Digital design studio CTHDRL has produced some of the coolest experiences in web3. But it's their latest project that's really grabbing people's attention. Co-founders Josh Hubberman and John Robson tell us how this new puzzle is redefining the way games are developed, maintained, and owned.
What do you get when you mix pop-culture lightning rods, brainteasers, and decentralised ownership? The answer is Look Again, a daily visual puzzle where players need to have one finger on the pulse of internet culture and one on the mint button.
The game is deceptively simple — find the hidden pop-culture connection between two seemingly unconnected images. The more plugged in you are, the more likely you are to mint the correct answer.
It’s the latest creation from CTHDRL (pronounced ‘cathedral’), the digital design studio behind innovative web3 projects like Jagwar Twin’s Hall of Mirrors and platforms such as FWB Gallery. Their latest project turns from art to games, and their experiments at the intersection of play and blockchain explore a new genre for the gaming industry.
CTHDRL co-founder Josh Hubberman says that Look Again is the culmination of years spent immersed in the mechanics and culture of web3. “We took stock of everything we’ve learned and all the things we've built, and then gave ourselves the space to make something that is fully ours.”
With content curated by a who’s who of crypto artists, builders, and tastemakers, Look Again’s often fiendish visual riddles have so far featured imagery of everything from Charles Manson and Princess Diana to rainforests and robots. “The tone and voice are somewhat unhinged,” laughs Josh’s co-founder, John Robson. “The game relies on the language of the internet, distilled into a nonverbal, visual communication. On one hand it’s a serious art project that comments on the movement of culture, on the other hand it’s a stupid meme game. We're trying to walk that line.”
In the mode of 2022’s gaming sensation, Wordle, Look Again takes a simple puzzle mechanic and executes on it with style. Each day, players are presented with two seemingly unrelated pictures placed side by side and are tasked with finding the two-word pop culture reference that unites both images. Free to play, save for transaction fees, the first person to crack the cultural code snags the day’s reward pool.
Keeping it all running is the game’s innovative smart contract. “We've come up with an onchain protocol for a challenge and answer,” says John. “In this case, the challenge is just two images and the answer is two words, but it’s a mechanic that solves this problem in an interesting way and allows for secure pay-outs to the person who has the answer.”
Of course, a daily game needs new content on a regular basis and to build an incentive structure that supports this, CTHDRL have utilised blockchain’s unique capacity to streamline pay-outs and royalties at scale. Look Again’s curators — those making the daily puzzles — stand to earn a 20% cut of the reward pool after their puzzle is solved. That reward pool, primarily underwritten by the game’s creators, is also maintained by the community — with a number of curators opting to add crypto to a puzzle they’re particularly proud of in order to heighten interest from players.
“It’s a mechanic that allows for secure pay-outs.”
— John Robson, co-founder, CTHDRL
CTHDRL says an incentive structure that rewards both players and content creators is essential to achieving a self-sustaining ecosystem. “There needs to be constant life breathed into this thing,” John emphasises. “Blockchain mechanics let us build a royalty structure where we can have this spinning wheel of creatives moving through, contributing, participating in the game, and then getting that value back.” In this sense, it’s one of the gaming industry’s first games in which the players control what the game looks like.
“We can have this spinning wheel of creatives moving through.”
— John Robson, co-founder, CTHDRL
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects about Look Again is the structure that CTHDRL has built around it. In direct contrast to the hierarchical and protectionist tendencies we often see in the traditional gaming industry, Look Again has been released with the full expectation that players will eventually take the underlying mechanics of the game and reshape it in ways the original developers can’t anticipate.
“We want a future where any sub-community can spin up their own iteration of the game,” Josh says. “You won’t have to only follow the main curation; you’ll be able to follow sub-curators and their version of Look Again. When things are onchain this becomes possible — people can take it wherever they want.” Look Again needn’t be two images and a two-word phrase, it could become any kind of question-and-answer game in which the players choose tomorrow’s content.
“People can take it wherever they want.”
— Josh Hubberman, co-founder, CTHDRL
Launched in parallel with the game was the Look DAO, which will eventually take on the task of managing the game’s daily content updates. “Who should be curating the game?” Josh asks. “How should curation be set up and greenlit? How should curators be incentivised? All of that is for the community to answer.”
Over the long term, CTHDRL say they want to see the DAO assume responsibility for everything the game involves, from content to finances to new features. It hints at the start of a new gaming ecosystem, where projects like Look Again illustrate a fundamentally new genre, only made possible by the blockchain. In this new framework, where blockchain provides the tools for players to coordinate, pioneers like CTHDRL illustrate how that potential can be used, and let the players take it as far as they want.
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