Blockchain technology is the next logical step in gaming. As the digital becomes inextricable from the real, gamers will come to expect certain things. For one, they’ll want to fully own their digital assets. Whatever they buy or earn in a game should be entirely theirs. Doesn’t that make sense? It’s not because online items aren’t physical that gamers shouldn’t own them as much as they do physical items.
Currently, however, this isn’t the case. Look it up in the T&Cs of your favorite video game company. Anything you buy from them (particularly in the form of microtransactions) remains entirely under their ownership. You “rent” those items; you don’t own them. As such, companies can legally change your digital assets, take them away, or restrict access to them. I can’t imagine gamers tolerating that for much longer.
Secondly, gamers will want more security for the time they invest in a game. Gaming companies are no less secure against the onslaught of hackers trying to steal information. Only a few months ago, hackers used an unsecured 2004 website from Epic Games to hack player’s Fortnite accounts and even to record them while they were playing. Epic Games has since taken the website down, but it’s the second exposed Fortnite security flaw in half a year.
Considering that even the biggest, most tech-savvy companies get hacked frequently, it’s safe to say that gamers, and consumers in general, will grow wary of any entity storing their information on centralized servers. There’s a significant chance that, at one point in time, their information (including their credit card details) will be stolen. Not great.
Thirdly, gamers will want to be compensated for the time they spend playing a game. Gaming is becoming a profession and it seems only fair that you should earn money if you invest thousands of hours into a game. This is already possible to a degree, but you have either have to stream or become a pro gamer, two career paths that aren’t laid out for everyone.
Blockchain technology makes all three above requirements possible. Firstly, blockchain technology inherently gives full ownership of an item to the person it’s being sent to. Secondly, although a blockchain isn’t unhackable, it’s much more difficult to hack than a company’s centralized servers. Thirdly, blockchain technology gives real-world value to digital items and opens up many different ways for even the casual gamer to earn money.
For companies too, decentralization could be in their benefit. A few months ago, the European Union turned its attention to the video games industry. It sent letters to Valve, Capcom, KochMedia, Zenimax, and Bandai Namco with concerns about the possible price-fixing of games. The EU is wary of a few gaming companies monopolizing the industry. Decentralizing aspects of their power could be a counter-argument against the EU’s suspicion of a gaming monopoly.
Of course, if the gaming industry starts integrating blockchains into their games, it would be incredibly beneficial for blockchain technology too. It wouldn’t just make blockchain tech mainstream, but it would also launch an unrivaled token economy that other industries would be eager to adopt.
However, all the above being said, gamers and the gaming industry in general still haven’t woken up to the call of blockchain technology. A decade into its existence and we still haven’t seen the mass adoption DGamers have been hoping for. Considering the many tangible benefits of blockchain tech, this might seem strange. However, there are a few clear reasons why we still haven’t seen mass adoption of decentralized gaming.
From the Developers’ Point of View
This isn’t a chicken or the egg question. If you don’t have developers creating DGames, you won’t have any gamers playing DGames. So it makes sense to start with the biggest challenge that developers face when they want to build a DGame, and that’s skill.
In order to create a good DGame, you need extremely capable developers. Much more capable than your average traditional developer. On top of all the skills for creating a regular game, DGame developers also need to thoroughly understand network security, cryptography, distributed systems, and in-game economics.
Additionally, if they want to program their game on Ethereum, they’ll need to learn Solidity, an entirely new programming language. Platforms such as TRON and EOS support traditional programming languages, but Ethereum is still by far the most popular DApp platform. If DGame developers want to reach the biggest audience, they’ll want to program their game on Ethereum.
Blockchain architecture also still doesn’t integrate nicely into existing game platforms. Only a few blockchain SDKs are available on Unity, one of the world’s most popular game engines. In general, it’s a bumpy road for developers if they want to use traditional tools to create a decentralized game.
On top of that, DGame developers face scalability issues if their game becomes incredibly popular. CryptoKitties crashed Ethereum at the end of 2017 and that was only because of a few hundred users. Implementing a future-proof DGame with a layer-2 sidechain such as Loom is yet another skill that developers will need to learn. All this causes most developers to still say “thanks, but no thanks” to developing blockchain games.
From the Gamers’ Point of View
That’s from the developers’ PoV. But gamers also face (too) many hurdles they have to jump before they can play a DGame. The first of which is simply getting the game to work. A gamer needs to know about and have the right kind of cryptocurrencies. They need to sign up for an exchange, send money to the exchange, trade that for crypto, and send that crypto to the right cryptocurrency wallet.
That’s not an easy process for anyone, let alone someone who doesn’t care all that much about blockchain technology. Sure, it only needs to be done once, but it’s a process with so much friction that most gamers give up before they even get started.
That’s mostly because gamers are spoiled. They can download Fortnite for free and start playing pretty much right after. The game looks good and it’s incredibly fun to play. The same for other games, mobile or desktop. There’s an abundance of fun, free games that gamers can choose from. Apart from a handful of excellent exceptions, most DGames don’t come close to reaching that level of quality.
What you get instead is a relatively average DGame where you have to spend tens of dollars before you can even start playing. High prices for in-game assets in blockchain games is easily my biggest pet peeve. Most gamers (including yours truly) uninstall a mobile game if it doesn’t capture their attention in a few seconds. Gamer goodwill is very low when they first try out a game, because there’s an opportunity risk: spending time on one game means you lose possible time you could spend playing another, better game. A DGame that then forces you to buy one or two in-game assets that cost $10 or more destroys that small amount of goodwill for all but the most devoted DGamers.
Finally, the general public is still wary of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. They’ll either have burned their fingers trying to invest in crypto in 2017-18, they’ll feel jealous of the people who earned a lot of money investing in crypto, or they’ll think crypto is a scam (without good reason). That wariness translates into a reluctance to try out DGames.
It Takes Time
All the above are significant entry barriers that will need to be removed entirely before DGaming will see mass adoption. However, don’t think these entry barriers are unique to DGaming. All new industries are awkward to get into their first few years. Think of mobile gaming. That hasn’t been a thing for very long either, because we needed extremely powerful smartphones first. Even then, it started with Farmville on Facebook before it went to Angry Birds before we got Fortnite and PUBG in 2017.
The DGame industry will walk the same path. DGames today are mostly simple, turn-based games. Some of them are good, but they’re no match for traditional games. However, as DGames become better and as some of the barriers to decentralized gaming fall away, more and more gamers will come to appreciate the many benefits of blockchain technology until they eventually expect it in their games. They’ll want full ownership, they’ll want more security, and they’ll want to be able to at least earn some money playing.
We’re not there yet, and it might still take a few years, but there’s already enough traction in the DGaming industry for this to become an inevitability. Up until that point, I’m happy playing the Farmville DGame equivalent.