As a playground for new technology, computer games are constantly at the forefront of innovation.
In recent years, several next-generation technologies — virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and Wi-Fi — have added new dimensions to online gaming, creating more possibilities and helping the industry grow to a whopping 81.7 billion, even bigger than the entire American sports market. Now, blockchain is beginning to play its own part in transforming this industry.
Secure exchange mechanism
Since the likes of Pong and Pac-Man first graced our screens in the seventies and eighties, computer games have continued to get more complex; until they have become powerful alternative realities.
These virtual worlds host their own economies, that let players trade assets in the game, and also power revenue models by selling in-game currencies to players. Virtual economies are now estimated to power 90 percent of the revenue in mobile games.
Just like real-world economies, these virtual economies can be broken, with bugs and glitches reducing a player’s motivation, and damaging the developer’s ability to generate an income:
“In Diablo 2, there was a valuable item called a “Stone of Jordan” that was used as currency because it was rare. However, someone found an item duplication bug and created tons of them. Developers can also simply change the algorithm that creates these items, and markets can be destroyed in moments.” says Matthew Campbell, co-founder of gaming-focused blockchain network Loom.
In bigger, more popular games, these economic glitches can spill over into reality. Before the browser-based fantasy game Runescape fell out of favor, the in-game gold was mined and sold by people across the world — including Chinese prisoners and socialism-struck Venezuelans — as a way of making a real-world living.
But despite the high stakes, many of these in-game exchange mechanisms suffer from the same problem: lack of real scarcity. By running exchange mechanisms on a blockchain, in-game economies could provide genuine scarcity that is transparent and easily verifiable.
This could potentially be useful for games like candy crush, which have a simple reward system, and more complex massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGS) like Runescape — providing an immutable incentive mechanism that is less easily thwarted by glitches.
Sovereign gaming assets
The sovereign ownership that blockchain enables has applications beyond just in-game exchange. Having full control over your assets — on a blockchain — could also potentially allow individual game economies to extend outside the game.
Held on a decentralized blockchain, in-game assets are theoretically accessible from anywhere, to be swapped at exchanges in or outside of the game. This could potentially bring greater liquidity to in-game assets, but also people other than centralized developers to make changes to those assets.
Not only could in-game items like weapons and articles of clothing be swapped outside the game, but also characters: Instead of surrendering possession of your favorite character to the game developer after spending countless hours bonding with them and building up their abilities, you could keep them safe on the blockchain.
So if the developer decides to pull the plug on the game today, you don’t lose access to your character; an event that — if Vitalik Buterin’s biography is to be believed, could be traumatic enough to lead to the creation of one of the biggest blockchains today: Ethereum:
“I was born in 1994 in Russia and moved to Canada in 2000, where I went to school. I happily played World of Warcraft during 2007-2010, but one day Blizzard removed the damage component from my beloved warlock’s Siphon Life spell. I cried myself to sleep, and on that day I realized what horrors centralized services could bring. I soon decided to quit.” reads the biography on Vitalik Buterin’s site.
On the Ethereum network today, Vitalik’s dream has already started to come true; with assets and characters already beginning to move between games, like CryptoCuddles, a battle game which lets you send into battle and fight the kittens you collect in CryptoKitties. Spells of Genesis, a card game running on the bitcoin blockchain, takes a similar approach — allowing players to take the cards they collect to be sold outside the game.
This has led some to speculate that blockchain game development could eventually create a “metaverse,” in which various virtual worlds come together seamlessly in “shared pseudo-physical space,” allowing avatars to move easily between different virtual environments carrying items that might have different uses in each world.
And, when it comes time to turn off the game, these assets and characters could return to cold storage, locked alongside your bitcoin and ethereum in a hardware wallet for safe keeping.
Of course, such a liberated model of virtual reality might not be popular with developers whose revenue model might depend on separating their own virtual arena. But, we could see a clustered ecosystem of compatible games from the same developers, where characters can stay with you through multiple sequels.
Blockchain games today
Anyone surveying today’s range of blockchain-based games on DappRadar might be surprised to learn that such ambitious ideas could have their beginnings in such simple games. But as scaling solutions develop and network capacity improves, games could transform from the crypto collectibles and speculation genre — like Spells of Genesis and PoWH3D — into more complex multiplayer online games.
Since CryptoKitties first clogged up Ethereum in 2017, the network has continued to scale, and blockchain-based games have continued to get more complicated.
Augmentors, a virtual reality game announced at Comic-Con late last year, allows gamers to train characters that are stored as tokenized assets on a blockchain. That means once you’ve trained your character, you can sell them for cash. War Riders, which is still in development, is advertised as an “apocalypse on the blockchain” and allows players to customize war vehicles — like Mad Max — and mine for the in-game virtual currency Benzene (BZN).
All things considered, these developments are enough to suggest that CryptoKitties and Spells of Genesis could only be the beginning — the Pong and Pac-Man — of blockchain-based gaming.