There are dragons on the horizon.
No, we’re not talking about World of Warcraft’s latest expansion. Nor are we referring to the final two books of Game of Thrones, recently finished by AI on the orders of desperately waiting fans.
We’re talking about Avalon, a new MMORPG following in the grand tradition of its legendary aforementioned predecessor, that takes advantage of the innovative mechanics enabled by blockchain to lead Web3 gaming to new heights.
The game, set in the fantastical, semi-historical medieval kingdom, challenges players to undertake a thrilling adventure to ultimately claim their very own seat among the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Action-RPG gameplay is complemented by intelligent use of NFTs, which serve as both in-game assets, including resources, items, and in-game real estate, as well as player rewards. Incorporating both active play-to-earn and passive own-to-earn economies, Avalon is hoping to lead a charge in next-generation web3 games.
On the shoulders of Web2 giants
Behind Avalon is Danu Studios, founded in 2020 by Marius Kalamala and his partners. Marius spoke to me from his offices in Irvine, California - a fitting enough birthplace for one of the most promising web3 games yet to emerge in the space. The city of half a million is home to some of gaming’s most beloved studios, including Blizzard Entertainment, creators of World of Warcraft, the most successful MMORPG of all time.
Danu has taken full advantage of Irvine’s traditional gaming pedigree, drawing talent from several well-known web2 franchises.
“We have level designers who previously co-operated on projects like The Witcher, Space Marine, and New World," Marius tells me. "Our composer wrote music for one of the Final Fantasy titles. We also have a co-writer from Game of Thrones: The Game. Quite a few people that are very, very talented, and the team is constantly growing.”
A community effort
It was in 2021 that Marius first started sketching out the game’s design. By March 2022, the team was going all out to get the game ready for Alpha release. The first test release came on December 20th of 2022, followed by the public Alpha release in January.
“We’ve been just pushing it very hard,” he says. “Most of the guys work ten hours a day. We’ve been living with the technical alpha for seven months. Thousands of players have come and tested and helped us improve the game.”
It’s the contributions of the player community that Marius is especially grateful for. “The game is created by a studio,” he says. “But it’s created from the minds of players. The community is tight - it’s not just a fun, relaxing game, but also a helpful, friendly environment.”
Pioneers in the blockchain gaming space, Avalon offers players a diverse range of gameplay options on top of its familiar action-RPG core. Whether it's exploring the world in first-person or third-person perspective, venturing underwater, traversing on ground mounts, or soaring through the skies on dragons, the game will provide a truly immersive and dynamic experience.
In addition to thrilling gameplay, Avalon offers players the opportunity to engage in complex land and business economies. Players can own and manage lands, establish businesses, and participate in economic activities within the game, adding depth and realism to their virtual experience.
In-game locations are available to purchase, conferring upon their owners specific bonuses, including the right to charge other players for their use. These locations include stables, forges, temples, shipwrights, farms that generate food for players, and homes for players to inhabit.
Of the currently released stock, Marius tells me, “95% are sold-out on the businesses sites, and we are completely sold out on home sites.”
A big part of the game’s appeal is its setting and story. To King Arthur’s island kingdom comes the medieval order of knights known as the Templars, as well as their villainous counterparts from Rome, the Inquisitors, whose arrival leads to, in Marius’ words, “all hell break[ing] loose.”
“We have the classic battle between the darkness and the light,” he explains. The inquisitors work to destroy the Templars while the Templars seek after the secret of the holy grail. The alternative history story is packed with detail, the work of Freddy Silva, author of several books on the Knights Templar.
Making web3 gaming work
Of course, Marius is well aware of Web3 gaming’s chequered history. But, despite some underwhelming offerings in 2021 and 2022, he is optimistic about the future of the industry.
“I think the games are cleaning up,” he says. “[They] are much, much better these days. There’s a couple of really wonderful games on the blockchain.”
The key to success, he thinks, is in finding the right balance between the core game and its web3 mechanics, and making sure the focus is firmly on the former.
“We don’t really push the game as a token economy game. We are not a blockchain game. We are a regular game that adds blockchain. We use blockchain to give you rewards, let you take ownership of your characters and buildings, play them, then sell them back. Players recognize that we have a very well-designed economy and that’s why they purchase.”
“You don’t sign any transactions in-game. You never pull out your wallet in-game. It never asks you to do anything. You just play the game and you don’t even know.
“Our users don’t interact with the contract. Our contract interacts with users. It’s a little bit different than what was happening and, in my opinion, if the serious studios are going to look at blockchain, that’s how they will do it.”
Despite the subtlety of his approach, there are also some truly innovative things happening under the hood of Avalon.
“We are the only multi-chain MMO in the world,” he tells me. “You raid with your friends, and your friend is on Wax Chain and you are on Binance. You fight together, defeat the boss, and each of you gets a reward to your separate chain and your separate wallet.”
“You can level up your character and then sell the character or the home or whatever to somebody that wants to have a powerful character but doesn’t have the time to run around for two months.”
“Our mythical characters are very expensive. They are pretty much sold out.”
Working with Venly
Danu Studios is partnering with Venly to power Avalon’s blockchain elements. They make use of the Venly Wallet API to implement a seamless, white-label wallet into the game.
Marius explains how the API is perfect for gamers unfamiliar with crypto: “We very nicely merge Venly with our game, so you open the launcher, choose Venly, and log in with your [social account or email]. Boom, super quick. It’s so much easier for everybody.”
“[Players] can buy the [in-game] NFTs with their credit card. That was an important part for us. But more important was the option of [automatically] creating wallets for people, so they don’t need to have MetaMask, or run any of that. It’s a huge, huge help for players that want to own NFTs, but that don’t necessarily want to have a wallet or have crypto or know anything about that.”
“There have been some large sales already on your marketplace,” Marius tells me. “Players reported that they like the experience. They say everything is smooth - they come in, they open the account, they buy the NFT with their credit card, and it shows in-game when you log in.”
It should come as no surprise that Marius is bullish on the future of blockchain gaming. “I don’t think there’s going to be games in the future without blockchain,” He predicts.
One reason he points to is player ownership of in-game items. Though players spend real money to acquire the items, publisher fine print usually specifies that the item itself still belongs to the studio. When, in the past, video game publishers have decided to shut down their in-game stores, players have found themselves suddenly without the assets they have paid for, or without the means to sell them.
With in-game assets backed by NFTs, that will no longer be the case. “We cannot shut down [NFT marketplaces]. You’re always going to have ownership… and access to multiple different marketplaces where you can sell [in-game items].”
The promise of greater player sovereignty might strike fear into the hearts of some of the traditional game publishing heavy-weights, but a dragon isn’t quite so scary when you’re riding on its back. Avalon is starting to spread its wings, and though the final game is still a few years off, players can already jump on and experience what it's like to soar into blockchain gaming.
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