Deckbound: The first game built on bitcoin

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Bitcoin and video games are not an unfamiliar partnership, with bitcoin making a cameo in Coin Crypt as well as being a main theme in the game The Fate of Satoshi. However, we’ve never seen a game built on top of bitcoin. Indeed there are several applications that are being built on the bitcoin blockchain, but so far these have been more for utility than entertainment. Deckbound intends to create a collectable card game built upon the bitcoin protocol, using its cryptographic properties in interesting ways.

The Games
Deckbound bitcoinDeckbound is not one game, rather it is a collection of card games that all use the same cards. Currently there are only three games announced: 

Heroes is a web-based game. It can be played in any modern web browser – Deckbound use a combination of HTML5 and WebGL to deliver the game.

Land Grab is currently also a HTML5/browser-based game and will use some of the same client technology as Heroes – but that is not fully confirmed as they might move it to a downloadable desktop client, with optional support on mobile platforms. (given the above caveats re store providers). This is unlikey, but it’s still an option at this stage.

The third game will be a downloadable game for PC & Mac (and likely Linux in some form), and possibly at some point mobile platforms. It is, as yet, unspecified. Deckbound told BitScan:

"We’ve not yet decided when the best time is to properly announce it. What I can say is that we’re using the infrastructure and gaming architecture of Deckbound to do something that hasn’t been done with a CCG before, and that it doesn’t fit the typical turn-based nature of most CCGs (hence the greater technical demands).

Currently they are unable to meet the technical demands of the game through a browser client, though as it’s Unity based they may be able to leverage the new web platform publishing in Unity 5. They hope to know more following the Unity Conference update.

The Business Of Free

The cards are not all restricted to the individual games. For example, the Heroes game only uses Hero cards, but Hero cards can be used in other games as well. 

As far as the business model, it would be most accurate to call it Free to Play. The Free to Play model comes from the fact there are two types of cards in the game: paid cards and “nomad” cards. Both types of cards are identified by transactions on the blockchain, with stats that are unique to them. All cards can be levelled up, with any changes to their stats made permanent and verified via the blockchain.

It is always free to play with Nomad cards, but they are not separated from regular cards: players can purchase Nomad cards if they want (this is great if you level up a free Nomad card and then want to keep it). Purchased Nomad cards are removed from the Nomad pool, and then belong directly to that player.

However, since nomad cards also level up and keep their stats permanently, you could end up with powerful nomad cards to use in a given session. This is both an advantage and disadvantage since there is a large amount of unpredictability in what cards you’ll get. If you want any sort of consistency with decks you play with, then paying for cards would be the way to go. 

The Blockchain Bit

Deckbound uses bitcoin transactions as a means of identifying cards, and as such comes the blockchain implementation. Cards are generated via “genesis” blocks, which are comprised of bitcoin transactions. It is from transactions that cards can be identified. Right now it’s important to note that abilities, classes, and parameters possible for cards, are specified in each block; certain cards with certain attributes may be exclusive to certain blocks. This means that even if there’s a new block in the game’s blockchain, you may want to buy cards from older blocks; this fact will play an important role in generating new blocks.

Deckbound Landgrab sample

Deckbound: Landgrab Mockup

The Investment

As stated before, cards obtain their identities through bitcoin transactions on its blockchain. As such, people will be facilitating those transactions by investing in the next block for Deckbound. It’s considered investing due to the fact that there is potential to profit from card sales from whatever block you invested in. According to their “invest” page, 25% of all card sales from a block will be distributed amongst investors of that block. The other 75% will be split into the inherent card value  (i.e. the amount retained for the Bitcoin card value itself), which will vary but generally be in the region of 10-25% for normal cards, and the remainder is effectively revenue to the Deckbound business for "covering operating costs and ongoing development."

This investment model means the idea of buying cards from older blocks comes into play.

For instance: you invest in the creation of genesis block A, and then finally genesis block B is generated. If there is a particular set of cards that are in high demand from block A, then you are still able to earn a fair amount of money from those card sales. The prices of these cards will climb until players decide to stop paying for them, meaning the payout you receive can be greater. Be that as it may, it’s entirely possible that you could lose out on your investment due to little demand for cards from the block you invested in.

So, will “genesis” blocks be generated in a timely manner like bitcoin blocks, or based solely on the funding it gets?
Deckbound explained there are currently two triggers for a new block:

"The previous block is fully invested, and we enable investments for the new block. Each block is manually configured, so theoretically there may be a delay between the close of one block and the start of another. The number of purchased cards (by users) exceeds the number of available “normal cost” cards in invested blocks – at this point the blocks will effectively fund themselves, i.e. where the proportion of card sales that would normally be returned to investors is instead invested neutrally in a new block to provide a sufficient available cards.
We do have other future plans for alternate block genesis, but won’t finalize them until we can gauge the balance of the points above. For example if demand for cards greatly exceeds that for investment blocks, we’ll optimize the process for card genesis directly."

So how will they handle player balancing and match-making? We asked Deckbound if it will be achieved solely through the “graded hands” mechanic, or something else:

"We expect that the deck weighing/classing will be an ongoing process. We will support completely configurable game sessions (and eventually 3rd party matchmaking through the API) that would allow users to change matching making options and create custom games, but the default will be to use the ongoing weighting process. The weighting will be game specific – i.e. different cards at different levels could have different weightings in different games.
Another related point on the weighting and classing of cards and decks – we’re planning to use the game AI to help with this process. As we’ve announced for Pro users, you can automate play with different bot and API options – we’re using the same system to effectively Monte Carlo test many alternate decks against one another and seed the weighting data."

What more content will there be?

Aside from newly created cards from genesis blocks, there will also be a form of community unlocks. This idea has been experimented with in some other games, where the idea is that more content for the game is unlocked as all players collectively play it. In the rogue-like video game Abyss Odyssey, more content for the game was unlocked depending on how many times players collectively beat the game. Similarly, new abilities for cards will be unlocked based on how much everyone collectively uses them and levels them up. Having older cards attain new abilities could have huge impacts on the Meta game of Deckbound if one ever forms. It would also bring new life into older cards, as it would presumably take a long time to unlock these abilities.

How can I get started with Deckbound?

Currently the game isn’t finished, however you can pay to participate in the alpha, which is planned for release in September of this year. Different packages described on the early access page will give you different amounts of card packs and benefits. However, regardless of which package you go for, you’ll have access to exclusive tweaks and augments for your cards. Most early access packages offer a Pro status for a limited time, which gives you some nice benefits. These benefits would include playing with any unused nomad card temporarily, longer playtime with nomad cards, access to pre-constructed test decks, and access to the Deckbound API.

Deckbound told us:

"We intend for all games to be playable independently of other store fronts (i.e. you’ll be able to, where necessary, download the game clients from the website). While we will look at distribution via other platform providers, we’re cautious of the changing Bitcoin regulatory landscape and having the games depend on Bitcoin transactions we need to make sure we can offer the games directly and independently of platform restrictions."

Daniel Mestre

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