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The classification of blockchain games

Not every blockchain game is the same

The classification of blockchain games is not that easy. But it’s also very clear that not every blockchain game is the same. There are games running on their own private blockchain, while others only use the blockchain to give players ownership over digital in-game items. There’s a whole spectrum of blockchain games. These different types of blockchain games or crypto games aren’t necessarily better or worse, but each of them has unique characteristics that separates one from the other.

Crypto or blockchain games

Before we dive into the different classifications of blockchain games, we also need to point out the difference between crypto games and blockchain games.

  • Crypto games — Crypto games don’t require blockchain technology to be played. The core of the game is based on traditional gaming technology. However, users need cryptocurrencies to actually play these games. By playing gamers can win or lose cryptocurrencies, and therefore there’s a strong connection with online gambling. However, this is not always the case. For example, in online shooters like Vibe or Die or Lightnite gamers win or lose cryptocurrencies based on whether they hit their enemies or get hit themselves.
  • Blockchain games — A blockchain game always provides a sense of ownership to players. Sometimes players need to invest some money to get started, and in other cases they can create value just by playing. In the end a blockchain game provides digital ownership to its users. How strong and autonomous this decentralization is, is something we will delve into.

Despite these definitions, there will always be some overlap. For example, gamers who want to play Taurion on the Xaya blockchain first need to create a Xaya account. This requires them to pay a couple of CHI. Just to show that definitions are not black and white.

Characteristics of blockchain games

Blockchain is an immutable and distributed network in which its participants can store (financial) transaction data. For games this means that a blockchain can serve as a giant database that stores all kinds of information. The fact that all data is on the blockchain, makes everything verifiable and incorruptible. As a result cheating is basically impossible.

For blockchain games this means that cheating will get less when more aspects of the game happen on the blockchain. When blockchain technology is only used for payments and rewards, it’s technically easier for people to implement cheats. Think about wall hacks in an online shooter, or a bot that calculates the perfect shots in a game of pool.

That being said, a the ultimate blockchain game can be defined by the following characteristics:

  • Player ownership over tokenized in-game items
  • Running on a decentralized blockchain network
  • Gameplay verification on blockchain

Every blockchain game embraces multiple of these characteristics, at least to some degree.

The blockchain game classification

When it comes to video games in relationship to blockchain technology we can differentiate three types of video games.

  1. Traditional video games are commercially owned games with online components running on centralized servers. Player relationships are determined in the EULA, which basically means that the game is a service and players have no rights what so ever.
  2. Ownership-driven games are games that utilize blockchain technology to give players ownership over one or more virtual items. These items can be used, traded or sold at the player’s discretion. These games still run on centralized servers.
  3. Autonomous game worlds are games in which players have full control over all their in-game items and are able to contribute to the game’s public blockchain network. Fairness of gameplay is protected by gameplay. In general a central entity (the developer) will determine which version of the blockchain is leading, but players are free to fork a game and continue on their own.

1. Traditional video games

There’s no need to talk a lot about traditional video games. World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, FIFA, and Fortnite are all games running on company owned servers. This can be either their own servers or server space rented at Amazon, but the result is the same. Gamers can invest hundreds of hours, spend hundreds of dollars on skins, whenever Blizzard Entertainment, Activision, Electronic Arts or Epic Games pull the plug on their game all digital assets and in-game credits are lost forever. Players of games in this category don’t contribute or own, they are literally consumers and nothing more than that. Perhaps that’s why I still love physical games, because at least I get to keep that sense of ownership.

2. Ownership-driven games

Many games give players a sense of ownership, but when items can never leave a certain virtual world than it’s only a fake sense of ownership. Ownership-driven games use blockchain technology to give players ownership of in-game assets. These assets are stored in unique cryptocurrency wallet to which users themselves have access by using a private key. These digital items have real world scarcity, which is verifiable through the blockchain. However, these games can still run the core of their gameplay experience on centralized servers. Examples are Gods Unchained, Crypto Space Commander.

3. Autonomous game worlds

In autonomous game worlds players don’t only have full ownership over their in-game items, they are also contributors to the game itself. These virtual worlds are powered by decentralized blockchain technology. For example, every player is contributing the the game’s blockchain by simply launching the game. As a result they become a node that verifies gameplay actions, transactions, and keeps an eye on fair play and ownership. Even though a game studio keeps developing a game, they are merely providing a window to look through. If the day would come that the population of a game world revolts against a decision made by the developer, they can fork the game and continue on their own. Examples are Taurion, Nine Chronicles, Huntercoin, Soccer Manager Elite, Cryptokitties.

Model will change as technology advances

This classification is far from perfect and is very likely to change over time. Currently blockchain games like Gods Unchained and Crypto Space Commander rely on centralized servers to take care of for example certain gameplay elements. The transaction speed, transactions costs and capacity of current blockchain networks is not sufficient to have an action packed game running completely on top of a blockchain. As a result many games use blockchain only for economic actions, like mining, item creation and trading. All other actions, like for example movement, happen on centralized servers.

There are even games that take place on centralized servers or on local devices 99 percent of the time. Only when the player has found or earned the right items or wants to sell an item on a marketplace, it’s moved to the blockchain. Spells of Genesis is basically a local game, and only the highest tier cards are stored on the blockchain. At the same time Knights Story only stores items on the Ethereum blockchain that have gone through a paid minting process. This puts less workload on the blockchain, but also prevents users to flood the market with useless items.

In 2020 we’ll see Ethereum move to its 2.0 version. At the same time Dapper Labs is building a gaming oriented blockchain called Flow. As always transaction speed, transaction costs and scalability are essential to be able to run a game completely on blockchain technology.

Decentralization as a measurement

Often critics use decentralization as a measurement for the quality of blockchain games. Even though player control and power is an important aspect of blockchain games, it’s not something that should be considered crucial for success. For example, EVE Online has allowed players for over a decade to create their own political systems, economy and create their own history. Yet, EVE Online is a centralized game from a technical perspective. On top of that a game should be measured by ‘fun’ and not by technical specifications. It’s not without reason that World of Warcraft became much more popular than EVE.

Using decentralization as an argument to underline a game’s quality is simply wrong. Decentralization is about user empowerment, and user empowerment doesn’t always mean that fun increases. We all know what happened to The Sims Online. I’m not trying to downplay decentralization, because I’m very excited about the potential this brings to gaming and online virtual worlds. Developers should be careful not to focus too much on player empowerment as they might forget the element of fun.

Other considerations

To define blockchain games there are also other elements to consider. Because digital assets are tokenized, it’s possible to use the same asset in multiple games. The ERC-721 token standard is an example of that technology, and the Enjin blockchain project has build its entire ecosystem around it. Even though this obviously ties into the player ownership scale. The fact that one item can be used in multiple games also adds an extra depth to decentralization.

Decentralization also goes beyond technical limitations, as it’s also determined by general access. Only when everybody has access, can we speak about something that’s truly decentralized. Certain games require a launcher and can only be played on a personal computer, while other games are build using HTML5 or other web based technology. This enables players to access to exact same game on desktop computers, tablets and mobile phones.

Originally published at NEDEROB.

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Robert Hoogendoorn

Robert Hoogendoorn

Content Creator & Optimization Expert. Learning about blockchain every day, sharing my knowledge and passion. Head of Content at DappRadar