Comment & Opinion

Tackling the technology gap to build web3 mobile games

From its origins as a successful hypercasual games studio to the cutting edge of web3 mobile games, PlayEmber CEO Hugo Furneaux, charts the company's quest to reimagine development

Tackling the technology gap to build web3 mobile games

PlayEmber CEO Hugo Furneaux outlines the reasons behind the studios move from hypercasual game development into enabling the creation of web3 game experiences for mobile.

Blockchain gaming has certainly had some bad press in the gaming community - you are probably used to reading words like 'ponzinomics' or hearing about 'Degens' and a lot of 'LFG’s'. As an industry, there has been a lot of debate around the concept of asset ownership, what you actually own and the benefits blockchain technology can bring to gaming. Not to mention the crypto industry now being in a bear market.

So this is clearly a great time to be building a blockchain gamefi startup, right?

The first 50 million

PlayEmber started our journey several years ago by making hypercasual games, working with leading publishers and successfully publishing six games with Kwalee, Lion Studios and Voodoo. Then about a year ago we entered into a joint venture with Boombit to create PlayEmber and in the first year we clocked up over 50 million downloads from our mobile games across hypercasual, idle arcade and idle. We have even just released our first Nintendo Switch title. the first year we clocked up over 50 million downloads from our mobile games...
Hugo Furneaux

While we were focused on mobile game development, we also started to do our homework on blockchain gaming and GameFi 1.0 to understand the landscape - as well as where the major pain points were. We had questions:

  • Who was making an actual game? Most of the games were Web GL builds to enable gamified staking mechanics and yield farming with crazy APY’s
  • Distribution and user acquisition (UA) were highly decentralised and fragmented. Primarily via gaming guilds and/or direct community building, running CPA campaigns on Facebook / Twitter to get people to sign up to your Discord in the hope of creating a white list and that these people then 'MINT' your NFT for initial liquidity to develop the game.
  • User onboarding - unless you are a crypto native you need a PhD to figure out some of the wallet sign-ups, not to mention swapping tokens, and bridging chains. This is not workable for 'normies' ( non-crypto natives)
  • Paywalls (NFTs) creating huge barriers for mass market players - charging $50, $100, $500, $1000 to buy an NFT to get access to a game (hence the rise of gaming guilds to rent assets to scholars)

A lot of blockchain games were starting to look at mobile games and make 'companion games' for their existing NFT holders to play and create additional sinks for their tokens - but what about onboarding non-native crypto players into their ecosystem?

No ad revenue or limited free-to-play (F2P) mode - unlike mobile games with a multi-billion dollar ad industry to help balance cost per install (CPI) and lifetime value (LTV) - web3 game revenue is currently tied to NFT sales (and its secondary market) and some form of token event (initial DEX or coin offerings aka IDO/ICO). All of which makes revenue forecasting and sustainability of projects a major challenge.

As a mobile games studio, we understand the challenges and barriers of blockchain game development...
Hugo Furneaux

New technologies

As a mobile games studio, we understand the challenges and barriers of blockchain game development with new programming languages, smart contracts, security considerations and requirements. As well as financial and compliance barriers around setting up a new entity to handle cryptocurrency and tokens.

In simple terms, unlike web2 publishing contracts, where was the up-front money coming to pay for these web3 projects - to build a community, hire a team, or navigate the complexities of web3 gaming?

After a lot of research, the biggest thing we were scratching our heads about is why was nobody trying to bring the benefits of blockchain technology to mobile games. According to Newzoo by 2023, there will be 3.7 billion mobile gamers. So why are we trying to make mobile gamers switch platforms and leave the games they love playing?

At the very least, offer them a better mobile game experience than the one they are currently playing!

So about six months ago we put together our business plan and set out to solve a complex problem, how could we seamlessly onboard web2/mobile gamers into web3 all within mobile games?

We wanted to build the gamefi middleware layer for web3 to mass onboard billions of mobile gamers by creating an open, decentralised ad platform for players, creators, mobile games studios, brands and blockchain games.

After a lot of research, the biggest thing we were scratching our heads about is why was nobody trying to bring the benefits of blockchain technology to mobile games.
Hugo Furneaux

Making the meta game

Using our years of experience converting ad-based players to in-app purchase (IAP) based players and building on proven web2 monetisation techniques to increase player retention and re-engagement (rewards, competitions, etc,), we built and designed a simple meta game that lives within existing mobile games.

It's built into a Unity-based SDK with an in-built web3 wallet to seamlessly allow web2 gamers to become web3 gamers. The SDK is currently in a closed beta test with our partners and our goal in Phase one is to create one million new wallets. Along with understanding the key motivation for F2P games to engage with web3 - play and own? Play and reward? Play and compete?

Or just play?

For mobile games studios, we take care of all the smart contract side of things, tokens, NFTs, marketplace etc. And in return bring new monetisation channels and revenue via our meta game and increase retention of their existing players. As well as provide a platform for player acquisition. The more games a studio chooses to onboard we will reward them with our governance token to join our decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO) and vote on key decisions and steer the future development of our platform.

New rewards

And for players? Quite simply play the game you play and love, but now unlock a new gamified reward and competition meta game that is accessible and transferable across hundreds of games in the app stores. As well as being able to store and if you wish to sell your progress via your own custom avatar (NFT) via our marketplace. Plus upgrade your own personal avatar via custom skins and cosmetics.

For blockchain games, gaming guilds and profile picture (PFP) collections looking to extend their IP to mobile gamers and acquire new players, we provide access to mobile gamers with existing web3 wallets to introduce into your game via our innovative new ad formats.

Think of our platform like Coinbase’s Learning Rewards - our platform is introducing mobile gamers to web3 and moving them through a funnel, teaching them in a gamified way about NFTs, tokens, wallets etc.

To power our platform, we evaluated various blockchains to understand the best fit for our project and selected the NEAR Protocol.

Why? We loved their wallet experience, it was built for “normies” - non-crypto natives. A simple email sign up and off you go. And of course, we loved the vision and engineering core of the team.

After presenting our vision we are proud to announce a significant grant from the NEAR Foundation to kickstart our exciting new chapter.

Ripe for disruption

NEAR Foundation CEO Marieke Flament, said: “PlayEmber is a fantastic startup that we are proud to support as it aligns with our mission to bring the best of Web3 to a global audience. We are particularly keen to back initiatives that spread joy and bring communities together - and gaming does just that.

"This sector is ripe for disruption - and through our technology, we can make significant inroads in helping to decide how the future of gaming entertainment will look like - by supporting the creators that have the vision to design it.”

Right now we are in the closing stages of our pre-seed fundraising and can't wait to share some of the exciting investors, ecosystem partners, games studios and new team members that are joining us on our journey. And for those of you at NEARCON, see you in Lisbon next week! regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.