Our ongoing deep dive into the fascinating universe of Shrapnel has led us to the team’s inner circle, both at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco and the Consensus Conference in Austin.
As one of the most anticipated entrants in the 2023 Web3 Games arena, Shrapnel has continuously captivated us. It was at the GDC where we had the pleasure of connecting with Marc Mercuri, the game’s Head of Blockchain.
Deep Dive into Shrapnel’s Evolution: The Intersection of Web3 and Gaming
Previously, we had the chance to delve into the complexities of Shrapnel through our engaging discourse with Mark Yeend, Head of Marketing and Community for the game. He opened a window into the game’s evolution and upcoming strategies at the periphery of the GDC event.
At the Las Vegas Esports Business Summit last year, we had the opportunity to explore the game’s design nuances with Colin Foran, the lead designer of Shrapnel, revealing a significant advancement in the game’s development.
Shrapnel’s Pre-Alpha Demo: A Glimpse into the Future of Blockchain Gaming
During both GDC and Consensus, the Shrapnel team invited us for a hands-on experience with a compelling demo of the game. It was an exhilarating plunge into the heart of the action, echoing the intensity of “Escape from Tarkov” but in a modernized game design format.
We saw expert players, such as Ali “Myth” Kabbani, effortlessly navigate through the beautifully crafted scenery. The game’s shooting, movement, and looting mechanics were robust and the gameplay offered an impressively fluid experience, especially for a pre-alpha demo.
The demo experience highlighted the joy of gameplay over the Web3 elements of the game. Unlike the early days of Web3 gaming where the emphasis was excessively placed on the monetary facets, the Shrapnel team cleverly balanced this aspect. The consensus among many speakers and panelists at GDC was to prioritize the creation of engaging and immersive gameplay and then layer the Web3 component, an approach that the Shrapnel team seems to have embraced.
Digital Assets and Real Earnings: The Promise of Shrapnel’s Blockchain Integration
Nonetheless, the Web3 element in Shrapnel is crucial and sets it apart from its FPS counterparts. The potent idea of owning digital assets and the chance to earn real money through gameplay cannot be overlooked. Consequently, we were keen to investigate this feature more thoroughly.
Our Shrapnel journey didn’t stop at our enlightening demo and conversation with Mark Yeend. We had the privilege of conversing further with Marc Mercuri and Francis Brankin, Head of Economy, whose insights into the game’s Web3 components were highly informative. Stay tuned for Gamelevate’s more detailed coverage on this facet of Shrapnel in our next edition. For now, we’ll continue to explore the broader context of Shrapnel through the lens of Marc Mercuri.
Can you introduce yourself and explain what you do as Head of Platform at Shrapnel?
My name is Marc Mercuri, and I am the Head of our Blockchain platform here at Shrapnel.
What does your job entail?
I oversee our platform, which includes our backend platform we make available to other games called Bridge. Our team is responsible for delivering the backend services used across our game, marketplace, creator tools, and website.
What was your background before joining Shrapnel?
I spent 18 years at Microsoft mostly with early-stage technology. I helped launched all their blockchain products, including their blockchain node service (Azure Blockchain Service), Azure blockchain tokens, and other tools. That was five years ago which was still early in the blockchain space. I also worked at Consensus as the SVP of the Developer Business Unit for them, where I was accountable for most things outside of Metamask.
You seem to be well-known in the community. Can you tell us about your background and experience in programming and blockchain?
Depending on your perspective and how polite you are, I’m either a unicorn or a weirdo. I’ve negotiated things at an executive level and can also drop down and write solidity code. I didn’t have a formal programming background, but I got into it a number of years ago when I was at Microsoft. I had never grown up in a big tech company. This served me well when I went to Microsoft because I could pivot quickly and handle a variety of different requirements. I ended up doing a lot of education and early work in blockchain and cloud, which gave me the opportunity to connect with a number of folks.
Did you know web3 programming languages such as Solidity prior to working in blockchain?
Did you have any experience in gaming before joining Shrapnel?
Ironically, I worked in every part of the business at Microsoft over those 18 years, except for gaming. However, I was excited about doing things for the gaming space and looked into gaming when I was at Consensus.
Why did you ultimately decide to join the Shrapnel team?
When Shrapnel contacted me, I was immediately interested because of their team’s experience in building AAA games. These games included Halo, Bioshock, Call of Duty, and many other major titles. They also had people who had won Emmys for their storytelling abilities for shows like Westworld from HBO.
We were also aligned on this not being a “Blockchain” game but a game that would be fun to play – with or without the added blockchain elements. However, the team was also focused on enabling players to create, own, trade, and have agency with their content – squarely focused on consumer value.
Can you explain how the blockchain platform Bridge is connected to the game Shrapnel?
Bridge delivers capabilities in multiple areas from content to commerce to community to chain. We deliver a set of services and SDKs that abstract away the EIPs, ERCs, L1, L2, and the rest of the alphabet of soup of Web3 and focus on things gamers want to work with – weapons, cosmetics, characters, gamer tags, etc.
For content, we’re focused on making game items and activities blockchain-enabled. Our team is also working on empowering our marketing team to utilize NFTs and web3 in interesting ways, such as redeemable NFTs they can give away and will be redeemed for in-game assets.
What is the approach that Shrapnel is taking with Shrapnel and blockchain technology?
We’re focused on making blockchain technology invisible to players who don’t care about it but visible to those who want to see it.
We’re also looking at how we can make the blockchain valuable for any game or metaverse scenario, not just for Shrapnel. It’s like the Unreal Engine and Unreal Tournament or Xbox Live and Halo 2, the combination of great game + great technology can help move things forward.
How focused is the game on the underlying web3 component?
A: Shrapnel is a traditional AAA game that focuses on fun and ownership. It doesn’t look like some other games that had primarily focused on web3 technology, game second. In contrast, Shrapnel has a ton of nuances that come from the team’s abundant experience in game design tools and building great titles.
Blockchain technology is available and an important part of the game. However, the team is first and foremost focused on building a great game.
How did you decide which chain to go on and what kind of decision-making did you have to go through for Shrapnel?
When I joined Shrapnel, they had already looked at the Avalanche chain, which I hadn’t worked with much at that point. So I spent a lot of time looking at Avalanche. I ultimately concluded that it was the best choice possible for us.
Shrapnel is a free-to-play game that needs super high throughput, and Avalanche works really great for that. There’s a level of control with Avalanche, that you can change over time. They have precompiles that allow you to reconfigure the network. Avalanche’s team was and continues to be super collaborative and great to work with. They are very responsive to our needs.
What are some of the challenges that set gaming apart from other blockchain use cases?
One of the things that we realized early on is that a free-to-play game has different transactional mechanics compared to DeFi. If you go to DeFi and you want to do swaps, they’re all pretty much explicit transactions.
For example, I as an end user may want to swap Ethereum for Matic – or any other type of swap. Well, that swap is an explicit transaction and I will be charged a transactional gas fee. That’s reasonable because I am doing that swap explicitly.
However, if you’re doing it in a free-to-play game, especially an extraction type of environment, the situation is very different. We need to make sure that when you’re in a live match, you can’t trade items with someone while you’re in the game. In addition, there are a ton of transactions that happen from the game itself from us and the gas fees have to be taken into account by us.
And so it actually flips from DeFi, where now most of the transactions are implicit. Then, in addition, you’ll have higher-value transactions that are explicit. As the value of the token goes up then our costs go up. So we needed to divorce the two of those by having a token just for the gas and another token for utility. Avalanche was great in helping us with that.
That’s very interesting. So essentially you have two tokens now?
What are they called?
Well, one you will never hear about and I affectionately call it “Shrap Gas”. That token is handled by us on the back end and it is invisible to the users.
However, the main token that we use publicly is called “Shrap” and it is the token that is used by the player base.
What other areas are affected by the use of blockchain technology in Shrapnel?
The marketing department wanted to work with all different types of NFTs such as utility NFTs and comic book NFTs. The key issue is that when you do marketing you want to be able to work with a variety of partners. However, sometimes those partners are not on the same chain that we chose.
So we had to build out our infrastructure that can now work with any chain. For example, we just recently had a mint for a canister and it’s a redeemable entity. We launched that item on Ethereum and Avalanche and Polygon. So it gives us lots of opportunities there to work cross-chain.
Can you explain how you built the infrastructure to work cross-chain and how it works with your partner?
We designed something that was chain-flexible to monitor, but we also built in bridging using our partner’s Layer Zero. So you can take these items to other networks if you want.
For us on our network, it’s the best place for us to mint our assets. But suppose you have a weapon that was worth over $100,000 on our chain. With our tools, you can bring that weapon to another chain like Avalanche, Polygon, or Ethereum for use in a DeFi.
That sounds incredibly technical yet profoundly useful. So does this mean these items could potentially be interoperable with other ecosystems outside of Shrapnel?
Yes, we wanted to make these tools available to not only our own game developers but to any game developer. With a couple of lines of code, third-party game developers will be able to add capabilities for ownership or mint NFTs.
The intent is to make those items and the marketplace available to other developers.
Now if I’m a web2 gamer with no real knowledge about web3 gaming or blockchains or NFTs, do I need to learn all that stuff? Or can I just jump in and play the game?
Yes, you can absolutely jump in and play the game just like you would any other web2 game. As we have tried to emphasize, our team has spent a lot of time making sure that the game is designed for any player.
To do this, we have created a wallet behind the scenes where you don’t have to worry about losing your wallet keys or any of the other web3 components. Our goal is really for players to be able to primarily focus on the fun.
On the other hand, for players who are interested and have experience in the web3 component of gaming, we support non-custodial wallets, which is where the owner is fully responsible to manage for themselves. For those players, we provide facilities to take digital items in and out of their wallets and the user has full control of their on-chain inventory.
For example, if you want to sell something in our marketplace that’s great. If you want to take that item over to a third-party marketplace such as Magic Eden, then you can do that as well. If you want to take it to another chain to use in another game, you will be able to do that as well.
Related: Web3 & Blockchain Games Articles by Gamelevate