Not So MMO: SkyWeaver Aims To Pave The Way Into The Future For Digital Card Games


3 years ago

One of the most frustrating aspects of a digital card game is ownership. With a paper CCG you simply don't have this issue. You buy a card, you own said card. However, with games such as Magic Arena, Hearthstone and more, digital card ownership is somewhat an undefined aspect of the collectible formula.

Well, Horizon Blockchain Games aims to make that uncertainty a thing of the past.

With their upcoming free-to-play trading card game, SkyWeaver, the developers at Horizon are taking the idea of true ownership of digital cards to the next level. Thanks to the integration of Ethereum, players can securely buy, sell, trade or gift their cards, providing a tangible value to their digital goods.

"We're really passionate, obviously, about blockchain technology and Web3," Peter Kieltyka, the Co-founder and CEO of Horizon Blockchain Games told MMORPG during a conference call. "A lot of us have been lifelong gamers - played Magic [the Gathering], played Hearthstone; many, many games - and we recognized video games have had digital items and currencies in these digital worlds for decades. And so we asked, "I wonder what happens if we turn these items into crytocurrencies?"

The developers at Horizon began to ask themselves what something like this would mean for game design, as well as the industry as a whole.

Enter SkyWeaver, a new card game built with blockchain technologies giving each player the full ownership over their digital goods. As a result of this model, players can essentially treat their digital cards much like you can physical cards - as you can buy, sell, trade and gift your digital goods.

Using the Ethereum network, Horizon have built a digital arcade and wallet to store the Ethereum players earn while taking part in SkyWeaver's economy: Arcadeum. This means each card a player owns will essentially have a real world value, and that is huge in driving forward the models of digital card games in the future.

Other card games online will penalize you for selling an account, such as Hearthstone, as it's a breach of their terms of service. Other games, such as the wildly popular Magic Arena, have format rotations, meaning that competitive decks built three or four months ago can effectively be obsolete today, forcing you to buy more random booster packs as there is no secondary market like paper Magic, nor is there a way to trade cards to other players. Sure you can build up a stockpile of wildcards to craft the cards you need for a deck, but doing so requires you open packs - something which in the end will cost more and more money.

SkyWeaver's setting is rather interesting - as it's fantasy, but more akin to future fantasy than your typically medieval varieties. Sky, the game's setting, is a digital dimension which exists parallel to our Earth. According to the official press release, you'll take the role of a SkyWeaver, taking control of the game's eight elements to "win the allegiance of ethereal creatures on [your] quest to become the most legendary SkyWeaver in this new digital dimension."

At first glance, the art style on the cards looks really good - evoking a cartoony, yet serious - honestly it looks as though The Banner Saga and Brawlhalla merged in a really good way. The cards themselves aren't hard to understand when you first see them - especially if you've dabbled in card games.

Each player is represented by a hero, who has a strength and health. Once that health goes to zero, the game is over. It's really rather straight forward when you think about it, but as I watched a game between Peter and Lead Game Designer Jonathon Loucks play out in front of me, I could tell right away there was an underlying complexity that makes SkyWeaver all the more intriguing.

First off, the Singleton aspect of SkyWeaver took me by surprise. As someone who dabbles in competitive paper Magic, Singleton isn't foreign to me, but I'm so used to having multiple copies of a powerful spell in a deck to save me in certain situations. Having to build a Singleton deck can be challenging as well as invigorating when you've created the perfect combination of cards. Deck building is a key aspect of SkyWeaver, and the developers want to celebrate deck builders.

Each player will start with a random deck, but as you compete, earn cards and branch out from the random decks, you can start to build your own to compete with other players. The top performing decks will be featured in a leaderboard for other SkyWeavers to check out. If you don't own the cards, you can fall back on the market to buy, sell and trade your way into owning the deck of your choice.

Within SkyWeaver there are currently five prisms. These prisms act much like the colors in a game like Magic: they inform the playstyle you want to use. Maybe you want to play Strength and beat your opponent using an aggressive creature deck. Or maybe you like to slow things down, playing control based spells with the Wisdom prism (likely where I'll find myself most days). Each card, regardless of prism, also has an element, such as light, fire, air and so on. These elements can be thought of as tribal synergies in Magic and you can unleash devastating combos with the right elements at the right time. This allows for some very unique, combo-style deck building.

Players at the beginning of each game draw seven cards. You then choose four of the cards to put in your hand at the start. You have a mana pool that steadily gets higher, but also has no cap. In long games you may find yourself performing crazy combos thanks to seemingly limitless mana supplies. Additionally (and I'm sure anybody who has played against a control deck in Magic will rejoice) there are no interrupts or instants. However, there are some really unique elements which can help set SkyWeaver apart from traditional TCGs.

You can't deck yourself, meaning when you run out of cards you don't just lose the game like in other card games. You simply draw from a pool of randomized cards for the rest of the game. You'll take fatigue damage, so it's not something you can do for very long, but milling yourself doesn't immediately end the game, which is very unique. In fact, there are cards which “dust” (get rid of, essentially) your entire deck in exchange for giving your hero armor – Cup of Seconds it's called – and while your hero will take one less damage while armored, you no longer have a deck to pull from.

You can also attach spells to creatures, and some even come into play with spells which can turn into massive swings if you have enough mana. Miss Aya for example is a 6-mana creature that comes into play with a 5-mana spell. If you have enough mana the turn you play Miss Aya, you can throw down a rather powerful creature in her own right, and use her “Gift of Aya” to boost your mana pool, draw a card as well as boost the health of your hero based on the number of cards in hand (SkyWeaver has a 9 card max hand size). Having these types of combos could allow for some trick deck building, as you can rely on those haymakers to end games early or grind out games late.

Unlike Magic, there isn't this super complicated attack phase where you declare attackers, pass priority, opponent declares blockers, and so on and so forth. You can choose which of your opponent's creatures you want to attack, and there is strategy involved with going after a creature versus just gunning for an opponent's hero.

Damage is permanent in SkyWeaver, which plays a huge role in helping you take out potential threats. Say your opponent has a massive 6/6 on the battlefield threatening you. A few pokes though with your creatures and that 6/6 isn't as menacing. Other affects could bring down your opponent's army, such as Wither, which will decrease the attack of an opposing creature when it's dealt damage. So hitting a massive creature with wither not only slowly kills it, but it progressively makes it less useful to your opposing SkyWeaver. Banner is another keyword which buffs the attack of your hero, making them more effective when attacking.

Each game is a constant back and forth until one player concedes or simply runs out of health. During the gameplay demo, there were moments where it looked like Peter might win, thanks to some pretty powerful creatures (and the fact Johnathon dusted his own deck purely to show off that cool mechanic). Yet as the gameplay ended, it was apparent that Jonathon was firmly in control. Those types of swings can happen as each player battles back and forth, hoping to crush the other or be crushed themselves.

The Decks only comprise of 20 or 30 cards, depending on whether you are playing with one or two prisms. Being able to unlock the cards through free play is something the team is focused on – in fact in the beta account Johnathon showed us he had all 329 current cards unlocked through just playing and winning matches over the course of the last few weeks. However, this is really where the economy of SkyWeaver comes into play.

Cards you earn through winning are essentially your property. There are some cards that you cannot sell – these are cards that the Horizon team give you for free for playing the game. However, then there are the cards you can trade or sell thanks to earning them through your play. Every week if you find yourself in the top 100 on the leaderboard, Horizon will reward you with silver-bordered cards to which are yours to trade, sell, keep – whatever you choose. Additionally, if you ever purchase a card on the marketplace, they are always a tradeable card. This way you retain full ownership rights over your purchase.

This system of base and tradeable cards is in place to help combat botting as well as players who might use those base cards to try to hyper-inflate the economy. Since these cards will have real-world value, it's Important to ensure that they aren't unobtainable (I'm look at you, Power 9). Peter mentioned they hoped the cards will trend to about $1 a piece, but with any player-run economy we'll have to see how that unfolds.

There also won't be any loot boxes or booster packs – which is a welcome surprise in today's gaming economy. Cards will be on the marketplace – whether there because of another player or a card Horizon is selling. You'll always know who the seller is as well, which helps with transparency.

Thankfully, you don't have to know much or anything at all about blockchain or crypto currency to enjoy SkyWeaver.

“We're doing our best to ensure that our players don't need to know anything about blockchain,” Peter explained on the call. “Blockchain is a protocol. But let's say you win some [cards] on the leaderboard and you want to sell them on the shop. Next thing you know you've got Ether with a dollar balance next to it. I think people are going to gradually come to understand it but, first and foremost, it's going to feel like any normal video game.”

Players can also rest assured they won't need a stockpile of Ethereum to play SkyWeavers as well. Normally when you execute something on the Ethereum network you pay a transaction fee. Horizon Blockchain Games will be picking up that fee for you, meaning SkyWeavers is truly free-to-play should you choose. You'll still be assigned an Ethereum key and have access to an Ethereum wallet, but it will really require nothing more than that account to start playing.

SkyWeaver looks ambitious. It's a game which strives to have the same complexity as the great TCGs of the world, while also changing how we think of our digital goods in today's gaming industry. It's an incredibly attractive concept, and it's one I can't wait to see more of as we move towards its open beta. Currently SkyWeaver is in a private testing period, but you can sign up on their website to potentially gain access. The team says they hope to start adding 100-200 people a week as they ramp up development. The sky is the limit for the team at Horizon Blockchain Games. And while some might get tripped up over the addition of the blockchain tech in SkyWeaver, it's something that, if implemented well, could turn the industry on its head and change fundamentally how we perceive digital ownership.

SkyWeaver is targeting a Q4 2019 release and will be available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS devices – with full cross play enabled.