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Million on Mars has raised $3.5 million to bolster its blockchain-based space simulation about how the human race could one day colonize the Red Planet.
Erik Bethke, the CEO of Million on Mars, is unsurprisingly a Mars geek. He really hopes that Mars will one day have a population of a million people, and his game is all about simulating how such a thing could happen.
“The game is all about what it’s going to take to settle Mars,” Bethke said in an interview with GamesBeat. “The key concept assumes that SpaceX or Rocket Lab or another space company delivers reasonable rockets and the price of travel in the solar system falls, as we expect, to be quite reasonable. What would you bring to Mars? How would you go about settling?”
In the hardcore crafting game, players start with 40-acre plots of land and craft their way to economic independence on Mars. Now, after a momentous year of weekly content and cross-promotions with other Web3 titles, including a notable and groundbreaking cross-chain cross-promo with the popular title Sunflower Land, the company has raised a seed round to keep expanding its universe.
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Founded in 2020, the Austin, Texas-based company is also out to show how running a blockchain game can be a legit enterprise built with care by a team of veteran game creators. Unlike a lot of Web3 game companies that raise money well before they make a game, Million on Mars has been live with crafting and trading for more than six months, and parts of the game went live as early as the end of 2021.
“I am extremely proud of our live operations and execution with the overall stability of our project, NFTs and tokens — and were one of the earliest to anchor on play-and-own model and never play-to-earn,” Bethke said. “We have a lot of exciting plans to expand on Million on Mars this year as well as (unveil) a second title.”
The game has 14,000 daily active users, with no bots, Bethke said. It’s a small amount in the grand scheme of things, but Bethke said there are no bots and a lot of human gameplay like other massively multiplayer online games. He also believes that the game has the most stable utility token in a Web3 game on any blockchain, as people are there to play, not trade tokens to earn money.
“We’re happy we have a rabid fan base,” he said.
Bethke got serious about making the title more than 20 years ago. He worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Galileo Cassini missions, and he was getting a doctorate in space science in the 1990s.
But it was a depressing time to work there, as the space shuttle program was sinking and there was no company like SpaceX at that time. He dropped out of the doctorate program and thought about making games that simulated his dream of getting humanity to Mars.
“I thought that if I can learn how to make good games, maybe I can inspire some people and get excited about a positive future,” he said. This is my dream studio and my dream game. I have been working my whole life since I left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory 28 years ago to create a game where people build out their settlement on Mars. There are virtually limitless resources in the solar system, let’s expand into the solar system and treat Earth as a precious wild garden! Every day I get to work with an incredibly talented team and our passionate player base really does feel like an extension of the team.”
He added, “I moved to South Korea in 2003 to create GoPets and to understand free-to-play and micro transactions from the source, and today I see Web3 technology powering single-world MMOs with the cleanest transparency and player ownership — what I have been passionate about my whole career as a game developer. I am humbled by the support of GSG and Widus, and they share that same vision and passion for delivering awesome game experiences to both Web2 and Web3 audiences — and ultimately we stop talking about blockchain, Web3, P2E and so on — just great games with strong ownership and rationally shared economics for the players who are delivering the bulk of the value in an single-world MMO.”
After working in games for a while, Bethke took three years off to go sailing with his family and homeschool his boys, who are now 21 and 17. His younger son showed him Factorio in 2016 while they were on the boat. And Bethke thought that was the way he should approach crafting in a city-building simulation.
Keeping it real
Bethke has been very focused on making the game realistic.
“Our players have to learn about the seven-year process where you take atmospheric carbon dioxide from Mars, you condense it down, zap it and take the carbon out of that and mix it in with hydrogen you got from electrolyzing the water that makes methane,” he said. “That leads to feedstock and fertilizer chains.”
Bethke partnered with a number of scientists to understand planet science.
“The name of the company Million on Mars comes out of a throwaway comment somebody asked Elon Musk years ago about how many people will it take for Mars to be economically independent of Earth. He said maybe a million people,” Bethke said.
Regarding the real-life prospects for settling on Mars, Bethke said, “It’s my life’s passion. So I could go on forever about this. When I was on that sailing trip, it was true. You’re basically fixing your boat in exotic locations. And I think a lot about how that was like settling Mars.”
To get started, he said we should be dropping a lot of greenhouse structures on Mars well ahead of the time human colonists will need them.
“I’m excited about the more mundane things like getting a very, very reliable toilet on Mars,” he said. “The dust on Martian soils has perchlorates at a concentration 10,000 times our tolerance. It will disrupt your thyroid function, and you just start falling apart as a human. And so we’re going to need a really, really clever series of airlocks and scrubbers and micro-droplets acoustics. But, intriguingly, there are a whole lot of bacteria that love to eat perchlorates.”
The game has about 70 playable buildings and thousands of crafting recipes and hundreds of items.
The money will help the game add more systems and virtual environments on Mars. The game is playable on both the Solana and Wax blockchains.
Great South Gate and Widus Partners led the round. Players harvest resources, craft goods, trade with each other both in-game and on-chain, build up their settlement, form settlements and go on epic missions across the planet. Bethke started the company with cofounder Keri Waters.
“We have been working alongside Keri and Erik through 2022 and we are impressed by their continuous
execution, and commitment to building a real business first,” said Dan Whang, CEO of Great South Gate Ventures, in a statement. “Through these dynamic times in the crypto space, the Million on Mars team delivered big with their Martizens expansion, and we are excited to see their roadmap expand into the rest of the solar system and more in 2023.”
Jonathan Lee, partner at Widus Partners, said in a statement, ““We believe that the Million on Mars team, with their pedigree of making games for all audiences, has what it takes to drive web3 games to be mainstream for gamers both in the west and in the east, and ultimately to drive the platform of Play, Build and Own.”
Solana Labs also invested. Million on Mars has 25 people across the globe, and the developers have worked on games such as Starfleet: Command, GoPets, Mafia Wars, and FarmVille. The company is remote first and it has team members in places like the Philippines and Ukraine.
The company has not released its revenue numbers, but the company has been selling building packs and other non-fungible tokens (NFTs) every week for the past six months. The recurring revenues have made the company cash-flow positive and profitable, Bethke said. The company has presold thousands of its Martizen characters on the Wax blockchain and the Fractal marketplace on the Solana blockchain.
As for Web3, Bethke believes players should own what they buy. When a company shuts down a game, he feels like that is an act of violence against players and a violation of their rights.
“I feel very strongly the players should own their assets,” he said.
As for the distrust sowed by the crypto scams and the failure of FTX, Bethke thinks its a good thing to burn all of the garbage in the industry.
“There are way too many rug pulls and fraudulent stuff in the blockchain space,” he said. “So many teams get funding that shouldn’t have gotten funding. Clearing out the garbage projects is really helpful.”
Meanwhile, Bethke said Million on Mars is working on a new unannounced title. He hopes to announce it this year.
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