The combination of videogames and both cryptocurrency and Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) can be a messy one. Both crypto and NFTs are seen by many as a difficult step in technology. The reasons are many – the impact on the environment, the high ‘buy-in’ needed to utilise the technology and the confusion many feel when trying to buy and sell both. In the right hands, and with the correct intentions, both of these futuristic feeling concepts, from the blockchain, can work well within videogames. However, it’s going to take a lot of work from developers and plenty of goodwill from players.
There are already many games which use blockchain technology that allow for NFTs and the use of crypto in order to support the game or buy additional features. Each game currently feels incredibly niche and asks a lot of those interested in playing. If we look at Splinterlands for example, a basic card game auto-battler, the average player would need to know how to navigate crypto markets and the various crypto wallets, understand the gamble of investing money into the game, plus have a basic grasp of buying and selling NFTs and crypto on an open market.
Splinterlands plays like several established card games, all rolled into one. Cards can be obtained via opening blind packs, purchased with crypto, these can then be upgraded by combining duplicates making the resulting card unique and as each card is an NFT, they can be sold to other players. A similar concept can be seen in Blankos Block Party; a gorgeous, colourful third-person shooting game where users play as avatars loosely based on Funko Pop Vinyls. These Blankos are themselves NFTs and can be combined to create new visual aesthetics through patterns and colours. An in-game marketplace is easily accessed where Blankos can change hands.
Lost Relics, developed by Codebit Labs, uses a recognisable template in its AARPG gameplay. This Action-Adventure-Role-Playing-Game harks back to games like Runescape and Diablo. The catch here is that the items and weapons you find within the dungeons are NFTs, with unique stats. Based on the Ethereum blockchain, these items uniquely belong to the player and can be sold on if no longer needed. The game uses a ‘free to play’ model, meaning the crypto/NFT aspect isn’t a necessity, making it more appealing to a larger demographic.
The Crypto Gamble
There are concerns on social media and message boards that these items and creatures can be purchased to further make money, as they are usually powerful items. For example, a card in Splinterlands or Skyweavers may be a powerful item within the game; something which could allow the player to achieve more wins. It’s here where the formula could drift into ‘pay to win’ territory, pricing out those with less capital to invest. With so many unknowns, it’s easy to see why many are hesitant to jump in with both feet.
It’s mostly smaller game studios taking the risks in blockchain technology and concepts, though larger publishers like EA Games and Ubisoft are showing interest. In fact, in recent days Ubisoft have become the first big studio to utilise blockchain technology, using their game Ghost Recon, to release limited edition skins as NFTs. It’s hard to tell at this early stage whether players will embrace the addition. The indie games market is usually a place to try new things and experiment with ideas. Were larger gaming studios to embrace blockchain and NFTs, certain aspects of the concept would require steady policing to prevent players buying up stocks, increasing rarity and flipping them onto other buyers. But how could NFTs work within a triple-A title?
Can it be Done?
Let’s look at the recent Microsoft and Playground Games release, Forza Horizon 5. In this racing game, players can already buy and sell cars on the virtual marketplace using the game’s currency. Once a car is purchased, players are given an opportunity to use a skin for the car designed by other members of the community costing the player nothing.
Now, let’s imagine these skins as NFTs; and let’s say that a designer creates a skin that looks like a black brick wall with cracks running across, orange magma seeping from the cracks. A player could buy this skin for a set price using traditional currency – dollars, sterling, euros. They now own that skin. Nobody else can own ‘black bricks, orange magma’, but the creator can churn out more designs, changing the colour of the bricks and magma and sell them on the marketplace. Let’s imagine further and say the player who owns ‘black brick, orange magma’ is racing through the virtual world and someone spots the skin. They love it and message the player to ask if they can buy it. Between them they arrange a sale and the skin changes hands.
The sale of the skin NFT is protected by the blockchain and this allows the original creator to receive a portion of the sale, because of NFT economy and smart contracts and even the developer of the game could receive a portion too, which further increases the monetisation of Forza Horizon 5. In this instance, it seems pretty simple and it would financially reward community creators who would normally see no benefits for their hard work.
This idea would need to be heavily policed though, to prevent wealthy gamers from buying up designs and flipping them for profit. Any guidelines though would contradict the original manifesto of both crypto and NFTs, which were created to remove the middlemen of transactions and give greater control over finances and creator options. But will large developers and platform holders actually give this version of gaming the go-ahead? Given that PC gaming marketplace, Steam, recently blocked support for any game built on blockchain technology or featuring any NFTs, the future is cloudy.
This is why smaller studios and independent creators are jumping onto the wagon early and they’re seeing success. Axie Infinity, a Pokemon inspired game, has an estimated quarter of a million players online at any given time and one Axie creature set a record on the game’s marketplace when it sold for 300ETH ($1.3 million by today’s prices). When each Axie within the game is entirely unique, you can see why some players spend to obtain a creature they love. This is gamers earning the ability to trade for something they will enjoy – perhaps the player desperately wants an Axie or Blanko in a certain colour, and blockchain technology gives them the opportunity to get their hands on these rarities and feel a sense of ownership.
Another aspect of crypto gaming is a wave of ‘play-to-earn’ titles, which, as the name suggests, rewards players with small amounts of cryptocurrency for playing the game. Coin Hunt World is an Augmented Reality mobile game which utilises the tech from Pokemon Go and Pikmin Bloom, to get players walking around their neighbourhood and hunting for crypto. The game urges players to tap blue cubes which unlock very small amounts of crypto, but keys are also found which unlock vaults with a little more stored inside. Nobody is about to hit the Forbes wealthiest list, but as a tool to teach the gaming public about crypto via a familiar form, it’s an ingenious concept.
The idea of being paid to play videogames is an old one and with streaming platforms dominating entertainment spaces, it’s seen as a viable career. Agencies have been set up which can loan NFT items to other players in order to farm crypto within a game like Axie Infinity; the revenue is then split between agency, player and the owner of the item. There are many grey areas within this offshoot of videogames and these need to be adapted to work within all demographics.
Crypto gaming is in its infancy and it can be used in a variety of ways, as we’ve explored here. The most difficult obstacle is going to be working with consumers to explain how the blockchain will benefit them in the long run. With so many games needing users to set up crypto wallets and register with particular websites, these boundaries will need breaking down and clarifying if players are to fully embrace this new age of gaming.