Ripple Partner Forte Signs Legendary Sim Developer

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Forte recently published a blog post detailing partnerships with four new developers: Gallium Studios, Penrose, Monster Ideas, and GC Turbo. For those who don’t remember, Forte is the blockchain developer that partnered with Ripple’s formerly named Xpring project to the tune of $100 Million to drive adoption of its blockchain-powered gaming marketplace. Since then, Forte has been hard at work signing partnerships with notable studios like Hi-Rez and Netmarble. The recent partnership with Gallium Studios adds another noteworthy name to Forte’s repertoire.

Gallium Studios is a fairly new developer. However, the studio is chaired by none other than Will Wright, the videogame developer behind notable games like SimCity, The Sims, and Spore. Will Wright is often at the forefront of pushing games, particularly those of the simulation variety, into expansive new iterations.

SimCity was a genre founding city-building simulation that spun off into dozens of different sequels, including unique games like Sim Ant, where players take control of a simulated ant colony, and it arguably inspired unaffiliated modern simulations like Frost Punk. The Sims, a strategic life simulation game, is also one of the best-selling game series of all time and the highest-selling PC Game franchise of all time.

Spore, as interesting as it was, is widely considered a disappointment compared to the success achieved by Wright’s other titles. In Spore, players took control of the development of a species starting with the microorganism phase all the way to the spacefaring civilization phase. Compared to the depth and granularity experienced in Wright’s previous games, Spore was superficial. The wide target set by the concept of Spore was never substantively achieved. Each phase felt like a mini-game rather than a full-fledged simulation. Spore did achieve commercial success, but it wasn’t the spark of a foundational gaming legacy of the kind SimCity or The Sims was.

In a previous article, I put forward the scenario of a simulated world with a decentralized market economy powered by blockchain technology, and I believe that Gallium Studios may be the developer to tackle this type of expansive project. This is purely speculative as there are many other likely possibilities.

Will Wright tends to develop a certain kind of game — world simulations, civilization simulators, and life simulations. While not a definitive statement on the type of game Gallium Studios will integrate with Forte, these tendencies give an indication of what a Will Wright developed, blockchain-powered game might look like.

Statements by Will Wright found on Business Wire point towards collaborative content marketplace integration:

"I’ve spent my career making games that let a player’s own creativity be a part of their experience,” said Will Wright, Cofounder, Gallium Studios. “Forte’s technology is adding to this idea by letting players create and own their own content in our games.” “Our partnership with Forte lets the community participate in the game economy through content they create and control,” added Lauren Elliott, Cofounder, Gallium Studios. “We’re focused on crafting gameplay and economic designs that are collaborative in nature, so players can engage in original, relevant experiences, and be rewarded for their creativity.”

Gameplay and economic designs that are collaborative in nature and focus on relevant experiences suggest that the Forte integration will go beyond a simple decentralized cosmetics store. Wright’s comments on Twitter further indicate that a major element of the Forte integration will be monetized player creativity:

During the 2018 Game Developers Conference Wright and Gallium announced a new title called Proxi. According to TechRadar, Proxi is an A.I. based simulation game where players build a world from events in their memories. There’s scant information online about Proxi and almost no actual gameplay videos, but there are breadcrumbs scattered here and there, including the website for the Proxi art challenge, which represents these memories as self-contained bubbles presumably attached to a greater whole.

The Proxi A.I. website also has the illustration of a world orbited by memory bubbles. The website features a quote from Will Wright describing Proxi:

This representation of a simulated world composed of clusters of memories is also mentioned by TechRadar:

Players will be able to choose any kind of memory category they like – family adventures or home, for example – and use the 3D models in that category as building blocks to create their world. Over time they’ll have islands of connected memories that will form into 3D worlds.”

The peculiar aspect of Gallium and Forte’s press release is that they make no mention of Proxi. And Gallium Studios doesn’t feature Proxi on their webpage at all, so the Forte integration could very well be for a different title, or the game might have evolved to such an extent as to be unrecognizable from what was shown back in 2018. If they were going to integrate a decentralized marketplace like Forte into a game like Proxi, why wouldn’t they state this explicitly? Instead, they use the vague descriptor, “upcoming game experience.” That could mean integration with Proxi, but it could also indicate development for an entirely different game. I’m hoping it’s the latter, as I have trouble picturing a world fabricated from a player’s memories using the marketplace as anything more than a cosmetics store. For now, it’s prudent to assume it’s going to be Proxi, as Gallium hasn’t announced any new titles, but it’s hard to say definitively until the developers explicitly state this.

Forte monetization of Proxy, from the little we know about it, could take the form of decentralized sales of art assets players use to fabricate their worlds. I’m not fond of this design because art assets should typically be native to a game like this without microtransactions, but my dislike for these types of models speaks nothing of their viability as a monetization method. Games filled with microtransactions can, and have, made a great deal of money in the past. For Proxi, the independent clusters of memories look limited from a gameplay perspective, but when they are all placed together, they resemble worlds or cities. Forte could assign unique memories extra monetary value depending on who they belong to or how popular they are and store them as non-fungible tokens on the blockchain, but unless they also have some expanded gameplay value, it’s not clear who would be paying for these memory bubbles and fabricated worlds. Statements found on the Gallium website about Forte integration are vague, but they mention introducing new business models that reward and foster player communities:

"Gallium will use Forte’s technology in an upcoming game experience to introduce new business models rooted in fostering and rewarding player communities.”

In an interview at E3 Coliseum, Wright indicated that during the early stages of the Proxi simulation, players build a memory map that eventually constructs an avatar of the player’s id, in the Freudian sense. Wright calls this the player’s proxy, hence the title of the game. This avatar is used to explore other worlds and interact with players in collaborative environments. He mentions a distinct dichotomy between public and private worlds, with players able to choose forward-facing memories and the ability to keep to more personal thoughts and emotions away from collaborative exploration.

One interesting application of the collaborative memory map experience could be worlds created by an amalgam of unique memories around a current event. If the event is something like a disaster, it could be therapeutic for players to come together and share their experiences in a collaborative environment. Of course, depending on how the Proxi A.I. system creates this world, it could wind up being horrifying. From a sociological and historical perspective, it would also be fascinating to see how different people remembered and experienced major events in history. Exploring the worlds created from these experiential memories would be enthralling. But again, how would a decentralized marketplace help Proxi “introduce new business models rooted in fostering player communities.” This is the part that’s not clear to me. Perhaps players can use Proxi to create different games and divergent gameplay experiences, which can then be monetized via Forte.

If we consider possibilities other than Proxi, Gallium’s statements seem to rule out an expansive city-building simulation like SimCity that integrates a market economy. Player driven content in a top-down city sim would be limited to in-game cosmetics like vehicles, buildings, environment skins, and scenarios. The development of player-driven content would be sparse as city simulators typically don’t have focused narratives as they don’t contribute to the gameplay as much as with other genres. If Gallium’s Forte marketplace integration consists only of a player-driven cosmetics store manufactured for a SimCity spinoff, it will be a disappointment from a gameplay perspective.

Perhaps the most exciting possibility arises from a Forte integration of a massively multiplayer variant of one of gaming’s most beloved franchises, The Sims. Ubiquitous in popularity and one of the bestselling game series of all time, a Sims MMO integrating a blockchain-based market economy and monetized player-driven content all powered by the Forte blockchain would be a transformative gaming experience.

The Sims, as unique as it was when released, was limited in scope to the immediate experiences of a few characters. The world expanded with expansion packs that unlocked new areas, employment options, and disassociated mini-games, but the gameplay was hardly the vibrant open-world experience of the kind found in massively multiplayer games. The ill-fated Sims Online, which was rebranded shortly after release to EA-Land, also bears mentioning, but only for the fact that a first-party multiplayer Sims game has never been substantively achieved. The modding community has created a Sims 4 online mod, but a first-party online mode is not available. An online mode created by independent modders speaks to the ingenuity found in popular gaming communities, a resource that could be amplified with an open marketplace where modders can monetize their work. A player-driven content marketplace could develop experiences in a multitude of different directions in parallel. If the economic incentives line up for independent creative developers, game content could be released at a pace unseen in any other major game title.

What would a game like this look like?

If we allow our imaginations to run wild, a vibrant Sims-style simulated world would operate in a similar manner to the real-world. The cities run in real-time, market districts trade and sell goods on an open-marketplace for in-game currency, fiat currency, or a digital asset like XRP. Players purchase and sell property, deeds and titles stored on the blockchain. Players establish storefronts, which other Sims browse and purchase goods from. Digital citizens stroll down a busy downtown district and watch the other players come and go through the multitude of different shops, some of which would include clothing, furniture, and electronics stores. The in-game currency earned by players is sold and traded on the Forte marketplace for fiat or used to further develop their virtual storefronts and companies. Content creators expand the game world through digital content, like architectural templates purchasable by these merchants. Creatives develop new story-driven content or questing areas for players to explore, with the most successful developers being paid a living wage for popular content.

One of the more exciting possibilities is the development of digital real estate, the most valuable of which would be found in high-traffic areas in a digital Sims city. As the deed and title would be stored on the blockchain, the property would always be theirs regardless of any developer actions. These deeds could take the form of non-fungible tokens of the kind we see commonly on the Ethereum blockchain, examples being games like CryptoKitties or Gods Unchained. These non-fungible property deeds could be valuable collectibles even long after the player base of a game has died, or they could be the means by which developers entice existing stakeholders into new iterations of their game-worlds. Property owned in one version of a game would transfer to the player owning the deed for the sequel.

A digital world with a living market economy will probably not be realized immediately, but the interesting possibility arises of an ever-evolving player-driven world which, while limited at first, may expand by using both the efforts of the developers and the content created by independent stakeholders. Rather than developing content in a monolithic approach, these crowdsourcing efforts could enable the game to evolve and develop at a faster pace than a game made by a solitary studio.

The potential downfall to an open-world city simulation is how badly players design objects and buildings. We can see an example of this from the abandoned shanties found in popular survival games, where partially finished, garish structures litter the landscape like bones in an elephant graveyard. The shining city on the hill, built in a Will Wright simulation, might wind up being an embarrassing mess of twisted concrete and hastily erected phalluses stretching high into the sky. Hopefully, there will be some quality control.

The less exciting prospect would be a collaborative game development platform like Crayta. And there is the distinct possibility that this is what Wright is referring to when he mentions letting players “create and own their own content in our games,” and how the Forte partnership “lets the community participate in the game economy through content they create and control.”

Crayta was Stadia’s promising collaborative game development platform, which allowed players to create games which could be hosted and accessed via links on the Stadia platform. Shortly after release, there were complaints on social media about Crayta being effectively dead. Which tends to happen to “collaborative game development platforms.” They wind up being digital ghost towns, at least until someone takes the time to develop a popular game mode, if they ever do. Proponents of these kinds of games argue that some of the most successful franchises to date have spun off of the work of independent modders, prominent examples being games like Counter-Strike, Defense of the Ancients, and Team Fortress, which is true but leaves out the inconvenient fact that all of these modifications were developed on games that were already runaway hits. A collaborative game development platform without a popular game is akin to a horseless cart. Someone may come along with a horse to salvage the cart, but until then, the machine is stuck in the dirt.

There’s also a happy middle ground between these two extremes, with a blockchain marketplace built on top of a Sims game, or Forte integration into Proxi, which would enable players to collaborate to build new content areas, districts, game cosmetics, and perhaps storylines. We may even see Wright’s team developing a new kind of game with spinoff titles produced by independent content creators using the game’s development software and the Forte marketplace to monetize.

How would this affect the crypto market?

As mentioned above, in-game assets like property could take the form of non-fungible tokens stored on the blockchain. Non-fungible tokens could also store game cosmetics like outfits, furniture, and buildings. In a previous discussion, the Forte developers mentioned that unique item characteristics could be applied to these non-fungible tokens, which would make them collectibles. One of the examples they used was a unique sword that could be found in-game that had been the first weapon of its type to slay a boss in the game-world. Another potential example would be a weapon that had been owned and wielded by a famous player. These characteristics would give these items and their non-fungible representation on the blockchain added value. A baseball bat is just a bat until you can certify that it had been wielded by Mickey Mantle to hit a game-winning home run.

If a player in Europe wanted to sell an item to a person in the United States, this could be done through a centralized intermediary, but as the Forte developers have indicated, they want to drift towards progressive decentralization. Without a centralized intermediary, the fastest and safest way to facilitate transactions between currencies would be to use low cost and low transaction time digital-assets to act as a bridge currency between the players.

"We believe games can unlock new economic and creative opportunities for billions of people around the world, and have assembled a world-class team of veterans from across the game industry—and a $100M developer fund—to help make it happen. Our platform offers an unprecedented set of easy-to-use tools and services for game developers to integrate blockchain technology into their games, and support thriving community-focused economies. To help ensure the games community at large will benefit from it for years to come, we’re committed to progressively decentralizing our platform so it is free, open, and community-owned."

Players could trade game items on the Forte marketplace for crypto, fiat, or swap similar valued assets. With ownership of their tokens verifiable on the blockchain, they could sell them directly to each other or use any number of different marketplaces so long as they control the private keys.

One of the major friction points for gamers during the transition to digital ownership of games – compared to the old disc and cartridge model – was the inability to resell old games. With storefronts like Steam or the Epic Games Store, players cannot sell a game they are finished with. Accounts can be sold, but doing so often violates the terms of service of the store. Selling an account also requires players to sell all of the games tied to that account. They cannot only sell a single game. As such, there is no used game market for digital games. This is good for developers as consumers must now purchase directly from a supported storefront. It’s bad for players because the prices are often higher than a used game marketplace, and digital games always represent a sunken cost.

Consoles have a vibrant used game marketplace as they still use discs as a distribution mechanism, but they are slowly moving towards digital-only models. The newly released PlayStation 5 has a diskless hardware variant. The Xbox Series S is also fully digital. For PC, with piracy concerns and game purchases typically being tied to platforms like Steam, Epic, and the EA storefront, reselling used games is all but impossible. A potential solution to this is developers tying game ownership to a token on the blockchain, which would enable players to trade or sell access to old games they no longer want. Implementation of this kind of system is unlikely, as it would cut the developers out of profits for used games, but it’s an interesting possibility nevertheless.

Ownership verification on the blockchain would also make piracy more difficult as developers could implement a system that would not allow a game to run without a valid ownership token. The model that may become enticing for developers is a decentralized storefront powered by a system like Forte that takes less of a cut from sales than existing legacy storefronts, particularly with the possibility of peer-to-peer game distribution methods cutting down on potential bandwidth costs. If these decentralized storefronts also give developers a cut from used game sales, developers may be willing to carve a path towards digital used game sales. Digital games, like old steam accounts, may become collectibles in their own right. Non-fungible tokens representing the initial release version of a game may wind up more valuable than the tokens minted later on by developers. Limited run collectors editions may become particularly valuable. If these game tokens become rare and sought after, the percentage from sales given to developers by decentralized marketplaces selling these valuable collectibles may prove to be large enough that they might consider such a model for game distribution.

Considering the value of the video game and digital-cosmetics market, widespread adoption of decentralized marketplaces like Forte has the potential to drive price increases for holders of cryptocurrencies majorly used on these platforms. In a previous article, I referred to Forte adoption by Hi-Rez studios as the bridgehead for widespread #cryptocurrency adoption by game developers. Will Wright’s implementation is the next big step. Whether we’re seeing the return of Will Wright simulation games with Gallium Studios or a foray into a new genre, the adoption of the Forte blockchain by the legendary developer is big news for blockchain-powered gaming.

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