Shrapnel is a major, upcoming AAA web3 game with a seriously experienced team. We caught up with the project’s head of studio, Don Norbury, for an update on the developing project’s progress.

Just a quick recap first, though – what sort of game is Shrapnel?

Developed by triple-A gaming industry veterans (having helped produce HALO, Call of Duty, Westworld and many more), it’s the first ever moddable (player customisable) AAA first-person shooter using web3 tech.

Built on the gaming-focused Avalanche blockchain, the game is focused on fast-action, “extraction”-style play as well as user creation (for example maps/environment), item ownership and governance, with an economy system based around the $SHRAP token.

 

Hello, Don. What’s been happening with the progress of Shrapnel since we did our first Q&A with you just over a year ago? What milestones have you achieved and what challenges have you faced along the way?

In the last year, Shrapnel has grown massively as a project. Yeah, during our last interview, I believe we had only just published our token economics whitepaper.

Since then we have moved from theory to practice with minting of several NFTs [including the Operator characters and Callsign minting]. We have also released our comic book series, dropped our trailer and gameplay footage [see below], and gone on to show off our early gameplay demos live at the recent Consensus event.

It’s been a lot of work but Shrapnel has shown itself to be an exciting project if the queues around our booths are anything to go by. 

 

‘We thought the road to engaging with NFTs would be longer’

In that original article, you mentioned you had an aim to shatter negative perceptions of NFT gaming. How’s that going, what’s the reception been like for the project, and how has that impacted the development and adoption of Shrapnel?

The reception to the project has been overarchingly positive in recent months. Ultimately, though, the game developer community is more balanced than the gamer community. And that’s because devs are inherently curious.

I’ve been to two GDCs [Game Developers Conferences] since we started Shrapnel. The first one, everyone we talked to at the time was curious, but had negative project examples. Mostly, the issues stem from classic human problems – people don’t understand it and in that case, it’s easy for others to take advantage.

Most devs didn’t understand it, as opposed to holding outright vitriol for the blockchain tech.

But at the most recent GDC, everyone had a fundamental understanding and wanted to know the details of what we were doing and how we were overcoming specific hurdles. Now you’re coming into a space that has an inherent understanding of the tech and what we’re trying to do.

In terms of building the team, we’re all 20+ year AAA game dev veterans, and didn’t know how hard it was going to be. We actually thought the road to engaging with NFTs would be longer and much slower than it has been.

 

‘We don’t expect every persona to care’

Coming from the trad/mainstream gaming side, do you think this game can capture the respect of the traditional gaming market? 

We don’t expect every cohort and persona to care. Some gamers are just going to get in, shoot, and lose and get out. This is why we make it as frictionless as possible and it’s a free-to-play game.

We’re building it because we think it’s a business model and community-involvement strategy and a way to shine a light on how we should move forward in the industry.

Most of our studio has been making fun games for our whole careers. Games need to be engaging, sticky, with good progression. They need an ecosystem around them where people can put their brand on it, make their own maps. Our community ecosystem, and everything we designed economically, IP ownership-wise, is to ensure that it’s healthy and entirely optional to engage in. 

Do you think perhaps one day we won’t be talking about ‘web3 gaming’ and ‘web2 gaming’ any more, as the two will be one? Is that a possibility or a pipe dream?

It’s definitely possible. UGC [user generated content] already sustains the blank canvas accessibility of Minecraft, and underpins the fans-as-creators and consumers’ business model of Roblox. Blockchain adds a functionality layer to Shrapnel that facilitates ownership of UGC for players in a way that doesn’t exist in traditional gaming models.

Shrapnel ‘Operator’ characters (Source: shrapnel.com)

 

Rich, comic-book lore

How do you differentiate Shrapnel from other web3 games out there or in development? What unique features or aspects does Shrapnel bring to the table that sets it apart?

Players want to get closer to the action and explore stories set within a game’s world through various media formats. So our team recognises that there are benefits to entertainment products and franchises when transmedia is done right. As such, we released our comic book series at San Diego Comic-Con last year. 

The comics provide a unique way to explore environments, lore, and characters by considering how Shrapnel’s lunar impact event would alter everything from governments, and mega-corporations to the lives of individuals and beyond. That’s why we’ve worked with some of the best comic book creators in the industry to produce a series of stories that we think our community will love. 

Sharing these comics with our community ahead of the game release is another way of inviting them along on the journey of creating Shrapnel. And I personally hope that these emotionally rich tales will inspire our global audience to imagine Shrapnel stories of their own.

Additionally, these comics don’t just live in physical form, there are also collectible digital copies that will be displayed in the game inventories of some of our earliest fans.

Can you tell us a bit more about the game’s lore and storyline? 

The game is set in a world where a huge asteroid has caused meteorites to bombard a large stretch of Earth, leaving an area known as the Sacrifice Zone uninhabitable and shut away from the rest of the world.

Many speculate about what is being uncovered by guards there, with rumours swirling about a mysterious material called Sigma. Nations and corporations begin assembling their own military and extraction forces and a bloody war rages to control the Sacrifice Zone and its many secrets.

Source: shrapnel.com

 

World building and player creativity

Graphics, effects, audio, atmosphere, and playability are essential aspects of any great game. How have you approached the development of tone-and-style elements in Shrapnel? 

Our studio has a large contingent of veteran AAA game developers, including myself. We’re focused on building a fun, engaging, and enduring gameplay experience as a priority. With all the new experimentation and development we’re doing at Shrapnel, building a ridiculously fun game is still the most difficult part of our development process.

One truth in game development is that the first version of something is always terrible. Another truth is that iteration is king and defines how good your game will be. We built a team and process to ensure we can land features and iterate rapidly in order to find the fun.

For our tone and style, we are obsessive about world building and the texture of our particular universe. Many of us come from rich storytelling backgrounds, and we bring that blood to the table even for a multiplayer-centric game like Shrapnel.

The building blocks for the Shrapnel universe extend far beyond the game and platform – and into our transmedia production landscape with media like our comics, cinematics, and live-action short-films for which we’ve won awards.

This is how you build compelling narratives, delight players, and invite creators to join in building Shrapnel into something more than any of us could imagine.

Concept art: shrapnel.com

What else do you think Shrapnel has that will keep players engaged and coming back for the gaming dopamine hit? 

So, in the game, players will be assigned to strategically find and extract important resources – with the core gameplay centring around that extraction loop with risk/reward escalating through the session.

Community involvement will drive gameplay and development at every stage in Shrapnel including design, roadmap and aesthetics.

What’s unique about this is that community members and creators will be able to design maps, weapons and other vanity items and exchange these in our marketplace. Behind our mission and in the ethos of decentralised design, Shrapnel’s gamers who participate in all aspects of the game will receive reputational scores and get to provide input into game decisions.

Ultimately we aim for Shrapnel to be handed over to players, so putting the right controls in place to empower and moderate them is key to the success.

 

A ‘moddable’ game

So what you just referenced there is the moddable element to the game, is that right? Can you elaborate on that a little further? What kind of modifications will be possible, and how do you plan to balance the freedom of modding with maintaining a fair and enjoyable gaming experience for all players?

Yep, Shrapnel will feature skill-based competition, creative modding tools, and true digital ownership.

Our professional-grade creator tools, built using the same Unreal Engine 5 technology that is used for the game, will allow anybody to quickly get started creating and customising their own Shrapnel content – including weapons and skins, to maps and more.

Enabled by blockchain tech, players will also truly own these creations.

And as well as eventually playing as creators in the game, the community is playing an important creative role in its development process, providing insights into game functions and innovations that they think should be integrated into Shrapnel whilst we produce the game. 

 

How are NFTs used as part of the experience?

What do the different Shrapnel NFTs represent and how do they function within the game? How do they enhance the gameplay and experience for players? 

Shrapnel NFTs span a wide range of itemisation that includes weapons, equipment, cosmetics, Operators [the player characters], and even the game’s maps. 

Shrapnel is a “lose your loadout” extraction shooter. The game is high-stakes treasure hunting. Gameplay elements such as weapons and equipment are part of your “loadout” and are at risk when playing a session. You can kill an opposing player during a session and loot their weapons and equipment. Ultimately you need to extract with your loot in order to claim it as your own.

Items related to player progression (like Operators), as well as cosmetics, prefabs, and maps are not at-risk during a session. Community-created cosmetics, prefabs, and maps are also the IP of the specific creator.

Shrapnel is given license to express those items within the game and platform, but the usage and fate of those items is completely in the owner’s control.

All these items are equippable, tradeable, and bridgeable – and our architecture is built from the ground-up to enable full ownership affordance. Also, the game provides a convenient marketplace for trade, but ultimately the choice in how people use their items is in their own power.

An Operator NFT as it appears on NFT marketplace OpenSea.

 

What’s the SHRAP token used for?

From what we know so far, the in-game SHRAP token seems like it will be an integral part of the game’s ecosystem. Can you provide an update on the utility and use cases of the SHRAP token? How do you envision the token being utilised by players and within the Shrapnel community?

At the simplest end… SHRAP is a medium of exchange for creating and publishing new user-generated content, for trading within the marketplace, and for purchasing items directly from Shrapnel.

The token is also used to promote content discovery for all user-created asset types, and that fuels a community-driven cycle that enables the best content to rise to the top and get in front of more people’s eyes.

SHRAP is also used to unlock enhanced features related to accounts, progression, and tooling. And it’s a reward mechanism for creators, promoters, and players for providing value to the ecosystem in a variety of ways (such as creating/promoting high-performing content, moderating content, and completing in-game activities).

In the original article, it was mentioned that players can earn SHRAP tokens through in-game activities. Can you share any further specifics on the in-game token-earning process? And are there any plans to expand the ways in which players can earn or utilise SHRAP tokens in the future?

We are absolutely planning on new mechanisms for both usage and rewards for the SHRAP token, but won’t be introducing those for a term. We want to make sure we’re cultivating a healthy economy with strong longevity, and introducing new elements at a responsible pace is part of that process.

 

Why web3?

Could you elaborate on why you chose to build Shrapnel as a web3 game? What advantages does web3 bring to the game that would be difficult to achieve in a traditional gaming model?

So, Shrapnel will be backended with web3/decentralised technology to promote fairness and traceability within the game’s economy.

Then there’s ownership. Our dedicated creator toolset will empower players and creators to design and customise a host of different in-game items from weapons and skins to maps and more. By storing these items in a decentralised marketplace and game economy players will be able to truly own their creations within the game.

Gamers will hold their own inventory on a digital wallet, which will enable them to safely store and fairly trade their in-game items.

By minting items and avatars, players can achieve transparent verification and traceability of their items, increasing trust, working on exchange. They will also be rewarded for creating their own content, bringing a new element to the gaming experience.

Can Shrapnel be the first really successful AAA web3 game? Is that the aim? Or can many boats in this sector be part of a rising tide? Are you seeing quality in the sector begin to show with increased competition?  

This is absolutely a rising-tide scenario. Shrapnel is aiming to be a wildly contagious AAA creator-tools-enabled extraction shooter, but we are just one project and we are rooting for every game in this space.

Shrapnel is at the front of a wave that’s coming, and we aim to provide an exemplar for others entering or considering web3 game development. We want to provide a drafting effect that other projects can use to accelerate to even greater success.

 

Is gaming the path to web3 adoption?

Do you subscribe to the idea that gaming is one of the strongest paths to mainstream adoption of crypto and NFTs? 

Very much so. Gaming is a natural space for blockchain for a variety of reasons. 

Gaming has had representation of digital ownership and transactions since the beginning of the industry. Through game design we naturally enhance utility and affordance associated with digital ownership. Blockchain allows us to expand these existing concepts into new dimensions of user agency that cross boundaries into other platforms and games.

How are you going to tackle the NFT/crypto usability friction that a lot of players might feel when they think of web3 gaming? 

We’re obsessed with eliminating friction for users and we’re tackling many of the web3 UX hurdles with the expertise of decades of AAA game development.

So, when a new player jumps into Shrapnel for the first time, they have no idea what technology powers the experience. They don’t need a wallet. There’s a mix of familiar agency with different ways that people can connect, trade, promote, and create – and all of this feels as natural as playing any game… except there are some new and expanded verbs and features in there as well. This brings me to the most important point…

Humans are playful. Playfulness is something that exists in some form or another in everyone. Creating magic around this playfulness and building experiences to make people feel hope, loss, achievement, delight… you name it… that’s why we build games.

More people in the world self-identify themselves as a “gamer” every day. We’re here to introduce those gamers to a new way of thinking and an expanded set of expectations around what a game and platform should be.

Concept art: shrapnel.com

 

‘We’re not the metaverse, we’re part of it’

What’s the most exciting thing for you about the creative journey of this game? 

Two pieces continue to resonate with me personally.

First – building a multi-faceted studio that embraces boundary-breaking technology and incorporates team members from wildly different backgrounds and career tracks into delivering our vision of the game. We’re all about healthy, respectful conflict and resolution to grow the best ideas in this space.

Second – embracing the full nature of open-market and ownership realities tied to digital items and what that means for Shrapnel and the world at large.

One of our studio pillars is: “We’re not the metaverse… we’re part of it”.  Really, we think of it as a multiverse.

We’re building our corner of the multiverse and everything we do stays focused on ownership affordance. Interoperability, transportability, and working with other games and projects to define how wide all these crazy ideas can go: this is the heart of Shrapnel’s purpose.

 

What’s next for Shrapnel?

How do you envision the evolution of the game in the context of the rapidly evolving web3 and NFT landscape?

To quote Lewis Carroll: “it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”

We can’t foresee the future, but we can maintain agile minds and and agile process in order to steer Shrapnel in the best way as we move forward.

Much of our game evolution will come from within. We will continue to expand the Shrapnel universe by pushing seasonal updates into the platform that will carry both aesthetic/biome changes as well as new or expanded gameplay and creator-tool systems. We already have a laundry list of these elements that will take us past early-access release and deep into 2024.

Meanwhile, the evolution that comes from forces outside of Shrapnel will likely be centered around continuing to expand relationships with other games and platforms. We have a vision for Shrapnel and a set of technologies to enable that vision – and we want to collaborate with like-minded teams by sharing our technology and enabling content expressions across product boundaries.

What are some of your other plans for the game? Are there any upcoming updates, features, or expansions that players can look forward to?

We’re working on our revised whitepaper and economic paper, which should be out this year, and that will really underline our roadmap.

It’ll include exciting upcoming milestones, and it’ll cover our development and community plans in detail. To keep up to date with all things Shrapnel, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Discord

Shrapnel head of studio Don Norbury. (Image: supplied)

 

From what Coinhead’s been told, Shrapnel is likely to be released and playable late in 2023/early 2024. 

This interview was edited lightly for clarity. None of the contents of this article should be construed as financial advice. This is not a sponsored piece, but the author has bought and holds a few Shrapnel NFTs.