Meet Mark Laursen, a gaming and technology maestro, and the brains behind the global independent games development studio, Bright Star Studios. Pioneering the Play-to-Earn (P2E) realm with the premier game Ember Sword, Bright Star Studios is remodeling player experiences and economic fairness.
In this interview, Laursen unwraps the journey, aspirations, and groundbreaking mechanics that set Bright Star Studios apart in the vibrant world of gaming.
Please tell us about yourself and what drove you to found Bright Star Studios?
My name is Mark Laursen, and I am the Founder and CEO of Bright Star Studios. I have a background in Engineering, Technology and Esports, and was once a professional player in first-person shooters and MMORPGs. I then transitioned into making games and game engines. I like challenges, it probably comes from my competitive side, but I have always found myself at the frontier of innovation — or maybe I’m just a stickler for pain!
Bright Star Studios started in 2018, by a small group of gamers who wanted to change the state of the industry over believing the current model wasn’t treating gamers fairly for the amount of time they spend playing. So, we decided to enhance how players experience and access the games they play. We achieve such goals through our technology, core gameplay values, and making the economy more transparent and giving value to players. We are now a strong, diverse team spanning the globe, passionate about bringing these experiences to life.
We hear you’re creating your first P2E game, Ember Sword. Tell us its key features and what differentiates it from other role-playing video games.
We are making a fun, highly social, and accessible game. We’re offering the same PVP, PVE, and social elements that we all know and love from MMORPGs and modernizing them with the technology we have built from the ground up. Using our engine, players will not have to wait for downloads or patches and can easily find their friends and community across regions.
We prioritize social gameplay, fostering an environment where players can form meaningful connections rather than just finding other players for a raid. We put every feature and player experience in the game through this lens before it gets greenlit to encourage cohesive social interactions and experiences.
Ember Sword is easy to play and hard to master. It’s an MMORPG with a classless character system that makes it easy to pick up yet offers a challenging and rewarding experience for those who master it. This allows players to immerse themselves in a world where skill and strategy make all the difference.
For Ember Sword, we have focused on engaging combat inspired by MOBAs and hack-and-slash games with ground indicators and a comprehensive leveling system to unlock new abilities. It’s important to highlight that death has consequences, with PvP deaths resulting in some but not all loot loss, so players are motivated to excel.
We are a game that allows for a transparent economy that the players control. We have both off-chain and on-chain elements in our economies, and all on-chain elements are not tied to player power, meaning there is no pay-to-win. We are a free-to-play game; we will not ask you to connect a wallet when you play. Players can play for free all the way through if they want, and it was important for us to make this part of our core values.
If you become a landowner in Ember Sword, you can truly shape the world. With the genre inhibiting outdated, static MMORPG worlds where nothing ever changes, in Ember Sword, players own and run the game’s social hubs, bringing constant evolution and growth to the landscape. We’ll be saying goodbye to unchanging settlements and cities and hello to dynamic player-driven experiences.
The really cool part about our on-chain digital collectibles is that each item has a unique history, including its former owners, how it was first forged, events it might have “witnessed”, and more. This means that every item is truly one-of-a-kind.
In Ember Sword, we’ve created an ecosystem where rarity, uniqueness, creative expression, and player ownership are at the forefront, making it a truly revolutionary MMORPG!
Ember Sword is a free-to-play, platform-agnostic MMORPG designed to run seamlessly on almost any device – even on everyday computers with 3G+ connectivity. Our game is built on a proprietary engine that ensures quick load times and a smooth gaming experience providing accessibility to the gaming community.
How does Ember Sword utilize blockchain technology to encourage player ownership and foster the development of in-game land?
As a landowner in Ember Sword, you have the opportunity to build and shape your unique corner of the world and potentially earn rewards for your creativity and effort. One of the ways we aim to support this is by offering multiple monetization options for your land.
Landowners of a certain tier will also be able to place various buildings and NPCs and otherwise provide regular (not monetized) in-game services, which are not pay-to-win but more meant to help attract people to their unique estate. Landowners can do this by creating crafting stations, issuing player quests, and placing resources, all of which we are exploring and testing now. This will be not unlike a real-life bustling town with all the activity we have planned for the landowners. It will be gratifying to watch how players make it their own!
It has come to our attention that the initial virtual land sale pledged $203m, and 35,000 community members partook. How did this response impact the game?
Yes, although I would like to put the record straight that those were pledges for future land sales, not how much we have in the bank. It’s important to make that distinction!
The previous sale was when the NFT market was going wild. So we wanted to ensure we didn’t allow the land to go to speculators. We wanted to ensure that the land was given to gamers wanting to play the game and add to the overall experience. We decided to do the land sale by application to encourage community-driven landowners. We didn’t know we would be flooded with them, and it took us weeks for the team to get through them all.
By the end, with the limited amount we were offering at that stage, we ended up with a passionate group of people in our community who believed in what we were doing. The community loved it, and it made them realize that this team of people cared about the game. We’re proud of that decision and will continue to do the application process for this upcoming land sale as well.
Can you share insights into how Ember Sword’s alpha playtest will influence the game’s development?
Our ‘early adopters’ community is really amazing. They are passionate about the game, and they get a chance to participate and give feedback on the game’s development. We listen and take their feedback onboard, and we love opening up the world to them to hear things we can improve or need fixing — and we can also confidently greenlight the things they love.
Through the last playtest in April, players could play up to 30 mins of gameplay per login session. We offered the opportunity for them to complete quests or just run around and collect resources and level up their characters. Through the feedback portal we provided, we found that players reacted positively to the open-world design and loved the details in the visual style of the world.
Players expressed a desire for more player-vs-environment (PvE) content, which we are offering full-on in the next playtest (projected to be in Q4 2023). We are also gradually increasing our regional servers so that players can access the game easier, and have the best experience no matter where they’re connecting from.
So, our playtests are vital to the game’s success, and we are so grateful to have the opportunity to build the game alongside the players who will eventually shape the world.
As the CEO of Bright Star Studios, what are your main ambitions for the company? Do you have anything else in the pipeline?
I want to prove that this game model is the future. We’re excited to launch Ember Sword, and we hope that people will enjoy it and come back to it repeatedly. Of course, then there is the engine. I feel that it’s a game-changer for IP holders and developers, so I’m looking forward to making an SDK available for everyone to build on. After that… watch this space!
Lastly, how do you speculate blockchain technology innovating the gaming industry, and what role do you believe Bright Star Studios can play in this revolution?
Time and effort used to be valued differently in video games. In the past, players paid a one-time fee for a game they could “get lost in” and spent countless hours exploring and building their own legend… This slowly turned into our time being broken down and monetized by the second. Some of these games have become ‘pay-to-play’ or, even worse, ‘pay-to-win’, more akin to the experience of a slot machine than an actual game.
Effort in games isn’t something that should be shunned or exploited. Appealing to the lowest common denominator shouldn’t be your strategy; it should be to nurture the effort players want to put into your game. Simply put, players should be left with something they feel rewarded and fulfilled by: an accomplishment. A real accomplishment. NOT some silly text popping up to inform you that you just reached level 20 — because everyone does that, it’s not a real achievement; it’s a simple and archaic way of trying to trick players into feeling that sense of accomplishment.
Why do players love to sit and play games for hours and hours? It’s the sense of accomplishment in a world where you are not judged for who you are as a person, how you look, what you think — that whole part of the ego is taken out of it, and instead, only a pure sense of accomplishment and competitiveness becomes the driving factor.
We use blockchain because it gives us the advantages of an open ledger, where we and our users can track everything transparently and openly, creating much more trust between us and the end user. We cannot cheat our community by recreating old collectibles and re-releasing them because players would be able to see them minted.
Furthermore, the game’s economy is contained within a token, where everything is transparent. There isn’t much difference from any other MMORPG with its own in-game premium currency and an auction house or marketplace for items. The only difference here is that we give players ownership to trade if they wish, with easier tracking and a trusted system where everyone feels more like a true community member.
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