The Rise Of Autonomous Worlds

Moonrock Capital
6 min readJul 18, 2023

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In the world of gaming, building and developing virtual worlds has always been an expensive and risky venture. The high upfront costs associated with creating games have led developers to stick with safe and proven formulas, limiting innovation and experimentation. However, the emergence of autonomous worlds (AWs) is disrupting this paradigm and opening up a new realm of possibilities for game developers and world builders. Autonomous worlds, inspired by Neal Stephenson’s “Street” concept in his novel Snow Crash, offer a unique value proposition. These worlds are continually developed and expanded by their inhabitants, providing an open canvas for creativity and exploration. Unlike traditional games, which require extensive development teams and significant time and financial investment, AWs enable and incentivize developer experimentation at every layer of the gaming stack. In this article, we will examine AWs and how they could impact the gaming industry.

The AWs Gaming Stack

At the core of this stack lies the blockchain itself, serving as the bedrock settlement layer for AWs and games. A crucial decision for game developers is choosing how to leverage this blockchain infrastructure. They must weigh the costs and benefits of building directly on Ethereum, with its higher expenses, or exploring Layer 2 solutions that demand a more intricate understanding of blockchain development. Looking ahead, Layer 3 solutions hold promise but require a careful balance of blockchain development and reliance on Resource-as-a-Service offerings.

Source: https://medium.com/iosg-ventures/network-effects-in-web3-game-engines-46d2d0397d0b

Moving up the stack, the game engine stack plays a pivotal role in determining the blockchain of choice for developers. The availability of repositories and libraries within a given engine ecosystem significantly impacts a developer’s workload. The more robust the offerings, the more likely they are to select a blockchain supported by the engine.

Next up, we have the module or prover market. This vibrant marketplace is where third-party developers shine, crafting niche tools such as leaderboard ranking systems and verifiable random functions that seamlessly integrate with existing game engines. Of course, popular plugins may also be developed in-house by the engines themselves. Picture it as an “app store” where these modules add depth and functionality to the gaming experience.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the AWs and games themselves. These marvelous creations own the player experience, dictating the laws of physics within their virtual realms and maintaining captivating frontends. Players possess the power to modify game assets, provided they adhere to the laws of nature governing the world. Furthermore, if multiple AWs run on the same game engine, they possess inherent composability, allowing for thrilling interactions and collaborations. The extent of this composability is determined by the community and developers, shaping the possibilities of this immersive universe.

Lastly, we delve into the final layer of the stack — the trading, staking, and betting markets that complement the AW’s token and business models. Guilds of players, like the illustrious DFDAO, and smart contract players such as the mighty Astral Colossus, play their part in this vibrant ecosystem. These markets offer additional avenues for engagement and economic participation, further enriching the AW experience.

Game Engines

As the AW ecosystem continues to evolve, FOG game engines (FOGs) have emerged as a fascinating area of development. Unlike traditional game engines, FOGs fully store the game state on the blockchain, presenting unique technical, user onboarding, and economic challenges.

Technical sophistication, scalability, and gas optimization are key areas of focus for FOG development. Onboarding users and providing a seamless wallet management experience are critical for attracting a broader gaming community. Furthermore, defining in-world economics and finding effective monetization strategies while maintaining extensibility for other developers are important considerations.

At the infrastructure level, several projects have dominated the AW space, including Lattice’s MUD engine, Dojo, Curio’s Keystone OPchain, and Argus Labs’ World Engine.

Source: https://twitter.com/Ishanee_/status/1676170807331127298

Each project takes a slightly different approach, catering to different ecosystems and programming languages.

Lattice’s MUD engine, the first FOG engine developed for the Ethereum ecosystem, has been instrumental in powering over 90% of FOGs. MUD utilizes an entity component system (ECS) architecture, where entities and their attributes (components) are stored on the blockchain. Developers can create complex gameplay logic and extensible frameworks within MUD, enabling community-driven innovation and experimentation.

DojoEngine, optimized for StarkNet, offers similar functionalities to MUD but with a focus on native data provability. This feature allows gamers to verify specific aspects of the game state, adding a layer of trust and transparency.

Curio’s Keystone and Argus Labs’ World Engine also leverage ECS architecture but introduce their own unique features and execution strategies.

Autonomous Worlds Map

While many games leveraging these engines are still in development, there are already some examples such as OPCraft and Rhascau.

One of the standout examples of an AW is Dark Forest. Dark Forest is an MMORTS space conquest game where players explore and conquer planets in an infinite and randomly generated universe. The game’s beta version was launched in 2020, and since then, it has attracted thousands of players who compete for prizes and engage in intense strategic gameplay.

These games garnered significant traction and transaction activity, showcasing the business utility and user interest in AWs and 1kx did a great job mapping out the current state of play.

Source: https://medium.com/1kxnetwork/autonomous-worlds-the-case-for-fully-on-chain-games-3066db695a5a

Benefits And Hurdles Of Autonomous Worlds

The benefits of AWs extend beyond gameplay logic. Front-end client diversity, a limitation in traditional games, is a strength in AWs. Developers can modify and customize the game’s front end while adhering to the core logic, enabling greater creative expression and customization options for players. Similarly, AWs allow players to shape the lore and storytelling, offering limitless possibilities for user-generated content and immersive narratives. Character intellectual property (IP) created within AWs can be seamlessly transferred between different autonomous worlds, opening up new opportunities for cross-game interactions and collaborations.

Despite the promising advantages of AWs, there are hurdles to overcome for widespread adoption. Distribution remains a challenge, as existing gaming platforms and app stores are not yet crypto-friendly.

Source: a16zGames

Dominant platform games like Roblox and Fortnite already offer customization features, potentially overshadowing AWs in terms of adoption. Additionally, financial system design within AWs requires careful consideration to avoid potential risks associated with financialization and maintain a balanced and engaging in-world economy.

Conclusion

The road to maturity for AWs is long and challenging, with execution risks, distribution challenges, and questions surrounding product-market fit. However, the disruptive potential of AWs in the gaming industry cannot be ignored. If AWs can achieve even a fraction of the impact that platforms like YouTube had on content creation, it would be a massive success for those involved and the underlying blockchain technologies supporting these worlds. and with further advancements in technology, user experience, and distribution channels, FOGs have the potential to shape the future of gaming.

Who We Are

Moonrock Capital is a Blockchain Advisory and Investment Firm, incubating and accelerating early stage startups since 2019.

Website: https://www.moonrockcapital.io

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MoonrockCapital

Disclaimer: None of the information contained here constitutes an offer (or solicitation of an offer) to buy or sell any currency, product or financial instrument, to make any investment, or to participate in any particular trading strategy.

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Moonrock Capital

Moonrock Capital is a Blockchain Advisory and Investment Firm, incubating and accelerating early stage startups since 2019. https://www.moonrockcapital.io