I had the pleasure of speaking with Marguerite deCourcelle, aka Coin Artist, who is the CEO and Co-founder of Blockade Games and Neon District. A seven-year veteran of the cryptocurrency industry, deCourcelle has created crypto puzzles dating back to 2014. In August 2021, she was named to Fortune Magazine’s NFTy 50, a curated list of top influential builders, creatives, and influencers in the NFT space. She famously tokenized herself, creating the first social experiment of a collaborative governance of the Coin Artist ecosystem. She has spoken at Google and NASA in addition to appearing in CNBC, Forbes, CoinDesk, and more.
She had always been an early investor in the crypto community: “In our family, we were into gaming, we had these GPUs from my brother who had some leftover from his time at Carnegie Mellon, and we started mining bitcoin. And from there I learned about decentralized networks and distribution.” From there, deCourcelle went on to develop a variety of projects, including “crypto puzzles” in 2014 where she embedded private keys into both physical and digital experiences. “At the time, I was doing it for educational purposes only and I gave away a lot of money,” she tells me.
“I worked in different programs, and that’s where I found my CTO, Ben—who solved [a crypto-puzzle created by Zden]. And I watched him solve it.” From there, she told me that “the next step wasn’t to just launch Blockade, but to build something even bigger then crypto-puzzles.”
Plasma Bears emerged as a blockchain game in early 2019 for the larger vision that deCourcelle had in mind.
The parent company behind Plasma Bears is Blockade Games, which was founded in 2018 to create free-to-play NFT games and immersive, gamified experiences that leverage blockchain tech. Blockade Games also developed Neon District and Pineapple Arcade.
The team behind Blockade Games and Plasma Bears is full of crypto veterans, including CTO and Co-founder Ben Heidorn, Lead Artist & Co-founder Diego Rodriguez, Art Director Kyle Chivers, Game Designer Dave Smith, and Executive Producer Chris Chapman.
“Ben is a total rock star, and he’s never given up,” she tells me as she explains how Heidorn worked through a lot of the struggles the project faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the team lost a two million dollar deal that was supposed to support the development of Blockade Games through the market crash. “He worked on Ledger of Szabo, a game within Pineapple Arcade—which was the first time using the Bitcoin lightning network to mint NFTs on Ethereum, and created the first gateway for the NFT transfers.”
Rodriguez is also one of the earliest artists to ever utilize blockchain technology, and has been working with deCourcelle since 2016. His works dates back even further, as he was one of Bitcoin Magazine's earliest highlighted artists back in 2014.
Plasma Bears were launched as a prototype for Neon District, intended to test out advanced new technologies enabled by Ethereum. “We had been waiting for a metadata type token, and when Crypto Kitties launched, we launched within a week.” It also incorporated artwork from some of the earliest crypto artists, in addition to development, story-telling and direction from some of the earliest innovators in the NFT space, including: dhtenshi, mysterious animator, Zden, ilã, hellocatfood, XCOPY, Psyklon, Cr0wn_Gh0ul, coin_artist, cybourgeoisie, m3mnoch, plinq, ty13r, JTobcat, Red Suirrel Tech, Sarah Gray and Randall Kanna.
Plasma bears were created with a free-to-play format and had no gas fees, which attracted a lot of players. Within six weeks, over 300,000 NFTs were created. However, you could play without having a wallet, which is why only 1500 original assets from the Plasma Bears game exist. “I lost my bears when the side chain we had built the game on top of shut down,” deCourcelle tells me. “I wasn’t given a warning by the people who were running that blockchain network, and so I had not transferred the bears. When the network was dying, I tried to send two of my special bears through, but the transaction never confirmed.”