Building Digital Economies & Tokenizing Star Trek with Lucid Sight
Blockchain Lead @Akoin / Blockchain Consultant @PwC / Partner at @BMA
It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with productivity
. Which makes my love for video games a tough pill for my psyche to swallow. Video games, at their core, have been historically categorized as an unproductive activity. Sure there are paradigm shifts we’re seeing with Twitch and eSports allowing skilled gamers to make a living (and sometimes a killing). Yet, the overall connotations of “gamer” haven’t changed that much.
As such, I’ve always tried to turn gaming into something productive, which doesn’t always work out (shoutout to Borderlands). My most recent effort to do so involved playing blockchain games. I already work in the (blockchain/cryptocurrency) industry, blockchain gaming was the logical next step. Why not play something where I can potentially earn crypto, as opposed to something where my hours dedicated to it don’t equate to anything of value.
Next thing I know, I’m falling down the blockchain gaming rabbit hole. Clicking through supply crate sales and NFTs of all rarity-denoting colors of the rainbow.
I loved it.
After about a week's journey down the rabbit hole, a friend I met in a gaming Discord told me to check out a game called (CSC)
“It’s kind of like World of Warcraft if the in-game assets were owned by the players. So if you spend months playing a game towards getting a special item for example, then decide you don't want to play the game anymore, you can just sell the item to another player through the in-game marketplace,” he said.
“I’m in,” I replied.
CSC consumed me in a matter of hours. I spent nearly a week researching the game before I booted it up. What really fascinated me was the concept of a “Player-Owned-Economy”, especially when juxtaposed with a time when more and more jobs are threatened by automation. A player-owned economy could essentially serve any function that a real economy serves, whether that be generating income for an individual or providing the infrastructure for a currency. Other blockchain games can also be considered to have player-owned-economies, but few of them are complex or reminiscent of real economies. The CSC universe is incredibly detailed, beyond their plans for an in-game marketplace where users will be able to buy, sell, and trade items without leveraging a third-party, there are intricate systems within the game that create opportunities for entire professions. You can specialize in a certain skill set and eventually sell your services in that profession to other players who have focused their specializations elsewhere. It’s a beautiful social experiment.
Blockchain games are, in a sense, a potential opportunity to escape the current limitations a physical economy presents. And if this sounds absolutely ridiculous to you, just look at the valuations and transactions already occurring in the realm of digital items. Fortnite generated $2.4 Billion USD in revenue in 2018
, derived completely from the sale of digital items that can’t be removed from the game and resold. In other words, people spent $2.4 Billion American Dollars on digital items that they don’t technically own. Games like Fortnite (and 99.99% of games that currently exist) operate in a Closed System. Meaning the unit of value in that system can’t leave the system itself or has no value outside of the system. So, is it such a stretch to believe that people would spend money in a system where they could certify ownership of digital items, trade them for cryptocurrencies, and transfer value seamlessly in and out of the system?
At this point in my plunge down the blockchain gaming rabbit hole, it was apparent that I’d be spending a lot of time in the CSC universe. That coupled with the fact that I’m genuinely enthralled by the future that games like CSC can build compelled me to reach out to Lucid Sight (the game developer). In a frantically typed email that probably came off as borderline sociopathic, I asked that someone from Lucid reach out to me so I could learn and write about the company. I even offered to sell my soul to them for rare NFTs, but they ignored that part of my request.
I eventually found myself on the phone with Stephen, their studio manager. It seemed like he wanted to vet me and make sure I wasn’t a psychopath before letting me, a random internet stranger, speak to the development team.
“Well, who would you want to talk to?”
“Who’s baby is this?” I asked.
“I want to interview whoever it is whose eyes light up whenever someone asks about the game. Whoever will be able to match my excitement about the future of player-owned economies in general.”
Stephen laughed, “It sounds like you need to talk to Fazri.”
The following is the transcript from a call between myself (Reza) and Fazri Zubair, CTO of Lucid Sight, Blockchain Game development studio.
Reza: Do you mind telling me about the genesis of the game and where the idea came from?
: Yeah, absolutely. Basically, we're Lucid Sight
, founded in 2015 and we're a Frontier Games Studio. By that, what we mean is we are looking at areas in gaming that haven't gone mainstream yet, that we can contribute significantly to in one way or another. We did Virtual Reality in the early days, and we started doing some Augmented Reality (AR) products. When we were working on our AR product, we had this idea: wouldn't it be cool if this AR figure was some type of unique collectible that you could trade and have ownership of?
That's really what guided us to blockchain. We saw it as a solution. Then once I made the realization that blockchain can create true digital items, items that users can own and trade independently of the game developer, I was like, I think we might have something here.
The first thing that came to my mind was, it'd be amazing to have a game like Eve, where users had true ownership of their items. I was a big EVE Online player and played countless hours in college, probably wasted a lot of time, but I had a blast. I love the community and the economic aspects of the game. But there were limitations to what you could do and the freedom that you could have. I always thought if I could have a truly player-owned economy, more similar to Second Life or Entropy Universe, but with the game mechanics of EVE Online, that would be something I would play. And I'm assuming if I would play, there are probably dozens of people out there, if not thousands that would be interested in that as well. And that's kind of how CSC was born.
Reza: You’ve done a great job at utilizing the benefits that blockchain can bring, while not sacrificing gameplay by completely building the game on-chain. How did the decision to use a hybrid solution (gameplay off-chain, economy off-chain) come about?
Fazri: MLB Champions was our first game that went production live, and our experience with that made us consider how we want to scale a game on a blockchain. Originally, we did everything on-chain, transactions had to be done for everything, game cards were set up on-chain, etc. When you get to even a small level of scale, either Ethereum slows you down, or users don't want to pay 10 cents just to add or remove an item from their cart. It made a lot of sense to us because, well, really the only thing users should care about on blockchain is ownership. When we came to that realization we decided to create an abstraction layer. All of us are gamers here, we come from other game companies, and we know how to build games at scale. We knew we needed to create a middle ground tool to let us build a blockchain game that can scale and have all the flexibility found in traditional games, while also bringing empowerment that blockchain provides to the end user.
“When you get to even a small level of scale, either Ethereum slows you down, or users don't want to pay 10 cents just to add or remove an item from their cart. It made a lot of sense to us because, well, really the only thing users should care about on blockchain is ownership.”
Reza: It's a crazy concept. Like yourself, I’ve played video games from a young age. There's always that sinking feeling in the bottom of your stomach when you spend a lot of time gaming, like, "Ahhhh, how much time have I wasted today?" When I'm playing CSC, I don't have that feeling, knowing that I genuinely own the assets I’m using doesn’t make it feel like a sunk cost.
Fazri: It's funny, we made this analogy early on, it's like buying a car. When you buy a car, you don't feel like you're out $15,000 or $20,000. You buy it, use it for some time, then when you get tired of it, you re-sell it for some value. When we talk about digital items, we never had a concept of ownership, but with physical items, we think about that all the time. Case in point, my wife and I had an exercise bike we hadn’t used in years, so we ended up selling it. We bought it for $200, sold it for $150. We recouped some of the value for it, and now someone else that has interest in using it owns the item. This needs to happen in digital, I think that's fundamentally what we're trying to do with all our games.
At some point, you as the player might move on might get bored, might want to go to something else. Well, there's always someone else coming in that might want to use that item. You have the freedom and flexibility to pass that on. It's very different from how most games work today, but we feel like that's an important differentiating point for us. It's what makes CSC special.
Reza: So the biggest takeaway there is that stationary bikes are a great store of value, right?
Fazri: Apparently, yeah. That is the takeaway. I was surprised we got that much for it, like really!?!
Reza: I was really impressed with how smoothly the Star Trek event was executed, as well as the fact that you managed to bring Star Trek in for an official partnership. It’s one of the things that initially made me interested in CSC. Not because I’m a fan of Star Trek, but because your team proved its ability to execute top tier partnerships like this. Are there any other brands or companies you’d like to partner with in the future?
Fazri: I feel like I got my number one choice done with already. If you told a 14 year old Fazri he would be making Star Trek ships for a game that he made, he wouldn’t believe you. It was probably the greatest experience ever. I'm a huge Star Trek fan. When CBS and the Star Trek brand group said yes to this crazy idea with blockchain gaming, and then were very happy with the results-- we were ecstatic. Everyone here, our team and our partners, are very happy with the outcome. In terms of what what's coming in the future, you know, nothing's confirmed yet.
Reza: What considerations go into crafting a player-owned economy? I know you've created something you call a Scarcity Engine, how does that tie into the economy and what are the driving market forces in it?
Fazri: Yeah, absolutely. Well, the Scarcity Engine is an abstracted layer that sits right above the blockchain. It basically emulates a blockchain, lets us virtually create and destroy items, and then mint them for permanence onto the blockchain when appropriate. The reason this is important is, for example, when we first launched the crates for the game, we sold 10,000-15,000 items in about 3 seconds. There's no blockchain in the world right now that could do that. Yet, we were able to create 10,000 to 15,000 NFTs, all with unique identifiers, in seconds. It gets cached in the Scarcity Engine, and then parsed out onto the Ethereum blockchain, when the user chooses.
This was really important for us to actually make a scalable game today. I think, eventually, there'll be a blockchain that could run hundreds of thousands of transactions per second. And we could probably build on that natively. But it wouldn't come out anywhere in the near future, and we definitely wanted to get this game into people's hands.
To answer your other question, designing any game economy is a huge undertaking. If you've been a player of the game, you’ll see that we definitely don't rush out our updates. We've re-done a lot of work. Sometimes we think we’re on the right track, we’ll think a feature makes sense, then we play test it and find that it only makes sense up until a certain point-- so we go back to the drawing board. I think it's important as game developers to not be afraid of starting over, especially when your original ideas don't pan out. Even once we get an item into alpha, if it's not panning out or is over inflating or under producing, you need to have the flexibility to go in there and make adjustments. The Scarcity Engine kind of goes hand in hand with this because items within it haven't been completely committed to the blockchain, yet they exist in this virtual layer. Without having that buffer layer it's very difficult to create game economies. It’s a complicated process, and wouldn’t be possible without the amazing talent we have in-house. We recently brought on a game designer from Zynga, he worked with them for years but recently moved to LA and joined the team. We also have people like Steve Yoshimura. Our lead game designer who has done 20 plus years in the industry. He's built everything from Tomb Raider to RPGs like Mass Effect. Having experience in understanding game economics, item creation, value proposition for the user, balance for quests; and then being able to change that in real-time is really the key. It's really an iterative process.
Reza: You’ve been quite vocal about how CSC will be a “Play-to-win” game, where new players don’t have to spend money on in-game purchases to start playing, compete with other players, and enjoy themselves. How do you make it easy for new players to compete, without devaluing what early adopters have done for the game through their contributions?
Fazri: Oh yeah. Now that is a challenge. We need the early adopters to show us that the game has promise and is something that people want to play. All the items we created in the start, and even some of the items in supply crates right now probably aren't as balanced as they could be. But we've already started making changes to them. The supply crates that we currently have, that allow users to buy modules-- it's never been our intent for that to continue post version 1.0. We really want the game to be, play to win, not pay to win. So I think what we're going to do to help new users come in is just provide enough PvE content, where they can still feel powerful with the ships that they have, and let them earn their way up to match those early adopters.
But if you’re an early adopter, you get to skip a lot of that. You can still play PvE elements and there will still be challenging PvE encounters for early adopters. But they basically have a 6 to 12 month head start on anyone who comes in after 1.0. After that, it's just how will you play. So if we have a new player that comes in, grinds out and goes from a Rio Grande to a Prometheus Destroyer, and takes that Destroyer out finds rare loot in the universe-- they can end up finding a new type of beam weapon or a new type of shield that makes them more competitive against current players.
Ideally, it's going to be about how much and how well you play versus how much you spend early on. The Sigma battle cruiser for example, it's the only capital ship in the game that we sold, and that we’ll ever sell. Users are going to have to craft it, discover the blueprints, and build the components for more capital ships to exist. Having the first one gives you a little bit of advantage in the early days.
Reza: What are you most excited for in the near future of CSC?
Fazri: The biggest feature I'm excited for is missions (coming out in 0.6). It's a system I had a lot of hands on development with. When you play an MMO, you have your quest tree, and you have your missions that are generated by game designers. But I always thought that it'd be fun to have missions that are randomly generated. So we had to come up with a really cool algorithm to create missions. What this means is, there are missions that are going to show up in the game that even we didn't consider, objectives are going to be put together that might seem absurd, or some might seem very logical. The nice thing about that is once they're put together, if they have a high challenge rating, or high difficulty, really, really good rewards can show up in the game. Things like an MP destroyer might be a reward, there’s even potential for a First Fleet (FF) ship being a reward for a mission. And the way the mission system is designed is so missions regenerate every four to six hours. So there's a reason to come back into CSC and checks and see your local station if there's a high-challenge-rating mission available to you.
Note: First Fleet ships in CSC are the only ships with unlimited lives, all other ships can be destroyed completely in certain areas of the universe. This has made First Fleet ships quite the hot commodity in the CSC community.
Not only that, every station will generate its own set of missions. The quality of rewards that are generated and difficulty emissions depend on where the sister station is located. So if you're going out into the deepest depths of the game, far away from Sol system, those are stations that are going to give you high likelihood of really good rewards. And then it's going to randomly put some objectives together and a score randomly set a time limit and then it's going to randomly pick out an appropriate reward. Also, you get some really interesting combinations, alternate testing, you've seen some cool stuff pop up. And it's going to be exciting because this creates a reason for users kind of come back every few hours or every day, if it anything just to see if there's a mission you want to pick up and try to complete or save the complete later. The mission system also opens the door for us to do more dynamic in-game events. Things like community goal events, or ones similar to what we did with Star Trek. Ideally, we'd love to have missions that give event-specific loot. Maybe even for the Halloween events planned to come up later this month. We might end up using the mission system to be a method of distribution for the Halloween event coming later this month. So definitely missions, I think a lot of people will be very excited when the update comes out.
Other than the mission system, I'd say it's going to be the release of the marketplace. So this one, this is a feature that I've talked about a lot. I mean, we talked about the marketplace last year, it was supposed to be something that was going to come up even before the game client was ready. But every time we built one, we had to take a step back and reiterate on it. Partially due to the fact that, at first, we looked at what everyone else is doing. We looked at how you sell something on CryptoKitties and other blockchain games. Emulating these marketplaces didn't quite capture everything we felt that you need to do in a space MMORPG to have a true player economy. You rarely want to sell just one item, when you're selling items, you want to sell them in groups. For example, if I have 14 laser cannons, they’re 14 different NFTs-- what if I want to sell them together as a batch? While still allowing someone to buy a few of them if they don’t want the entire batch? Considerations like this quick quickly snowballed the marketplace into a very complex system, that we eventually whittled down into something that I felt is very elegant. This is going to be a first-of-its-kind NFT marketplace that supports both NFT's and FTs. It’s supported completely off chain and then reconciled on chain. Meaning items that need to be sold on the marketplace need to be checked into the scarcity engine. Once they're checked in their transactions are free and it's instantaneous. When you pay for an item, let’s say I'm buying a ship from you 4.1 ETH, that transaction happens on chain, it's verified by the Scarcity Engine, then the ownership is swapped, and the Ether is transferred to the sellers wallet. It's quite remarkable, something I'm really excited to get out to the community. Something that I think, hopefully, defines what in-game marketplaces for blockchain based games look like.
Reza: Do you play the game yourself? Is there a “Not Fazri” account out there somewhere in the universe?
Fazri: I have an unnamed account I use. All I do is fly around in my MP Voyager. I don’t know why it’s my favorite, maybe because it reminds of the FireFly ships. It feels good to fly around in too. But I honestly don’t have much time to play other than testing out features or just exploring the universe. Any time that I have on my computer is spent testing features, reviewing, and trying to get the game out.
Which is funny, because I built this game because it’s a game I want to play. But, I realized, as I was working on it, I can't really play this game in good conscience. I know too much, it wouldn’t be fair to other players. I know all the secrets, I know where the hidden items are, which is why as a rule, we make sure our devs don’t get involved in the game economy. We need to have some type of separation. They're allowed to play, but there's limitations. We keep a close eye on all our developer accounts. There's a lot that could happen if you aren’t careful.
Reza: I imagine that's extremely important for maintaining the community's trust as well. As both a player and someone who is interested in blockchain games as an investment class, knowing that there are limitations on the essential “gods” of the universe from taking advantage of it brings a lot of peace of mind.
Fazri: In terms of how NFTs are generated, there's only a few people that have keys to crucial areas, and then very few people have access to the live data. You can't just go find where your enemies ship is, we’re very cognizant about manipulation of data. Especially because we’re using scarcity engine which is off-chain. We love the fact that blockchain is immutable, but at the same time it’s impossible to develop a good game with immutable rules, at least at this stage.
Reza: In a perfect world, what do you think the CSC universe will look like in 10 years?
Fazri: I would love to see players running the universe. I'd love to see a universe where users and players have come in, they've built stations, built trade hubs, etc. At that point, we as developers have seeded more star systems, we're probably up to 5,000-10,000 systems that are available, and users are building and running the game economy. At that point, new technology isn't something that we sell or distribute through events. But instead, it's technology that we seed in to be discovered. And then to completely depend on the user base to manufacture. The point when the user base is our main go to for manufacturing and distributing gaming modules and ships, I would say that's where I would love to be at year 10 or sooner.
Reza: Do you think that games like CSC will serve as an on-ramp to bring new users into blockchain as a whole?
Fazri: Absolutely. I think digital ownership is one of the best use cases for blockchain. It changes the way we perceive digital items. As gamers, we spend hundreds of hours acquiring certain in-game items we want, and essentially throw those items away when we stop playing the game. Everyone has been okay with this as a practice up until now, but they don’t know there’s another option. I think that’s something that will change as gaming continues to grow. When I used to buy DVDs, VHS tapes, or laser discs, I didn’t throw them away when I was done with them. I’d always sell them at garage sales and such. Why doesn’t that concept exist with digital items? I think that's what blockchain will answer. But for people to understand that they first need to understand how digital items can have true ownership characteristics, and I think that's what we're accomplishing.
I'm excited to see what the future holds for CSC
as both a blockchain enthusiast and a fan of the game. The newest update (0.6) for CSC is launching this week, you can download the game for free in the CSC Discord
, or purchase the game for $10 on Steam with a starter ship included.
Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape, or form associated with Lucid Sight or CSC besides using CSC as a player of the game. All opinions expressed above are solely my own or that of the interviewee, none of the links included in this article are referral links, and like I said earlier in the article: they refused to bribe me with NFTs.
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