Oct 20, 2022 - Technology

Sims pioneer Will Wright is making a blockchain game, but is down on NFTs

Photo of game designer Will Wright holding a pointer and looking at charts related to his new game

Will Wright explains VoxVerse. Image: Gala Games/Gallium

Hall of fame game designer Will Wright (Sim City, The Sims) is making a blockchain video game for the masses, not for NFT shoppers, he tells Axios.

Why it matters: Wright is the biggest name in the controversial blockchain gaming sector, in which there's an abundance of investment and player skepticism.

What they’re saying: “I'm much more interested in attracting a million free-to-play players than, you know, 10,000 rich whales, although we could use those rich whales,” Wright tells Axios, using common industry terminology for people who spend an inordinate amount of money on a game or the NFTs that just might be tied to it.

Details: Wright’s project is called VoxVerse. It is a virtual world set on a massive cube, where players should be able to own land, create attractions, mine for resources and socialize (release date TBD).

  • He envisions a game that will attract three groups of people: a small number of rich virtual landowners, paying for plots with crypto; a middle group of creative players who’ll be tapped by the landowners to make stuff (and share any sale proceeds from what they make), and a mass of free-to-play folks who’ll hang out and play in the world.
  • In a faint echo of the Sims, the game will incorporate systems of fame and trust as well as basic character needs such as energy or hunger.
  • The most Wright-style touch may be “shape grammar,” which he calls “kind of an evolutionary system” for item creation that lets users repeatedly click on and transform a starter object (car, coffee cup, etc.) to tweak it, make it their own, even “patent” it via the blockchain for revenue-generating reuse.

Between the lines: Design for VoxVerse is happening at Gallium Games, a blockchain-focused startup co-founded by Wright and Carmen Sandiego co-creator Lauren Elliott, who first shipped a game with Wright in 1984.

  • Actual production of the game is happening at Unity.
  • And the project is being orchestrated by crypto gaming boosters Gala Games, which has spent over $25 million funding the effort.
  • Gala wants Wright’s game to help popularize its Vox characters, which are digital collectibles, or NFTs. The most recent Vox offered by Gala, based on Trolls characters from Dreamworks, went on sale last week for .888 ETH (about $1,300) and will guarantee early dibs on land in VoxVerse.

“I don't really want to be in the business of selling NFTs,” Wright said, emphasizing that his interest is in blockchain’s ability to allow for secure transactions between players.

  • In a call with Axios, Elliot amiably interjected that some aspects of the VoxVerse project technically are NFTs, but noted Wright is very focused on game design.
  • Wright likens blockchain to plumbing or some other underlying tech. “I don’t care how you do it,” he said. “I want to have secure transactions for content creators.”
  • He recalled the ingenuity of early Sims players whose custom creations he estimates amounted to 30% of the franchise’s value but wasn’t allowed to be significantly monetized. “The creators who created the content participated in maybe 1 or 2% of the economic returns,” he said.
  • Hitching part of VoxVerse’s economic model to those NFT-buying whales is a way, Wright says, “to be distributing that value downwards” to players who are incentivized to “create experiences for the millions of players.” Those crypto whales don’t even necessarily play games, he acknowledged, but can help. “These people exist, whether we like it or not.”

The big picture: Crypto gaming is in search of a sustained hit, with reports of low player populations and the collapse of former darling Axie Infinity fanning criticism from traditional gamers that blockchain and NFTs are an unnecessary nuisance for games.

  • But boosters say it’s simply early days, and the money keeps coming in. More than $1 billion — some 40% of all gaming deals — was invested in blockchain games in Q3, according to deal trackers Drake Star.

The bottom line: Wright emphasizes that VoxVerse can’t just be about blockchain. It needs to be fun to play.

Sign up for the Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper