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Unstoppable Games announced it will launch its Web3 science fiction massively multiplayer online (MMO) game called Influence on the Starknet platform for the Ethereum blockchain. StarkWare, creator of Starknet, also made an investment into Unstoppable Games last month.
The sale of launch non-fungible token (NFT) assets for Influence will start on April 11, and the game itself will launch this summer.
Influence will be a space strategy MMO where humanity dwells among the asteroids and factions battle for resources. Chris Lexmond, CEO of Unstoppable Games, said the game was inspired in part by Eve Online and the sci-fi show The Expanse, the six-season series that recently ended its run on Amazon Prime. He was also inspired by the book series of the same name by James S.A. Corey, a pen name of the authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
Never switch it off
Influence will be fully decentralized, meaning its creators can never “switch it off” and players will help to determine its future.
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Players’ transactions will constantly be recorded on-chain. It’s an Ethereum-based Web3 experience that has been impractical until now because of Ethereum’s high gas costs – brought within reach by Starknet’s Layer 2 scaling. Starknet enables NFT transactions to be handled more efficiently and with far lower costs.
StarkWare started the Starknet Layer 2 platform, but it is in the process of turning it into a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).
“We’ll be delivering an experience that just hasn’t been possible on Ethereum until now,” said Lexmond. “Ethereum is the world’s computer, but high gas fees and latency have limited its role in gaming. Zero-knowledge Layer 2 technology, built on Ethereum, is resoundingly solving these problems for DeFi, and we’re showing its transformative capability for gaming.”
He added, “When people play Influence, as they travel around the asteroid belt, mine raw materials, trade steel and food, or build spaceports, their actions will constantly be recorded on-chain. This isn’t another Web2 game with NFTs tacked on, but rather a game that is very deeply Web3.”
The game has a lot of details in its universe, featuring a realistic asteroid belt complete with accurate orbital motion mechanics.
The decision to build Influence on Starknet was driven by the platform’s scalability, which allows for the complex computations required to accurately model the orbital trajectories of ships as they navigate between the vast array of asteroids.
Players can experience a sense of exploration in an immersive and decentralized gaming environment, made possible by Starknet’s blockchain technology, Lexmond said.
“Influence is something very different from a sidechain-based MMO,” said Lexmond. “Ethereum is the gold standard for blockchain security, and gaming should be developing there, not relegated to sidechains. Starknet’s scaling power means it enables near-instant transactions while relying on Ethereum’s security.”
Starknet is a permissionless rollup, initially built by StarkWare Industries. It scales by moving computation off-chain and by utilizing STARK Proofs to “rollup” a set of off-chain transactions into a single proof which is verified on Ethereum L1.
“When we set out to scale Ethereum five years ago, we were clear this means much more than facilitating DeFi transactions,” said StarkWare CEO Uri Kolodny, in a statement. “It means enabling Ethereum to reach its potential for a wide range of uses. The time has come for engaging games that nobody can ‘switch off,’ but which are rather run by communities. We’re thrilled to be helping to deliver this via Ethereum.”
Kolodny said that Influence represents a much-needed change in the power dynamics within gaming.
“Players have long been at the mercy of corporate game studios, and their financial incentives, dictating when a game simply ceases to be,” Kolodny said. “Despite the existence of strong communities who give thousands of hours of their time, energy, and creativity to make a game truly thrive, historically a game could be terminated in an instant by a central authority.”
Unstoppable Games was founded out of Lexmond’s desire to create games that work differently. He wants them to always evolve and have no endings, as players will be able to assume control. Lexmond said such games should never be extinguished by corporate intervention, thanks to the inherent benefits provided by blockchain technology like Starknet.
Influence has already proved its appeal with three public tests on Ethereum Layer 1 and Starknet, involving thousands of players. Lexmond stated that his team rejoiced in “the profound differences” in what is achievable on L2 compared with the limitations of L1.
“On L1 gas fees are so high we simply couldn’t provide the functionality that was needed for a complex strategy MMO like Influence,” Lexmond said. “But with a scaling solution where transactions are constantly unfolding that are all settled on-chain, we can create a whole universe. L2 really is a new frontier for gaming.”
Lexmond started Unstoppable Games about two years ago, but he had been thinking about it for a long time.
“Our goal was really to build the game Influence, which has been bouncing around in my head for at least a decade,” Lexmond said. “And really the idea was to build a game that couldn’t be stopped, that couldn’t be turned off, that could ultimately be controlled by the community and survive, as long as they deemed it fun.”
This mission came from Lexmond growing up and playing games and being a part of gaming communities that enjoyed games. But those communities were cut short when the corporate owners canceled the games and the players had no recourse.
“I love the idea that [making an unstoppable game] can be possible with these persistent multiplayer games like Influence,” Lexmond said.
He had been obsessed with the idea of how humans would live among an asteroid belt, how they could survive in an asteroid belt and all of the logistical complexity that would come with dealing with all of these independently orbiting bodies.
Influence itself takes place in a star system that is about 15 light years away from Earth. About 100 years from now, future humans will leave Earth on large multi-generational spaceships. One group was thrown off course and had to ditch into an asteroid belt instead of a habitable planet.
“It’s all about how they’ve survived,” Lexmond said. “It’s intended to be a very social game, inspired a lot by my time playing EVE Online.
The choice of Starknet is interesting, as other companies have turned to Layer 2 or Layer 1 blockchain protocols such as Polygon or Solana.
Lexmond chose StarkWare because he found its approach to security for the blockchain was the right move. He also was drawn to the roll-up approach and the cheaper fees for minting assets. He acknowledges that Starknet has challenges built around a non-solidity, non-Ethereum Virtual Machine technology base, but ultimately the advantages will make it worth it.
The game will launch on the desktop first, and ultimately there could be a mobile experience with somewhat pared-down features. And while others are offering a combination of Web2 and Web3 gaming experiences, Unstoppable Games is opting for 100% of all transactions on the blockchain.
“This is the key to producing an unstoppable game,” he said. “The contracts themselves are open, people can access them, both read and write. Permission works in that sense. We are very open about our data. So if there are any developers in our community who request it, we also give them data dumps and we give them assets.”
That is, the game stewardship can be picked up by the community thanks to player ownership.
Lexmond started selling collections of NFT assets in 2021 for the game’s 250,000 asteroids. Some of them have been sold while others are being reserved for those who join after the game starts. The NFT sales generated more than $5.5 million in proceeds for Unstoppable Games. With the new investment from StarkWare, Unstoppable Games hopes to grow from a team of eight now.
Lexmond considered raising a venture capital round, but he decided to skip that after he decided it would be tough to align the interests of players, the company, and venture capitalists.
Unstoppable Games has a tiny team by comparison to other MMOs, but Lexmond said the scope of the project is limited. He hasn’t run a game studio before, but other team members have. He felt he wanted to set goals that were achievable, with a more limited scope at the outset.
The initial part of the game will be “exploitation,” where the players exploit the resources of the asteroid belt. After the initial launch, the company will add things like skill trees, invention mechanics and conflicts.
“We’re taking a very intentionally measured approach and not promising the world,” Lexmond said. “I want to make sure that there is alignment with the community.”
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