Designing and Building Blockchain Games
What are blockchain games, and how are they different from traditional games?
We’ve written in the past about the different types of blockchain games that we’re really excited about, and we’ve talked about the impact that NFTs will have on gaming, but we haven’t yet compared blockchain games to the traditional games most people are familiar with.
So today, we want to introduce blockchain gaming in comparison with traditional gaming.
If you’re a gamer yourself, or you’re a developer looking to get into blockchain gaming, we hope that this introduction helps to bring you up to speed on blockchain games and why we’re so excited about them here at Decentraland.
It all started with Bitcoin…
We’re all familiar with Bitcoin (the secure, transparent, and finite cryptocurrency) as the first use-case for blockchain technology that attained widespread, mainstream attention.
Not long after Bitcoin, Ethereum was developed as a way to decentralize applications through the use of smart contracts: decentralized applications and scripts that can be run without having to trust a third party or centralized server.
The next progression came in the form of the ERC20 standard built on top of Ethereum, standardizing fungible tokens. We then saw the appearance of CryptoPunks, a crypto-collectible platform that allowed users to purchase different “punk” caricatures represented by something like ERC20 tokens.
CryptoPunks are one of the first examples of blockchain tech in entertainment, and sparked the explosion of crypto-collectibles. Contemporary collectibles like CryptoKitties are represented by non-fungible tokens (NFTs), meaning that each kitty is actually distinct, unique, and scarce — provably so thanks to a public registry built atop the Ethereum blockchain.
Crypto-collectibles and the concept of digital economic scarcity have entirely shifted the way we view and value digital content, expanding a new avenue for online gaming.
Last week, we talked all about the history of these tokens and their standards, so if you want to dive deeper, check out the post What are NFTs? Otherwise, read on to learn more about blockchain games.
What are blockchain-based games?
To put it very simply, a blockchain game is any game that is built, even partially, on top of a public blockchain that enables each player to own and control their own data. This means that the game developer, or whoever is hosting and running the game, has to request permission from a player before they can write a new record to that player’s database.
Furthermore, since blockchains are essentially large, public databases, any developer from any location can access the player records stored on the blockchain. This adds a certain element of extensibility to blockchain games, because the content and data stored on a blockchain is more easily shared between different platforms and services.
Imagine developing a marketplace where gamers can purchase new, unique skins (represented by NFTs) for their avatars in one game, to be built and maintained by a different developer in a completely different application. Not only do the players have complete, verifiable ownership of their new skin, but they can rest assured that their new skins are in fact scarce (or even completely unique).
This is in stark contrast to traditional online games where the databases of player and item records are stored in private, centrally controlled servers. These traditional games give the developers total control over player data, in addition to removing the potential for integrating truly scarce, digitally unique in-game items.
Ok, what do blockchain games look like?
We’ve already tried to define what a game can accomplish with the blockchain, but what are some actual examples?
Imagine taking one of your CryptoKitties (or Etheremon or CryptoBeasties) into an entirely different game or space where you can pit them against other peoples’ kitties and monsters. Now, imagine translating your CryptoKitty’s “cattributes” to a racing game, where these unique attributes are represented by your racecar and its performance. Maybe maneuver gives you a bonus to handling, and hotrod takes your top speed to another level.
In addition to unique attributes attached to truly-owned virtual items, imagine if all of your MMO guild’s management and resources were registered, stored, and tracked by a blockchain without the need to entrust that power to any single member. We are already seeing these decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) being applied to some very exciting and noble uses, lending true democracies more power and scalability.
These DAOs can be put to use in an incredibly wide variety of industries — like online gaming. By creating a DAO to run different gaming guild’s you remove trust issues, guarantee and enforce accountability between players, and allow for secure and trustworthy records of titles, roles, and standards. Imagine having one pseudo-anonymous game ID that you could share across multiple games, instead creating a different avatar and player name every time. Don’t worry though, you could always create a fresh avatar as often as you want.
Another exciting application of blockchains to gaming comes in the form of education and tutorials: picture querying a player’s blockchain records, looking for similar games they’ve played in order to minimize the “time-to-fun metric” for your game. You can do things like hand out extra experience points, or maybe skip a tutorial, because you are able to confidently assume that the player understands the core concepts of your game.
Finally, picture a standard game achievement that is granted in the form of an NFT that the player can keep forever. Achievements, medals, and trophies are a huge draw for gaming, illustrating player goals and building up bragging rights in the community. Now, imagine creating a “team trophy case” containing the virtual equivalent of the stanley cup. Having your name engraved on a virtual trophy that will exist forever is a gamechanger. Winning players from each season can have their accomplishments displayed forever, free from the constraints of a centralized database belonging to a game company that might someday go out of business.
How are blockchain games different from traditional games?
- Assets are owned and controlled by the game developer
- Game assets are not transferable between games
- Player history is hard to track and share between games
- Assets are owned and controlled by the player
- Blockchain game assets are interoperable across games
- A continuous record of player and data history allows developers to create personalized content
Along with the many boons and new toys that game designers can play with, there are a few serious, implementation-affecting effects that blockchain game developers (and players) should consider.
The players own their data
Since player data for blockchain games is stored on a blockchain, it’s public. This means that any other game can access and use that data. Even game competitors.
Much like the physical world, you can’t prevent other games from using game artifacts and assets. Just as you can take pieces from a Go game and use them on a chessboard to play checkers, you could also take game assets from one blockchain game and use them in another game.
We can’t control how players buy or sell game assets
Players can purchase game assets directly from other players instead of through in-game stores. Players could also get game assets from an escrow service or in bulk from a bad actor who managed to exploit your smart contract. This means that game developers cannot rely on building business models around marketplace fees, and they cannot prevent players from reselling items.
It’s like the used game business, but for all of your blockchain assets. Not just physical discs.
Cryptocurrency is not the same as Hard Currency
Making your own cryptocurrency does not equate to making your own in-game, hard currency. Players own their own cryptocurrency tokens, so they don’t necessarily have to make transactions with in-game currencies.
They’re free to buy any assets on the open market using other currencies like Bitcoin instead of in-game “diamonds”. Even worse, this means that the value of “hard currencies” will likely be determined by the exchange markets, not game economists.
This is only the beginning
There are an incredible number of emerging use-cases and constraints that we are identifying as we dig deeper into designing blockchain games, but we hope that this provides a rough introduction to what we think is possible.