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    以弱胜强:这个书呆子颠覆了游戏业,打造10亿美元市场

    以弱胜强:这个书呆子颠覆了游戏业,打造10亿美元市场

    Robert Hackett, 骆杰峰(Jeff John Roberts) 2020年06月22日
    数十年来,游戏玩家可以在现实世界中交换卡片。但不管是法律还是其他原因,网络游戏却一直坚决拒绝该功能亚博App|官方。
    ?
    尚未发行的原创漫画小说“Emergents: Legacy”页面,由史蒂夫?埃利斯和专门研发游戏的Bottled Lightning Studio创作。根据漫画的悠久传统,初版在上等纸板上手工绘制亚博App|官方,上色由电脑完成。图片来源:Art by Steve Ellis and Bottled Lightning Studio. All art is tm and copyright Emergents, Inc.

    兹维?莫肖维茨“啪”地一声把骰子砸在木桌上。这一掷非常幸运亚博App|官方,他牌组里的两张扑克牌能获得特殊的力量亚博App|官方。他把过了塑、保持跳跃姿势的超级英雄卡片横置,也就是进入战斗模式。虚拟角色发动攻击,给对手致命一击,对手无法防备。胜利!

    在美国的任何地下室或游戏商店里,都有可能出现这一幕。书呆子们聚在一起,指挥卡片上的巫师、战士和女武神驰骋战场。但这场游戏还不一样。4月中旬的早晨,地点是位于曼哈顿托尼?翠贝卡街区的豪华阁楼亚博App|官方,对战双方是时尚的风险投资家和嗓音沙哑的流行文化历史学家。用游戏玩家的话来说,这是一场“游戏测试”亚博App|官方。

    两人的商业伙伴兼临时对手是莫肖维茨。现年41岁的莫肖维茨可不是普通玩家,他头发蓬乱,戴着黑色眼镜,时常爆发大笑亚博App|官方,与20世纪90年代的卡通剧《德克斯特的实验室》(Dexter’s Laboratory)里的天才小男孩曼达克非常相似。莫肖维茨喜欢创意T恤衫,今天他穿的T恤衫上写着“向权威提问:问我什么都行”亚博App|官方。他在极客圈里以擅长万智牌知名。(编者注:万智牌是一种集换式卡牌游戏。它是同类游戏中最早发明的,也是极受欢迎的卡牌游戏之一)亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨最出名的是以弱胜强。他的绝招是用低价值卡战胜强大的对手。

    如今,莫肖维茨正在玩更大的游戏亚博App|官方,希望在超过1000亿美元的电子游戏产业里同样以弱胜强。莫肖维茨的目标是被称为数字收藏卡游戏的小众市场,据估计,今年该市场将从去年的15亿美元增长到20亿美元。最知名的例子就是突破性手机游戏《炉石传说》(Hearthstone),据称截至2018年11月,玩家已经达到1亿。

    莫肖维茨的计划激进又简单,即创造完全专注的游戏,抛弃传统的掠夺性战术亚博App|官方。在游戏里,玩家可以用数字交换的超级英雄和机器人卡牌互相战斗。玩家能在在线市场中购买、出售或交易不需要的数字产品亚博App|官方。即便是大热门免费游戏《炉石传说》亚博App|官方,也并无类似功能亚博App|官方。

    想法出现的原因似乎很明显。数十年来亚博App|官方,游戏玩家可以在现实世界中交换卡片。但不管是法律还是其他原因,网络游戏却一直坚决拒绝该功能。

    莫肖维茨召集了两位追随的伙伴。其中之一是之前提过参加游戏的历史学家布莱恩?大卫-马歇尔,他是Emergents的产品主管亚博App|官方。大卫-马歇尔的功劳之一是在曼哈顿切尔西区的一处阁楼里开办名叫Neutral Ground的店面,虽然现在店面已经关门,但在初创人员的心目中拥有神话级的地位,相当于游戏界的 Studio 54俱乐部。(有时大卫-马歇尔会为万智牌玩家营业到凌晨两三点亚博App|官方,在一场又一场战斗中甩出自己的神兽卡牌,玩家里有中年数学书呆子,也有很难适应环境的中学生。)

    三人组中的另一位成员是30岁的凯萨琳?布莱特曼,在开发游戏的初创公司Coase担任首席执行官。这家公司的名字是为了纪念著名经济学家罗纳德?科斯。

    如果说莫肖维茨和大卫-马歇尔为项目注入了游戏血统,布莱特曼则帮公司与风险投资和游戏世界以外有影响力的人们建立联系,其中包括亿万富翁、密码爱好者蒂姆?德雷珀。布雷特曼曾经在金融领域两大知名机构《华尔街日报》和对冲基金桥水工作,最出名的是跟丈夫领导加密货币项目,2017年曾经筹集2.34亿美元。她非常善于交际,也很有魅力,去年还跟法国丈夫亚瑟登上《连线》杂志的封面亚博App|官方。布莱特曼常年穿梭于纽约和巴黎亚博App|官方,留下一串串鸡尾酒和各种妙语亚博App|官方。

    布雷特曼、莫肖维茨和大卫-马歇尔携手向游戏业发起挑战。业内资深人士预测,如果这款目前正在向早期测试人员推出的新游戏能流行开来,那么它有望开启以数字产品交易为中心的新兴产业亚博App|官方,规??纱锸诿涝?。而其他人则不那么乐观。有人指出,新游戏要面临强大的竞争对手。结局往往是失败亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨并未受怀疑论者干扰。他一边洗着超级英雄卡牌,一边回忆自己有多少次绝地逢生。他打算再来一次,只不过这次要颠覆传统的数字游戏设计逻辑,将万智牌的魅力注入软件,引领新一轮虚拟卡牌收藏狂潮。

    创造奇迹

    20世纪80年代末亚博App|官方,数学家也是贝尔实验室的校友理查德?加菲尔德开始构想一种新型游戏。他想到将可收藏卡牌与幻想战斗游戏结合。跟棒球卡一样亚博App|官方,可以设置稀有卡,卡包能够随机开出稀有卡,这也是与当代大多数桌游相比最显著的创新亚博App|官方。由此,万智牌诞生了亚博App|官方。

    1993年亚博App|官方,当万智牌的第一张卡牌出现在西海岸时,就立刻收获了狂热的粉丝。青少年和成年人都被游戏里类似“龙与地下城”的超凡神话吸引亚博App|官方。他们开始沉迷购买“补充包”获得新卡牌亚博App|官方,用在个人的卡组里亚博App|官方。随着玩家们在全美各地漫画店和大学校园里推介,游戏通过老式的口碑传播流行起来。

    对于粉丝来说亚博App|官方,玩万智牌是非常私人的事?!巴蛑桥票绕渌脚朴蜗坊蜃烙味几咏巧缪?。每个玩家的牌组都像个角色?!薄杜υ伎汀肺恼乱糜蜗贩⒚髡呒臃贫略凇杜υ伎汀返幕氨硎狙遣〢pp|官方。

    玩家扮演叫“鹏洛克”的幽灵角色亚博App|官方,可以召唤虚拟的野兽和魔法进入战斗?;孟氡尘耙约案丛拥姆植愎嬖蚴怯蜗纷钗说牡胤窖遣〢pp|官方。对很多人来说,搭建卡组相当私人亚博App|官方。根据玩家个性不同亚博App|官方,容易受魔法“色轮”里的五种颜色之一吸引,而“色轮”有点类似霍格沃茨的分院帽。举例来说,白色角色与法律和秩序有关,而黑色人物体现了无情的权力,绿色角色代表公共价值等等亚博App|官方。

    万智牌很快变得非??袢??!拔以诼曜龌疃本头⑾至?亚博App|官方。人们都在拼命收集卡牌。有人因为我们没有某张牌而愤怒地找我抱怨,他气得抓住了我的衣领?!贝笪?马歇尔回忆说。

    虽然万智牌代表着丰富且充满幻想的文化,但在现实世界中也不断升值亚博App|官方。万智牌推出后不久就出现市场泡沫,引起了麻烦。投机者不断拆开3美元的补充包,寻找能倒卖获利的稀有卡。简直就像极客圈的郁金香狂热。疯狂收集卡牌促进了销售,但也可能破坏游戏的完整性和潜在的乐趣亚博App|官方,把万智牌变成变成像Pogs一样昙花一现的游戏,如今的Pogs只剩下怀旧亚博App|官方,而不再是游戏。

    对掌握该款游戏的Wizards of the Coast公司来说亚博App|官方,打造可持续的品牌要像央行行长一样思考。公司本可以不惜一切利用万智牌泡沫捞一把就走亚博App|官方,但最终选择了不同的策略。他们向市场投放某些卡牌以降低转售价值,这让投机者非常恼火。公司还引入了锦标赛规则,要求玩家使用最近年份的卡片,这意味着不能通过购买搭配强大的卡片,例如人人渴望的黑莲花卡来获胜。Wizards公司故意戳穿泡沫,其实是一种冒险亚博App|官方,但事实证明,此举是先见之明。

    调整卡牌市场的策略成功了。万智牌一直很热闹。如今,万智牌世界的运营非常类似于拥有3800万人口、管理良好的斯堪的纳维亚国家亚博App|官方。3800万是全球玩家数量亚博App|官方,还催生了丰富的粉丝文化和一系列模仿者亚博App|官方。二级市场仍在走强亚博App|官方。2019年,eBay上一张黑莲花卡的售价超过16.6万美元。

    尽管万智牌很早就已经获得成功亚博App|官方,但进入电脑时代后,它做得并不好。多年来,Wizards of the Coast的母公司孩之宝一直提供电脑版万智牌游戏,但一直相对小众。去年9月,孩之宝发布了《万智牌:竞技场》(Magic: The Gathering Arena),希望学习竞争对手《炉石传说》激活老游戏亚博App|官方。不过,虽然早期反馈不错亚博App|官方,但该款游戏只能在电脑上玩,不可以在移动设备上玩,而且像《炉石传说》一样,玩家不能像在实体世界里一样通过二级市场交易和转售卡牌。(万智牌的发言人布鲁斯?杜根表示亚博App|官方,“会考虑移动端”。虽然存在购买《炉石传说》和《竞技场》账号的黑市亚博App|官方,但账号并不保险亚博App|官方,而且买卖行为违反了游戏的服务协议。)

    Emergents团队希望开发新数字游戏复制万智牌的乐趣,所以正在密切研究万智牌的经验教训?!熬拖袼姓苎Ф急炔簧习乩家谎?亚博App|官方,所有卡牌游戏都比不上万智牌?亚博App|官方!辈祭程芈?。

    团队和不修边幅的领导者莫肖维茨都认为亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,新游戏破解了行业密码。当船员们向游戏业巨头倾斜时,莫肖维茨却手持长矛对抗。他不仅是专家玩家,用布莱特曼的话说亚博App|官方,他是“游戏圈的势利者”,而且是马丁?路德式的人物,他喜欢直言其他游戏设计师的剥削和操纵行为。也许他还有点唐吉诃德的气质吧。

    阿尔法版本测试期间游戏的起始手牌亚博App|官方。图片来源:Art by various artists. All art is tm and copyright Emergent Inc.

    避开激烈竞争

    莫肖维茨很小就开始玩游戏亚博App|官方,小时候他跟父亲下棋。不过都是改版的游戏。刚开始玩时,莫肖维茨的父亲只用国王和一个小兵亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,他则能用所有棋子。后来,当莫肖维茨学会将死父亲的残军时亚博App|官方,父亲再增加更多棋子,逐步提升难度。

    他十几岁时也遇到过类似的实力错位,当时他沉迷于万智牌亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,在纽约市参加各种比赛,希望获得奖金亚博App|官方,然后出名。虽然他的父母都是哥伦比亚大学教授,生活相当舒适,但莫肖维茨的零花钱相当少。由于他太穷,搭建60张牌的卡组时只能用其他人的弃牌,也只能用非正统策略获胜。

    莫肖维茨擅长用低价值卡赢得比赛,这种策略也成了他的成名绝技。后来出品万智牌的Wizards of the Coast等游戏公司纷纷邀请莫肖维茨试玩亚博App|官方。有好几次亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,他“破解”了游戏亚博App|官方。(所谓“破解”是极客术语亚博App|官方,是指发现设计上的缺陷导致自动获胜。)在美国西部工作期间,莫肖维茨玩过不同的游戏。他在丹佛郊外的印第安式赌场玩扑克赚了一大笔钱亚博App|官方,然后在拉斯维加斯从事赌博行业亚博App|官方。莫肖维茨不愿谈及他工作细节,只表示跟数学有关。

    这并不奇怪。莫肖维茨在说话时,会分析周围每种情况的概率,几乎能看到他脑中蹦出一连串的方程式。由于数学能力超群,他谈起某些整数时格外温柔?!?7岁在我心中地位比较特殊。因为17是最随机的数字?亚博App|官方!彼诨匾涓咧惺Ь憷植康纳钍彼晨谒盗艘痪?。

    莫肖维茨离开拉斯维加斯亚博App|官方,在量化公司Jane Street工作亚博App|官方,后来在很快倒闭的医学研究初创公司MetaMed当过首席执行官亚博App|官方。现在,他把所有的数字运算能力都用在Emergents上。他的任务是设计新游戏,颠覆此前游戏制作者赚钱的基础。

    莫肖维茨要废除“战利品盒”。批评人士称亚博App|官方,“战利品盒”能开出特殊武器或增强功能的摸彩袋类似彩票。他们指责游戏行业操纵玩家,特别是儿童,花费数百甚至数千美元(或游戏时间)获取数字垃圾。战利品盒引发的争议导致美国和欧洲的政治家呼吁全面禁止。

    莫肖维茨说,战利品盒利用玩家的弱点实施操纵。他提出了“斯金纳箱”实验,“斯金纳箱”是指把老鼠放进盒子里亚博App|官方,训练采取某种活动以换取食物。

    在电子游戏中,斯金纳箱使用的是虚拟奖励亚博App|官方。游戏制作者提供游戏中的金钱、武器、升级、催眠声音和各种小饰品,诱使玩家在游戏中花费更多时间亚博App|官方,通常都是乏味重复的活动。这并不是莫肖维茨提出的阴谋论。只要在网上搜索“斯金纳盒和游戏”,就能发现该理论在游戏设计讨论中很常见亚博App|官方。对游戏制作者来说,操纵玩家玩更长时间有助于推动部分人购买更多战利品盒亚博App|官方,从而提高收入亚博App|官方。但在莫肖维茨看来亚博App|官方,结果是游戏变得单调乏味亚博App|官方。

    Emergents等游戏产品市场似乎不太可能解决既有问题亚博App|官方,但莫肖维茨相信,类似市场将具有革新意义?!叭绻辉市斫灰?,就会强迫人们‘肝’时间?亚博App|官方!彼馐退?,玩家可能不得不在游戏的一个小角落里耗费数小时亚博App|官方,才能获得某种工具或武器。

    莫肖维茨还认为,行业未能建立游戏内交易选项,削弱了想象力。他说亚博App|官方,每个玩家都努力获取商品时,会倾向于从游戏博客上介绍几种已尝试、真实的、被证明是成功的卡牌搭建策略中选择一种亚博App|官方。在他看来,如果玩家可以购买或交换工具和武器,就能探索非正统战术并获得优势。这正是莫肖维茨玩万智牌时做的事,他相信该经验同样适用于在线游戏。

    不过亚博App|官方,有个问题也很明显,如果二手数码产品能开启十亿美元的产业,而且提升游戏的趣味性,那么为什么之前没有人这么做亚博App|官方?

    左起:布莱恩?大卫-马歇尔、凯瑟琳?布莱特曼和兹维?莫肖维茨。图片来源:Jeff Roberts

    其他人为什么失败

    游戏行业不愿为玩家提供销售和交换产品的方式,其实是有充分理由的。

    不出所料亚博App|官方,第一个原因就是合法性亚博App|官方。首先,明确说明卡牌价值可能等于不小心承认公司私下卖彩票亚博App|官方。这在世界某些地区是非法的,包括美国的很多州亚博App|官方。因此,Wizards of the Coast等公司明智地选择“不说明”也不否认亚博App|官方,把市场业务留给独立经销商。其次,相关市场可能会被欺诈者滥用⊙遣〢pp|官方!斗纯志ⅰ罚–ounter-Strike: Global Offensive)的制作者最近就发现亚博App|官方,市场上几乎所有交易员都是洗钱者,试图套取不义之财。

    此外还有一系列商业原因导致游戏市场比较少见。比如说,游戏制造商担心二手游戏市场会影响新游戏发售亚博App|官方。

    传统上,类似的销售行为主要通过?亚博App|官方;蛘摺赌奘澜纭罚╓orld of Warcraft)里的金币,但近来更多的销售是以游戏玩家称之为“美化”或“皮肤”的形式出现,主要用来装饰玩家的角色,如太阳镜或新鞋亚博App|官方。在游戏《堡垒之夜》(Fortnite)里买皮肤的热潮中尤为引人注目亚博App|官方。学生玩家极其重视,如果游戏形象没有经过修饰就会被嘲笑“默认”,从而被迫花钱装扮角色亚博App|官方。仅在2018年,《堡垒之夜》的皮肤销售额就达到24亿美元?!侗だ葜埂防锩克硕吞艟档氖找娑蓟嶂苯咏胫圃焐蘀pic Games的口袋。在Epic Games看来,何必冒险允许商店转售商品降低利润?奶牛要用来挤奶亚博App|官方,而不能杀鸡取卵。

    韦德布什证券公司的分析师迈克尔?帕切特表示,蚕食利润的担心真实存在,但也有所夸大?!熬拖窦偬艟?。有些人花10美元买假冒的LV,但不能说如果没有假货那些人就都会花200美元去买正品?!彼?。

    但是亚博App|官方,即便相信二手货不会侵蚀销售,游戏制作者远离二手货市场亚博App|官方,以及《炉石传说》和《竞技场》等游戏禁止任何形式的交易还有个原因亚博App|官方。主要担心是单独个人或机器人拥有多个账户利用规则与系统博弈,先是辛苦收集稀有卡亚博App|官方,然后将所有卡片集中到一个账户。如此一来卡牌可能失去价值亚博App|官方,也影响游戏的初衷。

    在提供游戏内交易平台方面,游戏设计师对前辈的失误记忆犹新。2011年,游戏巨头暴雪在暗黑型角色扮演游戏《暗黑破坏神3》(Diablo III)内推出了“拍卖行”。本来拍卖行是希望替代eBay和其他未经授权的交易论坛亚博App|官方,提供内部选择亚博App|官方,也为了在《暗黑破坏神3》里增添有趣的新经济元素。不幸的是,拍卖行导致了意外的结果亚博App|官方,一些中国和俄罗斯的经济雇佣兵在机器人帮助下亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,加入游戏仅仅为了获得和出售二手武器亚博App|官方。这些人在官方拍卖行兜售数字产品,购买方则是富有的商人,为了打败游戏里最强悍的坏人购买最好的武器亚博App|官方。很快,暗黑破坏神的精英队伍中出现了越来越多的“氪金”玩家,也是游戏界的禁忌亚博App|官方。该现象引发声讨浪潮亚博App|官方,导致暴雪在2013年关闭了拍卖行。

    与早期几乎摧毁万智牌的投机泡沫一样亚博App|官方,暗黑破坏神拍卖行的惨败也凸显了反常的经济力量如何摧毁原本受欢迎的游戏。后来多位游戏行业人士得出结论:游戏内交易市场行不通。实际上亚博App|官方,莫肖维茨承认潜在投资者已经询问过Emergents 团队,打算如何避免暗黑破坏神式的崩溃亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨的回应是,将游戏世界比作现实世界亚博App|官方亚博App|官方?!霸谕蛑桥评?,有个我们称之为‘手提箱先生’的家伙,他带着所有牌参加锦标赛亚博App|官方?!彼?。在万智牌的世界里,Wizards of the Coast可以利用锦标赛的规则,限制比赛中能使用卡牌的种类亚博App|官方,从而控制手提箱先生。在Emergents里,莫肖维茨设想将玩家分成不同的等级,让拥有卡组价值相似的玩家互相竞争。(系统不会阻碍拥有适当资源的聪明玩家挑战“手提箱先生”,但会确保多数竞技均衡匹配。)

    首席执行官布莱特曼也曾经对游戏氪金问题进行过深入思考亚博App|官方,不过她的观点更具学术性。在她的研究中,以及创立加密货币公司Tezos的过程中,她广泛阅读了有关金融和博弈论的书籍,结果发现书中知识对理解经济学在游戏设计的作用很有益。

    布雷特曼说,暗黑破坏神拍卖行的失败是因为游戏的免费模式很容易被机器人和流氓玩家利用。尽管Emergents提供免费版本亚博App|官方,新玩家可以免费获得一把牌,但她表示,游戏的机制下,玩家不能使用机器人来“肝”,或者积攒物品转售。

    但即使Emergents找到了击败机器人的方法亚博App|官方,也要先有人玩游戏才能实现目标,而吸引玩家并不容易。从长远来看,《炉石传说》仍然是最受欢迎的数字收藏卡牌游戏,而莫肖维茨轻视的一些战术正是玩家能连续数小时沉迷手机的原因。其他模仿的游戏(也就是所谓的“克隆炉石”)几乎没有成功的。

    “很多游戏都在模仿《炉石传说》,却没有自己的特色?!盢PD游戏(NPD Games)的分析师马修?迪纳尔说?亚博App|官方!澳7碌穆飞嫌幸欢蚜沂垦遣〢pp|官方。在这个领域里,暴雪占据了绝对优势?!?

    成功机会之渺??赡芰钊送?,但除了莫肖维茨和大卫-马歇尔过往的从业经历和布莱特曼的经济头脑之外,Emergents团队还有一个有望打赢突围赛的优势。他们相信自己手握王牌,那就是名叫区块链的新技术。

    打出游戏里的“扫荡者”卡牌亚博App|官方,可以移除多张敌对角色的牌。图片来源:NOVA ART BY STEVE ELLIS AND BOTTLED LIGHTNING STUDIOS. OTHER ART BY VARIOUS. ALL ART IS TM AND COPYRIGHT EMERGENTS, INC.

    区块链赋能游戏世界

    2017年,“区块链”一举变身流行语,在很多人眼里成为了时尚。但与其他新技术一样亚博App|官方,区块链既被夸大亚博App|官方,也有被误解的地方。至于Emergents团队,布莱特曼认为区块链技术可以应对二手商品市场和游戏规则改变的挑战。

    从本质上看,区块链只是可以在多台计算机上运行的新型软件,能创建永久防篡改的账本。最著名的例子是比特币区块链,也有很多其他例子,包括2014年布莱特曼和丈夫创建的Tezos。诸多区块链都可用于创建公开可信的交易记录。目前,金融、航运和贵重宝石等多种行业都在使用区块链跟踪产品并建立原产地证明。

    在游戏世界里,区块链可以用来创建不受篡改的记录亚博App|官方,记录某项数字财产的拥有者,不管财产是宝剑亚博App|官方、怪物,还是稀有的太阳镜。在Emergents里,区块链能随时提供某位玩家拥有某张卡牌的权威记录,就好像游戏监管者拥有可靠的会计团队,可以确保游戏经济的完整性亚博App|官方。

    游戏中使用区块链还能提供有趣的可能,即为粉丝创造新的数字收藏品。具体来说亚博App|官方,玩家可以付费获得精英玩家在锦标赛中使用的数字卡牌或剑,反正区块链能够确认出处。其实类似于购买明星球员在世界大赛上使用的球棒。

    虽然区块链是新的游戏技术亚博App|官方,但值得注意的是,区块链和加密货币领域里的很多高手都是万智牌迷亚博App|官方。其中包括以太坊的创始人维塔利克?布特林,以太坊是仅次于比特币的流行数字货币。加密货币交易所Kraken的首席执行官杰西?鲍威尔回忆说亚博App|官方,他曾经在万智牌比赛中与莫肖维茨对决。(Mt.Gox是早期主要的比特币交易所,最开始是万智牌在线交易所。)相关名人和身后庞大的社交媒体粉丝可能会大力推广支持区块链的新游戏。

    当然,最后都取决于游戏制造商能否第一时间无缝集成区块链技术。Niantic Labs的首席执行官亚博App|官方,也是精灵宝可梦(Pokémon Go)的创始人约翰?汉克警告称亚博App|官方,“游戏必须排第一位?!彼囊馑际?,如果游戏本身无法吸引人,背后支持的技术并不重要。

    其他也有人意见相同⊙遣〢pp|官方!暗阶詈?,还是要有顶级质量的游戏,并且玩起来要非常有趣亚博App|官方亚博App|官方。这一点不能妥协?!盋oinbase和Naspers支持的初创公司Immutable的首席执行官詹姆斯?弗格森说,该公司正在研发基于区块链的数字卡牌游戏亚博App|官方,名叫Gods Unchained。

    这还不是Emergents唯一的竞争对手。2018年,加密货币公司Ripple跟长期从事游戏行业的联盟宣布为游戏制造商提供1亿美元,用于整合区块链技术。曾经担任Kabam联合创始人兼首席执行官的周凯文目前在领导区块链游戏初创公司Forte,Kabam是热门的移动游戏制造商亚博App|官方,曾经与《星球大战》、漫威和《指环王》等知名品牌合作?!妒姑倩健返那爸鞴茉己?林登担任Mythical Games的首席执行官,负责监督内置区块链的新游戏。

    “区块链的优势在于可以转变范式,而不只是提供新平台。使用区块链跟踪和交易游戏资产能改变出售资产的类型?亚博App|官方!彼?。

    林登、布莱特曼和其他人都在赌,区块链将在游戏领域带来技术飞跃,级别类似于之前引入的游戏手柄或多人在线游戏。在他们看来亚博App|官方,问题并不在于区块链能否改变游戏,而是谁能第一个成功。

    来一张莫西就能赢

    在翠贝卡阁楼上,莫肖维茨邀请风险资本家跟他对抗桌上的另一位投资者亚博App|官方。她坐在桌旁,两人在工匠、前锋和闪光风暴等实体卡牌周围调整兵力亚博App|官方。目前团队用实体卡牌演示游戏,与此同时亚博App|官方,开发人员也在搭建数字版。

    “我们会用长棘龙打掉对方的灯塔,这样就能用自己的灯塔了!”莫肖维茨告诉困惑的搭档。他抽牌时眼睛闪着光亚博App|官方。这张卡牌上的角色是莫西。显然,她很强大。几分钟后亚博App|官方,一切都结束了,莫肖维茨打出莫西亚博App|官方,消灭了对手的最后一支部队亚博App|官方。

    随后几人在布鲁克林著名的Dough bakery吃甜甜圈,投资人向莫肖维茨问起游戏的推出计划。有个关键决策是,Emergents团队要不要跟知名品牌合作亚博App|官方,比如漫威或《权力的游戏》(Game of Thrones),还是单纯靠大卫-马歇尔设计的工匠,长棘龙之类鲜有人知的卡牌。

    他们说,Emergents同事一直在跟知名片方谈判,但目前不太受重视?!懊挥腥嗽敢獾谝桓龀泽π??!辈祭程芈?,她的预测是亚博App|官方,如果首款区块链游戏在市场上施展吸引力,吸引知识产权授权会更容易。

    与此同时,莫肖维茨身心自己能打造出更优秀的在线游戏亚博App|官方。他早已习惯遇到怀疑者,然后用被证实的预测让对方惊讶亚博App|官方。如果莫肖维茨能笑到最后,就像以前很多次他获胜后突然大笑,在场所有人都可以听到。如果Emergents大获成功,则可能会在庞大的游戏产业里打开巨大的垂直市场,而2018年游戏行业的收入就已经超过全球电影行业亚博App|官方。

    Mythical Games的首席执行官约翰?林登曾经领导Tony Hawk Skateboarding等大型品牌亚博App|官方,其实他见过类似场景。他举了亚马逊旗下Twitch的例子,数百万粉丝在Twitch上观看游戏直播,购买在线游戏赞助的品牌也在增加亚博App|官方。林登认为亚博App|官方,在热门游戏里引入二手商品市场,可能会引发另一场金融盛宴亚博App|官方。

    他说:“每次只要让人们更深入玩游戏,还能赚点钱亚博App|官方,就可以催生数百万美元的新产业?亚博App|官方!保ú聘恢形耐?

    译者:夏林

    兹维?莫肖维茨“啪”地一声把骰子砸在木桌上。这一掷非常幸运,他牌组里的两张扑克牌能获得特殊的力量。他把过了塑、保持跳跃姿势的超级英雄卡片横置,也就是进入战斗模式。虚拟角色发动攻击,给对手致命一击亚博App|官方,对手无法防备。胜利亚博App|官方!

    在美国的任何地下室或游戏商店里,都有可能出现这一幕。书呆子们聚在一起,指挥卡片上的巫师、战士和女武神驰骋战场。但这场游戏还不一样。4月中旬的早晨,地点是位于曼哈顿托尼?翠贝卡街区的豪华阁楼,对战双方是时尚的风险投资家和嗓音沙哑的流行文化历史学家亚博App|官方。用游戏玩家的话来说,这是一场“游戏测试”。

    两人的商业伙伴兼临时对手是莫肖维茨。现年41岁的莫肖维茨可不是普通玩家亚博App|官方,他头发蓬乱,戴着黑色眼镜亚博App|官方,时常爆发大笑,与20世纪90年代的卡通剧《德克斯特的实验室》(Dexter’s Laboratory)里的天才小男孩曼达克非常相似。莫肖维茨喜欢创意T恤衫,今天他穿的T恤衫上写着“向权威提问:问我什么都行”。他在极客圈里以擅长万智牌知名亚博App|官方。(编者注:万智牌是一种集换式卡牌游戏。它是同类游戏中最早发明的,也是极受欢迎的卡牌游戏之一)亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨最出名的是以弱胜强。他的绝招是用低价值卡战胜强大的对手。

    如今,莫肖维茨正在玩更大的游戏,希望在超过1000亿美元的电子游戏产业里同样以弱胜强亚博App|官方。莫肖维茨的目标是被称为数字收藏卡游戏的小众市场亚博App|官方,据估计,今年该市场将从去年的15亿美元增长到20亿美元。最知名的例子就是突破性手机游戏《炉石传说》(Hearthstone),据称截至2018年11月,玩家已经达到1亿亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨的计划激进又简单亚博App|官方,即创造完全专注的游戏,抛弃传统的掠夺性战术亚博App|官方。在游戏里,玩家可以用数字交换的超级英雄和机器人卡牌互相战斗。玩家能在在线市场中购买亚博App|官方、出售或交易不需要的数字产品。即便是大热门免费游戏《炉石传说》亚博App|官方,也并无类似功能亚博App|官方。

    想法出现的原因似乎很明显。数十年来,游戏玩家可以在现实世界中交换卡片亚博App|官方。但不管是法律还是其他原因,网络游戏却一直坚决拒绝该功能。

    莫肖维茨召集了两位追随的伙伴。其中之一是之前提过参加游戏的历史学家布莱恩?大卫-马歇尔亚博App|官方,他是Emergents的产品主管亚博App|官方。大卫-马歇尔的功劳之一是在曼哈顿切尔西区的一处阁楼里开办名叫Neutral Ground的店面,虽然现在店面已经关门,但在初创人员的心目中拥有神话级的地位亚博App|官方,相当于游戏界的 Studio 54俱乐部。(有时大卫-马歇尔会为万智牌玩家营业到凌晨两三点,在一场又一场战斗中甩出自己的神兽卡牌,玩家里有中年数学书呆子,也有很难适应环境的中学生。)

    三人组中的另一位成员是30岁的凯萨琳?布莱特曼,在开发游戏的初创公司Coase担任首席执行官。这家公司的名字是为了纪念著名经济学家罗纳德?科斯亚博App|官方。

    如果说莫肖维茨和大卫-马歇尔为项目注入了游戏血统,布莱特曼则帮公司与风险投资和游戏世界以外有影响力的人们建立联系,其中包括亿万富翁、密码爱好者蒂姆?德雷珀。布雷特曼曾经在金融领域两大知名机构《华尔街日报》和对冲基金桥水工作亚博App|官方,最出名的是跟丈夫领导加密货币项目,2017年曾经筹集2.34亿美元亚博App|官方。她非常善于交际,也很有魅力亚博App|官方,去年还跟法国丈夫亚瑟登上《连线》杂志的封面。布莱特曼常年穿梭于纽约和巴黎,留下一串串鸡尾酒和各种妙语。

    布雷特曼亚博App|官方、莫肖维茨和大卫-马歇尔携手向游戏业发起挑战。业内资深人士预测,如果这款目前正在向早期测试人员推出的新游戏能流行开来,那么它有望开启以数字产品交易为中心的新兴产业,规??纱锸诿涝?。而其他人则不那么乐观。有人指出,新游戏要面临强大的竞争对手。结局往往是失败亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨并未受怀疑论者干扰亚博App|官方。他一边洗着超级英雄卡牌,一边回忆自己有多少次绝地逢生。他打算再来一次,只不过这次要颠覆传统的数字游戏设计逻辑,将万智牌的魅力注入软件,引领新一轮虚拟卡牌收藏狂潮。

    创造奇迹

    20世纪80年代末,数学家也是贝尔实验室的校友理查德?加菲尔德开始构想一种新型游戏。他想到将可收藏卡牌与幻想战斗游戏结合。跟棒球卡一样亚博App|官方,可以设置稀有卡亚博App|官方,卡包能够随机开出稀有卡亚博App|官方,这也是与当代大多数桌游相比最显著的创新。由此,万智牌诞生了亚博App|官方。

    1993年亚博App|官方,当万智牌的第一张卡牌出现在西海岸时,就立刻收获了狂热的粉丝亚博App|官方。青少年和成年人都被游戏里类似“龙与地下城”的超凡神话吸引。他们开始沉迷购买“补充包”获得新卡牌,用在个人的卡组里。随着玩家们在全美各地漫画店和大学校园里推介,游戏通过老式的口碑传播流行起来亚博App|官方。

    对于粉丝来说,玩万智牌是非常私人的事?!巴蛑桥票绕渌脚朴蜗坊蜃烙味几咏巧缪?。每个玩家的牌组都像个角色亚博App|官方?!薄杜υ伎汀肺恼乱糜蜗贩⒚髡呒臃贫略凇杜υ伎汀返幕氨硎?。

    玩家扮演叫“鹏洛克”的幽灵角色,可以召唤虚拟的野兽和魔法进入战斗⊙遣〢pp|官方;孟氡尘耙约案丛拥姆植愎嬖蚴怯蜗纷钗说牡胤?。对很多人来说,搭建卡组相当私人。根据玩家个性不同,容易受魔法“色轮”里的五种颜色之一吸引,而“色轮”有点类似霍格沃茨的分院帽。举例来说,白色角色与法律和秩序有关,而黑色人物体现了无情的权力亚博App|官方,绿色角色代表公共价值等等。

    万智牌很快变得非??袢?亚博App|官方⊙遣〢pp|官方!拔以诼曜龌疃本头⑾至?。人们都在拼命收集卡牌。有人因为我们没有某张牌而愤怒地找我抱怨,他气得抓住了我的衣领⊙遣〢pp|官方!贝笪?马歇尔回忆说。

    虽然万智牌代表着丰富且充满幻想的文化,但在现实世界中也不断升值。万智牌推出后不久就出现市场泡沫亚博App|官方,引起了麻烦。投机者不断拆开3美元的补充包,寻找能倒卖获利的稀有卡。简直就像极客圈的郁金香狂热。疯狂收集卡牌促进了销售亚博App|官方,但也可能破坏游戏的完整性和潜在的乐趣,把万智牌变成变成像Pogs一样昙花一现的游戏亚博App|官方,如今的Pogs只剩下怀旧亚博App|官方,而不再是游戏。

    对掌握该款游戏的Wizards of the Coast公司来说,打造可持续的品牌要像央行行长一样思考。公司本可以不惜一切利用万智牌泡沫捞一把就走,但最终选择了不同的策略。他们向市场投放某些卡牌以降低转售价值,这让投机者非常恼火。公司还引入了锦标赛规则,要求玩家使用最近年份的卡片,这意味着不能通过购买搭配强大的卡片,例如人人渴望的黑莲花卡来获胜。Wizards公司故意戳穿泡沫,其实是一种冒险,但事实证明,此举是先见之明。

    调整卡牌市场的策略成功了。万智牌一直很热闹。如今亚博App|官方,万智牌世界的运营非常类似于拥有3800万人口、管理良好的斯堪的纳维亚国家。3800万是全球玩家数量,还催生了丰富的粉丝文化和一系列模仿者。二级市场仍在走强亚博App|官方。2019年,eBay上一张黑莲花卡的售价超过16.6万美元。

    尽管万智牌很早就已经获得成功,但进入电脑时代后亚博App|官方,它做得并不好。多年来亚博App|官方,Wizards of the Coast的母公司孩之宝一直提供电脑版万智牌游戏亚博App|官方,但一直相对小众。去年9月,孩之宝发布了《万智牌:竞技场》(Magic: The Gathering Arena)亚博App|官方,希望学习竞争对手《炉石传说》激活老游戏。不过,虽然早期反馈不错,但该款游戏只能在电脑上玩,不可以在移动设备上玩,而且像《炉石传说》一样,玩家不能像在实体世界里一样通过二级市场交易和转售卡牌。(万智牌的发言人布鲁斯?杜根表示,“会考虑移动端”。虽然存在购买《炉石传说》和《竞技场》账号的黑市,但账号并不保险,而且买卖行为违反了游戏的服务协议。)

    Emergents团队希望开发新数字游戏复制万智牌的乐趣亚博App|官方,所以正在密切研究万智牌的经验教训?!熬拖袼姓苎Ф急炔簧习乩家谎?,所有卡牌游戏都比不上万智牌?!辈祭程芈?亚博App|官方。

    团队和不修边幅的领导者莫肖维茨都认为,新游戏破解了行业密码。当船员们向游戏业巨头倾斜时,莫肖维茨却手持长矛对抗。他不仅是专家玩家,用布莱特曼的话说亚博App|官方,他是“游戏圈的势利者”,而且是马丁?路德式的人物,他喜欢直言其他游戏设计师的剥削和操纵行为。也许他还有点唐吉诃德的气质吧亚博App|官方亚博App|官方。

    避开激烈竞争

    莫肖维茨很小就开始玩游戏亚博App|官方,小时候他跟父亲下棋亚博App|官方。不过都是改版的游戏。刚开始玩时,莫肖维茨的父亲只用国王和一个小兵,他则能用所有棋子。后来,当莫肖维茨学会将死父亲的残军时,父亲再增加更多棋子,逐步提升难度。

    他十几岁时也遇到过类似的实力错位,当时他沉迷于万智牌,在纽约市参加各种比赛,希望获得奖金,然后出名。虽然他的父母都是哥伦比亚大学教授,生活相当舒适,但莫肖维茨的零花钱相当少。由于他太穷亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,搭建60张牌的卡组时只能用其他人的弃牌,也只能用非正统策略获胜。

    莫肖维茨擅长用低价值卡赢得比赛亚博App|官方,这种策略也成了他的成名绝技亚博App|官方。后来出品万智牌的Wizards of the Coast等游戏公司纷纷邀请莫肖维茨试玩。有好几次,他“破解”了游戏亚博App|官方。(所谓“破解”是极客术语,是指发现设计上的缺陷导致自动获胜亚博App|官方。)在美国西部工作期间,莫肖维茨玩过不同的游戏。他在丹佛郊外的印第安式赌场玩扑克赚了一大笔钱,然后在拉斯维加斯从事赌博行业。莫肖维茨不愿谈及他工作细节,只表示跟数学有关亚博App|官方。

    这并不奇怪亚博App|官方。莫肖维茨在说话时,会分析周围每种情况的概率,几乎能看到他脑中蹦出一连串的方程式。由于数学能力超群,他谈起某些整数时格外温柔⊙遣〢pp|官方!?7岁在我心中地位比较特殊亚博App|官方。因为17是最随机的数字?!彼诨匾涓咧惺Ь憷植康纳钍彼晨谒盗艘痪?亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨离开拉斯维加斯亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,在量化公司Jane Street工作,后来在很快倒闭的医学研究初创公司MetaMed当过首席执行官。现在亚博App|官方,他把所有的数字运算能力都用在Emergents上。他的任务是设计新游戏,颠覆此前游戏制作者赚钱的基础。

    莫肖维茨要废除“战利品盒”亚博App|官方。批评人士称,“战利品盒”能开出特殊武器或增强功能的摸彩袋类似彩票。他们指责游戏行业操纵玩家,特别是儿童亚博App|官方,花费数百甚至数千美元(或游戏时间)获取数字垃圾亚博App|官方。战利品盒引发的争议导致美国和欧洲的政治家呼吁全面禁止。

    莫肖维茨说,战利品盒利用玩家的弱点实施操纵。他提出了“斯金纳箱”实验,“斯金纳箱”是指把老鼠放进盒子里,训练采取某种活动以换取食物。

    在电子游戏中,斯金纳箱使用的是虚拟奖励亚博App|官方。游戏制作者提供游戏中的金钱、武器、升级、催眠声音和各种小饰品亚博App|官方,诱使玩家在游戏中花费更多时间,通常都是乏味重复的活动。这并不是莫肖维茨提出的阴谋论。只要在网上搜索“斯金纳盒和游戏”,就能发现该理论在游戏设计讨论中很常见。对游戏制作者来说,操纵玩家玩更长时间有助于推动部分人购买更多战利品盒,从而提高收入亚博App|官方亚博App|官方。但在莫肖维茨看来,结果是游戏变得单调乏味。

    Emergents等游戏产品市场似乎不太可能解决既有问题,但莫肖维茨相信,类似市场将具有革新意义亚博App|官方?!叭绻辉市斫灰?,就会强迫人们‘肝’时间亚博App|官方?!彼馐退笛遣〢pp|官方,玩家可能不得不在游戏的一个小角落里耗费数小时,才能获得某种工具或武器。

    莫肖维茨还认为,行业未能建立游戏内交易选项亚博App|官方,削弱了想象力亚博App|官方。他说,每个玩家都努力获取商品时,会倾向于从游戏博客上介绍几种已尝试、真实的、被证明是成功的卡牌搭建策略中选择一种亚博App|官方。在他看来亚博App|官方,如果玩家可以购买或交换工具和武器亚博App|官方,就能探索非正统战术并获得优势。这正是莫肖维茨玩万智牌时做的事,他相信该经验同样适用于在线游戏。

    不过,有个问题也很明显,如果二手数码产品能开启十亿美元的产业,而且提升游戏的趣味性,那么为什么之前没有人这么做?

    其他人为什么失败

    游戏行业不愿为玩家提供销售和交换产品的方式,其实是有充分理由的亚博App|官方。

    不出所料,第一个原因就是合法性。首先,明确说明卡牌价值可能等于不小心承认公司私下卖彩票。这在世界某些地区是非法的,包括美国的很多州。因此亚博App|官方,Wizards of the Coast等公司明智地选择“不说明”也不否认,把市场业务留给独立经销商亚博App|官方。其次,相关市场可能会被欺诈者滥用?亚博App|官方!斗纯志ⅰ罚–ounter-Strike: Global Offensive)的制作者最近就发现亚博App|官方,市场上几乎所有交易员都是洗钱者,试图套取不义之财。

    此外还有一系列商业原因导致游戏市场比较少见。比如说,游戏制造商担心二手游戏市场会影响新游戏发售。

    传统上亚博App|官方,类似的销售行为主要通过窖遣〢pp|官方亚博App|官方;蛘摺赌奘澜纭罚╓orld of Warcraft)里的金币,但近来更多的销售是以游戏玩家称之为“美化”或“皮肤”的形式出现,主要用来装饰玩家的角色亚博App|官方,如太阳镜或新鞋。在游戏《堡垒之夜》(Fortnite)里买皮肤的热潮中尤为引人注目亚博App|官方。学生玩家极其重视,如果游戏形象没有经过修饰就会被嘲笑“默认”亚博App|官方,从而被迫花钱装扮角色。仅在2018年,《堡垒之夜》的皮肤销售额就达到24亿美元亚博App|官方?!侗だ葜埂防锩克硕吞艟档氖找娑蓟嶂苯咏胫圃焐蘀pic Games的口袋。在Epic Games看来,何必冒险允许商店转售商品降低利润?奶牛要用来挤奶亚博App|官方,而不能杀鸡取卵。

    韦德布什证券公司的分析师迈克尔?帕切特表示,蚕食利润的担心真实存在,但也有所夸大?亚博App|官方!熬拖窦偬艟?。有些人花10美元买假冒的LV,但不能说如果没有假货那些人就都会花200美元去买正品?!彼?亚博App|官方。

    但是亚博App|官方,即便相信二手货不会侵蚀销售,游戏制作者远离二手货市场,以及《炉石传说》和《竞技场》等游戏禁止任何形式的交易还有个原因亚博App|官方。主要担心是单独个人或机器人拥有多个账户利用规则与系统博弈,先是辛苦收集稀有卡,然后将所有卡片集中到一个账户。如此一来卡牌可能失去价值亚博App|官方,也影响游戏的初衷。

    在提供游戏内交易平台方面亚博App|官方,游戏设计师对前辈的失误记忆犹新亚博App|官方。2011年亚博App|官方,游戏巨头暴雪在暗黑型角色扮演游戏《暗黑破坏神3》(Diablo III)内推出了“拍卖行”。本来拍卖行是希望替代eBay和其他未经授权的交易论坛亚博App|官方,提供内部选择,也为了在《暗黑破坏神3》里增添有趣的新经济元素亚博App|官方。不幸的是亚博App|官方,拍卖行导致了意外的结果,一些中国和俄罗斯的经济雇佣兵在机器人帮助下,加入游戏仅仅为了获得和出售二手武器。这些人在官方拍卖行兜售数字产品,购买方则是富有的商人亚博App|官方,为了打败游戏里最强悍的坏人购买最好的武器。很快,暗黑破坏神的精英队伍中出现了越来越多的“氪金”玩家,也是游戏界的禁忌亚博App|官方。该现象引发声讨浪潮亚博App|官方亚博App|官方,导致暴雪在2013年关闭了拍卖行亚博App|官方。

    与早期几乎摧毁万智牌的投机泡沫一样亚博App|官方,暗黑破坏神拍卖行的惨败也凸显了反常的经济力量如何摧毁原本受欢迎的游戏。后来多位游戏行业人士得出结论:游戏内交易市场行不通。实际上,莫肖维茨承认潜在投资者已经询问过Emergents 团队亚博App|官方,打算如何避免暗黑破坏神式的崩溃亚博App|官方。

    莫肖维茨的回应是,将游戏世界比作现实世界?!霸谕蛑桥评?,有个我们称之为‘手提箱先生’的家伙,他带着所有牌参加锦标赛?亚博App|官方!彼?。在万智牌的世界里,Wizards of the Coast可以利用锦标赛的规则,限制比赛中能使用卡牌的种类,从而控制手提箱先生。在Emergents里,莫肖维茨设想将玩家分成不同的等级,让拥有卡组价值相似的玩家互相竞争。(系统不会阻碍拥有适当资源的聪明玩家挑战“手提箱先生”亚博App|官方,但会确保多数竞技均衡匹配亚博App|官方。)

    首席执行官布莱特曼也曾经对游戏氪金问题进行过深入思考,不过她的观点更具学术性。在她的研究中,以及创立加密货币公司Tezos的过程中,她广泛阅读了有关金融和博弈论的书籍,结果发现书中知识对理解经济学在游戏设计的作用很有益。

    布雷特曼说亚博App|官方,暗黑破坏神拍卖行的失败是因为游戏的免费模式很容易被机器人和流氓玩家利用。尽管Emergents提供免费版本,新玩家可以免费获得一把牌,但她表示亚博App|官方,游戏的机制下,玩家不能使用机器人来“肝”,或者积攒物品转售。

    但即使Emergents找到了击败机器人的方法亚博App|官方,也要先有人玩游戏才能实现目标,而吸引玩家并不容易。从长远来看亚博App|官方,《炉石传说》仍然是最受欢迎的数字收藏卡牌游戏,而莫肖维茨轻视的一些战术正是玩家能连续数小时沉迷手机的原因亚博App|官方。其他模仿的游戏(也就是所谓的“克隆炉石”)几乎没有成功的。

    “很多游戏都在模仿《炉石传说》亚博App|官方,却没有自己的特色?!盢PD游戏(NPD Games)的分析师马修?迪纳尔说⊙遣〢pp|官方!澳7碌穆飞嫌幸欢蚜沂?。在这个领域里,暴雪占据了绝对优势?!?

    成功机会之渺??赡芰钊送?亚博App|官方,但除了莫肖维茨和大卫-马歇尔过往的从业经历和布莱特曼的经济头脑之外,Emergents团队还有一个有望打赢突围赛的优势亚博App|官方。他们相信自己手握王牌,那就是名叫区块链的新技术。

    区块链赋能游戏世界

    2017年亚博App|官方,“区块链”一举变身流行语,在很多人眼里成为了时尚亚博App|官方。但与其他新技术一样,区块链既被夸大,也有被误解的地方。至于Emergents团队,布莱特曼认为区块链技术可以应对二手商品市场和游戏规则改变的挑战。

    从本质上看,区块链只是可以在多台计算机上运行的新型软件,能创建永久防篡改的账本。最著名的例子是比特币区块链,也有很多其他例子,包括2014年布莱特曼和丈夫创建的Tezos。诸多区块链都可用于创建公开可信的交易记录。目前,金融、航运和贵重宝石等多种行业都在使用区块链跟踪产品并建立原产地证明。

    在游戏世界里亚博App|官方,区块链可以用来创建不受篡改的记录,记录某项数字财产的拥有者,不管财产是宝剑、怪物,还是稀有的太阳镜。在Emergents里,区块链能随时提供某位玩家拥有某张卡牌的权威记录,就好像游戏监管者拥有可靠的会计团队,可以确保游戏经济的完整性。

    游戏中使用区块链还能提供有趣的可能,即为粉丝创造新的数字收藏品。具体来说,玩家可以付费获得精英玩家在锦标赛中使用的数字卡牌或剑,反正区块链能够确认出处亚博App|官方。其实类似于购买明星球员在世界大赛上使用的球棒。

    虽然区块链是新的游戏技术,但值得注意的是,区块链和加密货币领域里的很多高手都是万智牌迷。其中包括以太坊的创始人维塔利克?布特林,以太坊是仅次于比特币的流行数字货币亚博App|官方。加密货币交易所Kraken的首席执行官杰西?鲍威尔回忆说,他曾经在万智牌比赛中与莫肖维茨对决亚博App|官方亚博App|官方。(Mt.Gox是早期主要的比特币交易所,最开始是万智牌在线交易所。)相关名人和身后庞大的社交媒体粉丝可能会大力推广支持区块链的新游戏。

    当然,最后都取决于游戏制造商能否第一时间无缝集成区块链技术。Niantic Labs的首席执行官,也是精灵宝可梦(Pokémon Go)的创始人约翰?汉克警告称亚博App|官方,“游戏必须排第一位亚博App|官方?!彼囊馑际?,如果游戏本身无法吸引人亚博App|官方,背后支持的技术并不重要。

    其他也有人意见相同?!暗阶詈?亚博App|官方,还是要有顶级质量的游戏,并且玩起来要非常有趣亚博App|官方。这一点不能妥协亚博App|官方?!盋oinbase和Naspers支持的初创公司Immutable的首席执行官詹姆斯?弗格森说,该公司正在研发基于区块链的数字卡牌游戏,名叫Gods Unchained。

    这还不是Emergents唯一的竞争对手亚博App|官方。2018年,加密货币公司Ripple跟长期从事游戏行业的联盟宣布为游戏制造商提供1亿美元,用于整合区块链技术。曾经担任Kabam联合创始人兼首席执行官的周凯文目前在领导区块链游戏初创公司Forte,Kabam是热门的移动游戏制造商,曾经与《星球大战》、漫威和《指环王》等知名品牌合作?亚博App|官方!妒姑倩健返那爸鞴茉己?林登担任Mythical Games的首席执行官亚博App|官方,负责监督内置区块链的新游戏。

    “区块链的优势在于可以转变范式,而不只是提供新平台。使用区块链跟踪和交易游戏资产能改变出售资产的类型?!彼?。

    林登亚博App|官方、布莱特曼和其他人都在赌,区块链将在游戏领域带来技术飞跃亚博App|官方,级别类似于之前引入的游戏手柄或多人在线游戏。在他们看来,问题并不在于区块链能否改变游戏亚博App|官方,而是谁能第一个成功。

    来一张莫西就能赢

    在翠贝卡阁楼上,莫肖维茨邀请风险资本家跟他对抗桌上的另一位投资者亚博App|官方。她坐在桌旁亚博App|官方,两人在工匠、前锋和闪光风暴等实体卡牌周围调整兵力亚博App|官方。目前团队用实体卡牌演示游戏,与此同时,开发人员也在搭建数字版亚博App|官方。

    “我们会用长棘龙打掉对方的灯塔,这样就能用自己的灯塔了!”莫肖维茨告诉困惑的搭档。他抽牌时眼睛闪着光。这张卡牌上的角色是莫西。显然,她很强大。几分钟后,一切都结束了,莫肖维茨打出莫西,消灭了对手的最后一支部队。

    随后几人在布鲁克林著名的Dough bakery吃甜甜圈亚博App|官方,投资人向莫肖维茨问起游戏的推出计划。有个关键决策是亚博App|官方,Emergents团队要不要跟知名品牌合作亚博App|官方,比如漫威或《权力的游戏》(Game of Thrones),还是单纯靠大卫-马歇尔设计的工匠,长棘龙之类鲜有人知的卡牌。

    他们说,Emergents同事一直在跟知名片方谈判亚博App|官方,但目前不太受重视亚博App|官方?!懊挥腥嗽敢獾谝桓龀泽π??!辈祭程芈?亚博App|官方,她的预测是,如果首款区块链游戏在市场上施展吸引力亚博App|官方,吸引知识产权授权会更容易。

    与此同时,莫肖维茨身心自己能打造出更优秀的在线游戏亚博App|官方亚博App|官方。他早已习惯遇到怀疑者,然后用被证实的预测让对方惊讶。如果莫肖维茨能笑到最后亚博App|官方,就像以前很多次他获胜后突然大笑,在场所有人都可以听到。如果Emergents大获成功亚博App|官方,则可能会在庞大的游戏产业里打开巨大的垂直市场,而2018年游戏行业的收入就已经超过全球电影行业。

    Mythical Games的首席执行官约翰?林登曾经领导Tony Hawk Skateboarding等大型品牌,其实他见过类似场景。他举了亚马逊旗下Twitch的例子,数百万粉丝在Twitch上观看游戏直播亚博App|官方,购买在线游戏赞助的品牌也在增加。林登认为,在热门游戏里引入二手商品市场,可能会引发另一场金融盛宴。

    他说:“每次只要让人们更深入玩游戏亚博App|官方,还能赚点钱,就可以催生数百万美元的新产业?!保ú聘恢形耐?

    译者:夏林

    Thunk—the dice land on the wooden table, and Zvi Mowshowitz cackles. A lucky roll has endowed two playing cards in his deck with special powers. He turns the plastic-coated slips of paper, illustrated with leaping superheroes, into a horizontal position indicating combat mode. The imaginary characters attack, dealing fatal blows to the overmatched defenses of his opponent. Victory!

    The scene could take place in any basement or game shop in the country—anywhere nerds gather to send card-bound wizards, warriors, and Valkyries into battle. But this match is unusual. On this mid-April morning the setting is a luxury loft in Manhattan’s tony Tribeca neighborhood, where a stylish venture capitalist and a husky-voiced historian of pop culture are, as gamers say, “playtesting.”

    The pair’s business partner and temporary adversary, Mowshowitz, is no ordinary player. A 41-year-old with unkempt hair and black glasses, Mowshowitz explodes frequently into laughter, eerily similar to that of the boy-genius Mandark from the ’90s cartoon series Dexter’s Laboratory. Mowshowitz has a fondness for novelty T-shirts: Today’s reads, “Question Authority: Ask Me Anything.” He’s famous in geek circles as a champion of Magic: The Gathering, a fantasy card game beloved by millions of people.

    Mowshowitz made his name as a David among Goliaths. His slingshot: using low-value cards to triumph over opponents with more powerful hands.

    Now Mowshowitz is playing a bigger game. He wants to deploy the same strategy against a video game industry worth more than $100 billion that is, in Mowshowitz’s view, exploiting fans with addictive, money-grubbing ploys like forcing them to “grind,” or engage in repetitious quests. Mowshowitz’s target is a niche corner of the industry known as digital collectible card games, which are forecast to grow to a $2 billion market this year from $1.5 billion last year. Perhaps the crowning example, Hearthstone, a breakout mobile game, claimed to have 100 million players as of November 2018.

    Mowshowitz’s plan is both radical and simple: Create an utterly engrossing game that doesn’t resort to conventional, predatory tactics. In it, players battle one another with digital trading cards featuring superheroes and robots. Central to the plan is an online marketplace where players can buy, sell, or trade the individual digital goods they acquire—no hoops required. It's a feature absent in recent, free-to-play hits like Hearthstone.

    The concept seems obvious enough. Game players have been able to trade cards in the physical world for decades. But online newcomers have, for a variety of reasons, legal and otherwise, stubbornly refused to support the ability.

    Mowshowitz has rallied a pair of converts to his cause. By his side is Brian David-Marshall, the aforementioned historian who is working with Mowshowitz as product director for Emergents. Among David-Marshall’s credits are having opened a store called Neutral Ground in a loft in Manhattan’s Chelsea district that, though now closed, retains a mythic status among the initiated—the Studio 54 of the gaming set. (On some nights, David-Marshall would keep his store open until two or three in the morning as Magic players—everyone from middle-aged math nerds to maladjusted middle schoolers—plunked down creature cards from their deck in battle after battle.)

    The other member of the trio is Kathleen Breitman, the 30-year-old CEO of Coase, the startup developing the game. The name is a nod to the celebrated economist Ronald Coase.

    If Mowshowitz and David-Marshall bring gaming pedigree to the project, Breitman brings connections to venture capital and influential people beyond the gaming world, including billionaire crypto enthusiast Tim Draper as a backer. Having done stints at two pillars of the financial establishment, the Wall Street Journal and the hedge fund Bridgewater, Breitman is best known for leading a cryptocurrency project with her husband that raised $234 million in 2017. A savvy networker with the ability to charm—she and her French husband, Arthur, were featured on the cover of Wired magazine last year—Breitman flits between New York and Paris, leaving a trail of cocktails and bon mots in her wake.

    Together, Breitman, Mowshowitz, and David-Marshall are throwing a gauntlet at the gaming industry. If their game, now being rolled out to early testers, catches on, one industry veteran predicts it could help spawn a new billion-dollar industry centered on the trade of digital goods. Others are less optimistic, pointing out that new games face entrenched competitors. Often they fail.

    Mowshowitz is unfazed by the skeptics. Shuffling a deck of superheroes, he reflects on the many times he’s won as an underdog. He plans to do it again—this time, by overturning the conventional logic of digital game design, translating the appeal of the original nerd card game Magic into software, and potentially igniting a new virtual card-collecting frenzy in the process.

    Making magic happen

    In the late 1980s, inklings of a new kind of game began to jell in the mind of Richard Garfield, a mathematician and Bell Laboratories alumnus. He arrived at the idea to combine collectible cards with a fantasy battle game. As in the business of baseball cards, some cards would be rarer than others, and they would be sold in randomized packs—an innovation distinguishing Garfield’s design from most other contemporary tabletop card games. Magic: The Gathering was born.

    When the first Magic cards appeared on the West Coast in 1993, they won instant, ardent fans. Teens and adults alike were absorbed by the otherworldly mythology of the Dungeons & Dragons–like universe. They became hooked on buying “booster packs” to acquire new cards they could employ in personalized decks. The game went viral the old-fashioned way, through word-of-mouth, as players introduced it in comic-book shops and college campuses across the country.

    For its fans, Magic: The Gathering was a deeply personal affair. “Magic is closer to role-playing than any other card or board game I know of. Each player’s deck is like a character,” the game’s creator, Garfield, would later relate in an account cited by the New Yorker.

    Players assumed the role of spectral beings called “planeswalkers” that can summon pretend beasts and enchantments into battle. This fantasy backdrop—and a complexly layered rule book—were core to the game’s appeal. Constructing a deck was, for many people, an intimate act. Different personalities tended to gravitate toward one of five colors on Magic’s “color wheel,” a sort of Hogwartsian sorting hat. White characters, for instance, were associated with law and order, while black ones embodied ruthless power. Green characters stood for communal values and so on.

    Magic soon became a full-fledged craze. “I found out about it when I was doing event marketing for comic stores. People were desperately seeking out the cards. I was physically accosted by someone who was so angry we didn’t have it, he literally shook me by the lapels,” David-Marshall recalls.

    While Magic cards were the source of a rich, high-fantasy culture, they were also appreciating in real-world dollars. Not long after Magic launched, trouble arose in the form of a market bubble as speculators tore open piles of $3 booster packs in hopes of finding rare cards they could flip for a profit. It was tulip mania for the geek set. The phenomenon boosted sales. But the mania also threatened to ruin the integrity and underlying fun of the game, and to turn Magic into a flash-in-the-pan fad like Pogs, which today is more of a historical curiosity than a game.

    For Wizards of the Coast, the company that owned the game, building a sustainable franchise required thinking like a central banker. The company could have milked the Magic bubble for all it was worth, but Wizards instead chose a different strategy, flooding the market with certain cards in order to erode their resale value, much to the chagrin of speculators. It also introduced tournament rules requiring players to use cards of recent vintage, meaning no one could win by purchasing and deploying all-powerful cards, like the much-coveted Black Lotus. In deliberately popping its own bubble, Wizards made a risky bet, but one that proved prescient.

    The shake-up worked. Magic: The Gathering kept thriving. Today, the Magic universe operates much like a well-governed Scandinavian country of 38 million people—the estimated number of players around the world—and has spawned a rich fan culture and a series of imitators. The secondary markets are still going strong as well; in 2019, a Black Lotus sold for more than $166,000 on eBay.

    Despite its early success, Magic fumbled while crossing over to the computer screen. Hasbro, the parent of Wizards of the Coast, has offered a desktop-only version of Magic on the Internet for years, but it has remained comparatively niche. Last September, Hasbro made a new attempt to refresh the franchise with the release of Magic: The Gathering Arena, which takes cues from rival Hearthstone. But while the early response has been positive, Arena can only be played on desktop, not mobile, and, like Hearthstone, players cannot trade and resell cards as they can in the physical world—typically through secondary markets. (Bruce Dugan, a spokesperson for Magic, says mobile is “something we’ll consider.” And while technically there are underground markets where people can buy and sell Hearthstone and Arena accounts, these are rather dubious and breach the games’ terms of service agreements.)

    In building a digital game they hope will replicate the fun of Magic, members of the Emergents team are paying close attention to the lessons of the groundbreaking game. “Just as all philosophy is a footnote to Plato, all card games are a footnote to Magic,” Breitman says.

    The team, and its scruffy leader Mowshowitz, believes it has finally cracked the code. As the crew tilts against a gaming industry colossus, Mowshowitz holds the lance. He’s not just an expert player and, in Breitman’s words “a video game snob,” but also a Martin Luther figure who likes to call out exploitative and manipulative behavior on the part of other game designers. Maybe there’s a little Don Quixote in him, too.

    Escaping the rat race

    Mowshowitz’s introduction to games came early when, as a small boy, he would play chess against his father. Those games had a twist. In their first matches, Mowshowitz’s father played only with a king and pawn, letting the young boy advance with a full board of chess pieces. In time, as Mowshowitz learned to checkmate the depleted force, his father added more pieces to his side, making the task harder.

    He encountered a similar mismatch of forces as a teenager when he immersed himself in Magic, crisscrossing New York City to attend tournaments in search of prize money and prestige. While his parents, both Columbia University professors, earned a comfortable living, Mowshowitz had only a paltry allowance. His relative penury required him to build his deck—the set of 60 or so cards used in a Magic game—from others’ cast-off cards, and develop unorthodox strategies to win.

    Mowshowitz would make such game play his calling card, earning renown as he won matches with low-value cards. Such abilities led gaming companies, including Magic’s Wizards of the Coast, to invite Mowshowitz to test trial versions of their games. On several occasions, he “broke” the game—geek lingo for finding a flaw in the design that produces automatic victory. During a stint in the Western U.S., Mowshowitz took up a different sort of gaming. He made a modest fortune playing poker in Indian casinos outside Denver, and then worked in Las Vegas for the professional gambling industry. Mowshowitz won’t provide specifics about his job duties other than to say they involved math.

    This isn’t surprising. When Mowshowitz speaks, one can almost see a cascade of equations popping from his brain as he parses the probability of every situation around him. His math prowess also leads him to speak of certain integers with tenderness. “Seventeen has a special place in my heart. It’s the most random number,” he notes in passing when recalling his days at his high school math club.

    Mowshowitz left the world of Las Vegas for stints at the quant firm Jane Street and, later, as CEO of MetaMed, a short-lived medical research startup. But he is now expending all his number-crunching abilities on his crusade with Emergents. His quest: to design a new type of game that knocks down a pillar upon which gamemakers historically earn money.

    Mowshowitz is doing away with “loot boxes.” Critics say these grab-bags—which offer the promise of winning special weapons or other game enhancements—are akin to lottery tickets. They accuse the gaming industry of manipulating players, especially children, into spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars (or playtime hours) to obtain digital junk. Controversy over loot boxes has led politicians in the U.S. and Europe to call for banning them.

    Loot boxes manipulate players by preying on their biological foibles, says Mowshowitz. He points to the practice of “Skinner boxing”—a science term for putting a rat in a box and then training it to perform an activity in return for a pellet of food.

    In the case of video games, Skinner boxing uses virtual rewards. In lieu of pellets, the gamemaker offers in-game money, weapons, level-ups, hypnotizing noises, and various trinkets to induce players to spend more time in a game—which usually leads to tedious, repetitious activity. The practice isn’t a conspiracy theory hatched by Mowshowitz. Search the Internet for “Skinner box and video games,” and you’ll discover the term is commonplace in design discussions. For game makers, manipulating players to play for longer periods of time helps convert some fraction into customers willing to pony up for more loot boxes, thereby boosting revenue. But the upshot is, in Mowshowitz’s view, the games become monotonous.

    A marketplace for gaming goods—which Emergents is baking into its game—seems like an unlikely fix for these problems. But Mowshowitz is convinced that such a market will be transformative. “When you don’t allow trading, you force people to grind,” he says, explaining how a player might have to roam the same small corner of a game for hours to acquire a certain tool or weapon.

    Mowshowitz also believes the industry’s failure to build in-game trading options undermines imagination. When every player has to grind to acquire goods, he says, they will gravitate toward one of a few tried-and-true, proven-to-win, deck-building strategies described on gaming blogs. In his view, a store where players can buy or swap tools and weapons will encourage them to explore unorthodox tactics and new ways to gain an edge. This is what Mowshowitz did in the physical world of Magic card games, and he’s convinced the lesson would apply equally to online games.

    All of this, though, raises an obvious question: If secondhand digital goods can unlock a billion-dollar industry and make games more fun, why is no one doing it?

    Where others failed before

    There are good reasons why the video game industry is reluctant to offer players a way to sell and swap their wares.

    Unsurprisingly, the first reasons are legal. For starters, explicitly stating card values could be a tacit omission that the company is hosting private lotteries, which are illegal in certain parts of the world, including many states in the U.S. As a result, Wizards of the Coast and other companies have wisely operated under the cover of better-left-unsaid deniability, leaving the business of marketplaces to independent resellers. Secondly, these markets can be abused by fraudsters. As the makers of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive recently discovered, almost all of the traders in their marketplace were money launderers seeking to cash out ill-gotten gains.

    There's another set of reasons—commercial ones—that in-game marketplaces are rare. Game makers fear that markets for used items could eat into the sales of new ones.

    Traditionally, such sales involved fare like swords or gold in World of Warcraft, but lately more sales are coming in the form of what gamers call “chrome” or “skins”—swag to adorn a player’s character such as sunglasses or new shoes. Chrome has become especially conspicuous during the craze over the game Fortnite. Owning it has became so important among high school kids that those with unadorned avatars have been mocked for being “a default,” and bullied into spending money to dress up their digital character. In 2018 alone Fortnite reaped $2.4 billion on sales of chrome. In Fortnite, where the proceeds of every pair of digital sneakers and sunglasses goes right into the pocket of the game maker, Epic Games, who in their right mind would risk undercutting that margin by allowing stores for resold goods? Cash cows get milked, not slaughtered.

    Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, says the fear of cannibalization is real but also overstated. “It’s like fake sunglasses. You can’t say every person who pays $10 for knock-off Louis Vuittons would have spent $200 if the fakes weren’t available,” he says.

    But even if game makers can be persuaded that secondhand goods won’t eat into their sales, there is another reason why games have shied away from used goods markets—and why the likes of Hearthstone and Magic Arena enable no forms of trading at all. It is rooted in fear that a person—or bot—with multiple accounts will game the system, grinding to earn rare cards and then trading all that loot to a single account. The cards might lose their value, the game might lose its purpose.

    Game designers are very aware of predecessors’ missteps when it comes to offering an in-game trading house. In 2011, video game giant Blizzard introduced an “auction house” to Diablo III, a hack-and-slash role-playing game. The auction house was supposed to provide an in-house alternative to eBay and other unauthorized trading forums. It was also supposed to add a fun new economic element to the Diablo franchise. Unfortunately, the auction house spawned an unintended consequence in the form of economic mercenaries—often from China and Russia—who, aided by bots, played the game solely to obtain and sell used weapons. These interlopers would hawk their digital haul in the official auction house where wealthy traders took the other side of the transactions, buying the best weapons needed to defeat Diablo’s toughest bad guys. Soon, Diablo’s elite ranks featured a growing number of gamers who had engaged in “pay to win”—a taboo in the gaming world. The ensuing backlash led Blizzard to shut down the auction house in 2013.

    As with the speculative bubble that almost destroyed Magic in its early days, the Diablo fiasco shows how perverse economic forces can ruin an otherwise popular game. The episode led many in the gaming industry to conclude in-game trading markets do not work. Indeed, Mowshowitz acknowledges the Emergents crew have been quizzed by potential investors about how they plan to avoid a Diablo-style debacle.

    Mowshowitz responds by drawing an analogy to the physical gaming world. “In Magic: The Gathering, there’s this guy we call ‘Mr. Suitcase’ who shows up at tournaments with every possible card,” he says. In that world, Mr. Suitcase is kept in check by Wizards of the Coast tournament rules that narrow the types of cards that can be deployed in a given match. When it comes to Emergents, Mowshowitz envisions sorting players into tiers that pit those with card decks of similar value against one another. (This system won’t preclude a crafty player with modest resources challenging a “Mr. Suitcase,” but will ensure most matchups are evenly balanced.)

    Breitman, the CEO, has also thought deeply about the pay-to-win problem, though her perspective is a more academic one. In her studies, and in building the cryptocurrency company Tezos, she’s read extensively about finance and game theory—good training, it turns out, for understanding the role of economics in designing a game.

    Breitman says that Diablo’s auction house failed because the game’s free-to-play model was easily exploited by bots and rogue actors. And even though Emergents will include a free version—new players will receive a handful of cards at no cost—she says the game will be designed so that players can’t use bots to “grind” and amass items for resale.

    But even if the Emergents crew has found a way to beat the bots, their quest will only be a success if people decide to play their game in the first place—and that could be a tall order. Hearthstone remains the most popular digital collectible card game by a long shot, and some of the very tactics Mowshowitz despises are what have kept players casting spells on their phones for hours on end. Few rival versions of the game (“Hearth-clones,” as they’re known) have gained any traction.

    “A lot of games have tried to copy Hearthstone’s approach but haven’t differentiated themselves," says NPD Games analyst Matthew Diener. "There’s a lot of skeletons on the side of the road. Blizzard really has a hammer lock on the space."

    The odds may be daunting, but the Emergents team members have one more attribute—beyond Mowshowitz and David-Marshall’s gaming cred and Breitman’s economic savvy—that could help them pull off a breakout game. They believe they have an ace up their sleeve in the form of a new technology called blockchain.

    Blockchain in the balance

    The term blockchain achieved buzzword status in 2017, and many people have since written it off as a fad. But as with other new technologies, blockchain is both overhyped and misunderstood. For the Emergents group, it falls to Breitman to make the case that blockchain technology can solve the challenge of introducing used-goods markets and transform game play.

    At its essence, a blockchain is simply a new type of software that is run across multiple computers to create a permanent, tamper-proof ledger. The most famous example is the Bitcoin blockchain, but there are numerous other examples, including Tezos, which Breitman and her husband created in 2014. These and other blockchains can all be used to create a public and trusted transaction record. Currently, industries as diverse as finance, shipping, and precious gems are using blockchains to track products and establish proof of origin.

    In the world of gaming, a blockchain could be used to establish an inviolable record of who owns a given piece of digital property—be it a sword, a monster, or a rare pair of sunglasses. In the case of Emergents, a blockchain will provide an authoritative record of which players own a given card at any time. It’s as if the game’s overseers have been given an army of infallible accountants to help ensure its economic integrity.

    The use of blockchains in video games offers another intriguing possibility: the creation of a new class of digital collectibles for fans. Specifically, a player could pay to obtain the same digital card or sword used by an elite player in a tournament; a blockchain would confirm its provenance. It would be the gamer equivalent of buying a bat used by a star player in the World Series.

    While blockchain is a novel technology for gaming, it’s notable that many of the most prominent people in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency are Magic fans. These include Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, the second most popular digital currency after Bitcoin. Jesse Powell, the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, recalls playing against Mowshowitz in Magic tournaments. (Mt. Gox, an early, major Bitcoin exchange, started its life as a “Magic: The Gathering online exchange.”) Such figures and their immense social media followings could give a boost to new video games that embrace blockchain.

    All of this, of course, depends on whether gamemakers can integrate blockchain technology seamlessly in the first place. John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic Labs, creator of Pokémon Go, cautions that “the game has to come first.” He means that if a game doesn’t grip people, it doesn’t matter what technology might be supporting it on the back end.

    Others have had this same revelation. “At the end of day, you have to have a triple-A quality game and be incredibly fun to play. You cannot compromise on that,” says James Ferguson, CEO of Immutable, a Coinbase- and Naspers-backed startup that’s creating a blockchain-based digital card game called Gods Unchained.

    That’s not the only competition Emergents has. In 2018, the cryptocurrency company Ripple and a consortium of gaming industry veterans announced a $100 million fund for game makers to integrate blockchain technology. Kevin Chou, previously the cofounder and CEO fo Kabam, a hit mobile game maker that had partnerships with Star Wars, Marvel, and Lord of the Rings franchises, is now leading Forte, a blockchain gaming startup. And John Linden, the former head of Call of Duty, is now CEO of Mythical Games, and he is overseeing new games with blockchain built in.

    “What’s beautiful about blockchain is it’s a paradigm shift rather than a new platform. Using blockchain to track and trade in-game assets changes the opportunity for what can be sold,” he says.

    Linden, as well as Breitman and others, are all betting that blockchain will bring a technological leap forward in gaming akin to the introduction of the joystick or online multiplayer games before it. For them, it’s not a question of whether blockchain will transform gaming, but rather who will be the first to pull it off.

    It takes Moxie

    In the Tribeca loft, Mowshowitz invites the venture capitalist to join him in combat against another investor at the table. She sits, and the pair shuffle around physical cards—the Tinkerer and the Striker and Shimmer Storm—which the team is using to demonstrate the game while developers build out a digital version.

    “We’ll play Dimetrodon to get rid of their Beacon so we can play our Beacon!” Mowshowitz tells his bemused partner. His eyes glint when he draws another card. The piece features a character named Moxie. She is, apparently, ultra-powerful. In a few minutes, it’s all over as Mowshowitz deploys Moxie to decimate the last of his opponent’s forces.

    Afterward, as the small assembly tucks into doughnuts from Brooklyn’s popular Dough bakery, the investors quiz Mowshowitz about launch plans for the game. One critical decision will be whether the Emergents team can license a set of characters from a familiar brand like Marvel or Game of Thrones, or if it will rely on the Tinkerer, Dimetrodon, and others who come from a little-known collection devised by David-Marshall.

    The Emergents crew have been in talks with big-name studios, they say, but so far have met reluctance. “Nobody wants to be the first penguin,” says Breitman, who predicts companies will be more willing to license their intellectual property once they see the first blockchain game gain traction.

    Mowshowitz, meanwhile, is quietly confident that his quest to build a better version of online gaming will succeed. He is used to encountering skeptics and surprising them when his predictions turn out to be correct. If Mowshowitz gets the last laugh—which everyone will know by its abrupt and clamorous detonation—as he has so many times before, the success of Emergents could crack open an enormous new vertical in an already massive video game industry, which eclipsed the global film business in revenue in 2018.

    John Linden, the Mythical Games CEO known for formerly heading up mega-franchises like Tony Hawk Skateboarding, has seen this happen before. He cites the example of Amazon-owned Twitch, where millions of fans watch video games live-streamed, as well as the growth of brands buying sponsorships inside online games. In Linden’s view, the introduction of a secondhand goods market into popular games could trigger another financial bonanza.

    “Every time we’ve given people a chance to be more involved in the games and make some money,” he says, “it births a new multimillion-dollar industry.”

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