With how big a buzzword blockchain has been in the cryptocurrency world. It was probably only a matter of time before video games hopped on the bandwagon. And indeed we are seeing blockchain or play to earn games starting to surge in popularity. But how exactly does a video game use something like the blockchain?
The basic idea is this, either the games are free to start playing or you pay some sort of upfront costs often in crypto to play the game, and as you play, you earn in game assets in the form of non-fungible tokens or NFTs in case you don't know what an NFT is, it's kind of like crypto in that it's stored on a blockchain, but unlike crypto, each NFT is unique. So they're often artworks, songs or even memes. For gaming, though, they tend to be in game items like weapons, cosmetic skins, or other collectibles.
How exactly is this different from the more familiar system of earning items in game through play or through micro-transactions with regular or in game currency? Well, probably the biggest difference is that because the assets are stored on a public blockchain with Ethereum being a particularly popular one, players own the assets that they earn. So if you earn some kind of sweet collectible, then something happens to the game servers or the developers just decide to pull the plug, your item will still exist on the blockchain, and it will still have a value as long as there's demand for it. And the fact that it's on the blockchain could make it easier to move assets between titles even from different game studios, since developers would have to do less legwork to enable this functionality.
So imagine, for example, using a Fortnite skin in "Call of Duty." Indeed, some popular blockchain based titles like "Axie Infinity" already have large followings of people that are making a profit, sometimes a substantial one on items that they have earned in game, making it appealing to folks that want something more than just a better gameplay experience after plunking down their money.
One possible pitfall of blockchain games is that they are still based around the idea of making transactions after you buy the game. So they come with a lot of the same concerns as traditional microtransaction heavy titles. NFTs are already seen by some tech enthusiast as gimmicky, since anything can be made into an NFT and an any NFT could easily turn out to not have any real value.
Then you've got the fact that some blockchain games bear a lot of similarities to freemium or pay to in releases, where you are still paying real money in order to get a competitive advantage. In fact, Valve has already banned blockchain games from the Steam store, possibly due to concerns around items with real-world value and blockchain games have already made negative headlines after one developer sold a bunch of NFTs ahead of the games launch to help fund the operation, but then the dev just took the money and ran.
However, other major names in the video game industry seemed to think that blockchain technology will be a big part of the future of gaming. With Ubisoft looking at incorporating the concept and EA more or less openly embracing it, with their CEO saying collectible digital content will be a meaningful part of the company's strategy going forward. And however you feel about that, it's not astounding considering that EA has already made colossal amounts of money off of FIFA packs.
As for the consumer side, what remains to be seen is if blockchain will raise or lower the barriers to entry for gaming. While it's possible that it could make gaming cheaper in some situations, since developers could offload certain tasks onto the blockchain instead of using their own servers, it could also drive up the value of the end game items or characters that players need to be competitive. I mean, it can already run you over $ 1,000 to buy a decent team and the aforementioned Axie Infinity, for example. But there are other projects out there that are less paid to win and more about accumulating collectibles such as Supdrive, which offers classic arcade style games, where the games themselves are the NFTs with each game having unique colors, art or difficulty.
So hopefully we'll see the blockchain paradigm refined as time goes on in a way that works for gamers rather than against them. Just as long as we don't end up having to pay a thousand bucks for a Luke Skywalker NFT.