While at GDC 2024 I sat down with veteran game designer Timothy Johnson, Founder of Exjin Studios, to catch up on his most recent game: Chat Wars, an AI-powered multiplayer real-time game for Discord. I had interviewed Timothy back in the fall about launching Exjin right as he was getting ready to debut Chat Arcade and their launch title Tribunal Tactics at DreamHack Atlanta: a place where “Gamers from all multiverses and backgrounds connect for a weekend of experiences” (Discord “Chat Arcade” by ExJin Studios Blows my Mind, so it was great to sit down again and see what he had learned since launch).

One of the takeaways is that the early months of grinding away on a new game concept are extremely creative. But not until the game is out in the wild do developers really understand who it’s for, and more importantly, what they crave most. For Timothy, getting a chance to show the first Chat Arcade offerings to users and to get it in the hands of real players was priceless. Furthermore, with its 200 million daily active users, Discord’s relevance as a serious hub for new social games and business models cannot be understated.

After making the trek to Atlanta and meeting early adopters at his booth, he learned that the audience for Tribunal Tactics on Discord was made up of predominantly nano-influencers hoping to connect with their audiences as they grow, and surprisingly skewed predominantly female. That helped him to think differently about what he could offer as a social game that would resonate with players and hosts alike.

“I found really quickly that we drew a crowd and people were really interested. [Tribunal Tactics] wasn’t exactly serving the audience that we were attracting. What I discovered right away is that we were attracting content creators, young content creators who, you know, less than a thousand followers so far who are doing Twitch streaming, YouTube creation, and doing all sorts of stuff, but also skewing more female. And they wanted to play games with their community….they wanted something that was a little bit more social,” said Johnson.

Taking this to heart, he took the concept for the second Chat Arcade offering: Chat Wars that was already in development, and instead of leaning into the backstabbing and strategy, he flipped it on its head, reimagining it to give young content creators exactly what they wanted. Chat Wars remains true to its original idea, but with a lot more personality and is unquestionably streamable.

Furthermore, the game master non-player character (NPC) is an AI, learning from players’ personalities, so the longer one plays, the more personal the gameplay will feel. It’s reminiscent of “Cards Against Humanity”: a new twist on the fill-in-the-blank party game so many people love and play, and a step-up towards ludicrous mode.

Timothy shared with me that developing an AI “host” to interact with players, especially the script development and parameters for those responses, was part of nailing this character that is so central to gameplay. Like, should the host “pat you on the head”, feel sorry for you, or mercilessly chastise you – a lot like when playing with your friends, and seriously entertaining. So far it seems to have been the right call.

Given that gaming has evolved so much in just a generation, moving from consoles to the web and XR, it should therefore come as no surprise Web3 is gaming is becoming big business. For example, Big Time Studios announced that their free-to-play multiplayer action/MMO RPG Big Time, has generated $100M in revenue. That leaves a lot of room for growth and business model innovation for companies like Exjin Studios, who are finding an audience and gaining traction within platforms with millions of potential, next-generation players (Big Time Generates Over 100m in Revenue Since Preseason).

In fact, 2024’s biggest gaming trends according to ediiie.com include Generative AI in gaming, blockchain-based games, AR and VR in gaming, Metaverse, and competitive multiplayer mobile gaming. And since browser-based games, including those played on Discord, can be comfortably played in headsets like the Apple Vision Pro or Meta Quest 3, the lines between mobile, “Metaverse”, and Web3 really begin to blur.

While the entrepreneurial journey that Timothy is on certainly ushers in next-generation gaming, one cannot overlook the fact that gaming, XR, Web3, and spatial computing entrepreneurs have never before had so much overlap in development and “hardware”.

New “platforms” like Discord bring hundreds of millions of users, but even though we are decades into mobile gaming there is still uncharted territory. And, building for audiences in the great unknown is certainly something uniquely shared between XR and the gaming industry.

There are more GDC 2024 stories to share, but I’m certainly looking forward to catching up with Timothy down the road on his founder journey, and for what lies ahead in the creative playground that is the future of gaming in Web3.

AR Insider’s Editor-at-Large Emily Olman is an XR community builder, roving journalist, and CEO & Chief Media Officer of Hopscotch Interactive.

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