Ownage: An Ethereum based ownership and trading platform for digital game content
As I have a background in both gaming and an interest in bitcoin, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me whether there was a place for blockchain technology in gaming.
It wasn’t until I started writing smart contracts using Ethereum that I realised the true value of blockchain technology for the gaming industry. The technology allows digital ownership to be every bit as real as physical ownership — and the implications that has for gaming is quite astonishing.
Let’s consider for example, trading card games. Physical cards are yours forever. You can swap, sell, or play them using whatever house or competition rules you want. In perpetuity. Unfortunately, in the digital world you’re always reliant on servers, up to date software, store availability, trust in the creators, and pre-programmed rules.
However, if we register digital trading cards on a blockchain, they can more or less become the game by allowing it be created by a game developer, but ‘owned’ by its users, just like physical cards. Neither the developer, retailer nor publisher (such as Apple, Microsoft, EA etc) could shut it down or take away a player’s cards.
In a decentralised solution, card packs would be sold from a smart contract (put simply, a decentralised computer program) which could run in perpetuity. It would have transparent issuance, so all buyers know the card issuance is absolutely truthful and cards are genuine. Players own their decks in perpetuity, and those decks can be used by any software with no possibility of players claiming they owned cards they didn’t have.
I emphasised in perpetuity because it allows other software developers to create software which supports the original’s assets, i.e. if the original game or server stops being supported, someone else can take over. Someone could also create an alternative game which used the same assets, or at least the ownership thereof since IP laws still apply to the asset content.
If the game were a true trading card game (TCG vs CCG) then cards and decks could be sold, with provenance and the benefits of atomic payment/ownership transfer, reducing fraud risk to near zero. Provenance isn’t only authenticity, it’s also history. For example, it could include that an e-sports hero had used them in a tournament, even what card dealt the winning blow in a championship. With appropriate smart contracts, the original creator could claim a royalty, or the seller could incorporate a sell on fee. They could even loan cards out or use them as collateral.
In fact, on an open blockchain, with high interoperability within and between networks, all manner of contracts, derivatives, governance, reputation and identity concepts could be supported. There are other advantages too, including automated royalty statements and payments, enhanced and configurable user security, the opportunity for new business models and permission-less cross marketing and promotions. Perhaps we can also do away with the problems caused by the grey market for steam keys and unknown youtubers begging for giveaways, and make digital items safe to buy and sell over popular auction sites.
This goes much further than TCGs and in-app purchases. It includes other assets, and extends to full games, limited edition games with issuance numbers, mods, skins, artwork or music.
It’s important to understand that content creators would have absolute control, setting the core rules for their products.
This is much more control than any current retail network provides, yet with more functionality than most creators would be able to create or maintain, at near zero cost. Creators then have the opportunity to find a new balance of rights between them and their consumers, and new business models they can experiment with.
Couldn’t all this be done on a central server? Couldn’t Valve do it? In fact Valve do some of this and have a vibrant trading market. However, it’s also got many problems which are fundamentally rooted in centralised control. In the end, all of us developers are subject to Valve’s whims, business models, costs, supported platforms and technology. That’s not a criticism of Valve, it’s a critique of the existing model. The same can be said of Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Google, Nintendo, and so on.
We’re proposing creating an open, decentralised platform for anything creators want to sell, on any platform they want, without paying on-going fees, worrying about it disappearing tomorrow or where the rules change underneath them. Valve will continue to prosper but we’ll create opportunities for others. Perhaps we’ll see disintermediation by providing an platform which innovative creators can use to get closer to their customers. Other businesses could use it to offer additional services such as securing assets, matchmaking and networked gaming, social features, achievements, retailing, trading, and crowdfunding. Indeed, the back-ends to many of these features may become an integral part of such a decentralised network.
I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity to put games back in the hands of the people who care about them most, the people who make them and the people who play them. To that end, Adam Powell (founder of Neopets), Dotun Rominiyi and Jack du Rose (founder of Colony) and myself have founded Ownage along with noted ethereum developer Peter Borah, who is leading smart contract development on a full time basis.
We’ve called the project Ownage because it gives both creators and consumers more ownership of their content.