Blockchain games are in a tough spot.
It’s been more than a year since CryptoKitties launched and many games have come and gone. Some are clones, some are revolutions, some are trying to capitalize on the recent blockchain “trend” and some of them cannot even function without a blockchain.
Yet, no single game has emerged as the “killer app” that would bring hundreds of thousands to blockchain gaming — at a time where Fortnite boasts hundreds of MILLIONS playing their stair building simulator.
Blockchain games are still on a quest for their own identity.
Try opening a discussion about an onchain game, even with crypto aficionados, and you will be met with similar answers:
- No point in using blockchain
- Nice scam!
- Can’t wait to play this on my Atari…
It’s easy to understand and even empathise with these reactions.
One of the greatest strengths of blockchain gaming lies in mixing value with rules and assets. You can truly own a cosmetic skin, and trade it with another player for a collectible card in another game. You can enter strategy games for money where the proceeds are redistributed transparently to winners.
However, that same strength turns into a liability when implementations become exploitative. Selling in-game assets without any intent to develop a full-fledged game, setting up rulesets to be unfair by default, lacking safeguards against compulsive behavior overspenders, and finally plain and simple exit scams; there’s many ways blockchain games can and have gone wrong.
Here, you’d expect the writer to come up with a detailed plan to fix everything. Lambos and riches for everyone, in 1440p.
The truth is, I don’t know.
Blockchain isn’t flashy. It helps with security, identity, trust.
Those ideas are already difficult to relay in business settings. They become even harder to sell in entertainment.
On top of that, the value proposition of blockchain gaming is marred by predatory design and speculative behavior.
My intuition: let’s take a page from mobile games.
The free-to-play model works, because it lowers the barrier of entry.
Even blockchain games that revolve around value ought to make spending crypto the last action the player makes, something that occurs only after getting familiar with the in game mechanics.
Otherwise, your audience is limited to the minority of enthusiasts who will persevere through all these difficulties before they get to even try the game.
I started making games on Ethereum in May 2018, occasionally. Last November, I ramped up hours; little snails deserve the love.
Even though the games are simple, it would take a long time to go over them all. Feel free to browse through my previous Medium posts to get the idea.
In short, snail games exist at some middle point between gaming and gambling, akin to a game of Checkers: you’re provided with a fully deterministic environment and a transparent ruleset, and it’s up to you to triumph over other players.
Eventually, I ported some snail games to the POA Network and xDai Chain. Both of these sidechains have direct advantages for straight ports: reliable block times, faster transactions, negligible gas costs.
But the magic doesn’t stop there.
The benefits tied to POA allow for different models, solving the issues described earlier.
This is why the next snail game will launch on the POA Network.
This next game, simply titled Eggforce, will be similar to idle/incremental games.
Players buy units using resources. These units produce more resources on their own, which players use to buy even more units and upgrades improving their units, in an endless virtuous loot loop.
Idles outside of the blockchain have players collecting units solely for the satisfaction of watching their numbers grow, and get to the next upgrade or unlock.
On the blockchain, players pay to upgrade their units. Cryptocurrency goes into a shared reward pool, and players fend off each other to claim as much as they can.
What’s the next move here ?
Combine the two.
Thanks to POA, we can have a blockchain idle where players can opt-in competition for money, but also play for free.
RUNNING THE NUMBERS
The POA token is currently valued at $0.033.
Just like Ethereum, every transaction consumes gas. Unlike Ethereum, POA validators always accept transactions with a gas price of 1 (or 0.000000001 POA)
Leaving us to multiply that number only with the amount of gas consumed by the transaction. A regular transaction takes 21,000 units of gas. For a contract call, we can assume 200,000 units of gas. This is generally an overestimation, but better safe than sorry!
0.000000001 * 200,000 = 0.0002 POA ~= $0.0000066
To put it another way, you can send over 1000 complex contract calls for less than a cent.
This is half of the free2play puzzle. With costs like these, it becomes trivial for developers to “pay” for the transaction costs of their users. Send them just 1 POA, and they are good to go for the next 5000 transactions.
The other half of the puzzle has to do with game design and incentives. How do you make sure free players don’t drain rewards from paying players? Why would some players pay when some others play for free?
These problems are generally handled by providing paying players with enough of an advantage, but then comes the next question: why would free players play if they stand no chance to compete?
Because these questions are so reliant on specific implementation details, it would be out of scope for this article to answer them in full.
Let’s just mention Eggforce will feature incentives beyond simple values, for example clans players will be able to join and participate towards a common goal, regardless of their free or paid status.
Stay tuned for future articles going more deeply into the Eggforce model! In the meantime, we’ll loop back to the POA Network.
POA VS THE WORLD
It’s well and good to compare POA to Ethereum. But we know Ethereum is slow by design, at least for now. To ensure maximum decentralization and security, Ethereum runs on slow Proof-of-Work until an acceptable Proof-of-Stake solution is designed.
Other consensus models (arguably) trade off decentralization for faster throughput and lower costs.
POA uses Proof-of-Autonomy, replacing miners with validators. All POA validators are US public notaries, essentially putting their identity at stake.
This may not be an acceptable level of decentralization for large-scale financial applications like MakerDAO, but it’s definitely more than enough decentralization for our little snail game.
Now, it’s important to look at other options objectively.
What are our choices? What are the tradeoffs each blockchain or sidechain makes?
Spoiler alert: POA ends up being the best solution for our use case.
But it’s important to know why, so let’s get right into it.
1) EOS (blockchain)
EOS uses a DPOS consensus model with a social constitution.
Transactions aren’t immutable — this is bad for our game, even if unlikely to affect us. We want the game to be governed by code, not interpretation.
Transactions are supposedly free. In truth, either the user or the developer needs to stake EOS tokens for bandwidth. This requires you estimate the amount of bandwidth required beforehand, and because bandwidth prices vary, the upfront cost is much greater.
What EOS is good for:
- Paying for Dan Larimer’s yacht
- Leverage the existing EOS userbase
What POA is better at:
The POA model is inherently egalitarian.
Every user pays the same amount for a transaction, and the upfront cost of deploying a contract for a developer is trivial.
A game on POA can scale linearly according to usage, without unpredictable spikes.
2) Tron (blockchain)
Similar to Eos, Tron uses a DPOS consensus model.
Transactions are free… Once again, only if users stake tokens, or if the developer stakes tokens for all his users.
Tron is notoriously difficult to work with: major nodes go down, and revert transactions cost up to 1000 TRX! Even if revert transactions shouldn’t happen with proper frontend UX, this isn’t acceptable.
Finally, while Tron also uses Solidity, it lags behind a few versions when it comes to code and adjustements.
What Tron is good for:
- Justin Sun’s notice me sempai tweets towards Vitalik
- Tap into a genuine, growing gaming community in the Tron ecosystem
- The most popular wallet, TronLink, features autosigning which helps with usability
What POA is better at:
The POA Network follows Ethereum much more closely, with newest versions of Solidity released timely.
It doesn’t go down, and doesn’t introduce new bugs. It just works!
3) Loom Network (sidechain)
Loom is a series of sidechains for Ethereum, using Plasma Cash, validated with a DPOS model.
Transactions are free for the user, provided the developer stakes Loom tokens. Specifics are hard to find, with figures ranging from 10 LOOM to 10,000 LOOM.
Loom is used by high-profile Ethereum games such as Axie Infinity and Neon District. In essence, Loom accomplishes the same thing as EOS/Tron, while retaining compatibility with the safer first layer of Ethereum.
Sounds like the perfect solution, doesn’t it ?
On the flipside, Loom requires significantly more developer investment into their dedicated solution. There’s an extra SDK to learn, and a level of opacity in specifics, including some of their code being closed source.
What Loom is good for:
- Great tutorials. GREAT tutorials. Thank you guys!
- Working second layer scalability for experienced developer teams who can put in the extra effort
- Games with subsecond latency requirements
What POA is better at:
The development experience for POA goes like this:
1) switch network to POA Core instead of Ethereum Mainnet
2) there is no step 2
It’s that easy.
POA puts openness front and center, with everything being open-source, and accessible.
Using the same tools as Ethereum allows you to focus entirely on the game aspect.
THE POA GAMES FUND
Let’s recap: POA offers reliable block times, stable gas fees with no hidden costs, an even-playing field for users, and allows developers to move away from additional complexity.
For games that don’t need sub-second responsiveness, it’s arguably the best option.
Why doesn’t the network get more use then?
Perhaps you can chalk it up to lack of visibility. Hype follows the loudest voices more often than the most sensible technology.
In any case, the POA Network is working to make its advantages known to the larger cryptocommunity with a new initiative: the POA Games Fund.
Go ahead and give it a read.
In short, the POA Games Fund is an initiative to distribute a total of 50,000 DAI over the next 3 months to various games developed on POA Core.
(50,000 DAI = $50,000. DAI is a stablecoin pegged to the dollar)
As for your favorite crypto snails, there’s some good news too!
The POA Games Fund judges accepted my submission, and decided on a very generous grant of 5,000 DAI.
For starters, this grant enables longer, full-time development dedicated to Eggforce. Thanks to the grant, we’ll put in the time and effort to come up with higher scope, higher depth, more polish than previous snail games.
But that’s not all! More POA snail games will follow over the next 6 months, making good uses of technologies like the Token Bridge, letting you transfer assets back and forth from Ethereum to POA.
Not sure what that means yet? Without delving too far into specifics, consider an entirely hypothetical collection/breeding game we’ll call “CryptoSnailies”.
- Get CryptoSnailies on the Ethereum network as nonfungible tokens (NFT)
- Transfer them to POA, to play with fast transactions and negligible costs
- Breed new CryptoSnailies on POA
- Move your new NFTs back to Ethereum, and benefit from the higher liquidity on OpenSea and other exchanges
This is purely hypothetical. In truth, the things we have in store are much more awesome than a simple breeding game.
WHAT ABOUT ETHEREUM ?
SnailThrone players might be left wondering what happens to the “master game” concept, when future games aren’t on Ethereum anymore.
Rest assured: SnailThrone isn’t going anywhere.
POA and Ethereum are best viewed as synergistic. Because any dapp work on either platform can be seamlessly ported to the other, improvements to the formula benefit both networks.
More importantly, future games will very likely follow the flow outlined in our “hypothetical” scenario above. Use your favorite network, then hop on bridges to switch between the two.
Blockchain gaming is barely getting started. You’re here right on time to watch it take off.
Look at blockchain technology as a whole: it’s all about breaking down barriers. Be your own bank. Trade without third-parties. Prove your identity while keeping your personal information safe.
POA embraces this idea of openness in full: anyone gets the chance to publish DApps that are shared worldwide, with as little friction as possible.
You don’t need to be a big studio or an expert developer to make it work. Take your Solidity code, switch networks, deploy, and you’re set.
Lower the barrier of entry, and you raise opportunities for everyone. For game developers, it’s a chance to get their ideas out there. For players, it’s access to a greater number of games.
At a time where debates on scaling Ethereum rage and concerns pile up, the POA Network is an effortless scaling solution, and it works right now.
There’s no catch to it. Ideas just take time to travel. Most of the world is still catching up on Bitcoin, and here we’re talking about a sidechain solution for games running 24/7 without a centralized server.
Brick by brick, we’re building the next infrastructure of gaming, where players own their items, exchange them seamlessly, move their universal avatars from game to game, combine items from multiple games. Forget publishing companies shutting down the servers for your favorite multiplayer game, nerfs rendering your game assets useless, topdown value distribution where players are going to be milked and nothing else. New technologies open the way for newcomers to disrupt established monopolies, and we will see that play out over the next decade.
For now, strap on, hang tight, and let 2019 bring you some snail goodness in POA form.