a big map to play on.

Upgrading an item in the Lab

But the title that caught my eye most (and blew my mind) was Atomic Heart. It’s a full-blown action RPG set in an alternative history, where the USSR had a technological revolution early on. It’s a combination of the Internet, robots, and holograms mixed with communism and distrust of the West. When developer Mundfish dropped the trailer for Atomic Heart last year, the gaming community became very excited. And rightfully so, because everything about this game looks fantastic.

The design of the game seems to be a combination of Fallout and Bioshock

It’s one thing to say your platform will have AAA games on it, but it’s another thing to actually have them on it. Atomic Heart is a highly anticipated game, and you can preorder it on The Abyss for $30 (or for slightly less if you pay in ABYSS). You’ll receive an exclusive Abyss item in exchange and access to the beta in Q4 2019.

A digital distribution platform needs two things: it needs great games and it needs a good reason for players to move away from Steam. The unique referral system of The Abyss is quite compelling, but it’s made especially compelling because of the inclusion of Atomic Heart. If the team behind The Abyss can keep on adding exciting games, more and more players will flock to their platform, which, because of the network effect, will make the platform itself more valuable.

In Conclusion

The Abyss is not a pure blockchain project. As far as I know, the only two blockchain elements on the platform are The ABYSS cryptocurrency, which runs on the Ethereum blockchain, and the DAICO. This being said, I think it’s laudable that the developers have chosen to fund themselves with a DAICO, particularly considering they’re the first project to do so.

But that’s not the only thing they seem to get right. The referral system is a unique way to draw players to their platform. The F2P games already available are surprisingly in-depth and enjoyable. And the inclusion of upcoming games such as Will to Live and especially Atomic Heart show that they’re serious about including big titles on their platform.

If you look at the market cap of ABYSS (just under $2 million), it seems like a small crypto project. But market cap can be a deceiving statistic. The people behind The Abyss have big ideas, and they seem to understand that the best blockchain projects will be those that find a combination between centralization and decentralization. Besides, Steam started out small too, didn’t it?