Trip Hawkins on how Bo Jackson inspired Digital Chocolate's NanoVerse

Several games already in development

Trip Hawkins on how Bo Jackson inspired Digital Chocolate's NanoVerse
One of the most interesting announcement of 2009 to date has been Digital Chocolates' NanoVerse concept, which brings the mechanics of collectible Trading Card Games (TCG) into the digital arena.

How it will work is different characters, called NanoStars, will be released, and operate as power-ups or modifiers in any Digital Chocolate game that supports the NanoVerse.

The launch game will be a fairly traditional online TCG called NanoVerse Castles, but potentially NanoStars could end up in sports, action, adventure and puzzle games.

You'll also be able to buy and trading NanoStars using a virtual stock market.

We caught up with the man behind the idea: Digital Chocolate's founder and CEO Trip Hawkins.

Why do you think the NanoStars concept will work across different games and genres?

Trip Hawkins: You can have a generic set of 52 playing cards that can be used for different games, but the paper medium forces the cards to become abstract and iconic. If you want to add personality and story, it drives your design into one trading card game as we have seen. There is also the inherent limit in how much information you can put on a paper trading card.

The biggest breakthrough about the NanoStars is that with digital media they can transform into different things. They can have countless forms of audio visual expression. They can turn into different things in different games. You can have characters and personalities and stories and offer more gameplay value.

I think one of the events that helped me develop the idea was how athletes like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson generated tremendous public fascination with their ability to play more than one sport. This in turn made people care about their personalities.

There can be no doubt that a NanoStar with an interesting personality will generate more emotional interest and attachment than a single paper playing card or a single gun or sword in a single game.

Do you expect NanoStars to feature in all future Digital Chocolate games?

We hope and expect to develop a large family of NanoVerse games with NanoStars. We have some famous existing brands and some genres and some platforms where NanoStars will be less relevant. We want to properly support all of our customer's needs.

How do you expect to keep the concept interesting for the hardcore while still open for newcomers?

I've always said that great games are simple, hot and deep.

Many of our game designs allow anyone and everyone to play but offer depth that can satisfy hardcore gamers who want to invest the time and effort. I believe we can even get them playing together with handicapping features, which is more fun for everybody.

What will be the price range of the characters?

We're not quite ready to talk about pricing or platforms or other details.

How will the stock exchange system for characters work?

We won't introduce it right away because in the first phase people need to accumulate and play with some NanoStars. But we want to provide a market mechanism that can do for our players what eBay has done for trading card games.

There will be over 100 characters at launch. Isn't this too many and as you add more, won't this become a huge design burden?

There are design rules that have to be followed but they're not onerous. Similar principles have allowed Magic: The Gathering to publish 7,000 different cards; for Nintendo to introduce several hundred Pokemon; and for sports games to have thousands of players.

A football player may be very similar to another player except that he has a different face, number and uniform; and is slightly faster. But fans will care about those differences.

It's not hard to include both players in a football game and frankly they could as easily be applied to a basketball game. For Deion Sanders it meant that in baseball he could steal bases and leg out triples while in football he was great at man-for-man coverage. But in either venue he was all-Deion.

How much revenue do you expect to generate?

We'll find out when we get there! I do believe NanoStars are a more sensible investment for gamers and I hope that they agree.

Did the idea for launch game NanoVerse Castles come before or after the idea for NanoStars?

The fundamental NanoStars idea came first. Over the years I have had different ideas for games and it was only a few years ago that I decided that the first game should try to be the world's simplest trading card game.

I always thought the TCGs were too Byzantine for most people and I didn't want to play them myself even though I love fantasy and role-playing and am a big Pokemon fan.

I hope that NanoVerse Castles can reach a much larger audience in the way that Madden Football went beyond the market size of paper games like Strat-O-Matic.

How many NanoVerse games do you hope to have released by the end of 2009?

We're not ready to get into this sort of detail but we have several NanoVerse games in development and expect that any gamer will be able to find a way to play them when they come out.

Thanks to Trip for his time.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.