It’s no secret that gaming and gambling dApps can be found everywhere on popular smart contract platforms such as EOS and Ethereum.
Fun games are a natural way to get new users engaged with your project in the short term, and the games being developed right now can be produced with more ease and at a faster pace than some of the more ambitious projects such as crypto-based social media sites. Currently however, many of the games being produced on blockchains are very simplistic, and are largely dominated by simplistic gambling games such as Dice, FOMO games, and idle games like EOS Knights. Mythic Games, a company comprised of employees from major game development studios, has announced that it will be releasing a fully fledged game known as Blankos Block Party in 2019, and Ethereum also has its very own, professionally produced card game known as Gods Unchained. While major projects like these are still in the minority, let’s explore what the currently existing blockchain-based games say about the potential future blockchain has in gaming.
How does Blockchain fit in?
The first question one might have when considering the implementation of blockchain in a game will be what actions made by the player will need to be recorded on the blockchain. Your first instinct may be to assume that every button input, or every press of the keyboard will be recorded as an input on the smart contract for the sake of making the gaming experience truly decentralised. This approach might work in a turn based game such as a strategy game or card game, but this approach is generally not favorable due to the slow speed of transactions on most currently existing platforms. Even EOS, a platform with fee-less and near-instant transactions, would likely suffer CPU issues as a result of all these constant, minor transactions clogging up the network. Even if the tech were to vastly improve in the future, the reality is that it simply won’t be necessary to record minor inputs such as individual button inputs on a blockchain. It will be faster and more efficient to use the centralized game servers that already work just fine, for the most part.
If we’re not taking that approach of recording every action on a blockchain, then the next question is to consider what the benefits of utilizing blockchain technology in a game might be. If blockchains are too slow, then they could risk making the game more tedious due to load times and transaction times, and as a result, that might make the games less enjoyable. They also can’t improve the processing power of the engine to allow for higher resolutions and FPS, they can’t improve the graphics, the music, the game-play, the writing, or anything else that tangibly makes a game better. So, what’s the point? For certain types of games, namely single player experiences, blockchain won’t be necessary. Even some multiplayer games will likely still continue to choose traditional methods, especially in the near future. However, blockchain’s benefit to gaming becomes quite clear when you consider why Bitcoin was created to begin with- to allow the general population to claim true control over their digital assets.
In-Game Economies: Open vs Closed
Many modern, big budget games such as those produced by Activision Blizzard are aiming to produce business models that revolve around micro-transactions and closed economies. While financially lucrative, these models are often seen as highly unpopular among the users for obvious reasons. Implemented as they currently are, they can easily come across as shameless, anti-consumer cash grabs with a design that feels entirely motivated by greed. However, famous MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Runescape have proven that player driven economies can be highly engaging in the gaming experience. This experience bolsters the sense of community and makes the game world feel more alive and real, with economies not driven by NPCs placed by game designers but by the player base themselves. These games generally make their money from subscription services, and the in-game economies use items and currencies that have no real-world value. This limits the investment one can have with these games, as they can ultimately be little more than a costly pass-time played purely for fun. I’ll go more in depth with this point a little later.
Let’s discuss the shortcomings of current economies in major games, starting with closed economies. Examples of games with closed economies include Hearthstone and Fortnite. In games like these any purchased items such as cards, cosmetics, etc. are essentially wasted investments that players buy purely for the enjoyment of the game. This is because if the game eventually shuts down, the items you purchased will be deleted along with the servers. The items will not be able to be used in servers made by fans using new accounts which would need to be created to play on such unofficial servers. To further rub salt in the wound, the original company has every legal right and incentive to shut down fan-made servers, thereby preventing the game from ever being easily played again. This makes items purchased on closed economies into ticking time bombs, where the items are not only valueless outside the game, but will potentially be forever lost one day. The whims of the company owning the servers can also cause items in individual player’s accounts to disappear or be altered. Examples of this include cosmetics being altered or removed, or the attributes of a card being changed. Thus even though a game may have an open player-driven economy and items may have real value, that value is entirely at the mercy of the company who distributed them. The items you own can still be altered without your consent, or the supply of your item can be increased; in both cases potentially lowering their value. Since the only way to trade your items is through the company’s own in-game marketplace, the ability will also disappear forever if the servers Mever shut down. All these facts inevitably encourage selling items once an individual has had their fun with the game.
Re-defining Digital Ownership
Physical assets do not have these issues. When you acquire a hat, you own it forever. If it breaks from wear and tear, you don’t have to rely on a single company to fix or replace it for you; you can have it fixed or altered by any means necessary. Often if you take care of it, it will likely outlive you in its useful lifespan. Perhaps more importantly, your hat can be traded, gifted, or lent to anyone without requiring anyone’s permission. If the company that manufactured the hat goes bankrupt years later, your hat won’t suddenly disappear from your wardrobe Likewise, cards purchased for physical card games such as Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh will always be yours no matter what their creators do. They may lose value relevant to the current meta, format, or ban-lists, but the card will always be yours. So long as there are people playing the game, it is likely that someone will always be willing to purchase your card which you can hold onto and use in games against others for as long as you own it. And once more, you can trade your card as you wish, and continue to play the game even after the company stops supporting it. Whether or not the original company remains active, owners of cards can come together and design their own games with their own rules. As many of us recall, practically every home with a Monopoly set has its own ‘house rules’ that differ slightly from the written manual. As such, physical assets have a many benefits over digital assets, but digital assets are nevertheless increasing in popularity due to their convenience. Blockchain is a way to merge the convenience of digital assets with all of the benefits of physical assets.
Blockchain is a way to merge the convenience of digital assets with all of the benefits of physical assets.
Games using blockchain will all be a part of player driven economies. This is because it is fundamentally impossible to create a closed gaming economy using a blockchain. The items you purchase will belong to you, with the items able to be verified on your EOS account or Ethereum address, or whatever blockchain the game is using. These accounts aren’t tied to the company, but they are a singular account tied to the blockchain that you use for all dApps on that blockchain. You will be able to send these items to other accounts on that same blockchain (with possible cross-blockchain communication in the future as well) without having to use the middleman that is the in-game marketplace set up by the company that created the game. The marketplace will still exist for the sake of convenience, but it won’t be the only option for trading items. When the developer deploys the smart contract, assuming the contract is open source and secure so that it cannot be tampered with by the developers nor hacked by a third party, then the smart contract will be immutable. This means that in-game items and currencies will not be able to have their attributes modified or their supplies increased or decreased. This will give these items predictable scarcity and attributes that the owner can be confident will always remain the same. The value of the item will fluctuate up and down relative to its perceived value in the community and the market, but that value will not be at the whims of the company that produced the item. Even if the centralized servers and marketplace is shut down, those items will still exist on your blockchain account. This means that they can potentially be used for other purposes in the future. Fans looking to revive the game on unofficial servers will still have a difficult time avoiding takedowns, but using decentralised peer-to-peer servers or other solutions will make it much harder to shut down copyright infringing fan projects. Assuming the unofficial server somehow survives, your progress and the value of your items can be carried over from the official servers to the unofficial servers because your items, currencies, and progress will be recorded on your blockchain account. These items could also be used for entirely new purposes, such as for different games by the same companies, reminiscent of Nintendo’s Amiibo figures, or even re-purposed for fan projects. For the first time ever, your digital blockchain assets will have most of the properties of physical media.
This is all well and good, and of course highly idealistic. There will be issues both foreseeable and unforeseeable, and it will remain to be seen if currently existing blockchains will be able to handle economies at the same scope of currently existing and popular titles. It may be that many more years of development are ahead of us before blockchain games of this scope are achievable. Still for all we know, it could be much sooner than we think. However, the Mythical Games announcement does prove that there are major industry leaders willing to give blockchain a try.
Enabling Diverse Interactions
The final question is if this is a good thing for gaming. While these practices are more pro-consumer, they also risk transforming major game releases into titles that may be taken too seriously, given that it will be much easier for players to make money on the markets. Speaking personally, I am more fond of smaller, tightly focused narrative and challenge driven gaming experiences than I am in grinding out items and micro-transactions for the sake of trading on a marketplace. And even though I do play card games, I like playing them for fun and the idea of playing them for cash would devalue their appeal to me. However, it’s worth noting that existing games such as Counterstrike already allow players to make money on them. Blockchain can make in-game item ownership and trading more convenient and secure, however, it is not what enables these types of games and marketplaces to exist. A well designed game of this nature will appeal both to casual gamers as well as hardcore gamers. Some play to relax, while others aim to be the best at the game. Others participate in the serious e-sports scene and may aim to make a career out of the game without relying on sponsorships. Some players will even treat the game as a stock market for real-world financial gain. We all have our own opinions regarding these different types of players but when you get down to it, it’s their choice to choose how they interact with the game. With such a variance of players the concepts between ‘playing a computer game’ and ‘living real life via a designed interface’ may well become blurred, but that is not the subject of this article. They all contribute to making the game more appealing to more people, thus increasing the popularity of the game and creating a wide and diverse community. By taking the game more seriously, they do run the risk of becoming less ‘fun’, but they open up the opportunity for developers to make their games more immersive and engaging as a result of these games making it easier for players to make a living from the blockchain assets produced by these games.
Transparency and Collaboration
Blockchain also allows for increased transparency from companies, as smart contracts involving Random Number Generation elements such as loot boxes can be verified as fair by the community. Open source software on a secure smart contract would also aid against cheating, such as players exploiting item duplication glitches. Because the contract is open source, the community can also take part in helping the developers shape the code and the design of the game. This might even allow gamers to hard fork the game if their game design philosophy disagrees with the developer’s. When taking into consideration circumventing of fiat fees, prize funds, visible profit margins, and more, there’s seemingly no end to the potential blockchain has to make small but impactful pro-consumer changes to current business models in gaming.
There will be many hurdles along the way, but there can be no doubt in my mind that blockchain will be able to make multiplayer games appealing to more people, more consumer friendly, and, ultimately, more enjoyable for all involved.
Author: Alex from Token Valley
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the particular author. Token Valley is a dApp discovery platform seeking to bring together the dApp community in a transparent manner that encourages further growth in the space.