· 6 min read

Exploring Sugartown: Zynga’s NFT-Powered Universe

As Zynga releases their first Web3 game – Sugartown – we cover what we know about it and explore the implications for gaming.

In August, Zynga announced they’re releasing their first Web3 venture – Sugartown. While they’ve been keeping schtum about the details, Sugartown looks to be a platform – a collection of games all tied together using NFTs.

It’s an interesting concept that could open the way to a new monetization model in gaming, if it’s successful. Rather than in-app purchases or advertising, the game would rely on players buying, trading (and potentially earning) assets. So let’s dive into what we know about Sugartown and what it means.

Web3 games are games based on the blockchain

Typically, a Web3 game is one where you can buy or earn virtual assets. For example, in Axie Infinity you buy, trade, battle and breed Axies. In Gods Unchained, you own the virtual cards and can trade and sell them just like physical ones.

It’s essentially about ownership. In a Web3 game, the player owns a virtual asset. For Sugartown, this will be based on the Ethereum cryptocurrency – meaning the value of those Oras will rise and fall with Ethereum.

We won’t get into the pros and cons of NFTs and cryptocurrency here. What’s important is that – in concept – they allow players to actually own something. And in Sugartown’s case, that’s an Ora.

Sugartown isn’t a single game

It’s perhaps best to think of Sugartown as a franchise – a universe, like Warhammer or Star Wars – but underpinned with NFTs. Players will buy an ‘Ora’ – a deity-like character within the universe – and this will give the player access to the games within Sugartown.

We imagine Oras will be like Pokemon. You buy (or earn) the Ora, presumably trade them, and play the games associated with them. Though, exactly how it’ll work we’re yet to see.

Regardless, Sugartown is a platform, not a single game. But Matt Wolf, vice president of Web3 at Zynga, spoke with Shotgun on X Spaces recently. During the conversation, Matt explained that the exact lineup of games will be driven by the community.

“The games themselves are simple, but they’re difficult to master,” Matt said. “We have a direct relationship with that community and they have voices that will be heard.”

So it seems that the first iteration of games will likely fall into the casual category – short, simple and satisfying mobile games. But they’re open to seeing what the community wants in terms of genre and complexity.

Sugartown will start small

You’re unlikely to hear big news about Sugartown for a long time. Matt describes their rollout as “crawl, walk, run.” For now, they’re focusing on their core Discord community – their hardcore fans.

This includes how those first Oras will be distributed. The first batch will largely be reserved for those first players, essentially treating them as investors in the idea. How much? Zynga has yet to say. But you can keep up to date with the minting process by following their X page or joining their Discord.

Sugartown is rich in lore

The universe itself is actually a continuation of one of Zynga’s most successful franchises ever: Farmville. A few of the animals from that game struck out, found a new home in Sugartown, and caused a rift to open. This rift has let the Oras into the world.

“Oras are games, because they’re the lives lost of all the lives we’ve lost when we played,” explains Tommy Ngo, head of product at Zynga, in that same X Spaces interview. “So what you’ll experience in Sugartown was most likely constructed by Oras.”

Sugartown game

This ‘rift’ opens up options for Zynga to partner with other franchises and link together their worlds.

“The rift allows us to move through the space-time continuum,” Matt explained. “As we head into future chapters, the rift can allow projects to meet. It might even be able to move through projects we don’t know yet.”

What does this mean for gaming?

In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of Web3 games come out. Sky Mavis released Axie Infinity, Nplus Entertainment has League Of Kingdoms, Bright Star Studios made Ember Sword. The idea of owning your digital assets is clearly quite important. In fact, Web3 gaming accounts for almost half of all blockchain activity.

But it’s not exactly become mainstream yet. There are actually only around 2 million Web3 players out there, according to Zipdo. That’s a tiny percentage of the 3 billion mobile gamers across the world.

One reason is that players are cautious to get into NFTs and cryptocurrency. But it’s also just plain difficult to understand and get set up. Quite simply, it feels like a hassle. Wallets, currencies, minting, changing valuations. It sounds complicated. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Many developers are realising that it’s just not a selling point to the casual gamer. It’s just another feature. Selling a game based on the fact it uses a technology is like trying to sell it based on its collision dedication – nobody really cares how it works.

Sugartown could help Web3 step into the mainstream spotlight, though. Zynga is a massive player in the industry and their approach to Sugartown – evolving the game to suit what the players actually want – will make it much easier for the average player to get involved.

It could even change the typical monetization models we’ve come to expect. As players learn that they can – for example – sell their purchases or use them across titles, they’ll become less willing to make in-app purchases that don’t give them that same freedom.

Make sure you understand your players

If you’re interested in getting into developing a Web3 game, you’re going to need to make sure you do the same. Listen to your players and make sure you understand their behaviour. The best way to do that? With data. Check out our tool to keep track of how your players are engaging with your game.