January 14, 2022 By Jordan Lemmons
Born out of Bitcoin’s original blueprint, the blockchain and cryptocurrency space continues to develop with the community at the center, driving project activity. Many projects choose this approach for the tremendous, organic advantages offered by crypto-native communities. Web3 communities offer aligned incentives between project and community, as the rising tide of growth lifts all boats in the ecosystem. Engagement comes baked-in, manifesting through member activities on a sliding scale of investment and influence. The community contributes code, curates and translates difficult concepts, develops secondary tools to interact with the protocol, and simply provides memetic promotion (a.k.a ‘Memes of Production’).
This unique combination of community-driven activities over time helps to create a grassroots, organic culture that scales with the project — an achievement Web2, top-down culture dictators have rarely accomplished. But Web3 communities differ from Web2 communities in three major areas:
- The use of networked collaboration to develop projects from a decentralized stakeholder-base
- The sharing of the project’s accumulated value across the distributed user base
- The emergence of a community as a competitive business moat
The business advantage of a strong, supportive community is easily pinpointed in the battle of competing decentralized exchanges: Uniswap, Sushiswap, and Pancakeswap. Uniswap, the first product of the three, is open-source. Sushiswap was the first to copy the Uniswap codebase, adding their improvements to the protocol. Following suit, PancakeSwap copied and refactored the code to operate on the Binance Smart Chain. With three products running essentially the same code, how does any project differentiate from another? The community.
Uniswap and Sushiswap are both driven by DAOs, with exchange users and token holders dictating the direction of the respective protocols. Whereas PancakeSwap is centralized within the larger Binance exchange. The project communities drive the protocols through governance, which in turn creates real differences in the execution of the products — communities driving differentiation. DAO communities drive decisions on: treasury deployment, art purchases, codebase development, and even a push for a crowdfunded copy of the US Constitution across a sea of independent individuals.
The community-first paradigms of networked collaboration, shared value ecosystems, and community-driven differentiation have anchored themselves to the ethos of the Web3 ecosystem and are also actively reshaping our relationship to work. Distributed teams, the elevation of the community management role, and DAO workgroups further disrupt the traditional work structure just as radically as the remote work shift. But this mind-bending shift is perhaps most evident in a burgeoning blockchain subcommunity: Play-To-Earn gaming.
After months of bubbling hype and increasing anticipation, the recent pump in the price of Gala Games’ utility token $GALA spotlighted the blockchain game studio as an emergent darling of the Play-To-Earn blockchain gaming revolution. The recent growth opportunity for $GALA and the Play-to-Earn ecosystem at large results partially from a perfectly balanced cocktail concocted by Covid-19, the respective breakouts of NFTs and eSports, and the Web2 problems of traditional gaming.
Aligned with the already meteoric rise of the professional gamer, the pandemic left many across the world with incredible employment difficulties and an inordinate amount of extra time. Coincidentally through a P2E lens, available time and need to earn money become a resource and pain point perfectly addressed through playing. Particularly in the Global South, the market responded as millions of players worldwide put their idle time to use and played to earn wages eclipsing their typical salaries multiple times over.
Problems in Traditional Gaming
Coupled with the advent of eSports competitions, the millions in prize pools, and Twitch streamers earning full-time salaries playing live, blockchain gaming is at the bleeding edge of reformatting the gaming industry through its NFT use-case and attacking Web2 issues in gaming.
Put simply, a Play-to-Earn game is a game where the in-game assets earned by players (items, currency/wealth, weapons, achievements/progress) are tokenized as NFTs on the blockchain and held in the user’s wallet. This creates digital ownership over a combination of assets that is unique to the player, or wallet account. Tokenizing in-game assets creates three innovations:
- The time players spend in the game translates to valuable assets. Each player or team will establish a calculable value for their in-game time. Players subtly become a new class of investor: time investors.
- Digital property rights and true ownership in the gameverse — the next major utility for NFTs beyond art.
- Converts in-game walled economies to open crypto economies, allowing the exchange of in-game wealth for crypto, or IRL currency.
These iterations on traditional games with robust in-game economies (e.g. – World of Warcraft, Diablo, CounterStrike), highlight issues in Web2 gaming that Web3 principles address. As with most Web2 enterprises, gaming is extractive at its core. Development studios execute unilateral control over the direction and progress of the games, sometimes using their ‘brand monopoly’ to hold players hostage to subpar gameplay or lazy updates between versions. Despite the value they bring to the game (especially in the case of online MMORPGs), players don’t share in the growth in value gained by the major game designers. While players have discovered monetization workarounds through streaming, eSports, and ad-hoc account sales, the revenue gap between players and studios is staggering.
Additionally, live streamers are constantly bringing games free marketing through recorded gameplay, yet only a percentage ever receive value through sponsorships or affiliate programs. If gamers are truly time investors, this system is exploitative of players’ most valuable resource — their time.
The platforms absorb the value and the players are left to monetize their time on their own. Blockchain gaming project, Gala Games, recognizes the opportunity left by these weaknesses; its community-first strategy is paying parabolic dividends – with community and marketing lead, Carrie Allen, leading the charge.
Power to the Players
Gala Games is a blockchain game development studio, NFT marketplace, and in-game store. The core team is a balance of industry veterans of engaging, addictive games with fun at the core and blockchain leaders with goals of social impact.
Describing Gala Games simply as a game publisher doesn’t do the full scope of the project justice, as it doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional gaming or crypto organization boxes. Traditional gaming usually splits these roles across organizations; with a console or platform organization leading developing the ‘engine’ to run the game (PlayStation), the game publisher developing and releasing the game (UbiSoft), and the purchase and sale of items earned in-game or account login credentials on either general marketplaces (eBay) or player-to-player markets (Odealo). Gala Games vertically integrates these components into a single platform, maximizing control over all aspects of the game experience with the decision power distributed amongst community players. Led by a core team balanced across industry veterans of engaging, addictive games with fun at the core and blockchain-native builders leveraging technology for social impact.
Jason Brink, President of Blockchain at Gala Games, originally entered the space looking to use the technology to create fundamental positive change. As he details below, this pursuit eventually led him to blockchain gaming:
“Originally I was looking at this from a social perspective, specifically when it comes to foreign aid. I’d spent some time in Haiti doing some disaster relief work following the earthquake and seeing how terribly inefficient the aid process was with millions and millions of dollars coming into the country, but almost none of it getting to the people. This obviously was not ideal, so I wanted to find a new way to make this better, and I saw blockchain as a way to do that.…Ultimately in the long run, I became aware that Governments and NGOs would never move quickly enough to really make a difference. That’s why I got into gaming, in gaming you can move extremely quickly and have a real impact via play-to-earn economies.”
In a gaming industry heavily weighted in favor of astronomical profits (oftentimes at the expense of players), Gala Games’ genuine eye towards the upward mobility of players is the first in a number of gamer-centric differentiators. From the beginning, it was clear Gala Games was building something different than even most blockchain gaming companies.
Departing from the standardized roadmap for most projects, Gala Games has no whitepaper, believing they lend themselves to an investment perspective over utility for players. Additionally, Gala Games launched with no token, doubling-down on the ‘utility-first’ ethos and setting the gamer-centric foundation in the early days of the developing community.
Gala Games maintained its independence from venture capital, instead opting to develop organically from community capital. To this end, Gala immediately began offering NFT sales to its community, a strategy that Brinks asserts, “..allows us to make decisions in the benefit of the gamers and in the benefit of the games.”
An astonishing feat alone, however within the context of nearly $5 billion in venture capital money entering blockchain gaming, Gala Games’ community-driven funding becomes even more impressive. This untethered independence has allowed Gala Games to engage and involve the player community, without heavy-handed recommendations from investors, in ways unavailable to studios using traditional funding models.
Community is the Moat
Gala Games community-led ethos is unorthodox to traditional gaming studios, but the organization’s early decisions connect back to the four core principles of the project: fun-first, player ownership, community rules, and powered by the people.
The team’s vision is that blockchain technology should be invisible in games, and before all else – games should be fun. Leaning on the incredible success of Farmville, the team believes in designing games with mechanics optimized to be fun for everyone – rather than solely blockchain gamers. This philosophy generates extremely replayable games, contributing to an overall successful game.
Player-ownership and community rules, the 2nd and 3rd values in Gala Games’ foundation, are only enabled by blockchain tech. Gala Games’ NFT marketplace enables true player-ownership of in-game assets, characters, and accounts with a direct vehicle to monetize the time invested into the game through sales on the marketplace. The player-owned node system, also called Founder Nodes distributes the hardware required to run the games across a network of nodes, but also allows players to store their owned items locally. Additionally, each game in the ecosystem will offer player-nodes to support specific functions needed by individual game performance. In exchange for supporting the network, player-owned nodes are rewarded with $GALA tokens – creating a unique network effect for player ownership.
This collection of early decisions and intentional values centered around a community-first ethos, creates a new paradigm for gaming with parallels to other sectors of Web3 – establishing a player community as a business moat. Bolstering its other initiatives, Gala Games is constantly engaging their community and supporting the general gaming community’s development.
In addition to over 10 AMA interviews with Gala Games’ core team, covering the specifics of all live and upcoming games, Gala Games also held their own eSports tournament specifically for the alpha release of Spider Tanks, a Minecraft-style PvP brawler game. During the tournament, Gala Games announced they would be deploying over $1B USD specifically to support game development in Korea, further signaling trust in the community to develop the future of gaming. Another unique and strong signal of Gala Games’ perception of community value is the team’s practice of regularly hiring from within their community; as new employees are integrated from relationships initiated through the community Discord.
It’s a strategy that seems to be working, as Gala Games’ community is driving growth across all relevant metrics. Coinciding with the Spider Tanks tournament and the billion-dollar investment announcement, Gala Games’ token price exploded from $0.084 to $0.714 over a span of just two weeks, nearly a 10X increase. However, in this case, the growth in price action follows community growth, as Gala Games has grown their player-base to include over 1.3M daily active players. The community’s Discord mirrors the trend. Over the past year, Gala Games has grown to a Discord server of over 100,000 members and an employee roster of over 170 employees, many hired directly from the player community.
As they begin to scale, the community-first mentality is scaling as well, with 21,000 player-owned Founder’s Nodes supporting gameplay on the network, storing game assets locally, and issuing rewards to node holders.
The game studio plans to add a full slate of products to join its flagship live release, Town Star – a strategic, FarmVille-like game where players manage a team of AI workforces to build, manage production, and use ingredients to craft and sell goods. Spider Tanks is next up, scheduled for an upcoming alpha release. Mirandus, a medieval-style MMORPG, is generating a lot of excitement from players after releasing a video showcasing the game’s breathtaking visual art design. As a massive MMORPG project, Mirandus is scheduled for a beta release in late-2022.
Multiple team members have indicated the studio’s intention to continue developing games at a breakneck’s pace, with 12-15 games currently in the development pipeline. As creators at the bleeding edge of gaming technology, Gala Games devs have a code-level view of the problems introduced by building on traditional, or ‘general-purpose’ blockchains. All blockchains integrate the core innovation, distributed ledger accounting, however chains are rarely composed to serve needs outside of financial tooling. Gala Games is creating their vision of a gaming-native blockchain with Galachain, a project designed from the ground-up to specifically serve the custom needs of the game developers and support specific games.
As the internet grew over the early 2000s, we transitioned from ‘Web1.0’, or ‘The Static Web’ to what would become known as ‘Web 2.0,’ or ‘The Social Web.’ For the Web2 startup world, community is preceded by culture, a startup cliche typically involving in-office beer and the dreaded, over-branded company ‘swag’ (à la WeWork). Web3 flips this approach upside down, by pursuing and developing strong communities first.
Previously regulated to an afterthought behind profitability and finding product-market fit, community-building is becoming recognized as a business asset, and a core business driver. Gala Games is emblematic of this forward-thinking ethos, investing heavily in developing and supporting their community as an asset to be cultivated, rather than a cost-center. The approach is driving Gala Games to the forefront of community-first building, blockchain gaming, and the evolution of gaming at-large. Their parabolic growth and commitment to the values that have built Gala Games’ strongly engaged support-base, certainly make them a community to watch.