The First AAA NFT Game Built On Solana: An Interview With Star Atlas CEO Michael Wagner

With titles like Axie Infinity leading the charge in play-to-earn genre, more of these titles are cropping up as the NFT market continues its resurgence.

While NFT games are mostly hosted on Ethereum, there are several other ‘Ethereum Killers’ offering an alternative to the Ethereum blockchain, including Solana.

Earlier this week, Planet Crypto talked to Star Atlas’ CEO, Michael Wagner, about the upcoming MMO that uses the Solana blockchain.

What Is Star Atlas?

Star Atlas is an expansive play-to-earn MMO currently in development. However, Wagner sees Star Atlas as more than simply a game.

“From the economic standpoint we see this as something that’s truly transformative to the world, social interaction, human experience, economics, and governance,” he said. “This has the ability to scale globally, not just to gamers, but to people who see this as an opportunity for themselves.”

As with many in the play-to-earn space, Wagner stressed the importance of digital ownership in the upcoming game.

“Modern games are very much rent-based, or extraction-based. You’re paying for time in the game environment, but when you decide to quit, there’s no way to recover any of that time spent through monetary value,” he said.

“In the NFT model of gaming, it’s true asset ownership for every single item that you own in the game. And that means you’re staking economic value to participate, but when you do, if you do want to leave, you have the ability to recapture that.”

However, Wagner noted Star Atlas should be in “a class entirely of our own” when it comes to play-to-earn gameplay.

“First and foremost, it has to be a fun game that can attract a mainstream audience,” he said. “We’re developing this AAA game that’s going to satisfy what people would want to play.”

Wagner also added that many players may want to play Star Atlas simply for its gameplay, with any financial rewards as a bonus. However, he also noted there will likely be players solely interested in the financial incentives.

NFT Game Development

When Star Atlas was first announced earlier this year, its staff number was in the single digits. The Star Atlas team now comprises around 120 people,Including third-party entities involved in the process, Wagner told us.

As for development, Wagner noted the similarities between Star Atlas and a traditional game.

“Game design and development is essentially the equivalent to any traditional development studio,” Wagner said. “The difference is in the financial incentives and mechanics that we introduce.”

Wagner stressed the importance of developing a robust, fully functional in-game economy. “If we get the economy wrong, it’s going to collapse, just like a real-world economy would collapse.”

In the long-term Wagner hopes the Star Atlas team can release a toolset that allows players to “create their own features and have some influence over the future of Star Atlas itself.”

Star Atlas Release and Minigames Roadmap

Star Atlas’ long-term roadmap will see the game launch as a thriving metaverse, built in Unreal Engine 5.

Before players get their hands on the full Unreal Engine version, Star Atlas will release various web-based mini-games for players to engage with.

These mini-games will roll out iteratively over the coming months. The first mini-game release, set to take place on September 21, will be Faction Selection – allowing you to enlist in one of the game’s factions.

After this, the next component will feature ship missions, allowing players to deploy their ships and earn a variety of rewards – whether in-game commodities or a distribution of ATLAS. According to Wagner, this feature is “four-to-six weeks out, possibly longer.”

Future mini-game iterations will include planet development and orbital space station configuration. Finally, the Star Atlas map of the universe will release in early 2022.

As for the Unreal Engine release, the most immediate in-engine product to launch will be a Showroom. Here, players will be able to view and configure ships, make purchases, and chat with other players. Star Atlas is targeting the end of the year for this, but it may be pushed back until January.

There is no release date for the completed Unreal Engine version of Star Atlas, but Wagner did describe development as “a multi-year process” to produce the end product.

Why Star Atlas Chose Solana

When choosing from the variety of blockchains capable of hosting NFT’s, Wagner said Star Atlas needed a highly scalable network that can process thousands of transactions a second.

“Solana satisfied that requirement,” Wagner said. “It has a very high transaction throughput, greater than 50,000 transactions per second, low latency, and sub-second finality, which directly correlates to gamers experience – every action you take you don’t want to have a lot of lag in-between actions.”

Star Atlas was one of the early adopters of Solana, according to Wagner, who said that when it made the decision to proceed with Solana in August/September 2020, only 20-25 projects were building on the network.

Wagner also noted Solana’s growth since that point, stating: “This ecosystem growth benefits us because we’re able to tap into all of these different primitives and different projects, and introduce those as features to our game.”

Star Atlas NFT Marketplace

A variety of Star Atlas ships, posters, emotes, a crew gear are already available to purchase as NFTs via the Star Atlas Marketplace, using USDC.

While some members of the Star Atlas community questioned why the company does not accept ATLAS as a payment method, the reasoning is far more cautious than some may expect.

“Our objective is to be as minimally impactful on the external markets,” Wagner said, noting the wider regulatory environment from the SEC.

“If we were to immediately start accepting ATLAS, it would mean that we would need to liquidate that ATLAS,” he continued. “The impact we would have is we’d be driving a lot of people to purchase ATLAS, who would be redeeming that with us, and then we would be immediately going out and selling that onto the market.

“We would have introduced a lot of unnecessary volatility.”

By accepting USD for its assets, Star Atlas has been able to generate $50m in revenue for the year, allowing it to continue developing its vision, Wagner said.

“We knew that we needed capital reserves for the company. We can’t pay our employees in ATLAS, we can’t pay our bills in ATLAS, and we would have to liquidate that.”

However, Wagner noted this is likely to change by the end of the year, especially as the POLIS governance system rolls out, allowing for holders to vote on various economic changes, including enabling players to buy assets using ATLAS, for example.

“We’re in a position where we’re willing to absorb that risk [of volatility from accepting ATLAS] because we have the cash that we need to extend our timeline out for multiple years already,” Wagner said.

While some players may struggle to pay for the high-end ships and assets in Star Atlas initially, Wagner noted that these were designed to be aspirational.

He also noted the potential for players to rent ships from other players until they can own their own assets.

Image of grey Star Atlas ship on dark blue/grey background.
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Credit: Star Atlas

A New Job Market In The Metaverse?

With the release of Star Atlas, Wagner said he believes this will be “disruptive across the entire global job market.”

“Not only can people create a full living for themselves throughout gameplay mechanics, but also through these outside or tertiary opportunities,” he said, referencing the opportunities for players to gain income through a variety of methods both inside and outside the digital world of Star Atlas.

“The potential is there for them to create generational wealth that they can pass down their families. We don’t think of Star Atlas as a game that will live for 5 years or 10 years. I think of Star Atlas, the metaverse, as a public utility that will continue to evolve into perpetuity and could potentially live forever, through the constant, external development all over the world, once we enable that.”

Read More: Free NFT Games: Best Free-To-Play and Play-To-Earn Cryptocurrency Games

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