Blockchain games are marketed as a paradigm shift in the gaming industry. But how do they differ from regular games? And if they are a paradigm shift, why aren’t they better known yet? This article will talk about how blockchain games differ from regular games, what some of the challenges are that blockchain games are facing, and how they could overcome those challenges to reach a broader gaming audience.

How Do Blockchain Games Differ?

A blockchain game is simply a game that uses blockchain technology in its backend infrastructure. These games are called DApps, which stands for decentralized apps. The industry is called DGaming, which stands for decentralized gaming (as you might have guessed). More and more developers are jumping onboard, in seeming realization of the possibilities that blockchain offers for gaming.

  • Digital Asset Ownership

A blockchain is essentially a way to track things accurately and transparently. So far, blockchains have mostly been used to track money in the form of cryptocurrencies. However, blockchain doesn’t need to be restricted to just money. It can track anything, from real estate ownership to online identities to digital items.

Video games and blockchain are a great match, because video games are all about items. World of Warcraft (WoW) alone has more than 100,000 items: weapons, armor, rings, pets, the list goes on and on. But gamers in WoW don’t actually own their items. In fact, point 2.A.i.3 and 4 in Blizzard’s terms of use specifically say that the company owns the characters you’ve spent hundreds of hours on, the items you’ve grinded for, and even the content you upload yourself.

This is not to single out Blizzard, which is a fantastic company that contributes significantly to the gaming industry, because Blizzard is no different from any other company that doesn’t use blockchain technology. The game developer always has ultimate power over your characters and your items and can make drastic changes if they so want to. In fact, this was one of the main reasons why Vitalik Buterin founded Ethereum.

“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 can bring. I soon decided to quit.” (Vitalik Buterin on his about.me profile)

In a blockchain game, gamers genuinely own their in-game assets. The Electromagnetic Egg you found in the Eagle’s Nest after that arduous climb? It’s now in your name, and no developer can make changes to its properties or take it away from you.

  • Digital Asset Trading

Although it’s great that you now own the Electromagnetic Egg, instead of technically leasing it from the developer, most gamers probably don’t care that much about digital ownership. But blockchain technology has deeper repercussions too.

Blockchain technology shows you how scarce an item is. There might only be five Electromagnetic Eggs in the entire game world, and now you own one. This transparency adds a certain value to your Egg that you can use to trade directly with other players. If the blockchain shows you there are thousands of Mud Cups in the game, you’d be a fool to exchange your Egg for the twelve Mud Cups offered by that rascal Dwarf.

This defined value of digital items means that you can also exchange your items for the in-game currency, which is likely to be a cryptocurrency token. Again, you own these crypto tokens just as much as you do the digital items on the blockchain. This means you could sell your Egg for 15,000 of the in-game cryptocurrency, which can be converted into $592.

Most gamers will turn their heads for that. Not necessarily for the digital ownership, but for the fact you can exchange your in-game currency, your items, even your characters, for real cash. Whereas beforehand, buying and selling items for real money on a secondary marketplace was a black or gray market, blockchain technology makes earning money through gaming a genuine possibility.

  • Power to the Users

Blockchain technology puts gamers on an equal footing with developers. If the developers make changes that are unwanted, gamers could technically vote with their feet and fork away from the developers proposed path. Before blockchain technology, you could postpone updating your game, but you would ultimately have to give in and give in to the developer’s changes.

Games that are at risk of being discontinued could be kept alive too. My heart still aches when I think of City of Heroes shutting down because NCsoft decided to close Paragon Studios. The blockchain would have allowed gamers to keep on playing the game even if the developers are no longer there.

These are only three ways blockchain technology can change the way we currently game. I’m confident that developers will find other new and creative ways to apply the technology to their games.

Why Isn’t Every Game a Blockchain Game Yet?

Blockchain games are only a teeny tiny niche of the entire gaming industry, with the top 10 DApps not even reaching 2,000 Daily Active Users (DAU). Compare that to the millions of DAU of PUBG or League of Legends. Blockchain games have a long way to go, and a few significant hurdles to overcome.

  • It’s Not Easy to Start Playing

It’s much harder to start playing a DApp than it is a centralised game. In order to play a DApp, you need to acquire Ether from a crypto exchange (a whole process in itself), install the browser extension MetaMask, transfer some Ether to MetaMask, sign that transaction, and pay a GAS fee for every transaction. It’s a convoluted process that scares away everyone but the staunchest DGaming supporters.

  • There’s No Killer DApp Yet

Blockchain technology is inherently slow. Ethereum, the blockchain on which most DApps are built, currently processes a block every 15 seconds. This makes it hard to create a game with constant interactive feedback between players. As such, most DApps are turn-based games or simple trading games. There’s no single DApp that sticks out in terms of game mechanics.

  • Blockchain Doesn’t Scale Well Yet

CryptoKitties, the most popular DApp of 2017, broke the Ethereum network on its most popular days in December 2017. But even then, there were only a few thousand people playing the game. Although blockchain platforms such as Loom seem to solve the scaling problem most blockchain technology suffers from, tens of thousands of people playing a DApp will put any current platform under severe strain.

How Can DApps Become More Popular?

The DGaming industry needs to overcome these significant hurdles before it will start generating interest from people outside of the industry. DGame developers need to keep a few things in mind when developing their DApp.

  • Your DApp Has to Be 10x Better

Your DApp needs to be much better than not just any other DApp, but than any other game as well. Let’s take the example of Tesla: the vision of green cars that don’t pollute the planet is appealing, but it’s in itself not enough to sell car drivers on the car. Elon Musk understood this, and made the Tesla Model S a plain fantastic car to drive.

Developers need to think the same way about their DApp. Blockchain technology on its own isn’t enough to sell a DApp. It needs to be fun to play too. Once people are hooked on your DApp because it’s fun and addictive, they’ll come to appreciate digital ownership, digital asset trading, and so on.

  • Reduce the Friction to Play

You can start playing the vast majority of mobile games in two steps: download → play. But for DApps, potential players need to go through at least ten steps before they play. This friction needs to be reduced significantly.

This means that players should be able to sign up and play in two steps as well. Give them items from the get-go. Show them how the game works on your website. Don’t hide behind complex sign-up barriers. Make it easy.

  • Your DApp Doesn’t Have to Centre Around Blockchain

Blockchain technology is new and exciting. It’s understandable you want to put a lot of focus on it. But people play games because they’re fun to play. Focus on fun instead. Not everything should involve the blockchain. You can pick the best parts of it (digital ownership and asset trading) and develop a normal game otherwise.

Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot believes blockchain has the potential to revolutionise the video game industry. But that doesn’t mean the DApps that Ubisoft is creating focus entirely on blockchain technology. No, Ubisoft’s focus lies on the player experience.

Blockchain is a backend technology. Don’t try to sell it too much. Gamers don’t even need to know it’s there. Develop a fantastic game with the unique features of blockchain, and gamers will surely notice.