Forte, the Ripple powered digital games marketplace, recently signed partnership agreements with five new gaming studios. Netmarble, Magmic, nWay, DECA, and HI-REZ studios will each integrate Forte’s platform into one of their games. Some of these partnerships are very promising; others are substanceless hype.
The blockchain gaming space has been largely hype-driven, with several studios integrating various blockchain technologies into digital games. None of them have been particularly successful. One of Forte’s previous announced integrations, bruh.io from Other Ocean Interactive, which has as of yet not completed Forte integration into their game, currently only has 23 active players. Assuming this statistic is accurate – it’s from the bruh.io main page – it shows the importance of an active player base as a measurement statistic for game integration. 23 active players is much less impressive than the statistic listed on the announcement blog of 30 million matches played.
A digital marketplace is only as lucrative as it’s player base, and it seems like bruh.io doesn’t have a very active player base. At around 2:00 pm EST, during the coronavirus lockdown, the game had 23 active players. When I tried to find a local game earlier in the week, there were not enough players to launch a game.
Back in December 2019, Forte announced another partnership with Kongregate. The main page is a collection of games similar to the flash games that you’d play in computer class back in the 90s. Kongregate does publish premium PC and mobile games. Some of their more notable ones are listed on the Steam marketplace:
The Forte blog lists several mobile Kongregate titles that have won some accolades. Bit Heroes was awarded the Google Editors’ Choice award, the Android Excellence Program, and Google Best of 2016. That single game is basically the only one on that list with any respectable review credentials. Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre won the Apple game of the day, and the game Super Fancy Pants Adventure has “Steam: Very Positive” framed by wreaths. Mobile and indie gaming are significant and lucrative portions of the gaming market, but it’s hard to get excited about an indie community platform with titles like Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre and Super Fancy Pants as their runaway hits.
The recent partnership with Hi-REZ is much more notable. Hi-REZ is the studio behind games like Smite, Realm Royale, and Paladins. While none of these games have a particularly large player base, Hi-REZ is one of the first studios integrating Forte that develops mainstream PC games that I’ve actually played. And while Hi-REZ is not a big studio like Blizzard or Valve, and their games aren’t as well known as Fortnite or Overwatch, they produce high-quality PC shooters and MOBA games and are a far cry from the hodgepodge of wispy browser and mobile titles found on Kongregate, or developed by studios like Deca, or nWay. I see them as an important interstitial development studio – not quite massive, but not by any means as irrelevant as some of the other games seem to be.
Hi-REZ games are typically free-to-play and monetize via cosmetics like character skins, gun skins, as well as unlockable characters. None of these items are listed or tradable on the steam community marketplace. Games that integrate the steam community marketplace typically use the loot box model, where players acquire loot boxes that they can unlock with purchasable keys from the steam marketplace, with Valve receiving a cut of the profit. Players can then sell any skin they acquire on the steam marketplace for store credit, or they can take their skins to less reputable third-party storefronts. Hi-REZ games don’t participate in the Steam community marketplace with their in-game cosmetics, but they allow players to purchase items with Steam store credit. The integration of a blockchain marketplace like Forte would allow players to sell and trade skins amongst each other, which could boost player engagement with cosmetic or game currency purchases.
Netmarble is also a rather interesting studio. They’re a Korean developer that made the Lineage 2 Android and iOS spinoff, which, according to bleedingcool, topped 5 million active players in 2018. This feat is indicative that they’re a capable game developer. MMOs, both the free-to-play and the subscription variety, are natural partners for a decentralized blockchain marketplace like Forte.
Though the Netmarble partnership is exciting, the Hi-REZ partnership is the one to watch. If their blockchain integrated game is successful, it will signal to other developers that blockchain gaming integration, with all of its peer-to-peer market benefits, is something that gamers want. As such, it will become a sought-after technology by studios that wish to follow the free-to-play game model. The Forte model would also allow studios to bypass Steam revenue sharing requirements and allow them to use a blockchain-powered digital marketplace to sell their cosmetics directly to consumers absent Valve as the middleman.
The Hi-REZ-Forte partnership is the bridgehead for blockchain integration of free-to-play PC games. If it holds, Forte could become the de facto model for indie free-to-play PC game monetization, and this would place a Ripple technology-powered marketplace at the forefront of a very lucrative segment of PC gaming monetization.