How Blockchain-Based Custom Game Modes Are Bringing Back the Spirit of Old-School Games
This is a set of tools and tutorials that allow anyone to define their own rules and program a game mod in a matter of hours — then upload it into the blockchain for thousands of existing players to immediately start playing from the Zombie Battleground game clients on their mobile phones.
Today, I want to talk about why this first-ever milestone is historically significant, and what we think it means for the future of gaming.
House Rules: The Spirit of the Old-School Card Games
When I was growing up, part of the fun of playing a card game with friends was being able to define your own rules.
We could do things like nerf over-powered cards, double player health to make matches last twice as long, try to adapt a 2 player game to work with 4 players — or stray from the beaten path by trying to create a totally unique game using the same cards we owned.
Most of time, these were one-off sessions with friends. But sometimes, these “homebrew” games would end up being way more fun than expected, and would take on a larger life.
There are forums dedicated to Magic: The Gathering variants, and some of these fan-created game modes, such as the Commander format, became so popular that they ended up making a dedicated series of cards for it.
Making up rules is both easy and hard — most of the time it simply meant writing down a list of rules, and convincing other players to give it a try. Balancing it, tweaking it, and making it fun to play is another story.
But during the transition from physical to digital, this level of player creativity and experimentation mostly stopped being possible for games.
Don’t get me wrong, game modding culture is alive and well. But for the most part, modding is mostly about making changes to the graphic elements or changing things in single-player mode — modders aren’t actually able to change the game logic on the company’s server.
While these graphical mods can be tremendously fun, they’re missing that social aspect — and creative aspects — of playing homebrew games with your friends.
The “Custom Game Modes” feature in Zombie Battleground is going to make all of this possible again — and more.
Not only can you define a multiplayer game that runs on-chain to prevent cheating — you’ll have access to fully programmable monetization that can be used to create things such as admission tickets to your game, all the way to pooled prize pots for tournaments.
Why Hasn’t this Been Possible in Online Games?
Traditional game studios are incentivized to maintain tight control over their centralized game servers.
Of course, control over the servers is important to prevent in-game cheating and piracy of games — but they mainly do it for monetary reasons.
Having a monopoly over the servers allows the game company to charge monthly access fees for multi-player games, as well funneling players into profit models based on in-game purchases, cosmetic upgrades, and upsells.
If anyone were able to make a fork of the game that made these things possible without users needing to pay for them, the game companies would lose out on a major profit stream.
It’s nothing personal — it’s just how the business model happens to work.
Keep in mind, these things aren’t necessarily bad — they’re what have allowed developers earn a wage and keep building the games that we love.
But as technologies evolve and improve, newer (and dare I say, better) paths emerge…
Before we get into that, though, let’s first take a step backwards in time — before broadband internet enabled centralized servers, and before in-app purchases were possible.
Inspirations From the Past: StarCraft, Warcraft, DotA
During the time of StarCraft, Battle.Net operated as a shared lobby where you would go and find the games you like.
The actual games were hosted peer-to-peer — meaning the person who started a match also assumed the role of the server.
At the time, this was done because it saved Blizzard a ton of server costs and maintenance.
But the lack of a single centralized server also enabled something different: it made it technologically feasible for users to define custom maps that “broke” the official rules of the game, spawning thousands of unexpected variations.
Some maps were little more than tweaked versions of the standard maps: maps like Big Game Hunters added never-ending resource patches, some maps put resources closer to your base to enable a faster game, and some simply modified spawn locations for better balance.
But other maps totally changed the game, using the game engine to create sub-games of completely different genres.
One of my favorites was Crash RPG, which put you into the role of being a survivor of a spaceship crash and trying to make it out alive. There were Tower Defense games, dueling, chess, mazes — and just about everything someone could conceive making within StarCraft’s map editor.
The ability for StarCraft players to create their own custom game types far extended the shelf-life of the game, because it enabled thousands of different sub-games that users could play using the same game engine.
The same custom maps functionality was carried into Warcraft III — where a user created a mod called Defense of the Ancients.
You’ve probably heard of it — it’s since grown into the multi-billion dollar MOBA genre that includes League of Legends.
But not everyone knows that this entire genre was spawned from a single custom map in Warcraft III built by the players themselves — all enabled because of a game where modding was possible.
Profit Models for Creators: Why Mods Don’t Pay
I think most hardcore gamers know about the DotA story because it’s so dramatic.
But fewer people know about the series of fierce court battles that took place around the game’s intellectual property.
So the story of DoTA’s success is also a story about how the creators and the community who made it possible got a very small share of the overall reward.
It’s also an example of why so few mods ever evolve into full-fledged games — because you need the backing of an entire game studio to successfully do so. (DayZ, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, etc.)
The path for creators in the current model is basically non-existent.
Even if you managed to create a popular mod, the ability to monetize it is missing from the picture. The truly effective monetization models are always going to be reserved for the game company.
That is, until technological change make alternative profit models viable…
Which is what we’re seeing happening right now with blockchain-based games, although the world may not have realized it yet.
Custom Game Modes in Zombie Battleground: Monetization Built into the Blockchain
Custom Game Modes in Zombie Battleground resemble the old school StarCraft custom maps in their flexibility, but they also represent a whole new path forward for creators.
You can start by building a game that people like to play. Then once you build a following of raving fans, you can add in monetization, such as charging for admission, taking a cut of the prize pool, or even running your own ladder.
Since all of this is programmable — and more importantly, the blockchain enables programmable money — the number of monetization models is limited only by your own imagination.
If your game keeps growing, and it starts becoming as popular as the base game itself (think Counter-Strike vs. Half-Life) — you’ll have the option of convincing all the Zombie Battleground GameChain validators to add your game as part of the official ladder (or even replace it).
During each stage of the growth process — there’s a well-defined path reserved for the creator that not only rewards them for their hard work, but also incentivizes them to keep improving their original creation.
More importantly, for every popular custom game mode, the community benefits.
With DoTA, even if you owned an original copy of Warcraft III and helped make the game popular, you would still see no benefit.
But with Zombie Battleground, owning tokenized cards is another way you can reap rewards as you help the game grow.
Imagine I made a game called ZoTA, and it became massively popular. It stands to reason that the “original season” of heroes (which are cards you can buy from the Marketplace) will become more valuable and desirable to collectors.
And if a child-game of Zombie Battleground becomes more popular than its original parent (such as with Counter-Strike did to Half-Life), the value won’t only be captured by the game studio.
Because GameChain is forkable while keeping the same game assets — the players of the original game would benefit by having assets on the new chain as well.
Only Possible on the Blockchain
My friend Vincent Niu of Dapp.review likes to preach the idea that the blockchain isn’t inherently better than a centralized server, but rather it should enable games that just weren’t possible to create before.
True multiplayer custom games are something we do a lot in the real world with physical games.
But to recreate the experience in digital, you’ll need a way to run custom-designed code on the server but not allow that code to take up an unfair amount of resources, or become a vulnerability that could put the entire ecosystem at risk.
Smart contracts running in a blockchain virtual machine solve this.
You’ll need a decentralized server to enable new types of creator-friendly monetization models, but still maintain the ability to detect cheating and frauds, and ban bad actors.
Validators and distributed nodes in a blockchain help solve these problems as well.
Finally, you’ll need a programmable payment system so the creators have maximum flexibility to test and experiment with new ideas.
The blockchain has that too.
Fusing the Old-School Spirit With Modern Technology
Over the past few years, board game cafés have become extremely popular.
Part of it is the social experience; another part is due to how fun and exciting board games have become.
But, I also think one of the main reasons for a sudden increase in the popularity of board games is due to how digital games have changed over the years, and how they’ve lost some of their original spirit.
The winning profit model has become the centralized, always online servers with in-game upsells. And that’s been great for game companies, but it’s been limiting for players.
For many of us, we feel nostalgic about the old days of StarCraft — when it was possible to play Big Game Hunters with modified infinite resources over LAN, and when game companies could profit and thrive just from the $60 you paid them for a CD.
The technology is shifting again — and I hope Zombie Battleground’s new custom game modes will be the start of something new and better: fully programmable game rules, sharable over multiplayer, monetizable by its creators, and a healthy growth path to epic heights.
Loom Network is a platform for building highly scalable DPoS sidechains to Ethereum, with a focus on large-scale games and social apps.
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