Hey gamers, blockchain isn’t that bad
What could you have against the promise of a gaming landscape where players truly own their gameplay?
Midjourney modified by Blockworks
It’s a story we’ve been hearing for what seems like years now — “blockchain-based gaming will onboard new Web3 users en masse.”
The promise of a gaming landscape where players truly own their characters and in-game assets, where developers can create in a decentralized, censorship-resistant environment, and where the power dynamics of the gaming industry are flipped on their heads.
It’s a compelling narrative — one that seems more and more possible as Web3 matures and the technology’s potential continues to unfold.
And yet, the question remains: Why hasn’t it happened yet?
One of the biggest reasons we aren’t living in a blockchain-enabled gaming utopia is resistance from an unexpected quarter: gamers themselves. Surprisingly, or not at this point, gamers are often the most vocal critics of blockchain, crypto and NFTs — which seems counterintuitive given the potential benefits of these technologies for the gaming community, right?
Maybe the vitriol is warranted. We in Web3 like to preach the virtues of honesty, transparency, equality and true ownership. But let’s be real, the number of scams, spoofs, hacks, phishers, ill-intentioned influencers and abundance of downright shady folks make for some pretty bad PR. And the gamers are more than aware. Just go on any gaming subreddit and search for the words “non-fungible.” RIP.
My little brother owns every gaming system ever made and spends the time that he’s not gaming, watching other people game online. He summed it up for me: “Gamers hate NFTs, crypto, and blockchain stuff. It feels like someone is going door-to-door trying to sell us crappy knife sets. Like, ‘hey, look over there,’ while they stick their hands in our pockets.”
I get it. Between FTX, the hacks, and ponzi-style NFT pump and dumps (to name a few) — it’s a bad look, man. But I’m here to help you look past all that just for a minute. I’ve seen the mountain, and it’s glorious!
I wrote this article to change my brother’s mind, or to give him at least a rounder perspective on what blockchain gaming could offer. The crypto world might be rife with dirty rotten scoundrels, but that doesn’t mean that blockchain gaming is a bust.
Why blockchain gaming makes sense
Here are five reasons why gamers should give crypto and the Web3 idea a second look.
Centralized control: The World of Warcraft Debacle, aka Vitalik Buterin’s villain (hero) origin story
A key issue with the current state of gaming is the level of centralized control that game developers and publishers maintain over their products. This control often extends beyond the initial creation and release of a game, affecting ongoing gameplay and the player experience.
One of the most telling examples of this issue is the World of Warcraft incident involving none other than the Shiba godfather himself, Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum.
World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that has captivated millions of players worldwide since its release in 2004. When people say MMORG, WoW is the game that comes to mind. So what’s the problem here? The game’s developer, Blizzard Entertainment, has the ability to modify gameplay, balance character classes and tweak the game environment at will.
In 2010, Vitalik Buterin, an avid WoW player, experienced the arbitrary nature of this centralized control firsthand. The game developers had made a decision to weaken the abilities of the Siphon Life spell, a key skill of Buterin’s beloved Warlock character.
This incident deeply frustrated Buterin, who felt powerless against the centralized authority of the game developers. He had invested considerable time and effort into developing his character, only for the developers to effectively diminish his character’s powers at a stroke.
The lack of recourse or ability to challenge this decision made Buterin acutely aware of the limitations of centralized control. It was an experience that would stick with him, eventually influencing his decision to develop Ethereum.
“On that day I realized what horrors centralized services can bring,” Buterin wrote.
Save file corruption: The Madden NFL 23 Incident, aka the big fumble
The Madden NFL 23 incident, which occurred in late 2022, revolved around the corruption of many players’ Connected Franchise Mode (CFM) save files due to a “data storage issue” at EA, the game’s developer. This incident not only disrupted gameplay, but also erased the progress players had made, causing considerable frustration and disappointment.
In a decentralized model, where data could be stored on a blockchain, this type of incident could be avoided. Blockchain-based systems are inherently resistant to data loss and corruption due to their distributed nature. If one node fails or loses data, the other nodes in the network maintain the integrity of the overall system. Not only could players have more confidence in the security of their data, but they could also potentially control and transfer their game progress independently of the game developer or platform.
The lesson here is clear: The use of blockchain technology in gaming can provide a more secure, reliable and player-empowered experience.
Licensing agreement expiry: The Blizzard-China shut down, aka WoW strikes again
Here comes another WoW moment — and not in a good way. The sudden shutdown of Blizzard’s games in China in early 2023 was a shock that underscored the vulnerabilities inherent in centralized gaming systems. Millions of Chinese players lost access to popular games like the World of Warcraft franchise, marking the end of a two-decade partnership between Blizzard and NetEase.
For many, this was more than just an inconvenience: It was a devastating loss of a cherished pastime, a community and a virtual home.
The tense parting between the two companies highlighted the impact that business decisions and contractual disputes at the corporate level can have on players. The decisions made by Blizzard and NetEase affected millions of gamers who had no influence over the outcome.
In a decentralized gaming world, such shutdowns could be avoided. Games could operate independently of licensing agreements or individual companies, and players would retain access to their games and characters, regardless of corporate disputes or business decisions.
Blockchain’s inherent transparency could also ensure that players are never left in the dark about the state of their games. With blockchain, players could truly own their gaming assets and experiences, leading to a more resilient, player-empowered gaming industry.
Expanding the gaming experience
In traditional gaming, the assets players earn or purchase are typically stored on a company’s server and governed by the game’s terms of service. Despite players investing time, effort and often money into acquiring these assets, they don’t truly own them. Any change in the game’s policy, a server shutdown, or even a ban can lead to players losing their assets.
Blockchain-based gaming offers a compelling alternative.
Here, in-game assets are tokenized and stored on the blockchain. This means that players have actual ownership of their assets — they can hold, transfer, sell or even lend their in-game items freely without needing permission from the game developers. This can offer a greater sense of reward and motivation for players, recognizing their investment in the game.
Blockchain gaming also introduces the concept of portability. Currently, in-game assets are confined to the game they were obtained in. You can’t take your powerful sword from one RPG and use it in another. However, with blockchain, in-game assets could become interoperable. This means that a weapon or character acquired in one game could potentially be used in another.
Provable fairness: A leap in gaming trust
In a traditional gaming environment, trust is placed in the game developers and operators to ensure fairness. Gamers play under the assumption that the rules are being applied consistently, and that the outcomes of their actions are generated fairly.
However, this isn’t always a certainty. With centralized control, there is potential for manipulation of game outcomes, opaque decision-making or even unfair banning of players. This is where blockchain can step in to dramatically enhance the trust gamers can have in the games they play.
Blockchain technology can enable what is known as “provable fairness.” By leveraging the inherent transparency and immutability of blockchain, games can provide mathematical proof that each outcome within the game is fair and hasn’t been tampered with.
In a blockchain-based game, the mechanics that determine outcomes (like the roll of a dice, the draw of a card, or the spawn of a loot box) can be governed by smart contracts which are open-source and visible to all. When an outcome is generated, it is recorded on the blockchain, creating a permanent, immutable record. This means that every player action, game outcome, and transaction is verifiable by the player.
If the rules of the game are pre-programmed into a smart contract, they cannot be changed arbitrarily. This ensures that the game rules remain consistent and transparent, and players can verify that they are not being cheated.
Blockchain technology is still in its early stages, and it will take time for the gaming industry to fully understand and address the existing issues — the potential for hacked wallets, crypto’s volatility and potential environmental impact, the prevalence of crypto whales.
However, the potential benefits of blockchain gaming, such as true ownership, decentralized control, interoperability and provable fairness, offer a tantalizing glimpse of what the future of gaming could look like.
It’s not just about “saving the game” — it’s about shifting the paradigm to give the power back to the players. And that’s a game worth playing. Still think blockchain gaming is stupid, Jake? It’s okay if you do. Love, your big brother.
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