Ember Sword’s Land Sale has finally come to a close, but for Bright Star Studios, their work has just begun. In an interview with Founder and Executive Producer, Loren Roosendaal, we leave no aspect of the land sale untouched, from the initial and ongoing funding of the project, to when players can expect to get their virtual feet on the ground of Solarwood.
Three years ago, Ember Sword was initially a seed of a thought among a group of developers who believed that there is still a lot more left to do in the MMORPG genre. That seed sprouted roots which eventually became the foundation of the first nation of Solarwood, which has seen unprecedented community support. Burned by the lack of ownership in games like World of Warcraft, where black market items and accounts could sell for thousands of dollars, only to have the associated accounts banned days later, Loren along with Founder and CEO Mark Laursen wanted a better way.
“We wanted to A) Build an MMORPG that was super accessible to people, and B) we also wanted to deal with a lot of situations that we see. Mark himself has set up guilds like Ensidia in World of Warcraft, and so we’ve all experienced the immense value of what you create in an MMO also as a player.” Loren says. “You’d see items sold on the black market for 100,000 dollars, only to have people be banned two days later, and those items disappear forever. So that was kind of the tenet behind Ember Sword, we wanted to do true ownership.”
The plan seemed simple enough. Make the game easy to get into, no big downloads or auto patches, and guarantee that the effort a player puts in and the value they’re earning in game, is owned by the player. Once Loren and his team decided that the path they wanted to take revolved around giving players power through leveraging blockchain, the next hurdle, funding, was met with resistance by traditional investors.
“People are starting to see the value in this play and in fact, it’s exploded.”
“You have to imagine back then, obviously, when we told investors about this, most of them were like, ‘Well an MMORPG is already a niche, and then you’ve got Blockchain in there for true ownership. That’s like a niche in a niche, right?’ At that time NFT transactions on places like OpenSEA were measured by the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. ‘So this is never going to fly. Kill the blockchain part, and we’ll fund the game instantly, because you have a lot of gaming cred.’” Loren was told by the investors.
Despite those investors attempting to push Bright Star into a more traditional path to MMORPG development, the initial creation of the game started with seed money from the founders instead. “We luckily continued going on our way, and definitely did the usual starter journey, where eventually all of our credit cards were maxed, and we lent all of our money to the company to keep it alive.” Loren said. “We came out alright on the other end, to the extent that now people are starting to see the value in this play and in fact, it’s exploded. It’s a really amazing ride for us.”
Bright Star self-funded the project until investments started rolling in, but even after some initial investments the coffers began to run dry, and self-funding resumed. Between building server infrastructure, and eventually building their own engine, costs piled up, but it was all worth it when the second round of investments came through.
“We wanted to use some new technology by Unity for the engine, to actually load things real-time in the browser. That development didn’t go quickly enough from their end.” Loren stated. “6-months ago, we had to choose to toss out the engine and literally build our own. It’s been quite a trek, but obviously as of late, we’ve raised another investment round. Quite a decent one, and that was very quickly followed by the first moment of truth, selling the first half-million dollars worth of land in what was essentially an evening. It could have been in probably 30 seconds if the immense demand wasn’t bringing the entire network to its knees.” Loren said. His mention of the server issues the first Land Sale encountered resulted in a subsequent post-mortem. A lesson Bright Star learned from when they headed into their second Land Sale. He continued, “Now obviously, we’re rapidly expanding as we continue building out our technology and the world of Ember Sword.”
“In the end, you’re building a game like this for the community”
The second land sale saw nearly 35 thousand applicants, with a final pledge tally of over 203 million dollars. The 21-day application cycle was created so that players, guild leaders, and positive community members would have a fighting chance to get their hands on the land they were hoping for. Loren acknowledged that the first time around, it wasn’t fair enough for community members who wanted to participate.“There were some really great members of the community that missed out on land, because they got unlucky, they didn’t click fast enough, they had technical issues – whatever it might have been.” Loren explained. “Since, in the end, you’re building a game like this for the community, our notion was, okay, how can we best ensure that as much of it goes to (as many) really great community members as possible.”
The application process was put into effect so that interested parties had to jump through a few hoops if they wanted to be considered for land ownership this time around. The application process required more than just an account and an email address, players were asked to plead their case as to why they should be picked. Bright Star also limited the amount of land you could apply for, so that more people had a chance to obtain the land they were looking for. While the application process was meant to help the avid Ember Sword community by giving the most deserving of the community dibs on buying land first, it created another problem - having to sift through nearly 35 thousand applications.
“This is insane!”
“That kind of exploded, because you have to imagine, we set up to sell 6 thousand plots of land. That’s roughly 3 quarters of a million dollars’ worth of land we were selling, and then applications started coming in and within 24 hours we were at 8 million committed.” The numbers were overwhelming, and Loren explained that they just continued to rise from there. “Then we thought, oh, this is getting very nuts. 48 hours before the end of the sale, we were at 130 million, and we thought, ‘this is insane’! Then within the last 48 hours, another 70 plus million worth of submissions came in, so it’s been absolutely insane.”
To put it in perspective, Loren equated Ember Sword’s 21-day monetary pledges against the crowd-funded behemoth, Star Citizen. “If you take this and you look at something like, back when Star Citizen did its first crowd sale, and you see that in the first 2 years they did 52 million dollars, and in the 2 last days of this 21-day period we pulled in 70 million, and over 21 days we had commitments of over 200 million, yeah that’s crazy. We wouldn’t have expected such a number especially since we really threw up a barrier for entry. You really had to put the effort in, and people did and that’s been great.”
Luckily, for those that put in applications, Bright Star still plans to read through and rank each submission. “We’re not just going to run some algorithm over there, or a lottery, these are going to be read, they're going to be ranked, and we’re going to try and get land into the hands of as many great community members as possible that way.” he told me. With almost 35-thousand applications though, Loren acknowledged that not everyone will be able to get their parcel of land this time around, and that only about 5000 will end up being awarded land, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t ever get the chance to be landowners in Ember Sword, nor does it mean they will leave this Land Sale empty-handed.
“We’ve also announced that we’re going to be offering to everyone that qualified, the opportunity to buy into some special NFT’s that will grant the people that bought them the same kind of early access that land would, some interesting perks in the game, and even the ability to claim a certain amount of our token, once we introduce it, at the same valuation of the token as would normally occur in a private token sale.” Loren mentioned the NFT’s would also be of limited supply. That does mean, however, that the unique passes Bright Star will sell will grant players early access to the game, some cool credentials, and the ability to show off their early support for Ember Sword.
“People are playing video games for a living”
In many ways, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Ember Sword , either through buying land, or obtaining the special NFT’s or tokens, lays the groundwork for a Play to Earn methodology that has been growing in popularity around the world. “This, I know, is something that is pretty new for people in the gaming world, but in the blockchain space it’s typical. Not just the items in your game are truly owned, but the currency is truly owned, so if you have a bunch of Ember in our case, you could potentially, at some point, sell that somewhere on the exchange, so you could do some of the things we’re seeing happening now heavily in the Philippines, which is this whole play to earn revolution, where people are playing video games for a living.”
By providing these opportunities directly to the community, Bright Star is aiming to take power away from just the investors and give it to the broader player base. To that end, the demographics of the applicants, according to Loren, are primarily gamers, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t seen Crypto Investors interested in getting on the ground floor. “I’d say probably 20 to 30% (of applicants) are in the crypto space, 70 to 80% in the gaming space.” That’s a pretty good number of gamers, but what about duplicate applications? What about those trying to circumvent the application process to try and grab more land than they are supposed to? Loren answered that question for us:
“It’s an application per account, some people reapplied on the same account, we’ll use your latest one. First of all, applications are going to be judged and ranked on their content, and if we see things that are close to duplicates, and it doesn’t seem to be too mal-intended, we’ll just strip all but one of them.” he did go on to confirm that they’ve already identified some bad actors. “There’s also some cases where we’ve seen some borderline malicious cases, which is to be expected too, but those are already being caught. I already got word of the first (applications) being eliminated because some people did indeed set up multiple submissions with shuffled, reused text.“
Following the latest land sale, 18 thousand plots of land in Solarwood will have been sold. But that still leaves over 20 thousand plots left to sell this year, and three more nations’ worth of land to sell, totaling 160K plots of land. These sales, and the introduction of the other nations ,won’t happen overnight, but that doesn’t seem to bother Loren and Bright Star Studios, as they look forward to the opportunity to work alongside the community to shape the game. “Despite the fact that we bring a lot of triple A talent to the game, we like this notion of early access and building things with the community, having a more transparent development process, and so, what we’re going to be doing, is we’re going to essentially have quarterly milestones, slowly bringing the game to the community.”
“People don’t like to let go of their plots”
The Technical Alpha for Ember Sword is slated for later this year, where the Capital of Solarwood and the surrounding area will be available for play, and won’t be barred by an NDA. In 2022, more players will be let in, as gameplay is expanded. The next nation will not be added until 2023, but Loren said the community can look forward to land sales of the following nation sometime in 2022. That also means that players will have to hold on to their plots for a while before they will get to play. Some activity on Tokentrove and OpenSEA indicates that players have already begun selling their land, and when I asked Loren about players selling on secondary markets, he interjected that, if anything, it shows how valuable the land is, and how few in the community are actually willing to sell.
“If you look at the actual number of plots being sold on secondary markets, you’ll know the number of sales for the amount of plots that are currently in rotation, roughly 12 thousand plots in rotation, it shows maybe 30 or 40, it’s ticked up a little bit because people are seeing the massive demand. But even now there’s only 30 or 40 plots changing hands a day, so if anything secondary markets show that people don’t like to let go of their plots. People are hanging on to them, and in fact, when they do get sold, they get sold at prices often 10 times the amount that the people originally paid for it.”
During our conversation, the price of land on secondary markets was intriguing to both of us, as plot prices on OpenSEA and Tokentrove seem to be speculative according to their location. In some cases, Loren commented that the price of the land was being sold nearly 10 times its initial price. “Right now the reality is, even we don’t fully know, because these are emergent mechanics that we’ll see when the game goes live.” He told me. “ We’ll see if those theories hold up and that may also depend on how guilds and other groups of players are going to act in the game. That’s going to be super interesting, but just in general it’s really cool to see the massive interest and also see the enthusiasm, that we’re really happy to see (players) holding on to their land, waiting for gameplay to come their way.”
The importance of the land sale doesn’t solely affect the players, either. According to Loren, the land sale directly funds the ongoing development of Ember Sword, and the team at Bright Star has plans to expand their team, even more than they already have. “(Land Sale Funds) are frankly all going right into development. So you’ll have to imagine that, maybe at the start of this year, there were maybe 16 to 20 of us, we’re planning to close out the year with maybe 50 or 60 of us. At the end of next year, we may hit, who knows, 150 people working on this product. It’s all going into growth, into sizing up the team, and also bringing great people on board.” The interest in Ember Sword certainly warrants the increase in development, as Loren mentioned that there are over 125 thousand people on their waiting list, and their Discord receives 4 thousand new people each week, totaling nearly 40 thousand at this time.
“What’s actually on my land?”
After broaching the subject of the land sale, we turned to the question of the land itself. Landowners can’t bar people from entering their land, and apart from earning ERC20 (cryptocurrency tokens) on the backend, getting in early to the Alpha Test, and a cool title, is there a reason to own land? Loren responded, “What’s important to understand is obviously, land plays an important role in one part of the economy of the game, which is the economy around collectibles. Just like land is truly owned by the players, so are collectibles.” What are collectibles you might ask? “Collectibles are things like skins for your weapons, your armor, and hats, but also things like pets and mounts. All those things are truly owned by the players, but they are found and crafted right in the game.”
Loren expects that players will primarily buy these collectibles from other players, whether it’s on the Auction House or in other ways. When players purchase an item, a tax is involved, and part of that tax goes to the development team, while the rest gets divided among landowners. Buying these collectibles won’t make players stronger, but it will certainly make them look cooler. When it comes to finding those collectibles, trading at Auction Houses, or visiting an iron forge, it might all depend on whose land you’re on. Loren explained that regular plots for landowners, for instance, will likely be a big surprise to players on launch.
“For regular plot holders, once the world is revealed, (it will be) more interesting to find out ‘What’s actually on my land’. Some of these plots may have some interesting trades and yield some interesting results and value. Of course they’ll share their value being generated in their immediate area, so if you own a large spot of land that may not be settlements or towns or whatever, you can still take friends adventuring there and in doing so, you’ll generate value on your land.” For settlements, towns, and cities, there will be a sliding scale of available buildings. “When it comes to settlements towns and cities, each of these has higher and higher level of structures that can be built there.” Loren said.
Finally, I had to know how active a landowner needs to be. Taking care of an entire town is probably a lot of work, and an entire city could get tiring! Loren stated that it will depend on your plot size, certainly, but that there may be situations where landowners might hire guilds to take care of the land for you, if you plan to be away for a while. “I would say that obviously there is some evolution into what demands are in the game world, so it would be helpful for a landowner, especially of some of these higher tier plots, to check in every now and then and change things. It’s not like you would have to be in the game every day to deal with it.” he said. “Not every landowner is going to necessarily do that, which is also why, in the end, we’ll be offering the ability to lend out your land to others to take care of it for you.”
Ember Sword still has one more land sale planned before the end of the year. The Pre-Alpha Technical Test slated for later this year will be held in a placeholder environment, focusing on only the technical aspects, with very few features enabled. In the meantime, Loren encourages players to keep their eyes peeled for promo footage and more information.