By Victor Agreda
As the biggest game publishers in the world pack up their wares from E3, it’s worth looking at how the blockchain is approaching the game market, and what new twists will emerge as a result. There’s the promise of purchasable in-game items (be they skins, weapons, or other items) that can be ported across different games, regardless of publisher or platform. Does it matter? In a word, yes. There are several reasons why.
Fortnite is one of the hottest games at the moment, and one of its key strengths is ubiquity across platforms. You can play on mobile, tablet, PC, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, and now Nintendo’s Switch. That’s practically every modern game platform on the planet! Gamers want choices, and they want to experience the same thing no matter what console or other device they happen to have.
Yet gamers still want more, and projects in the space like DMarket and BitGuild (which announced a partnership with Tron) are proposing going much further than playing a game on different machines. Hitherto a game developer would craft a world full of objects and those objects would be completely siloed within that game. Sure, you might have a centralized server like an online game provides — think World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto Online — but it’s almost unheard of for those objects to cross paths in games even made by the same publisher. Part of this is due to the vagaries of game development, where deadlines are tight and the tech is ever-evolving. It’s also never been much of a priority. What the blockchain now offers is what Steve Jobs once quipped about making products that were truly innovative (and why he didn’t put much stock into focus groups): “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
It’s entirely conceivable that gamers would want a skin (like a costume on a character) to persist across different worlds. It’s also conceivable that other items, like weapons or vehicles, could cross over into different worlds. True, it’s a challenge for game developers, because there are parameters within the game world to be considered. A vehicle that can go 100 miles per hour in one game might be utterly outmatched in another game where vehicles go 20 times as fast, for example. This is where DMarket and others are working out APIs and smart contracts to ensure that overpowered items don’t ruin the fun. But in the end it’s really all about the value of these things. In Fortnite you can acquire a number of items that merely look different, but don’t get you any extra power. They’re merely cosmetic, but thousands of people are paying to look a certain way and carry certain items.
So does all this matter? Consider rare items, or even unique items. CryptoKitties and projects like KittyHats are a good model here. These add-on layers to the core “game” allow people to create non-fungible items and sell them. Now, take the over $100 billion game industry revenues, and consider that millions of that is coming from in-game items. If you build it, they will buy. The question is whether publishers will be willing to relinquish control. If I’m Bethesda I may think long and hard before allowing Rockstar to sell its items into my games. So the question isn’t really one of demand, it’s going to be one of will, and profit. For now, the novelty is enough to continue innovating, but until a major publisher jumps into the cross-game compatibility arena, there’s a roadblock to larger adoption by the gamer economy.
Featured image is Children’s Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder