Blockchain technology is a big deal right now.
It’s the tech behind Bitcoin and all the new cryptocurrencies, and what allows them to function in ways previously impossible for more traditional currency.
It also the technology behind a new emerging trend in video games - blockchain games.
Today, these games are mostly casual games based on collectibles and trade. However, the potential this new budding technology has to change the gaming industry is huge. From unique games experiences to ever-evolving characters and in-game transactions that follow you from game to game - blockchain might be the future of video games.
Blockgeeks, a website specializing in teaching Blockchain technology to businesses, offers this very helpful definition:
"Blockchain is a recorded transaction that has been added to a previous transaction to form a chain.
"Each of these transactions can account for various different things, for example in the world of Bitcoin, this transaction is the movement of a cryptocurrency. Each of these blockchains are encrypted, and any subsequent transaction requires the whole chain to be unencrypted when a new block is added, before again being ‘sealed up’ with encryption and passed on.
"This chain has a permanent log of all transactions from the first block up to the last. As such, blockchain technology allows for secure transactions to occur on an open source foundation that is hard to spoof."
Once you understand what blockchain is, the reason why this technology could become huge in gaming becomes clearer. Simply put, it comes down to the “uniqueness” of the blocks in the chain. If you can incorporate this uniqueness into gaming, this could lead to some exciting and unique games.
Before we talk about how blockchain technology could affect the gaming world, it is useful to take a trip down memory lane. Let’s take a look at some the more unique products that became integrated into the fabric of our society.
While there were plenty of similarly patterned marbles, the ones that everyone wanted were those that were significantly different to the rest. If you happened to be in possession of a particularly pretty and unique marble, you became both the target of envy and devious plots to separate you from said marble.
In the meanwhile, sports trading cards were also being swapped in playgrounds across various countries and continents, and as with marbles, the cards that were more difficult to get hold of were being traded at much higher prices than the others.
When the digital revolution starting in the 70’s, it was only a matter of time before these crazes reached computers as well. The first of which arrived in the 90’s, in the form of a virtual pet - the Tamagotchi. These basic digital keychains housed a little digital pet that needed food, love, and sleep. And yet again, the rarer the color, version, and age of the Tamagotchi, the higher their value.
From the stone age through to the present day, we humans seem to be obsessed with the unique, and never has this been more obvious than in the current sales figures that involve a new crypto-game called CryptoKitties.
CryptoKitties are unique cartoon cats that run on the Ethereum blockchain.
Each cat is utterly unique in looks and genetics (the blockchain on which it resides) and can be bred as part of a couple. Once successfully propagated, each of these new “kitties” inherits certain facets from their parents and represents a unique combination of the two.
For anyone currently screwing their face up in confusion as to why anyone would be interested in buying what is essentially a picture of a cat, it is worth noting that a CryptoKitty recently sold for over $100,000. Yeah.
CryptoKitties is the most prominent player in the “cryptocollectible” games market today, but it is certainly not the only one. Etheremon is a game where you collect digital monsters (similar to the premise of Pokemon and Digimon). Another, relatively new one is CryptoCelebrities that lets you collect unique “Smart Contracts” with celebrity bios and pictures. There are even more to come, like HashPuppies and CryptoPets, but they all revolve around the same idea - collect and trade using cryptocurrency (mostly Ethereum).
Since the trend is still in its infancy, it still isn’t highly popular, A lot of people still find the whole idea slightly fishy, and rightly so.
However, when the industry catches up with the technology, and people will feel safer to participate, we’re going to start seeing some very fascinating stuff.
We only have to look at today's market for weapon skins or loot boxes in AAA games to witness the desire gamers have to stand out from the crowd, and how important individuality is in online gaming.
Whether they are cruising around Los Santos in GTA V or battling across frozen tundra in the latest Star Wars Battlefront game from EA, players take pride in what their avatars look like, and what they “own” in-game. Right now, these are items that are not limited to one owner (for example two players can buy the same outfit, weapon or vehicle), but let's take a moment to imagine what blockchain technology could bring to the table when integrated into our current style of gaming.
Imagine, if you will, the release of a new generic first-person shooter. The premise is much the same as those that have been created before it. Two teams face off against each other, battling for control of a map on some alien planet.
So far, so normal right? Well, this is where blockchain can shake up an industry that seems to have reached a plateau in innovation.
Rather than starting with the same character that everyone else does, blockchain technology would allow you to begin with an avatar that is unique to you. This could be a combination of aesthetic facets and under-the-hood statistics that allow for your character to look and play slightly different than any other.
It could also be possible to have your character represent your real life form, using a combination of blockchain technology and information fed into the system such as photographs of your actual face. This new character will be different to every other character in the game, and impossible to completely replicate by any other player in the game.
These characters could also “leap” from game to game too, in a way that we have only seen happen in rare instances so far (the Mass Effect series for example). And while BioWare did incorporate character importing between games in the original trilogy, it is not to the same level that blockchain would allow.
In fact, blockchain could allow characters to move from different franchises and game genres entirely and keep the same stats, such as age, experience, and skills. Your character will become personal, unique, and valuable.
Once blockchain technology infiltrates the gaming industry, there will be no turning back. After all, who wants to play through a game with any generic character when you could be using your very own personal avatar instead?
But it is not only characters that can be created and stored using this method. Take the same technology and apply it to gaming landscapes, and you are looking at entirely unique characters playing in entirely unique arenas, using entirely unique vehicles and weapons. The results could completely change video games as we know them and create a whole new industry in the process.
For those of you who have misgivings about microtransactions and their ilk, this news may seem a little troublesome. You may worry that your games will now rocket in price when compared to what we are used to right now, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Blockchain technology in games could lead to “base games” being released much as they are today, but with the bonus of having DLC that is uniquely yours. Buying in-game equipment and cosmetic flairs may become akin to buying a specially tailored suit or custom-made jewelry - no one else has that exact item.
Blockchain will not be the preserve of the PC and console gamer alone either, as leaving mobile out of the discussion would be shortsighted and quite frankly silly. Mobile games are the fastest growing market in the gaming industry, and you can already find mobile apps and bitcoin games that utilize blockchain.
Rather than concentrating on individual character traits, we are more likely to see unique artifacts available for in-game purchasing. Think about games in the vein of The Sims and Animal Crossing, but with tradable items that are “one-offs.” All of a sudden, these in-game marketplaces are looking a lot more interesting than they did before.
Now, before you get too excited about blockchain implemented in the gaming scene, it pays to remember the technology is still in its infancy.
The names that have made it a buzzword across the world (Bitcoin for example) are still relatively new, and working out exactly how the tech can be implemented within games will take some time. Watching how the world begins to look at, and accept cryptocurrency will give us some idea about when we are likely to see the blockchain extend its reach in any meaningful way. There is also the quite severe aspect of gambling to consider when items are tradable and have fluctuating value.
A recent example of this would be the debacle surrounding Counter Strike Go, and the trading of weapon skins within the game. If an in-game item has a real life value and can be traded between players, there is very little difference between wagering skins on matches and using actual money. This is gambling in its purest form.
While that isn’t a problem for all countries out there, it is for some. And let's face it, when it comes to children gambling in particular, it’s a problem for pretty much every country across the globe. Making sure no laws are broken in certain regions will be a challenge, but it is not impossible to police.
It is also worth noting that the first foray into blockchain gaming could, for most companies, begin with their own in-game currencies. Crytek, creators of the CryEngine, have devised their own cryptocurrency called Crycash to be used in their game Warface. This is a good thing for the consumer, as once an item has been bought or traded on the blockchain, the record is permanent and almost impossible to tamper with. This could lead to a future where your digital purchases are actually yours, and not simply “rented” to you, and useless outside of the game itself.
With blockchain, your items really are your items, and should you decide to sell them on at a later date, that is your business and not that of the game creator.
It is still very early days for blockchain technology. The positives that it could bring to gaming are plain to see, but the reality of this fusion taking place will rely on how the world as a whole adapts to cryptocurrencies in general.
If Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple are still around and less volatile in the coming few years, expect to see blockchain gaming emerge from its chrysalis very soon after.
Whether games developers end up making use of blockchain in all these areas is yet to be seen but there is little doubt that blockchain gaming is coming, and the possibilities, I’m sure you will agree, are truly exciting.