Imagine a world where card gaming didn’t involve shipping millions of cards all over the world, where cards could be downloaded and printed at home, and ownership was maintained by a ledger accessible and readable by every player.
That’s what Volition is designed to be. Its developers want to create a new paradigm that allows everything from digital card distribution, to permanent card upgrades, and even sanctioned custom fan artwork — all facilitated by the blockchain.
Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering are card gaming’s most influential franchises, so it’s no surprise Volition is looking to them for inspiration. “[Volition] lands itself between Hearthstone and Magic in terms of complexity, difficulty and learning curve,” Ken Pilcher, lead game designer of Volition, told Digital Trends. “It’s going to be resource based, so you’re going to play around with resources that will unlock higher level cards that you can use characters and creatures that you attack your opponent with directly.”
Both Pilcher and Patrick Meehan, fellow co-founder of developer Crytogogue, previously worked on award-winning collectible card game The Spoils. They’re looking to leverage that experience in a new way with Volition.
“There’s no turn order, you just have the start of your turn, take it, and then end it,” Pilcher continued. “Also, it’s action based. You’ll have three actions [so] it’s going to be limited in that regard. That’s kind of the resource system. It’s actions, rather than Magic or Hearthstone’s mana.”
They hope to make a game that’s accessible to as wide an audience as possible as Hearthstone was designed to be. Yet they want greater complexity and nuance, so there’s more depth for experienced players to enjoy.
Volition is built on a custom blockchain that will give the game unique features the developers hope will revolutionize collectible card games. There truly hasn’t been anything like it before.
The blockchain is not an easy topic to wrap your head around, even with more comprehensive guides — but in a nutshell, it’s a decentralized digital ledger that tracks everything about a digital token. While the Bitcoin blockchain tracks monetary transactions, the Volition blockchain would track cards. It would keep a record of who owns which cards, and what changes are made to them. That means the physical cards are not what’s important. Volition is instead based on digital cards, which are then printed for real-world play.
“You mine or purchase booster packs from others who have mined them, pick your cards, build your deck, and print them out from a PDF that will be generated,” Pilcher explained. “You can print it on demand, print it from your home, or send over the files to a more professional printers to get higher quality versions of the cards.”
Where traditional card games have decks built from physical cards purchased from retailers, Volition is as decentralized as the blockchain it’s based upon. The cards will come from booster packs generated by miners. As with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Volition will require miners to validate transactions that take place. Every time people trade cards, buy new cards, or change cards (more on that later), those changes require validation, and the miners will be responsible for that. The reward? New booster packs.
Those boosters can then be opened by the miner or traded to someone else. Whichever option they go with, the results will once again be recorded on the blockchain. As with real collectible cards, there will be a limited number of them from each “print” run — especially the rarer cards.
“Each card will have a glyph or QR code on it, so you can tell the ownership of the card and look into its history,” explained Pilcher, highlighting how Volition would handle people playing with cards that they don’t “own.” However, Cryptogouge isn’t too worried about unsanctioned play. That’s theoretically possible with any CCG, and any sanctioned tournament play would require deck-checks against the blockchain.
“Once you start thinking about the assets as being digital, then the cardboard just kind of becomes an embodiment,” Meehan told Digital Trends. “I want people to rethink their relationship with card stock. Why have a warehouse of cards and ship it across the world if the assets can be painlessly and permanently stored in the ledger? Card stock is dead, long live card stock.“
Cryptogogue isn’t the first company to try and build a game on blockchain technology, and with its very hands-off approach, it will need to craft a system that’s fair, secure, and can sidestep the issues that blockchain projects have encountered.
“We’re going for a custom protocol for a lot of reasons,” Meehan said when asked about the blockchain Cryptogogue is leveraging. “It took us a long time to get to that decision, and we had to do a lot of research.”
Cryptogogue’s whitepaper outlines the basic underpinning of the game’s blockchain, and the developers say even more details will be added in the future. It has a functioning blockchain already in operation with miners who’ve signed up to beta-test. The developers are keen to avoid scale problems, because they long transaction times could frustrate players and send the entire project into a tail-spin.
“It’s a little early for me to get too detailed, but I will say that I think for a blockchain to be scalable, the notion of sharding has to be built in from the ground up,” Meehan said. Sharding involves splitting up a blockchain into more manageable chunks, so miners only process a certain part of it. In theory, that reduces the security of a blockchain because a single miner with incredibly powerful hardware might be able to take over too much of the validation process. That’s something the Cryptogogue team is working to avoid.
“One guy with an ASIC could just own your chain in a naive proof of work algorithm [and] we’re taking a lot of precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Meehan said. “We’re going to be careful that the mining is accessible. It won’t be super advanced for getting it going, but you’ll need some kind of beginner or intermediate IT skills. We’re going to take care not to do things where you need to sink money into custom hardware. [We want it] to be accessible through work rather than a load of money.”
Pilcher echoed these sentiments, saying that he wanted the mining aspect of Volition to be something gamers themselves can be involved in throughout the life of the game. In comparison, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum, to a lesser extent, have seen professionals with thousands or even millions of dollars of invesment dominate the mining scene. Cryptogogue wants to keep its miners more grounded than that, even if the practice should be slightly profitable to encourage node creation.
Alongside card trades and booster pack purchases, miners will be charged with validating card upgrades and augmentations. Since the cards in Volition are digital entities, they can be altered permanently in ways that physical cards cannot. Certain cards can be combined, augmenting or upgrading the original character or item to something new and more powerful, with all changes recorded on the blockchain.
While that offers an exciting potential for the types of cards we’ll see in different players’ decks, the most intriguing effect of the upgrade system is how it might alter the rarity of cards.
“If you take a card and attach another card to it, the original attaching card is effectively destroyed from the ledger,” Pilcher explained to Digital Trends. “That will create rarity and scarcity just from people combining cards. That will be another interesting tool from a design standpoint.”
It’s not just the stats and abilities of cards that can change through upgrades and augmentation. Cryptogogue will also allow visual customization of cards, letting artists and fans craft their own card art. While that’s something anyone could do with any CCG by printing custom cards at home, Volition uses the blockchain to validate the changes, making them official.
That’s still a work in progress. “There’s a continuum of possibilities there and a lot of that will be informed by how the community grows,” Meehan said. “There’s everything from kind of the ‘wild west,’ put whatever you want on a card, to something more gated with a little process for leveraging the crowd to identify ideas that might be perfect. There are plenty of things we can do to ultimately give them value.”
If Cryptogogue were to opt for the ‘wild west’ scenario, we asked the developers how they planned to implement effective guidelines for what is and isn’t appropriate. What would stop someone from defacing cards with genitalia?
“Well, we’ll see what happens when you walk into a gameshop with cards covered in inappropriate art,” Meehan laughed. “You’re going to learn a lesson in consequences.”
Pilcher also suggested because cards have real value, it’d be unlikely for people to want to deface them entirely, as a card with terrible or offensive art even a unique one would be likely to lose value because of it. The reverse of that might be celebrity or professional players who sign cards, or perform some other form of customization, before selling them on, increasing the value of a card through their ownership of it.
As for parental controls, Cryptogogue is investigating the idea of “constrained wallets” so parents can look at the logs of their children’s’ play and actions, as well as leverage built-in filtering.
Volition will be paired with its own cryptocurrency, VOL. When the game launches, VOL will be a secondary payment method for more established cryptocurrencies, used only when trading for new boosters and cards. The developers hope that in the future, VOL will be the preferred method of monetary compensation within the game world.
“We think [VOL] will eventually be the preferred currency because it will be faster and more secure,” Meehan explained. “We’re not going to gate it on costs, or transaction fees of other protocols, but we’re also trying integrations. To on-board people we think they’re going to want to use currencies they’re already familiar with, so we’re taking the hybrid approach with the anticipation that people will want to eventually transact in VOL.”
With any cryptocurrency, the question arises — how do you get it into the hands of the players? In the case of VOL, Cryptogogue is keen to avoid an initial coin offering (ICO), which is often seen as a quick cash grab.
“We’re still weighing the options and we’re going to see what the community wants to do,” Meehan said. “We’re shying away from doing an ICO, so there may be other ways to distribute the currency. It may also be part of a mining reward. It may be something we’ll leave up to the miners. We’ll see.”
The Volition team still has time to figure that, and other aspects of the game, out. It’s not planned for a general release until later this year, though early testers will begin playing the game this summer. A mining technology beta is slated to begin in late summer, and that’s where Volition’s blockchain will be put through its paces.
The developers hope they can do more than just create a new game and a new cryptocurrency. They hope to ride the wave of board game resurgence and pioneer not only a new way to play, but a new way to publish games.
“We think this is really a new genre of game, and we’re approaching this with a very creative and experimental mindset, and hope to prove the model,” Meehan said. “We would love to see a whole new era of games and a whole new way of publishing games come out of this. It’s cards today, but with 3D printers and models, we’ll see. It’s a really exciting experiment and we think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”