The gaming industry feels like a mature industry. Big companies dominate the landscape, even though AAA titles cost millions to develop and market. Consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are well-established and well-loved. But the pie is big; billions of people game. The gaming industry has a thriving indie scene and a rapidly growing esports scene. Millions of gamers stream their games or create videos on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. The gaming industry is vibrant, alive, and seemingly omnipresent.
That’s also why it’s ripe for disruption. After all, its size makes it more difficult to understand where it will go next. We already know how to create games with beautiful graphics or incredibly realistic physics. We already know how to have hundreds, sometimes thousands of players play together in a single world. We already know how to create a compelling story that has gamers on the edge of their seats.
During the last decade, the biggest gaming innovations seem to have come not from the actual games, but from their business models. Instead of charging $50 for a game, game studios have experimented with a variety of business models, from subscription-based games to free-to-play games with microtransactions. It’s been a rocky road, to say the least, as gamers have generally rejected the “pay-to-win” business model.
This is why, in a way, the success of Fortnite came as a surprise. With hundreds of millions of players and pretty much a monopoly over the young teen gaming market, Fortnite has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s a free-to-play game, but its microtransactions earn its developer Epic Games billions of dollars in revenue. These microtransactions are entirely cosmetic; they don’t make your character any stronger or any more skilled. Gamers love it.
Other game studios are feeling the pressure. They don’t want to be left behind, but they also can’t simply copy Fortnite’s formula. They realize that they might lose their firm grip on the market if they don’t innovate. Ubisoft is the company that seems to have taken this message to heart most. They want to respond to Epic Games’ success by placing heavy bets on blockchain technology.
Ubisoft and Blockchain?
Ubisoft is the fourth-largest publicly-traded gaming company in the world and it’s been showing its public interest in blockchain technology for well over a year. Its CEO, Yves Guillemot, is said to believe that blockchain technology could cause a revolution in the gaming industry.
The company has shown its public interest in blockchain technology for well over a year. Mid 2018, they held a blockchain hackathon called Blockchain Heroes, which they hosted at their innovation lab in Paris and which attracted 57 participants. The 12 unique projects that came from it were judged by Ubisoft’s CEO and by Rohan Gharegozlou, the founding partner of CryptoKitties.
Ubisoft developed its own prototype blockchain game too. It’s called Hashcraft, and you probably haven’t heard of it. Ubisoft intentionally didn’t make much of it, as they’re still wary of the public’s perception of blockchain. Many people still associate blockchain technology with cryptocurrencies, which have the negative connotations of unfounded hype and scams attached to them.
Regardless, Hashcraft exists and a few people have had the chance to play it. It’s a combination of Minecraft, Fortnite and No Man’s Sky. You land on an island that you can mold however you please. You can build challenges on the island for other players to complete. These islands are randomly generated and stored on a blockchain. As such, the game doesn’t run on Ubisoft’s servers, but on the combined power of players’ computers.
Ubisoft wants to make Hashcraft players invested owners in their game. Creative gamers can develop an amazing set of challenges for players to complete and charge an entry fee paid with a cryptocurrency. Or they could encourage players to complete the challenges on their island by giving them a crypto reward if they complete all challenges.
Hashcraft seems like the perfect project to test out the potential and viability of blockchain technology, because it allows Ubisoft to experiment without tarnishing the reputation of some of their beloved game franchises (e.g. Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed). However, Ubisoft is wary as well; they seem to want more clarity from the French government in terms of the regulation on blockchain and crypto.
Ubisoft and Ethereum?
We last heard of Hashcraft in September last year. There was little news about Ubisoft and blockchain technology for months, until French newspaper Les Echos published an article on Ubisoft and blockchain technology on the 11th of June this year. The article said that Ubisoft intends to use Ethereum as their blockchain of choice. It’s said that they’re in the advanced stages of their blockchain project.
If Ubisoft were to choose Ethereum, that would be a huge boost to the blockchain platform. While Ethereum is still the largest platform, competing platforms such as TRON and EOS have gradually chipped away at its market dominance. The lack of gas fees in those competing platforms make them a compelling choice over Ethereum, which is the main reason why I chose EOS over Ethereum as my preferred gaming blockchain.
Of course, much of that is the developer’s choice. There are ways to stop gas fees from breaking the flow of a game. Layer 2 (L2) and off-chain solutions such as Loom, Hoard, and Enjin can make an Ethereum game both scalable and fun. Considering the size of Ubisoft, they’ll have no choice but to implement such a kind of solution.
Which type of L2 or off-chain solution they’ll choose we don’t know yet. However, my bets are on Enjin. Ubisoft is part of the Blockchain Gaming Alliance, just as Enjin is. Additionally, Enjin already successfully powers Minecraft servers on their blockchain and they were the ones to come up with the ERC-1155 token standard that will improve the performance of the Ethereum blockchain.
Enjin also created Efinity, a scaling solution for the Ethereum blockchain. They already partnered up with Samsung and Unity and they have over 20 game studios developing games with their technical solutions. Considering all this, Enjin might be one of the most impressive blockchain projects operating today.
Of course, all the above doesn’t mean that Ubisoft will partner with Enjin. They might go for an Ethereum-compatible blockchain like Thundercore instead. Or they might develop their own L2 solution, as they have a tendency to develop solutions internally and certainly have the resources to do so.
Ubisoft and the Future?
The choices Ubisoft makes as it forays into blockchain technology will have a big impact on the future direction of the industry. Its choice of Ethereum would strengthen the platform’s position as the leading and preferred choice for DGames and DApps. Any other blockchain project associated with Ubisoft will receive a considerable boost too.
But perhaps most importantly, any game that Ubisoft publishes that incorporates blockchain technology will reach a huge audience. It will immediately and easily become the biggest DGame. This might put the Ethereum blockchain under heavy strain, so I genuinely hope they have the Ethereum scaling problem figured out. But I’m sure they have.
Additionally, I also hope that Ubisoft doesn’t develop its own cryptocurrency to power its blockchain games. I hope it chooses a neutral cryptocurrency, because there’s no way that any other game developer would agree to use “Ubi Coin” to power its blockchain games, just like Ubisoft wouldn’t agree to use “Blizz Bucks” from Blizzard to power its blockchain games.
In an ideal world, gamers would need only one cryptocurrency to play games from different game developers. There would be no need to switch currencies to play a different game (e.g. from Ubi Coin to Blizz Bucks or, even worse, from Ubi Coin to USD to Blizz Bucks). Of course, there’s no guarantee this will happen.
Think of the video streaming market. It used to be only Netflix. One provider, one subscription, a single payment. Nowadays, there’s Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, PlayStation Vue, and soon Disney Plus. Content spread thin across dozens of providers that all require a separate subscription and payment. An awful situation for the consumer.
I really hope game studios will avoid such a scenario and choose a neutral cryptocurrency that gamers can use between games of different studios. Gamers don’t want to be locked in; they want a frictionless experience that will build goodwill for the gaming industry and ultimately repay itself in kind.
The gaming industry has matured. It’s a mastodon ripe for disruption. Pressurized by the success of Fortnite, Ubisoft has chosen blockchain technology to distance itself from its competitors. Blockchain enthusiasts should carefully watch the game studio’s decisions, as they will have a large impact on the future direction of the industry. Any blockchain game released by the video gaming giant will easily reach thousands of people, propelling the technology into public view and speeding up its entry into mainstream gaming. We might see some drastic changes over the next few months.