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Classic Gaming Names Like Atari and MapleStory Are Still Running on the Blockchain

Classic Gaming Names Like Atari and MapleStory Are Still Running on the Blockchain

MapleStory is the rare game from 2003 that still holds up today despite its reputation of being a pay-to-win grind fest. So perhaps it's fitting that its developers are looking to bring the title to the blockchain, complete with non-fungible tokens, its own cryptocurrency, and the ability to play bor apps.

A lot of games are dead in MapleStory's time frame. I grew up playing side-scrolling multiplayer games in elementary school and decided to revisit it in college. Back in 2015, I was surprised to find that the game still had a robust community run by some "whales," or people who spend significant amounts of real money on the game.

It's still alive in 2023 and considered a top MMO, although recently, some gamers have moved to Reboot, a server on the game where players can take down bosses to gain better gear and weapons. No need to spend real money. Fans have also designed private servers that infringe on the intellectual property of parent company Nexon. Nexon declined to comment on these servers, citing the illegality of these servers.

So when the MapleStory developers attended the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March to talk about how they were taking the game to the next level, it was a nostalgic experience for audience members, among them Many game developers themselves grew up playing MapleStory. What was less familiar was the brand's ambitious blockchain plans, which include giving players the ability to build their own decentralized applications on Polygon.

"With the average active age of the top 50 percent of players being 15 years old, it's safe to say that MapleStory is now a generational game," said Sunyoung Hwang, director of production at Nexon. “We really want to continue this successful journey for another 10 years as well. Of course, it won't just magically happen on its own.

Blockchain and video games have co-existed in the same space for the past few years. At GDC, I attended parties that included ex-Twitch executives who are now big in blockchain gaming investments, and after a panel I moderated at Twitch HQ, Web3 employees swarmed me with event invites.

Ryan Wyatt, the former head of YouTube Gaming, is now the president of Polygon Labs, which helps people build on the Ethereum-powered Polygon Protocol. Polygon and Nexon are working together to bring MapleStory to the blockchain, as Nexon is what Wyatt calls a "high-impact brand."

"I was never into crypto. I didn't read some white paper on bitcoin," Wyatt said of his move from YouTube to Web3. Instead, he grew interested in digital assets because he felt it was unfair to purchase goods within games, but should never acquire them.

Wyatt and Nexon developers are well aware of the vocal faction of gamers who hate NFTs. Nexon is part of a group of nostalgic brands, including Neopets, Atari, and Habbo Hotel, that have chosen the blockchain route despite discouraging fan feedback.

After garnering headlines like "Zombie Atari shits on 50-year legacy with NFT loot boxes" earlier this year, Atari staffers took a measured approach to describing their Web3 efforts. “We audited everything to see where everything stood. And it was very messy," said Tyler Drewitz, director of Atari X, Atari's Web 3 initiative, who joined the team after some of Atari's early blockchain projects had already launched.

Atari marketing executive David Lowe told me on the same video call, "Loot box is certainly not a term we've ever used internally, nor has it ever been a goal." “There was a fear that this invasion of NFTs and blockchain was going to happen in games,” Lowry said. "Whenever there is a change, people are suspicious or apprehensive." Lowery said that Atari is not building Web 3 games yet, nor is it integrating existing games into the blockchain.

The temperature around the blockchain game has cooled off considerably since its heyday in 2021. Over the past year and a half, gamers have been vocal about their hatred of NFTs.

For example, in October of 2021, the Neopets community was in an uproar over the 1990s web browser game now being joined by NFTs. Users criticized the company for prioritizing earning quick cash rather than fixing the website, which still had bugs and lacked features due to the retirement of Adobe Flash. Neopets CEO James Czulewicz told me at the time that it was a separate team fixing the site than the team working on NFTs. Czulewicz told me in October 2021, "Personally, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt anyone."

Now nostalgic gaming brands like MapleStory, Neopets, and Atari are still trying to promote their blockchain initiatives while maintaining their own language and expectations (something that is becoming increasingly common for blockchain projects outside of games as well).

The blockchain project has yet to be released in Korea or the rest of the world, although Nexon first announced it at its Nexon Developers Conference in June 2022.

Hwang said, "We've been hopping from one developer conference to another because we really wanted to show that we're trying to break out of the MapleStory universe." "We wanted to be able to communicate how we feel and what we're expecting from our potential users, creators and developers."

Nexon plans to continue supporting MapleStory on PC, while the blockchain version of the game looks identical to the original. The items in the game will be NFTs which can later be traded outside the game as well. Once the blockchain game is released, Nexon plans to open-source its ecosystem and invite creators to build decentralized apps based on the Ethereum blockchain. The company also has plans to create a cryptocurrency for players, but declined to share more.

During the GDC talk, Nexon gave a hilarious example of buying the Bored Ape NFT and then placing it in the game so that a player can walk around Kerning City, MapleStory's thief town, looking like an ape.

MapleStory has managed to stay successful and relevant throughout the years by constantly updating the game and providing players with the latest updates. It also collaborated with mega-popular K-pop boy band BTS in 2020, selling in-game accessories that players could buy for real money through the Cash Shop.

There will be no cash shop in the blockchain MapleStory. Instead, weapons and gear will drop from monsters that players defeat, and each area will have NFT prizes. Hwang spent a significant portion of his talk at GDC discussing how the rarity of in-game items affects player enjoyment. Players derive pleasure from winning rare items; Hwang cited the example of unlocking rare loot in Diablo III or catching a legendary fish in Animal Crossing.

But the developers cannot account for changes in the game's economy, such as more people fighting a certain boss, therefore increasing the amount of boss loot in the ecosystem and decreasing the rarity of items. According to Hwang, when items lose value, players' enjoyment of the game also diminishes, and thus, he argued, NFTs, which are in limited supply, can help keep the game fun.

In some ways, it seems that MapleStory is a suitable vehicle for a blockchain game with NFTs. The game has already given real advantages to players who spend real money, such as being able to do difficult daily tasks and being able to roll dice to get stronger equipment. As a former MapleStory whale, I've spent over $4,000 on MapleStory in the past. When I left the game, I sold my weapon on a secondary fan forum for real money. With this new technological push, Nexon is hoping to bring those secondary sites under its wing. (While Hwang acknowledged that black market players who already buy and sell items with real money may naturally be attracted to MapleStory NFTs, he said he did not condone black market trading.)

But Nexon has already drawn criticism from players for its pay-to-win reputation in the past, and a cursory glance at Reddit reactions to blockchain news suggests fans are interested about MapleStory's cryptocurrency pivot. Not there. or not excited.

"We're getting a very mixed response."

"We're getting a lot of mixed reactions," Hwang told me in comments translated from Korean. “If we had to break it down, it's about 60 percent not so well received, 30 percent neutral, and the remaining 10 percent really excited and positive about MapleStory on the blockchain. But we felt it was imperative was, and we expected such a response. It is our duty and responsibility to gradually increase that 10 per cent."

As for whether MapleStory will be pay-to-win on the blockchain, Hwang said it depends on your perspective. "There's no cash shop, so players have to farm for any items or NFTs. So in that sense, we don't think it's pay-to-win," Hwang said. “But if users choose to spend their money to buy NFTs or trinkets, then I guess it’s pay to win, right?”

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