Earlier this week Mythical Games took to the virtual E3 stage to share their first game, Blankos Block Party, with the wider gaming world. Suffice to say, reactions were . . . contentious, to be polite. Blankos Block Party will utilize NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which have exploded in both visibility and popularity in 2021. Opinions of the blockchain-based tokens are all over the map, but Mythical believes they’re the future. Video game gray markets are dime a dozen, so why not legitimize player-to-player transactions of digital goods?
That’s what Mythical aims to do with Blankos Block Party. The virtual vinyl collectible game can easily be summarized as Roblox-meets-Splatoon, but there’s more to the game than player-created content and events. I recently sat down with Mythical’s Senior Vice President of Business Development and Co-Founder Rudy Koch, alongside Blankos’ Director of Community Justin Kruger to pick their brains over collectibles, NFTs, and what value meant to them in the digital era. It was a lengthy, insightful conversation, so grab your favorite beverage and continue below to learn more about Blankos Block Party and the future of digital economies in video games.
Blankos Block Party E3 Interview with Rudy Koch and Justin Kruger
Good afternoon, Rudy and Justin. Thanks for taking the time to sit down and speak with me today. So, to get this interview rolling, what motivated Mythical to make Blankos Block Party?
Rudy Koch; SVP of Business Development
We just really got excited about, you know, bringing the physical vinyl toy world into the digital space and bringing all the cool stuff that makes vinyl toys awesome into a game. We just thought it was so perfect a pairing with what was coming out of blockchain and NFT. It’s just such a perfect fit. So yeah, that’s how it all started.
So, the blockchain, the NFT portion of the design, that’s kind of just been a part of it from the start?
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, we set out right away with that goal in mind. You know we’ve seen digital item sales and games for decades. It’s not new, right? I mean free to play games have been relying on digital item sales for a long time, and the digital items and games have always held value to gamers. They have value not because of blockchain or NFT, but because of the games that they’re part of.
We were familiar with that already in the industry, but what we also got excited about was what NFT and blockchain could do. To sort of tap into that potential and take it to a whole new level. So right away we saw that, and what we wanted to do was set out to build a real game first and foremost. I mean, that’s where we come from. That’s our background.
You know, I know NFT is sort of the buzzword right now and it’s a bit of an attention-grabbing concept these days, and people are trying to make sense of it. Where is it going? What is it doing? Why are JPEGs selling for so much money?
From our perspective, we first set out to build a great game, because the most important thing is that we build something that people want to play, and then from there we can start introducing some of these newer concepts to them and weave them into the game that we’re making in a way that makes sense.
You’re not wrong about NFT being the buzzword right now. I was watching the chat during the stream today and, well, “spicy” might be a polite way to summarize the chat.
Justin Kruger; Director of Community
It was spicy.
It was very spicy. What would you tell those people right now? They’re calling it scam. What makes this something that they can put their faith into? These are digital goods. We’re not used to digital goods having a limited quantity. We’re not used to this concept yet.
From my perspective, I go back to the fact that digital items sales have existed in games for a long time. As far back as the 90s I was grinding out games and selling the items for real money. That’s only grown with the advent of free to play over the last 10 or so years, and these open world sandbox games where it’s all about cosmetics.
You can find any popular game, you can go into eBay, and you can find a grey market around it where people are buying and selling digital items to each other and none of that has to do with blockchain. Again, that has to do with the great games that we’re putting out there, but also games that revolve around digital items and customization. Sandbox open-world games are the new trend. That’s what people are playing. And because of that these gray markets have only grown, because of the value they put into these items.
We’ve always said that blockchain NFT isn’t a revolutionary idea for the games industry. We see it as an evolutionary step, meaning that we’ve taken what’s already kind of happening, and we’re taking it a step further. Players selling items to each other is not new, right? You look at Steam and CSGO. Rust is another example.
There’re examples out there where this kind of concept exists, and so from our perspective when you put that together with the gray markets you go, “well players want to transact in this way.” They value their items, they value the time that they put into their games, and that’s important to them. We want to use NFT and blockchain to allow players to participate and be part of that value. [Their] spending so much time and energy and money in these games. Why not let them tap into that value and participate and make money off the value that they bring into games?
So, it’s not this brand new idea. It’s just taking the demand that’s already there from players and using blockchain and NFTs to enhance it. The way [NFT and blockchain] enhances it is that we can do some cool new concepts. We can do some concepts a lot easier, like scarcity. Something that’s been done in the games industry before. With blockchain we can manage digital inventory extremely efficiently and we can create scarcity in a fun way. Create the chase, so to speak.
We thought that was really a turning point, because the games industry, for better or for worse, is being dominated by loot boxes. I know I’m not a big fan of it, but that’s been the monetization method that’s dominated the industry. In Blanko’s we’re not doing loot boxes. Instead we want to lean into some of these concepts, like scarcity, like [our] Mash-Ups feature where you can combine two Blankos together and come up with an entirely new NFT. These are fun ways of engaging in an economy, and why can’t economies be fun?
We’re trying to make fun economies here. It’s just taking NFTs and blockchain and tapping into something that’s already there and taking it a step further
I’ll just sort of piggyback on that. I’m the Community Director, and I take the approach from the gamer side – from the player and community side. I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing games for decades. I’ve been in the industry for about a decade. I think if you look at your favorite game that you may have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars in you probably have a backlog of all these different skins and items.
I think what we’re doing is just allowing you the freedom to actually tap into that inventory. To do with it what you want, right? I think that’s the power that we’re really bringing to the market.
Scarcity as “fun.”
How do you plan to sell people on the whole “scarcity is fun” thing? Nintendo has recently had some time-limited digital releases and we’ve seen a lot of negative reactions to that. FOMO mechanics in other games, such as battle passes, are often chastised (though they remain wildly profitable). How do you convince players that scarcity is a positive feature in Blankos Block Party?
From our perspective there’s always something [to collect], you know? One of the things that we love about Blankos is it’s perfect for collaborations. What I mean by that is we’ve announced a bunch of amazing vinyls where artists have come in and done their versions of Blanko’s and released them in the game. We just announced some big partnerships with Burberry and Deadmau5 and a whole bunch of incredible groundbreaking artists as well. This allows us to create a wide variety of items, a whole bunch of different flavors, because what you think is cool is going to be different from what I think is cool.
So rather than trying to create a few items that we hope everyone loves, we create a lot of different items that, no matter what you think is cool, there’s something for everyone and we create that sort of collector-type incentive. Speaking to the whole, “well, what if I can’t get it?” You know, what happens then? You’ve seen cases where, like you mentioned, scarcity may not have been received very well. But, you know, in in our case it’s sort of done deliberately as part of the game, where you know everything has scarcity involved. It’s not like we’ve got everything available, then suddenly we’re doing one thing that only a few people can get.
Everything is scarce and that’s part of the experience. Where does this come from? For us this comes from the physical collector world. You know anyone who collects comics or physical vinyl toys? You know, we’re all nerds at Mythical. We collect all kinds of stuff. Sneakers, comics, vinyl toys, all kinds of stuff. And you know some of the cool things about collecting these things is the fact that you can get something really rare, something that you maybe you and only a handful of other people have. Those are some of the collectables that I have that personally I cherish the most.
Scarcity can mean a lot of different things, right? It can be only 5000 or it could be 100,000. You know we can have stuff that we release that lots of people can get. I mean, we’re not saying that everything is going to be hyper-limited, but what it allows for are these sort of really amazing collectible moments where you can get something really unique that’s yours.
You know, in today’s gaming age you know people want to have a great deal of control over their experiences and customizing the games they play, and now we get to give you a mechanic that lets you really create something individual for yourself in this space which I think is really cool.
Yeah, expanding on that real quick. You know, I think it should be worth noting that we really have three main types of drops. The first drop is going to be time limited, where within a certain number of weeks or even months you can buy, you know, anybody can buy that Blanko. That’s how most of our drops have been. Then we have these limited drops which are fairly new, and we’ve been experimenting with some of the caps and we see, you know, some sell out in seconds and literally two minutes. Some sell out in two weeks or three weeks, so I think that’s a really interesting thing that we were playing around with the NFT and blockchain to Rudy’s point.
Then another drop that we have is through in-game. So, just by playing the game you can get a free NFT, a free Blanco, through the Party Pass. It’s just like any kind of battle pass that a gamer might be used to. They can complete, daily, weekly and seasonal challenges and, you know, play the game and unlock this cool NFT. They can take that NFT, list it in the marketplace, keep it boxed, do whatever they want with it, so it’s a kind of an interesting concept on that side too.
The other thing that I’ll mention too is that NFT, the buzzword, has really hit mainstream in the last couple of months because of what’s happened. I mean there’s, again, JPEGs selling for an extraordinary amount of money. I mean millions of dollars. I get asked a lot, “what is this; what’s happening; what does this mean; is this the future with digital items?”
What I say is selling JPEGs for millions of dollars is not the future of blockchain. What we’re experiencing now is a bubble. It’s great it’s creating conversation and awareness, which is awesome, but that’s not the future. What we believe is the future for NFTs, especially in our industry, is selling digital items that have intrinsic value and utility, meaning items that you can play in a game just to start with. They’re not going to be selling for millions of dollars. I mean, that’s just, you know, kind of ridiculous.
We wanted to make sure that we kept the game accessible, mainstream and catered towards regular gamers? With that in mind we’re pricing everything to be like it would be in any other game, any other free to play game. You can come in; you can pick up a Blanko skin for $10 or $20.00, which is extremely comparable to any other free to play game you might play. But hey, by the way, it’s an NFT as well, which is kind of cool that it’ll have value later on that you can make money from.
A Not-so-Gray Market.
Full disclosure: I am in the closed market [alpha]. I have been tooling around with it. I have a couple Blankos myself – some of the ones you’ve recently released that were limited – so I’ve been playing with it and I will say there’re definitely some people that are a little optimistic. When you speak about millions, I’ve seen a couple [of sellers] in the marketplace that were a little eager.
I think they’re just waiting for that whale to come in and buy up all the Blankos, you know.
I think I saw a chest piece for $10 million. I saw that and thought, “that’s very optimistic.”
Yeah, I agree. I agree and you know what? I think it’s gonna settle, it’s gonna settle.
Which, yeah, I mean, we’re like one week into the marketplace alpha. So it’s, you know, it’s still good. It’s still going to take some time to mature.
Especially as the marketplace opens to more people and players get more NFT’s, but that does bring up preservation, right? You talk about collectibles, and the one advantage a physical [collectible] has is I can own it and put it on my shelf and it’s there. There’s concern for digital goods. Let’s say you shut down the game 10 or 20 years from now, or you drop a huge patch that changes everything in such a way that the NFTs have changed in value. There’s concern, because game development is dynamic. Anything can and will happen.
Do you have any plans to ensure people’s investment, their NFT’s, will have some form of preservation? If they buy in today, they can expect, at least for a while, their collection won’t just disappear into the void?
Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question because you know all along the way as we’ve been building Blanko’s, you know, like we again we come from that sort of mass market traditional game background. I worked on World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. That’s what we know, and so we’ve had to sort of take what we believe is the best in terms of making a great game for the gaming community, and balance that against some of these newer concepts that have been coming out of blockchain and NFTs.
It’s not been easy, you know. It’s not been easy because sometimes they conflict. You’ve never heard of a game where you could own the items beyond when the game shuts down. You’ve never heard of that before, so this is new ground. We’re solving problems that no one else has had to solve. which is also very fun. This is, I think, why we all love working on the project.
I’d say there are things that we guarantee, that we can say for sure. When an item sells out we’ll never reissue it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, so you know when you’ve got one of 10,000 or one of 5000, or 1 of 50,000. That’s always going to stay the same. In fact, the only thing that may change is that it might get rarer as people use the mashup feature. That’s something that we can really sort of lean on, because that helps create value.
We don’t want to just sort of launch a secondary market and hope for the best. We really want to give players a chance to tap into the value that they create. Scarcity really helps with that. Utility is another one that really helps with that. The game items, what gives them value is the game itself. When you look at the items that sell in other games, it’s because the games are awesome and people value those items.
From my perspective, it is about the utility. And yes, [Blankos Block Party] is dynamic and it changes and evolves. We’ll do patches. We’ll balance, rebalance, and all that kind of stuff, but you know, your core items are still going to be your core items. You buy a Billy Bones you’re going to own a Billy Bones, and it’s going to be one of 10,000. It’ll always be that right over time. Maybe abilities will get balanced and rebalanced, but [your item] will never stop having utility in the game as long as this game is live.
Beyond the shelf life of the game, it’s hard to say. I mean, it’s a big discussion for us. We talk about these concepts all the time and we’ll see.
Just adding on to that, I mean really building off the utility aspect of it, right? I’ve asked the question, “why would someone pay so much money for a JPEG.” At the same time, I think when we’re looking at Blanko’s you can actually run around with these, level them up, and upgrade them through our Grade Up process.
Additionally, we’re going to be introducing a system called Gem Rush soon, where you’ll actually be able to make your Blanko’s more rare. You’ll be able to change the issue number through the Grade Up process, through this minting process, and you’ll be able to end up with a rarer Blanko, which is really cool.
You can’t really do that with any other NFT. I think right now, when you look at it, you’re going to spend $10 on or $20 on an in-game asset from the store, and you know that value could be something down the line. I think that’s what you know we’re bringing to the players.
Now will that system be purely in game, or can you pay to progress this rarity?
They’ll be in game, so you’ll be in game and have to mash up to two of your Blankos and combine them to level the Blankos and you’ll be able to turn them into a new issue number.
And this sort of leans into, again, the idea of creating these sort of really magic collectible moments. You know where you can truly end up with something that is really unique, really yours and maybe only a handful of other people have it. We do have one Blanko that is actually a one-of-one that we released a couple of years ago. You know it’s really cool. I mean this kind of stuff is really fun. We’ve seen a really great reaction from the from the audience.
We did a video, an interview with the owner of the one-of-one recently and it has got a lot of attention from the community.
Yeah, I mean, he’s become a celebrity in his own right. And he’s actually going to be doing a live unboxing of the one-of-one Blanko. The Golden Ticket is world’s rarest Blanko. He’s going to be doing a live unboxing on Twitch on Friday.
So yeah, we just wanted give, through these kinds of mechanics, through the Gem Rush and Mash-Ups, we wanted to give people a chance to, through gameplay, to get to even more rare stuff and unique stuff, which I think is pretty cool.
Overcoming NFT’s current reception.
Reading through reactions from the E3 event, people have likened [NFTs] to MLM’s. You guys do have a bit of an uphill battle to convince people this isn’t a problem. The big thing I’ve seen argued in debates right now is “why use NFTs over a more traditional method?” You could still do scarcity. You could probably still handle this without having to use NFT and blockchain.
What gives NFT that advantage? Why NFT over any other option?
From our perspective we believe that this is an economy that can fit in any game. When you look at games that have complex economies a lot of them are extremely massive games like EVE Online. Or they’re extremely massively successful game like CS GO. We believe this kind of economy can exist in any game, and the reason we believe that is not just because we think it’s an awesome economy.
I mean we certainly do, but you know, it’s also because blockchain makes it extremely accessible for developers. Blockchain is extremely efficient at tracking scarcity and ownership and handling player-to-player transactions and whatnot. Ultimately what it does is it lowers the barrier; we can put it in any game that you might be engaging with.
Blankos [Block Party] is what we’re excited about today. We’re really proud of it. It showcases our vision, but it’s not where it ends for us. At Mythical we see a future where this type of economy can be in any game that you’re playing.
Right, so it’s a proof of concept at this point?
Yeah, Blanko is really to showcase our vision for this type of economy. To showcase the technology and what it can do. And again, you know there’s a lot of hype and craziness going around in the NFT space. And you know what, we believe that it’s not about selling ridiculous amounts of JPEGs, you know? And some of that stuff honestly is making it difficult for us.
We’re building regular games, games that people love to play. The items aren’t priced any differently than any other game that you might play, they just so happen to be NFTs whenever you buy an item, which is kind of cool and that means you own them. That means you own the item you own.
You now have the ability as a player to sell that, to make money. You now benefit from the value that you bring to the games that you play as a player.
Yeah, quick note on that too: I mean, I think the game is fun, right? It’s a standalone game. You don’t have to ever touch NFT’s. You don’t have to touch the marketplace to fully enjoy the game. It’s really just there as a piece of utility for people who want to dive into and experience that, and who want to profit off of the items that they get in game. But they don’t have to. It’s an option.
Playing the game I noticed there are quite a few items that aren’t NFT. Those appear to be options for those who don’t want to engage with that side of Blankos Block Party. They still get cosmetics, right? They still engage with the game is a game?
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. As you progress through all the quests in the in the in the in the Junction you’ll get all these different items that aren’t necessarily NFTs. Additionally, in the Party Pass there’s all these accessories that aren’t [NFTs]. It’s just that one Blanko, Sergeant Poppy, that is an NFT. So really, I mean you don’t ever have to spend a dime in Blanko’s to really enjoy it. You don’t have to spend any money on an NFT if you if you don’t want to.
It’s really about providing that option, and if you do decide, “okay, I haven’t touched this game in a year. Let’s go check out the marketplace,” that’s what we can provide.
Mythical, Blankos, and the Future.
To wrap up the interview, what are your plans moving forward for the rest of 2021? You talked about your collaborations, such as Deadmau5, there’s Gem Rush, we have the marketplace going into open alpha eventually – it’s going to be a very busy year for Mythical.
I’ll take this crack at that just and then I’ll hand it over to you, Justin. For me I’m most excited about these collaborations and partnerships that we announced today. You know they were just announcements? We haven’t done the drops yet, so this year we’re got drops from Deadmau5, from Burberry, from TMC, from Michael Lau, who’s one of the godfathers of vinyl toys.
I mean, I’m so pumped for this stuff to drop. This is where we take it beyond just players participating in the economy. We get brands and creators to also participate and benefit from the value that they bring to games, which I think is awesome. I’m really excited for that. And you know, it doesn’t stop there for us. You know, undoubtedly, we’ll have more partnerships to announce, so I’m excited for that.
Yeah, looking at it from a game side, you know we’re going to launch Season One this year, as well as Season Two since we’re on the seasonal cadence. This is a live game for years to come. This is really the base level of Blanko’s Block Party.
If you jump in right now as a player you know it’s going to be Early Access. You’re going to see the game evolve and develop. Additionally, if you check it out at Season One, Season Two you’re going to see a totally different game. We are constantly putting in new content. We have tons of plans for Gigs, for quests in the game. We have tons of plans in the game itself.
The new Junction has these hexes, and these platforms; we have a lot of plans to build onto that. And really it’s about providing and putting forward the best game possible for the most people possible, and I think we have a really solid foundation with our shooting games and our racing games and our builder community. And I’m really excited to see that grow.
Blankos Block Party is accessible now in Open Beta on PC. You can sign-up and download the game from the official website here.
- This article was updated on June 16th, 2021