An intro to blockchain gaming for non-blockchainers — the Chain Clash case
Chain Clash is a new, free-to-play, mobile-first collectible and battle game, powered by blockchain. In case you’re new to Chain Clash, start with this introductory post, to learn about the game.
However you’ve come to visit our blog, you’ve probably already heard or read three things about us: we’re building a game, it features 3D avatars and it involves a blockchain. And while it might be obvious to you what a game is (duh!), and why we’re including 3D avatars (they look rad, right?!), it might not be as obvious what this blockchain thing is all about. But don’t worry, we’re here to change that!
In the following sections, we’ll touch on what blockchain is, why it can be relevant in the context of gaming, and what’s our take on this topic. For that, we’ll first talk about the problems of traditional games regarding the role of the player and how those can potentially be solved. In the end, you’ll hopefully understand why we’re so excited to be part of this movement and why our game was designed as it is.
To own, or not to own…
Let’s be honest, as gamers it’s our passion to spend a fair bit of our free time to dive into the fun experiences that game developers have so carefully designed for us. Be it grinding hours in fantastic online worlds to be able to afford this one item that changes everything, goose-stepping marathons through our neighborhood to find the chosen monster, or trying to pull off the next insane run of crushing gemstones. And that’s okay because it’s fun.
But, despite the amusement we get from playing, what do we gain? What happens to all the blood, sweat and tears AND money we’re putting into those games? In most cases, the answer sadly is: nothing. We do not get anything “tangible”, of value, simply because whatever we play and pay for, like in-game assets or achievements, belongs to the game developers, not us. Even if it seems like we’re “owning” that shiny, god-slaying uber-sword, the reality is: whoever is running the game actually owns it and is just allowing us to use it.
Now, you might think: “duh, obviously I can’t own that. It’s just some 1s and 0s living in a hard drive”. And that’s partially true. Even more when this hard drive is not yours and is located at the other end of the continent. However, there are a lot of negative implications that come along with you not owning what you pay or play for. And bear with me, there might be a solution.
The players’ powerlessness
Players are forced to use in-game assets within the boundaries of what the game developer/publisher allows them to. Don’t see a problem here? Maybe because, as gamers, we’ve become used to go by the game developers’ rules. Let’s take a look at an example.
Take Hearthstone: this game is basically a digital trading card game, but without the trading. You spend money to buy cards to use in the game. But the cards are not yours, are they? You can’t trade them, you can’t sell them, hell you’re not even allowed to give your account to someone else. So what happens when paying for a new pack of cards, is not you buying anything (in the sense of transfer of ownership) but rather you paying for the right to use those cards within the limited boundaries of what Blizzard allows. That’s like buying a book on Amazon, but only being allowed to read it in your living room, alone, and not give it to someone else, ever. And now, take a second to think about all the times you’ve spent money on an in-game asset and ask yourself if you’ve ever been granted actual ownership for it. I bet in an overwhelming majority you weren’t.
For the game developers and publishers, there are a lot of good reasons to keep the power to be able to control what you’re doing with the assets. Mainly, they want to be able to monetize their games to the last drop, which is understandable from a commercial perspective. But from a player’s perspective, the almightiness of game developers can have a lot of negative consequences:
- You can’t freely decide on when and where (and if!) to sell and trade or even just transfer “your” in-game assets
- If a game is shut down, whatever you’ve accumulated over the time is gone
- You’re most definitely not able to convert in-games assets from one game to another
In our opinion, that’s not cool. Luckily there’s a new technological trend emerging in the gaming world that addresses this issue. Yes, you’ve guessed right — we’re talking about blockchain.
Chains… blocks… wait, what?!
Yeah, we’ve all been at that point. And to be honest, the more you dive into the topic of blockchains and its technicalities, the less you’ll probably understand, at least in the beginning. We’ll not go down that road, I promise, but rather only quickly talk about blockchains and then focus on how that can be relevant for you, the player.
Just a database (almost)
Blockchains are databases. They’re typically not even that sophisticated when it comes to the kinds of data that are being stored. However, what makes them special is how and where the data is being stored.
In its essence, a blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and cryptographically secured ledger. Umm, what?! In other words: a group of randos all over the world decided to store a copy of the same ledger on their computers, locally. Whenever someone wants to add an entry to the ledger, the others in the group have to give their okay for that. And once that happened, everyone updates their copy locally. The magic mostly lies in how all those randos agree on what’s the current state of the ledger and that everything is secured with fancy cryptographic wizardry.
Imagine you’re opening a betting pool for the next Fortnite world cup with your friends. Eventually, the group will grow and people you don’t know will join. To organize the pool, most likely one person will be in charge of keeping track of all the bets. Let’s call him Rusty. Whenever someone wants to place a bet, they’ll have to talk to Rusty. Now, if Rusty is thoughtful, he’ll update everyone about the current state of the pot, each time a new bet is placed. If he doesn’t, well, you’ll have to hope that, in the end, the pot resembles the truth. In any case, you’ll have to trust Rusty. For you, that might be okay because he’s your friend. But the new ones joining the pool might not know him as well. And I mean, look at him. Does Rusty look like a trustworthy guy to you? Well, I for one am not sure how good he is at handling money.
With blockchain, we now have a technology that allows us to solve this problem of trust. Imagine everyone in your betting pool would keep a copy of the list of bets. Whenever someone wants to place a bet, they’d have to communicate it towards every participant, so that everyone can update their copy. That’s good because you’re not relying on one central record keeper anymore. However, with a lot of people in the pool, that might result in a communicational apocalypse. You’ll never really know if everyone received the latest info and has the most recent version of the list. That’s where the protocol comes in. It defines a strict set of rules in how and when everyone communicates, as well as how the bets can be added to the pool. Everyone who wants to participate has to follow this protocol. Now, since you can be sure to always have the full and true list of bets, you can always verify that the amount of money in the pool is correct. And even better, you don’t have to trust anyone but the protocol (and therefore your copy of the list). That’s especially useful if you want to, let’s say, withdraw your bet. Everyone else can now verify and confirm that a part of the money in the pool belongs to you. If the other participants agree, which they’ll do if you’ve followed the protocol, you’ll get your money back. No convincing needed, no friendship-shattering mistrust, no hustle. Eventually, the number of people participating will get so big, you don’t even have to keep a copy of the list yourself anymore. Since there are so many independent people having and updating a copy, bound to the protocol, you can be sure that bad actors won’t stand a chance. Isn’t that great? Welcome to the world of blockchain!
In-game assets on blockchain
After our brief excursion into Fortnite, betting pools and blockchain, let’s get back to the actual topic of this article. Imagine, instead of bets, the ledger contains info about who owns which in-game item, or in our case, which avatar. So, instead of “storing” all avatars in our own database, that you have no access to, we put them on a blockchain. Whenever you obtain an avatar, from us or someone else, it’ll immutably be registered which distinct avatar is affected and that you’re the new owner. Since the blockchain is not operated by us, but by a whole lot of independent people, no one can take the avatar from you. If you want, it’ll be yours forever. Remember earlier, when we talked about not being able to own “a couple of 1s and 0s somewhere on a hard drive”? Turns out, when everyone hosting those 1s and 0s agrees that you’re the owner, you can actually own them! Woohooo!
There are several reasons why we’ve decided to build Chain Clash on a blockchain:
- We want you to be able to trade avatars as you wish. Yes, there will be a marketplace in our game, but you’re not forced to use it. Even if our game would shut down (let’s hope that never happens!), you can still trade your avatars. Since they’re not bound to our game, their actual value is not only fostered, but also preserved in an independent system.
- You’ll have full transparency over which and how many avatars exist. That’ll allow you to always verify the actual scarcity of your avatars so you can better estimate the value of your collection. Also, you’ll be able to check the full history of ownership of each avatar.
- Other games and applications can make use of the avatars. If another game developer wishes to utilize the avatars in their game, they’re free to do so (spoiler: that’s not as straight forward as it sounds, but that’s a topic for another day). And since you’re owning one, you’ll be able to make use of it in their game right away. Eventually, there will be a whole lot of use cases for your avatars. Some developed by us, some developed by others. Isn’t that cool?
At this point, you hopefully got an idea of the fundamental ideas and concepts we’re building our game upon. In essence, we want to create a fun game with “tangible” in-game assets of actual value at its core. Our vision is to give as much freedom, in terms of ownership, to the players as possible. However, that’s not an easy task to accomplish, and certainly is not done within one step. There are a lot of tricky questions to be answered and design decisions to be made along the way.
If this blog post sparked your interest in the topic, stay tuned for future ones, where we’ll give insights into our game development processes and some of the design decisions we’re making. If it didn’t, we totally understand, because playing is simply more fun than reading, right?! Well then, hope to see you in the arena one day for an epic clash!