The team behind Undra (known as Studio Decent) are working under a singular goal: reimagine Web3 technologies for adoption into mainstream gaming.
Undra is the name of our game. It is also a fictional setting, a newly discovered island in the year 1898.
This setting is designed to be the perfect place to experiment with Web3 principles in the context of gaming, without being tied to the existing approaches being used in Web3 or DeFi spaces.
It's our testbed to find better ways to deploy Web3 concepts like: player ownership of assets, community governance, provable fairness, gameplay rewards, and trustless collaboration.
In fiction: The world of Undra is dangerous, with risks around every corner and odds that are stacked against you. Working alongside your fellow citizens, it's time to forge a new society on this desolate island and work to uncover the secrets of the mines below.
In practice: Undra starts as a simulation of an early industrial empire, expanding into a rich strategy game centered around politics and industry. Undra won't look like many typical games, it aims to be a setting where alternative gameplay can thrive.
Here you will find forms of gameplay that resemble Simulation, Strategy and Roguelike gaming, centered around the fictional goal of rebuilding a new society and economy together.
Undra exists at the intersection between Web3 and traditional gaming. There is already a huge range of games here, in varying stages of development, many that are already released and thriving. We observe two rough categories:
There are games which take DeFi experiences (financial and speculative activities, yield farming, etc) and seek to make them more game-like. This is usually labelled GameFi.
Then there are the traditional gaming properties which are trying to introduce Crypto terminology and Web3 ideas. These are badly failing. Many projects have made recent headlines for the backlash they are receiving from parts of the gaming community.
We think there is another major category that hasn't been defined yet. This new category will be more game-oriented than GameFi. And it will be completely different to the current studio attempts to integrate Web3 technologies.
There isn't a name for this category yet, we're calling it Game3.
The populations of gamers and crypto adopters are not the same, even where there is overlap. A player who is looking for a gaming experience may dislike or oppose financial play. And a financial player doesn't put gameplay at the centre of their experience; few people would ignore poor performance on their investments just because a game is fun.
We believe that the fundamentals of Web3 will also define Game3: provenance, player ownership, collaborative governance, and rewards for participation. Game3 will use those fundamentals to support meaningful gameplay and satisfying game economies. And Game3 will enable financial play as an opt-in part of the world, rather than a prerequisite.
To that aim, Undra is starting out with a clear distinction between players and owners.
Owners are those who want financial play. This starts with our Room Deeds, single-owner NFTs using the ERC1155 protocol. These represent the physical locations scattered throughout Undra upon which a thriving industrial economy needs to be rebuilt. This will have some similarities to other implementations of GameFi, though still implemented with a focus on strategic play. Owners will experience things such as staking rewards, governance rights, and upside from the financial success of Undra.
Players are those who participate in non-financial ways. This will look more like a typical free-to-play business model (though with the benefits of ownable rewards).
The two worlds will cross heavily, and most Owners will also be Players. This approach allows us to focus on creating a setting and game systems where financial play is optional, and where we can gradually introduce mainstream gamers into the benefits of community ownership and governance.
One key aspect of Web3 is the early and frequent involvement of participants. Since Vitalik's original whitepaper, we can see that projects thrive the most when they can capture meaningful support and involvement from the very beginning.
This is at odds to the way that traditional gaming and creative projects are normally funded and released. In the mainstream gaming world, it's rare to find games that are announced without huge development efforts already expended. Teams will often work for years before a project becomes publicly known.
There are many reasons for this. Gamers are primarily entertainment customers, used to studios that compete for attention. Skilled teams are producing slick content and the bar of quality for entry gets higher all the time. The games industry is one of the biggest in the world, and publishers are happy to bankroll projects in expectation of financial gain on success.
So what happens when we remove the financial upside for publishers, when ownership is in the hands of the players?
Without publisher backing, the model of release-when-polished will not work any more. It becomes vital for studios to gather early support, but these early supporters won't yet be the core gaming audience. These supporters are a mix of early-adopters and investors who are looking to speculate financially, with overlap of players that are also looking for a game to explore and be a part of.
Because projects now need to attract early speculators, before there is much progress towards the final product, hype becomes a critical tool. This is hugely problematic, as the line between "realistic enthusiasm" and "empty promises" is eroded.
We've seen this in various projects that have captured investor interest and momentum, raising large amounts for what are essentially pre-game game companies. From there, the expectations become extreme and the project has to grow even bigger to sustain the hype.
But, it is basically impossible to release a game of "multiple-A" quality on your first try. Games of that calibre are created by seasoned teams who are on their third, fourth, even their tenth game, and with extensive publisher backing.
We suggest that extreme hype is only helpful for rug pulls, burning the people who support the project from the beginning.
If games need support, and unlimited hype is dangerous, a middle ground must be found.
There are good examples from the world of early-access games. This is a more economically viable way to publish games without publisher backing. It can work for individuals, groups of creators, or established game studios. It's still not an easy path, but with Game3 we have a way to further amplify the benefits of early-access publishing.
The trade-off is that projects must also return their profits back to the players that backed them, without massive payouts to publishers or distributors.
Studio Decent aims to be an example here. We are set up as a UK limited company. There are no off-shore tax havens, no director payouts, and everyone receives a normal salary. We have started this way for speed; once established we will follow our plan for progressive decentralisation; moving the entirety of the Undra economy into community-owned systems.
In previous sections we have discussed the dangers of hype, and the neccesity of involving a community of owners from the very beginning. We have claimed that Game3 will be fundamentally incompatible with the traditional publisher-backed model.
We also spoke of the world of indy early-access games, where projects launch early and often. Games that provide a rough vision and then incrementally build towards it, in the open.
In some ways this approach will be problematic for Game3. By its nature, Game3 will involve players from the beginning, embracing the principles of ownership and community governance. That approach skews towards multiplayer experiences, as opposed to the majority of early-access games which tend to be single player or small-scale multiplayer.
In addition, MMOs involving economic systems and financial play have to be complex. Engaging financial play requires that players can exercise skill and judgement, making smart moves to get ahead instead of relying on luck.
This presents a problem: how can we build a game that is complex and engaging, that players can take part in from the very beginning.
Undra approaches this problem through the lens of Storytelling. We believe that massively-multiplayer early-access engagement can be most effectively described as a story — as worldbuilding. And to build complex systems, we need to start with simple systems that grow organically and realistically.
Our aim is to release a series of independent, mostly-finished layers of gameplay that build upon each other. As our community grows, as our team grows, these layers grow in complexity as they add to the gameplay possible inside the setting of Undra.
Where many games reach for a "Gold Master" final release, we aim for a more episodic approach. Undra is designed to be released across several distinct phases.
These phases may evolve over time and, like in any good story, they will be foreshadowed rather than explained. This allows our team to minimise false hype, and to focus on the best possible results, even if that involves changes late in the day.
You can follow our Roadmap for the first phases of release.
This is the first part of Undra to be released. Our goal: how to give players direct control over the future of this game, without breaking the illusion of being inside a fictional world?
Web3 governance is usually quite plain. This is a good thing. Governance processes are designed to inform users about complex topics and securely manage the resulting votes. They strive to be obvious, predictable, and simple. But... these are not the same qualities that create immersive game worlds.
Where a DeFi community might strive for consensus, many games are improved with conflict. Where one project encourages rational input, another can inspire creative play.
Game3 will succeed when it can sustain thriving communities for the long-term. These communities will be built from people who are gamers first, and Web3 participants second. Therefore, our industry's best chance of capturing and keeping player imagination will be through immersive governance techniques that blur the line between gameplay and decision making.
There will be many ways to achieve this, Undra will start with simple foundations that evolve over time.
Our first release will introduce a weekly story update and associated player votes. A massively-multiplayer choose-your-own-adventure. This is an ongoing and lightweight way for players to take part in key decisions, understand the world of Undra, and put their mark on it.
This will be released soon, keep an eye on our Roadmap, Twitter and Discord for more details.
There are several major areas still in early exploration, mostly involving the specific policies that will allow us to scale our community and player base over the next year as we release the next phases of Undra.
Sections will be released in draft as they become ready, with key votes and feedback happening via the governance storyline as well as in Discord and Twitter. If you want to stay aprised, please follow us on Twitter.