The Inherent Value of Games and Where It’s All Heading.
The end of the year is fast approaching and it has put me in a reflective mood. See, I’m old school — I’ve been in the gaming sphere for a long time and I’ve witnessed the culture of gaming shift multiple times. I wanted to pen this article to offer my perspective on that culture — the unique experiences, the importance of accomplishment, and the value that games can offer to the player, as well as the developer. These concepts and my background serve as one of the pillars of Ember Sword, and through this article I hope to shed light on just where I (and by extension the team), am coming from. Let’s start at the beginning.
There have been many pivotal moments in gaming: evolving from text-based games to graphics, upgrading modems to broadband to high-speed internet, and even the emergence of VR technology. We’ve come a long way with all our various breakthroughs in the last 50 years — be it in game design, style, genre, or production quality. Videogames have brought us all a great deal and most of all, they have brought us together in ways none of us could have imagined when we started on this amazing life-long journey that is being a gamer.
The End Of Shared Experiences?
But the one thing that hasn’t changed — that won’t change no matter what technological boundaries we cross and how far we go — is the very simple, very human fact that games have inherent value to us as individuals. Each game we play shapes us in some small way, and provides us with the endless entertainment that we all seek and cherish. Then we’ve got the bigger games, which not only define us as individual gamers, but frame and define entire generations and genres. The value in games is a very personal thing, but also a universal one, as all players have their own individual experiences and take away something unique. Furthermore, these experiences also connect everyone who’s played the same games. For example, we’ve all talked to our friends about difficult levels, glorious achievements, and feats of
skill; sharing individual experiences has been bringing us together all this time. And with Massively Multiplayer Online Games, that connection is amplified, it’s much more real and explicit, and the opportunities to create and manifest that inherent value and make it “real” are truly vast.
But unfortunately, many games have decided to become less and less social in order to attract solo gamers. This, in turn, alienated the social players, turning MMOs into almost anti-social games, which is quite ironic given the “Massively Multiplayer’’ name. If we continue to alienate these players, we could be witnessing the death of a playstyle and a possible end of an era — not to mention taking away the chance for a new and potentially even greater era to take off. We cannot let this inherent value that lays at the heart of the gaming experience die. For at the end of the day, it’s one of the core reasons and motivations drawing us to games time and time again. It’s the fabric that underpins gaming and social experiences — and it must and should be protected.
The Power Of Real Accomplishment
“Effort in games isn’t something that should be shunned. Appealing to the lowest common denominator shouldn’t be your strategy…”
Time and effort used to be valued differently in video games. Where in the past players paid a one-time fee for a game they could “get lost in” and spend countless hours exploring and building out their own legend… This slowly turned into our time being broken down and monetized by the second. Some of these games have become “pay to play” or even worse, “pay to win”, more akin to the experience of a slot machine than an actual game.
Effort in games isn’t something that should be shunned or exploited. Appealing to the lowest common denominator shouldn’t be your strategy, it should be to nurture and mold the effort players want to put into your game. To put it simply: players should be left with something they feel rewarded and fulfilled by: an accomplishment. A real accomplishment. NOT some silly text popping up to inform you that you just reached level 20 — because everyone does that, it’s not a real achievement, it’s a simple and archaic way of trying to trick players into feeling that sense of accomplishment.
Why do players love to sit and play Dungeons and Dragons for hours and hours? Or First Person Shooters like Counter-Strike, or any type of MMORPG where players have been known to sit and play for more hours than is healthy? It’s the sense of accomplishment in a field where you are not judged for who you are as a person, how you look, what you think — that whole part of the ego is taken out of it, and instead only a pure sense of accomplishment and competitiveness becomes the driving factor. We all like to do well, we all want to succeed and learn to be better. Games give us that option, to dive into a world where you can be anyone and anything — no matter who you are, what your social standing is, or even which disability you may have, you can become a legend in the history books of gaming.
“It’s the sense of accomplishment in a field where you are not judged for who you are as a person, how you look, what you think…”
The Value And Pitfalls Of Collectibles
Games have inherent value. They’ve always had it. It comes from the effort and time put in by the players themselves. It can be compared to collecting art or Pokémon cards — the value attributed to the art piece or the cards is whatever the people interested in these decide it is. You can trade your Pokémon cards with your friends, give them away, sell them, get more by buying some or by playing tournaments, or whatever the case may be. The art collector loves art and collects the type they like, sells it and trades it, exhibits it for the others to enjoy. The intent and demand are the same for games — the only difference is that there’s a lot more gamers willing to spend money on their hobby than there’ll ever be art collectors and similar.
“Games build culture, it’s a crucial part of the inherent value they possess, stemming from the fact that games are a shared social experience.”
See NFTs as Pokémon cards and Cryptocurrencies as Jewels in a Mobile Game, or whichever premium currency a game uses. Now, the only difference here is that blockchain technology enables us, the users, to easily trade these jewels and Pokémon cards. We could already trade them before on black markets, but now we can trade them freely through a technology that severely hinders fraud. Many have been oblivious to the fact that games possess an inherent value, mostly because almost all of these digital item trades happen on underground black markets, ripe with fraud and unregulated behavior. Most gamers who have indulged in trading items have probably experienced being scammed. It’s currently a major issue in all digital item trading that doesn’t happen on a blockchain. Now, on the blockchain, a trade or purchase doesn’t need a middle man. In a trustless system, this part is secure and as a buyer you just have to make sure that what you’re buying is actually what you want. However, this isn’t to say that blockchain technology is free of scammers either — wherever there’s money to be made, people will try to game the system. It’s just less likely to happen because the blockchain itself is secure.
Games build culture — it’s a crucial part of the inherent value they possess and stems from the fact that games are a shared social experience. A culture arises and is built from it, and more importantly, plays a part in shaping your culture as an individual. All the different genres of games ebb and flow between and around one another, building out a shared existential landscape that transcends their existence as “just” games. That landscape is in danger of losing its value if we continue on the path of combining gambling and gaming by using predatory monetization, aggressive microtransactions, or gated content through cash shops and slot-machine loot boxes. And even worse, some companies have gone as far as to invest millions in creating systems whose only goal is to trick you into spending, by giving you an artificial experience specifically designed to manipulate you into purchasing one or more of their products.
In the past, games were a novelty to gather around and celebrate, that was their core value. And although they’re not news anymore, we have the chance to recapture what’s lost. For what lies at the center of that value? The community. The culture. With play to earn and blockchain, we’re witnessing a renaissance in gaming, recovering what we once had: a community sharing cultural values, something that many of us have been wanting for a long time now. This is something that should be celebrated, not undervalued. Because there is a real chance to revive a feeling that has almost become a myth and legend by this point.
Cash Grabs vs. Sharing Value
Why haven’t publishers and developers embraced item trading earlier? The number one reason has always been money. The developers and publishers don’t profit from secondary market transactions. Therefore, their mission will always be to grab a bigger slice through some form of cash-shop, something where they can keep selling and you can keep buying things you won’t truly own. Things they can always duplicate and have duplicated in the past, devaluating not just your experience but also your purchases. And once purchased, if you try to trade these things, you could very well be severely sanctioned. Companies have gone as far as disabling, banning and outright deleting accounts and people’s items, time, and effort. This is one of the core tenants that blockchain fixes: the ability to monetize trades after a sale, a realization that gives companies a way to earn without having to push DLCs, new releases, gated content, or cash-shop packages all the time. Instead, it enables them to focus truly and exclusively on making their game as fun as possible.
In a decentralized system, there’s no physical middleman, no central component, no one that has to go first in a peer-to-peer trade. You can safely and securely trade any NFT item through various marketplaces, and the blockchain takes care of the verification and transfer process. Older, more archaic systems that are filled with scams, fraud, chargebacks, disputes, etc., can now be replaced and boosted with blockchain secured technologies. A milestone in combating online fraud.
Said fraud is a big problem in video games specifically, and another reason developers and publishers have not empowered their users with free item trading. Unfortunately, with the continuous rise of video games, ID theft has concurrently been rising since 2015 as well. And we’re not talking mere millions of dollars here, it’s hundreds of millions to billions — that’s how much value lies in the power of game economies. And this isn’t just today either, it was yesterday, last year, a decade ago. But if you’ve never looked at it closely, you’ve never been able to see the countless communities, forums and local gamer clubs where loved ones, families, friends, and like-minded people band together to buy, sell, or trade within their favorite games — despite the dangers and risk of losing everything.
There are plenty of headline fairytale stories of hard-working couples earning enough money through trading digital items to buy themselves a house. How is this a bad thing? How would it ever be a bad thing to have the actual users participate in the profit? The actual players — the ones who help generate the buzz, help generate the hype, help build the communities, and mold the metagame. Why aren’t they allowed to also participate in the economy? Why should it only be the big behemoth companies, the towering goliath entities that sit on top of everything and everyone — why should they be the ones raking in all the value when a lot of that value belongs to the players to begin with. Why not share it, build on it, democratize the game economy in favor of the user, in order for us all, together, to gain something from the effort we put into doing what we love.
Allowing players to participate in a game economy directly increases their “buy-in” and investment into that game. This also fosters a more deeply felt loyalty and commitment towards a game. It becomes whole, rather than half-hearted, and as we know “a rising tide lifts all boats” — a saying that beautifully paints the concept of play-to-earn. When we enable blockchain technology and smart contracts to act as the ‘middleman’ and build an economic construct with a focus on driving value to its users, even the big goliaths, the huge behemoth corporations, will see their opportunity. Because they’re then no longer limited to the revenues from the primary sale of an asset and instead gain access to the royalties accrued on secondary markets. This can be further cycled through the player base, turning it into a perpetual revenue system. It’s a model where everyone wins, no one has to cheat, and where all our boats rise with the tide.
Video Games Are Transcending, The Future Is Now.
The nature of trading digital items — whether it’s trading gold coins or taking out your harddrive to give your favorite game avatar to a friend — is the very notion of play-to-earn, a concept recently coined with the rise of blockchain games such as Axie Infinity. This concept allows developers to harness the power of what were previously considered negative issues in games such as gold farming — a notorious problem, especially in MMORPGs. In World of Warcraft, for example, billions of dollars have been made and bankers have left their cozy jobs to make sweatshops in third world countries, where the workers are grinding and toiling away for a fraction of the earnings.
“We have a real chance to introduce a new system which transcends gaming…”
There are many realizations to be had here. First off, these sweatshop workers, surprisingly, receive a higher percentage of sale revenue from farming gold than farmers of fair trade coffee. Furthermore, the prospect of gold farming as a tool for socio-economic development has already been raised by the United Kingdom’s department of International Development, in a report discussing how to convert the virtual economies into development potential.
Among the games that harness the potential of play-to-earn is, of course, Ember Sword. Our plan, as we’ve stated before, is to release digital cosmetic collectibles in-game every month, which players then find while gaming their way through fun adventures and experiences. By allowing players to earn actually valuable collectibles through gameplay, you reduce the need and desire to partake in exploitative ventures such as ‘’gold farming’’, as simply playing the game and having fun would prove a lot more profitable in the long run.
There’s so much potential in games, and blockchain technology is the perfect match made in heaven to realize this potential. And not just to drive forward the industry in ways we’ve never seen before, but also to truly make a difference across the globe — a difference that matters, in the comfort of a fair, transparent and open system. We have a real chance to introduce a system that transcends gaming, a system that captures and expresses the inherent value we, as old-school gamers, always knew existed and meant something… special. The value of friendship, the value of love, the value of sharing something you enjoy with others who feel the same, the act of being together, to express oneself in the purest form there is. And we’re almost there.