Blockchain’s value propositions in gaming pt. 2: Interoperability
In our previous post, we’ve started a series about the value propositions of blockchain in gaming. After providing a brief intro to the topic and laying out the fundamentals of in-game asset ownership and transparency, we’ll use this post to dive into another major driver of the vision behind blockchain gaming. In the following sections, we’ll talk about interoperability of in-game assets, why it didn’t exist until now, and how players can benefit from it. However, despite the charm of the theory, we’ll also touch on the difficulties of making this vision become reality and the possible path to adoption.
What is interoperability in the context of gaming and blockchain?
Interoperability describes the ability to use in-game assets, that you’ve acquired in one game, across multiple applications/games. Let’s take Fortnite for example. Imagine you’ve finally bought the weapon skin that you’ve always loved. It’s a Fortnite skin, so you’ll only see it in this specific game and won’t be able to use it anywhere else, like PUBG for example, right? Now image you’d be able to do exactly that. You buy a skin in Fortnite and it becomes available in a bunch of your other games as well. Wouldn’t that be great? That’s the basic idea behind in-game asset interoperability — enabling utilization of assets between games and therefore creating open economies.
The status quo
Although theoretically possible, the current state of the gaming world does not fulfill the requirements to create open gaming economies with interoperable assets, due to a number of reasons.
Major game developers currently maintain centralized technology and infrastructure. Players are locked into proprietary systems that host their data and assets and have no way to export or convert those. Although interoperability between games is technically possible even without blockchain, it would most likely only happen within the closed ecosystems of each game developer. Even if a game company decides to enable interoperable assets between their and another game, it would likely require a lot of custom integration work and is based on bilateral cooperation.
Established game developers have no reason to create or participate in open game economies. They’re interested in growing their player base, creating lock-in effects to increase retention and monetize this asset as much as possible. Participating in an open game economy would, in the first place, mean to give up their position of power to some extent and lose control over their traditional monetization strategies.
As players, we’ve gotten used to the way of playing (and paying) that the game developers dictate, which is okay because, in the end, we’re happy to play their games. However, with blockchain, there’s an opportunity to create a new way of gaming — in open, independent gaming economies that provide freedom and flexibility in terms of owning and handling in-game assets.
Flexibility through in-game asset interoperability
In-game asset interoperability is one of the biggest drivers in the vision of blockchain gaming and is very closely connected to the fundamental aspect of asset ownership. Moving in-game assets from proprietary servers and closed economies to an independent layer that captures their value and enables transactions thereby builds the foundation.
There are various categories of assets that can be made interoperable:
- In-game items. This is one of the most prominent use cases. Acquire an item in one game and be able to make use of it in another.
- In-game currencies. Imagine you’d be able to use one currency across a number of games, instead of having multiple proprietary ones. Players can continue to get value out of their balance, even if they stop playing one specific game.
- Other assets like achievements or profiles. Players can unify their achievements and profile progress into one source. Game developers then have the ability to utilize the players’ data from other games, to customize the experience or tailor the skill requirements for example.
Regardless of the seemingly many use cases and benefits, making in-game assets interoperable between applications is not easy. The road to a gaming ecosystem with truly interoperable in-game assets, meaning the point where you can use a set of in-game items across multiple games in a meaningful way, is long. To better understand how players benefit from in-game asset interoperability, as well as the feasibility of creating such gaming ecosystems, it’s necessary to differentiate between two levels of interoperability:
- Interoperability/transferability of value. Value can be converted from one game to another, for example, because a game developer allows you to use an in-game currency from another game directly, or because you have the ability to use marketplaces to trade your assets from one game to some from another. Once in-game assets exist as independent assets on a blockchain, this level of interoperability will be possible immediately.
- Interoperability of utility. A player can utilize specific items, that have certain functions/utility attached to it, in multiple games. Imagine you’d be able to utilize your collection of Chain Clash avatars in a full-fledged 3D fighting game. Sounds awesome, right? It might become a reality, but it’s not as straight forward as it may sound. To make something like this happen, game developers not only need to integrate the value layer of the open game economy into their game but also specific game logic and mechanics. We’re already seeing good examples of this in the blockchain gaming space. Gods Unchained and CryptoKitties, for example, have joined forces to create special collectibles, that can be used in both games.
An open gaming economy with interoperable in-game assets sounds like the perfect world every gamer would want to live in, doesn’t it? In practice, there are still a lot of questions to be answered and problems to be solved along the way. However, with every new game released and update pushed in the space, we’re getting a little closer.
The path to adoption
Having the vision of a bright future, in which open gaming economies prosper and players are flexible and autonomous in deciding over their in-game assets is only one part of the solution. To make this future come true, the vision needs to be translated into practice. With the current state of blockchain gaming, we’re at the very beginning of this journey.
It’s fair to say that, if mass adoption is the goal, the way ahead is quite long, and can only be accomplished if two things come true:
Players see actual value in open game economies.
That’s quite obvious, isn’t it? However, there’s a lot behind the curtains here. Even if the benefits of blockchain gaming sound great on paper, translating them into player-grade products and services is far from easy. There are a lot of requirements and dependencies that have to come true, to create valuable game economies.
- We need great games. That’s the foundation. If the games aren’t great, players won’t be interested in the benefits of a game economy in the first place.
- We need a lot of great games. One game doesn’t make an ecosystem. Ecosystems highly benefit from network effects, meaning a growing network will lead to increased utility and value for each participant in the network. To prove this value, first, we will need an economy at all.
Now, the question arises of how to get to this point. How do we create blockchain-powered, open game economies?
Game developers build great games within the game economies.
It would only take a fraction of the world’s big game companies to develop a couple of blockchain games and the requirements from above are fulfilled. Problem solved, right? Not quite, because as mentioned earlier, established game developers have no incentive to join the blockchain party (at least the open game economy aspect of it). As a result, we most likely can’t expect any AAA titles coming to blockchain anytime soon, no matter if the technology is ready or not.
Establishing blockchain-powered, open gaming ecosystems, therefore, will have to be pushed through indie developers that see and understand the underlying vision and ideology. And for them, the blockchain gaming space provides great opportunities:
- The value propositions that blockchain provides to games can be valuable distinctive features for their games
- Open game economies enable new game concepts and business models that may become more attractive to players
- Utilizing assets and player bases from existing blockchain games can supercharge the development and marketing process
Mass adoption won’t happen because of just one blockchain title going through the roof, meaning it won’t happen overnight. However, it will likely happen if the industry is able to attract more talented game developers that join the vision and add to the ecosystem. With the attention the space is currently receiving, as well as the new talent entering, it looks like we’re setting up for a successful journey!
If this post caught your interest, stay tuned for the future parts of this series. We’ll continue to dive into other value propositions of blockchain in gaming and discuss the future opportunities and obstacles for the space. Also, feel free to let us know your thoughts and opinions about the topic in the comments, or join our Discord to talk to us directly!