Kongregate's Jorge G. Ezquerra has told us about the concept of its 8-bit gaming universe, the Bitverse, revealed some secrets behind the success of its MMORPG Bit Heroes, and spoke about the future plans of the company.
Not long ago, the browser and blockchain games firm Kongregate announced its upcoming gaming universe called the Bitverse, which is essentially a collection of Web3 video games set in a nostalgic 8-bit world. The company said that each game in this new metaverse will offer fungible and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that users can collect and earn.
We talked to Kongregate's Senior Director of Product, Jorge G. Ezquerra, to ask him about the new gaming universe's concept, titles that will be available there, and the future plans of the company.
80.lv: Please, introduce yourself and your team. Could you give us a little bit of background about who makes up your team? What projects did you previously work on? Which of them are you most proud of?
Jorge G. Ezquerra: I have been working in the industry since 2013 and have been an avid player since I was 5. I started at Gameloft as the first live operations manager over there and where I got to be part of the teams behind World at Arms, Asphalt Overdrive, N.O.V.A, and Gods of Rome. I’m particularly proud of my work in Battlehand later on as Product Owner at Another Place Productions (which was given the editor’s choice award by Apple) and then I jumped to Kongregate, where I was part of the teams working on Adventure Capitalist and Adventure Communist (both massive hits in the idle space), Idle Frontier (Kongregate’s best internal idle game) and Bit Heroes (more than 15M downloads).
- Rod Contreras: With almost 30 years of experience in the industry, Rod has been involved in different initiatives including the foundation of two gaming companies. He understands the entire development process of video game development and how to take an idea, a talented team, and build a successful product. Rod has developed, produced, and released over 40 video game titles. He has led the development team behind the 200 million downloads of the hit mobile game Banana Kong, and more than 50M downloads success of Operate Now: Hospital.
- Felipe Montecinos: Artist and animator, Felipe has over 25 years of experience on animated TV series, short films, video games, comics, and book covers. He has led his own animation studio for over 5 years and now is in charge of all Bitverse projects. He has worked with world-class IPs such as Netflix's Cobra Kai, Fallout Shelter, Snoopy, and Nickelodeon's Sponge Bob. A talented team leader with a unique ability to build astounding game visions, Felipe is now Bitverse's art director.
- Chris White: Chris is a self-taught programmer that started with the Z80 assembly language. As a teenager, he used to send demos to magazines (some of which were published). Eventually, one of them asked him to make a full game when Chris was just 14. He has been shipping games ever after, sealing his fate for eternity. Chris has worked on games of the caliber of Prince of Persia and his favorite game was Zoop.
- Michael Nguyen: Michael is the Principal Blockchain engineer at Kongregate and will be responsible for integrating Bitverse into the blockchain. He has been involved with many blockchain projects such as increasing treasury yields, increasing the market cap by creating new algorithmic stable coins, and designing automated yield-farming smart contracts.
There are currently around 50 developers in total working across the Bitverse initiative.
80.lv: Could you tell us a little more about the Bitverse? How did you come up with the idea of such a gaming universe? What is its main concept? Who is its main audience?
Jorge G. Ezquerra: There’s a lot of history here. I’ll try to keep it short but it will be difficult. I was part of the team that first secured the acquisition of Bit Heroes for Kongregate in 2019 (it was a third-party title at the time, and I was in our publishing division). A few months after the acquisition, the new leadership managing the title wasn’t able to prevent a steep decline in revenue over a period of four months so I was called back again to try to stabilize the situation, which we managed to do as a team through a lot of work, love, and dedication. For the next year and a half, the game went into maintenance mode (we kept bringing content and small features, but our focus wasn’t really there in terms of growth and I was split-focused across 4-7 titles).
By the end of 2021, Kongregate was ramping up a new blockchain division led by Max Murphy and Michelle Shaw and they were looking for ideas. Here I was, thinking about what I could pitch to them to get them started that could benefit from our strengths as Kongregate. I am a huge fan of what Roblox, Minecraft, and Manticore have been building. The word "metaverse" was in everyone’s mouth and so was blockchain, play-to-earn, and crypto gaming, and we were all trying to figure out how to move into this new world. So I had this moment where all the pieces lined up and I came in with the idea for the Bitverse:
- The Bitverse is a metaverse of games of different genres built around a central IP, Bit Heroes.
- Blockchain is the technology that enables the different levels of interoperability between these games through characters, items, currencies, etc.
- We are building the Bitverse to be cross-platform and around hybrid models, which means that our titles will be playable as standalone free-to-play games but players will be able to interact with that blockchain layer if they wish to. This means we are trying to build a Bitverse for everyone (both traditional F2P players, blockchain, and crypto game enthusiasts alike).
- Finally, Kongregate has always been very close to their communities, so it only made sense to us to build this around it, meaning that our games will be community-driven and eventually we hope to give them ownership over this universe.
Fun fact, this was only a pitch that I made for them before the holidays. I was thinking about it as a side project but when I came back, they met with me, told me they wanted me to focus only on this and took all my previous responsibilities away.
80.lv: Your title Bit Heroes quickly gained popularity among gamers having over 15 million lifetime players, which is a really impressive result. Could you share your secret with us? What, in your opinion, makes games successful?
Jorge G. Ezquerra: I think we already mention community as a central pillar. Bit Heroes was released in 2016 and it had a strong focus on players. Social features such as chat, guilds, friends, cooperative PvE, and cooperative PvP were introduced early on and that brought players together.
On top of that, the game has a huge "invest & express" component: Bit Heroes are customizable in millions of ways through the cosmetic systems, which results in all sorts of combinations, from epic characters to hilarious heroes that you would not expect to see. Combine this with the nostalgic 8-bit art and fun gameplay mechanics and that’s our recipe for success!
Games Featured in the Bitverse
80.lv: As far as we know, the Bitverse will initially consist of three games: Bit Heroes, Bit Heroes Arena, and a third unannounced game. Could you share some more details on all these games and their concepts? What are their core mechanics?
Jorge G. Ezquerra: Bit Heroes is a massive dungeon-crawling MMORPG world, themed with old-school monsters, bosses, and combat. Bit Heroes Arena spins the same retro theme into a survival battle royale. Currently, in open beta, players fight monsters and each other. The third game will also be in the same Bitverse metaverse, and you will be able to seamlessly move your character between all three games.
80.lv: It is crucial nowadays to have a good UA strategy. What is your approach here? What do you plan to gain audiences for the Bitverse to succeed in the hyper-competitive gaming industry?
Jorge G. Ezquerra: We ran (and we keep running) "traditional" UA for Bit Heroes. Now the approach to the Bitverse is a "bit" different (dad joke intended). We are focusing on our community, social media, influencers, and other communities as a source of growth, exploring other partnerships and collabs to bring attention to us. We have not started to run UA specifically for the Bitverse yet (though we are about to begin) so I can’t really add much to that, but we certainly are curious to see how those metrics look.
80.lv: What's your current roadmap? What did you plan for 2022? What will we hear again from you?
Jorge G. Ezquerra: We’re been very busy and have plenty coming for 2022. Right now, our focus is on the initial launches for our Bitverse Web3 games collection, including the already live Bit Heroes MMORPG (which will be renamed soon to avoid confusion), Bit Heroes Arena battle royale shooter, which is currently in open beta and will launch in Q3. A third game will launch later this year in Q4 as well. Our first set of unique Bitverse avatars will be available for the presale soon, so stay tuned! We are also prototyping some ideas for Game 4 and 5 at the moment, though those games won’t come until 2023.
We’re also gearing up for the launch of the recently revealed Blood Vessels, a vampire-themed community storytelling experience that will feature unique playable vampire characters in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that players embody to shape the game’s story, leaving their mark on a sinister and dangerous RPG world. Early sign-ups for Blood Vessels will open this May with NFT vampires available to purchase during the NFT drop in Q2.
Stay tuned for updates.