First Light is figuring out blockchain games on the fly with Blast Royale

 

Where plenty of blockchain games folks make a lot of noise without much end product, First Light Games appears to have done the opposite.

With relatively little fanfare, it has just released Blast Royale, a free-to-play battle royale with an optional layer of blockchain functionality, worldwide. And it’s done so a little over a year after First Light decided to make a web3 game in September 2021.

How did it build and release a game so quickly? It had already developed – and killed – three multiplayer shooters since it was formed in 2018, so it already had the bones of the game ready to go. Co-CEOs Neil McFarland and Anil Das-Gupta are experienced game-makers, too.

McFarland helped build the Ustwo Games team before its breakout hit Monument Valley, and Das-Gupta is a veteran of Capcom, Wargaming and NaturalMotion. As Blast Royale took shape, a private token sale led by Animoca Brands and Mechanism Capital in April this year helped the small start-up grow from six to 32 people.

Top: First Light Co-CEO’s Neil Mcfarland and Anil Das-Gupta, CTO Matt Ryan, game design director Nikita Denissov. Bottom: marketing lead Dan Reynolds, people partner Becky White, art director John Lilley, development director Miguel Tomas.

Naturally, Das-Gupta sees parallels between the early days of free-to-play, when he was working on Smurfs Village, and the blockchain scene of today.

“We’ve seen it plenty of times with premium mobile apps, 69p apps, free-to-play, Facebook games…time and time again when there’s a big shift it can really cause massive disruption,” Das-Gupta tells us. “And we thought we’d like a piece of that action, please.”

But they’re well aware Blast Royale is not the finished product. It might be available worldwide, but the team still consider this a soft launch, and are building the game as they go with the help of a busy Discord server with over 14k Blast Royale community members.

“There’s no playbook,” says Das-Gupta. “There’s no established way to launch a game like this or iterate on it, so we thought let’s jump straight into the deep end and do it. We thought the best way to launch a game like this was to put it all out there and see what works.”

 

Blast Royale is a ‘traditional’ free-to-play title, but it also has an NFT metagame for the folks who want to engage with that side of it.

“People come into the game from two directions,” says McFarland. “Either through the free-to-play route or they will already know about us through grassroots, Discord or organic means and they’ll understand this other side of the game.”

Players who have invested in NFT gear through the game’s external Blast Hub marketplace can use it in-game by connecting their wallet. But overall the game’s economy and blockchain functionality is being kept as light and accessible as possible, so the team can get players in good numbers into the game and learn from their behaviour.

“We always wanted it to be affordable,” says McFarland. “With a lot of the hype around web3 gaming unfortunately there’s been these hugely inflated prices. But we’re like: why can only millionaires play these games? Our economy’s based around never being penalised for not owning the best equipment, and items are always aspirational and always within reach.”

Blast Royale players can buy in-game items through its NFT marketplace, then use them in-game by connecting their wallet.

There was a lot of noise around blockchain gaming earlier this year, which has subsided a little as mainstream player interest in the space has yet to really materialise. But in Blast Royale, McFarland and Das-Gupta have a blockchain-ready battle royale out right now, ready to ride a wave of interest if it does come along.

“Mobile gaming has reached the point of consolidation,” adds Das-Gupta. “You’re seeing these big boys buying up all the studios and there’s very few left on the market…it’s ripe for innovation.”

“Whilst it is kind of scary and we don’t know how it’s going to go, that is where the opportunity lies, because you know that a traditional powerhouse can’t really afford to be taking a risk – when you’re an upstart you’re primed for that.”