This past Monday, July 25th, Michael Wagner (CEO) dropped a small bomb, announcing the forced departure of 122 individuals from the team and deprioritization of both the UE5 product and the DAO. A “small” core team consisting of 45 employees will remain. On Wednesday, July 27th, a special meeting was organized where the three (remaining) co-founders, Michael, Danny Floyd (CPO), and Jacob Floyd (CTO), took the stage to answer questions.
This is a report containing all the important information shared. It’s not a strict summary; we reshuffled information to match specific products and key announcements.
Michael started off by stressing that their vision has not changed. When they launched in January 2021, with a White Paper and a dream, they did not have the capital necessary to build out the full triple-A product.
It’s been always about this iterative, modular release, where we create products and features, we roll them out, we start to grow, we attract users, we generate revenue, and we continuously reinvest revenue that we make to build out the long-term vision of the product.Michael Wagner (CEO)
That is no different today, than it was in January of 2021.
In 2021 they had tremendous success, allowing them to rapidly scale up their team to a level they never anticipated beforehand. They scaled their team to be commensurate with the amount of revenue they generated.
Now, the team had to adjust to the current market conditions to keep their business viable. This is something many companies go through, and though sad, it’s not a bad thing. Michael stated that he feels very good about this move and believes it opens many more doors to potential deals in the future. It was a hard decision to make, and he is not happy that they had to let go of so many amazingly talented individuals. It was a deep cut, but it positions ATMTA for sustainability going forward.
Having shrunk down to this small core group of people will give them better opportunities for growth. In fact, Michael hopes to rehire some of the people that were let go in the (near) future, along with others, as soon as their financial situation allows for it.
It’s unfortunate that a lot of the people that contributed to the stuff the team is about to release did get cut.
Besides letting go of 122 individuals, the founders all took reductions in their salaries.
Michael shared that they have a conservative runway estimate of 12+ months with the reductions. The team did include very conservative revenue estimates in that runway estimation. It excludes revenue growth in any way, new asset releases like crew members, PFPs (the team is thinking about this), ship sales, and potential external capital raises.
With the current burn rate, reaching a net neutral state is far more achievable. Now that the team has shrunk, Michael shared there is no immediate need to sell ATLAS & POLIS tokens. They do plan to restart these sales in a couple of weeks, albeit in much smaller amounts than before.
The new core team consists of 45 individuals who are all on ATMTA’s payroll. This group has a heavy emphasis on engineering and game development.
Note: An additional 10 persons (making the total 55) are not on the payroll but still working for ATMTA through “updated contractual relationships” that allow them to continue to work on the project.
Game Systems Design
There are 19 people working on Game Systems Design & Game Development, spread over UE5 and SAGE. This group includes art production.
The core team that can get UE5 over the finish line is still intact. For example, all UE5 Art Directors (environment, characters, ships, etc) are still on the team.
There are 19 employees in Engineering:
- 7 in Blockchain Development (this group saw the least amount of cuts)
- 12 in Web Development & Infrastructure. This includes some specialized roles for Web-game development (using PlayCanvas)
The Economics team, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to Eric Vermilion (Sr. Dir of Economy) & Steven Sabol. The team now consists of Chris (Head of Game Economy) and Gareth (Economic Analyst). They will still be able to release the quarterly State of the Economy, despite Eric and Steven being major contributors to these previously.
The remaining 13 individuals work in such fields as:
- Community (Santi, Dom & Jose are still there)
- Growth & Business Development
- Legal (Dan is still there)
The team is still working with co-development studios and maintains a great relationship with them. They have an active working relationship still with both Sperasoft and VertPaint.
The benefit of working with studios like these is that they (more easily) scale up and down.
As ATMTA had to reshuffle quickly, the exact outcome with the aforementioned co-dev studios is not yet clear. They have a different arrangement with each vendor and are still discussing what changes can/should take place. At the moment, there are still (ATMTA + Vendors) 40 people working on Unreal Engine 5 development. Danny could not give an exact breakdown.
As their conversations with their vendors are ongoing, it’s not yet clear how many developers will stay on UE5. It could be more, but it could also be less.
The back-end (on-chain programs) and the front-end (User Interface) are done. However, the middleware (Starcomm) connecting the two is not yet done. Michael estimates this will take another 2-3 months of work.
That is why they are launching SAGE Labs in three weeks!
The team plans to roll out SAGE Labs within 3 weeks. SAGE Labs was not originally created for anything other than internal playtesting, but the team thinks the time is right to share this with the community at large.
SAGE Labs will run on mainnet and has access to all the on-chain programs and gameplay mechanics that were (and still are!) planned for Starbased. This means it comes with all the expected gameplay and with a real economic environment!
What are the downsides? It will not look good. The Graphics are 2D and more akin to OGame (ironically, this is how the team imagined their browser game at inception).
Getting this special release out early will allow the team to test all aspects of the game and economy as well.
Recently Michael was teasing an upcoming Star Atlas-related promo, and he now revealed that this will be taking place through SAGE Labs.
The team will give away assets worth 1.5 million USDC (VWAP) over the course of 10 weeks. Each week there will be a raffle with prizes worth 150k USDC.
In order to participate, people will need to:
- Participate in SAGE Labs (this requires ownership of at least one ship)
- Craft Golden Tickets with the Crafting system in SAGE Labs
- Spend Goldent Tickets in that week’s raffle
The team will release the Typescript files they themselves use to connect the basic SAGE Labs UI to the blockchain.
Star Atlas Companion
The team has big plans with their upcoming mobile companion app, which has been built by a 3rd party, but needs some more work on ATMTA’s side to allow it to work with their on-chain programs.
The Star Atlas Companion is a move-to-progress / fitness trainer app. You will be leveling up your crew members (one at a time!) when you walk, run, or cycle with the app active.
It ties into the racing career mode. You improve the fitness level of your crew member by moving yourself. This will give them a slight boost in the upcoming races of the Showroom R2.2 release.
Free to play
The above was already known, of course. New information, however, is that the app will be free to play! You can simply train a crew member without the need to own a wallet or own any Star Atlas assets.
These crew members won’t be usable in-game (UE5 & SAGE) until their owner decides to mint the crew member first. This lowers the risk of participating considerably. You can decide to mint the crew member when you are happy with the results.
When someone decided to mint, that means revenue for the team. But this whole approach means the barrier to entry is considerably lower than move-to-earn apps like StepN.
While the Star Atlas Companion is not a move-to-earn app at first glance, you can train crew members (mint them if they are off-chain) and sell them, turning the app into an indirect move-to-earn app.
A small team within ATMTA and (as mentioned before) some devs from Sperasoft are still working on UE5 development and building toward the team’s ultimate vision.
Showroom R2.2 is currently targeted for a Q4 release, though it may be pushed out into Q1 of 2024, depending on how the conversation with Sperasoft will go.
Danny suggested that this big change’s timing works out relatively well, with many aspects being close to the finish line. The devs that remain should be able to push those parts over the finish line.
Besides Ground Racing (aka Hover Racing), Danny shed some light on another feature the team is trying to get in there: Progression.
Danny was specifically referring to a variant of progression he called Ship Mastery. When you race or dogfight in R2.2, you will accumulate some variant of XP, which will allow you to level up your skill level with the specific ship you are flying in. In essence, you are mastering the ship through gameplay!
There are 10 levels in total; each level will get you different rewards. You can think of things like weapons, shields, charms, posters, or skins related to that ship. When you reach level 10, you will earn a legendary ship skin!
It could be that not all ships can be mastered from the get-go, but that will simply give the team new content to slowly extend over time.
Your Ship Mastery will be stored on-chain, and Danny shared that the MVP for that on-chain program already exists!
This aims to make the UE5 game attractive to “people on the street” (to use Danny’s words).
When R2.2 will be released, the game will move to open alpha. Keys will no longer be required, lowering the threshold to jump in and try the game out.
The deal with MetaGravity still stands and is priced into the runway. Full co-development with ATMTA starts next week!
The idea is to build out a robust multiplayer layer. This will allow the team to bring in other game variants more easily. Danny is trying to work towards a sort of arena shooter with ships.
Ship & Crew Configurator
When you get a better gun, you can progress faster, but only if you can actually equip it. This means that the Ship Configurator must also be implemented in R2.2. Fortunately, most Gameplay Ability Systems (GAS) are already in place. But it needs to be built out.
Race Event Scheduler
One thing that the team still needs to build is the Race Event scheduler. When you have a single instance, not everyone can race at the same time. It is not instanced (by default), as the idea would be that everyone can spectate from within the game.
This means that the team must create a scheduler that allows people to sign up for one of the next races. This will be done on-chain as well, of course!
Note that there will be a way to set up a private instance just for practice rounds.
Scaling Back Up
When asked what is necessary for the team to scale the UE5 development back up, Michael answered they would need at least an investment of more than $10 million or revenue to that effect. Once the team secures 2 years of runway, “excess” capital will be used to scale the team back up.
The team’s vision of the role of governance has not changed; everything remains the same. However, DAO development has been deprioritized. Most programs are in place, but the team has not yet finished the on-chain voting mechanism.
This program will still be built, but this will happen at a later date. In the end, getting game products out is more important than governance. If there is no game, there is nothing to govern after all.
POLIS will show up in the UE5 game at some point, but this will be years in the future. There are no immediate plans to use POLIS in any way in UE5, SAGE, or otherwise.
The team sees two potential paths they can take after the launch of Sage Labs.
One is finishing the middleware of Starbased and getting Starbased out there. This would mean 3D graphics and much smoother, more real-time gameplay. An example of what that could look like was shown at PlayGG (see below video)
The other path would focus on launching the Star Atlas Companion app first. And then afterward, complete Starbased, including combat (not part of Starbased, but of SAGE Light, which comes after)!
- SAGE Labs -> Star Atlas Companion -> SAGE Starbased + Combat
- SAGE Labs -> SAGE Starbased -> Star Atlas Companion
Michael believes the mobile app may expose them to a significantly larger (and new) potential player base and hopes that a good few will stick around for Star Atlas’ other game offerings.
In December 2021, the community was in a good place as they launched Faction Fleet, which allowed people to monetize their assets and earn. That success encourages Michael’s belief that launching a mobile move-to-earn (indirectly, through the sales of trained crew members) may lead to another wildly successful moment for Star Atlas.
The team is still looking into the time it takes to wrap up the mobile app’s integration, but they have put a poll out there to get a feel for what the community desires.
Michael clarified that this poll is merely another data point for them, meaning that they won’t necessarily adopt the outcome.
This should roll out very soon (it should be live before SAGE Labs is released) and will come with more decent rewards. In fact, you will get:
- 30% of all primary sales (a 9k ship will net you 3k)
- 30% of the fee that the team collects on every secondary sale. Every secondary Galactic Marketplace sale has a fee attached (of up to 6%), of which the team collects 2/3 (with the remainder going to the DAO). Example: If a seller has no ATLAS locked, the team collects 4% of any asset sold by them, which would translate to 1.2% of the purchase price going to you (when someone you referred buys that asset).
Additionally, if you refer people, you will get a Golden Ticket. These will allow you to join the raffle (see SAGE Labs segment above) and win awesome prizes.
Michael shared that the team has a good relationship with Solana Labs, Solan Foundation (including Solana Gaming) & Solana Ventures. There is an ongoing conversation with Solana Labs & Ventures concerning a potential capital investment from their side, but it’s not yet clear where that will go.
A question was raised as to why Solan did not step in before. Michael answered:
- Solana was overall heavily impacted by FTX, leading to a lot of requests for financial support
- The Foundation is not really an investment entity. They are running a decentralized protocol and have their own capital requirements to run their operations.
- Their Ventures team specifically invests in early-stage seed rounds (typically less than 100k)
- ATMTA is a capital-intensive business, unlike most indie-game projects. They are not really in a position to write a $20 million check.
However, ATMTA has become more attractive to capital providers, including the Solana Foundation, with this restructuring. In its smaller form, the team will burn any money they receive at a slower pace. This means the risk profile changed dramatically.
— That’s a wrap! Thanks for reading!–
Updated July 28th, 13:00 UTC: The article initially stated that the team would not sell tokens until they have a decent game product out there.