News of blockchain technology's role in the video game industry regularly hits the wires. In the past month, ETHNews has covered gaming developer Ubisoft's foray into blockchain technology, the development of an ERC1155 token standard to make video game token transactions more efficient, and the announcement of two Ethereum-based games: 0xUniverse and Gods Unchained. Although relatively nascent, the use case of gaming is at the forefront of the cryptospace.
Like many mobile freemiums, however, crypto games tend to engage players for a short period of time. Individuals may become bored with their CryptoKitties or they may grow tired of training their Etheremons. We all remember when Angry Birds was the next big thing, but I cannot say I know a single person who still has the app on their phone. In this sense, the value of video games is dependent on whether players choose to play them.
In a space filled with short-lived video games, even those built on a blockchain, the future of the crypto gaming market looks uncertain. The horizon is obscured by the current lineup of cute collectibles games that players may forget about in a few months. Considering this, what comes next for the market?
ETHNews spoke with Ciaran Foley, CEO and co-founder of virtual reality development company Immersive Entertainment Inc. to try to answer (or ponder) this question. He believes that when all is said and done, video games – blockchain-based or not – must be meaningful to gamers. "One of crypto-gaming's biggest challenges … [is] the same challenge it faces everywhere else: it must serve a real purpose and be thoughtful in its use and execution," he said.
Following this logic, though, many blockchain games do serve a purpose: gambling. This facet of various collectibles games, including the lighthearted and adorably illustrated CryptoKitties, allows players to enjoy the gaming experience along with the investment qualities associated with cryptocurrencies. In fact, Foley suspects that much of the crypto gaming market will continue to feature gambling and collection-driven titles.
Although gambling is alive and well (and may continue to be so) among blockchain games, people still become bored. "If they are not entertained, it doesn't matter if you're using crypto or sticks," Foley said. "If the interaction is simple and fashionable, it may be short lived till the next copy comes out." Gambling or other simple transactions may not provide the engagement required to keep gamers interested.
By the same token, perhaps the largest roadblock to the future of crypto gaming is human caprice itself. Foley relates this possible barrier to movies:
"What is the largest or most significant barrier movies face? Netflix movies? 3D movies? IMAX movies? VR movies? The same thing: avoiding someone's crap list. In other words, it's not about the 3D, or the Netflix, or the IMAX, or the VR. It's about the entertainment itself."
It seems, then, that the crypto gaming market's fate lies in the hands of capricious consumers who also want to be engaged. Players may come if they see "a shiny object with promises of wonder," as Foley characterizes blockchain games, but without engagement, these titles may not hold people's attention for long. When considering the continued development of crypto gaming, this notion could be important to the market's overall success. In fact, Foley believes that the "legitimacy [of crypto gaming] will come from the players, not the developers."
To combat the short-lived trend of crypto gaming and provide a richer, more immersive experience, Foley's company has been working on a blockchain-based game titled Virtual Universe, although he describes it as "more of an entertainment destination and a game." The project will feature a virtual reality world with its own tokenized marketplace (that is where crypto comes into play) and "story-driven adventure." He thinks of the project in terms of "Ready Player One" or the holodeck from "Star Trek."
The game will also feature artificial intelligence (AI), which, according to Foley, will "create richer interactions with the world and between users and non-player characters … [and] provide a greater illusion of reality (or unreality)." He believes that because AI contributes to players' sense of reality in the game's world, they will ultimately be more engaged, and if the players remain engaged, Foley says his company has "got a winner on [its] hands."
In conclusion, the future of crypto gaming is unclear in a time of digital kittens and world domination. As Foley mentions, gamers – like any other consumers – are fickle and they may decide that games they previously enjoyed, such as those driven by collecting and gambling, are no longer satisfying. Sustained engagement could be the solution, as Foley suggests with his company's project Virtual Universe, but the progression of the crypto gaming market seems to be driven by the aforementioned fickle players, not the developers – another insight from Foley himself. The interplay of human behavior and the drive for immersive, meaningful gaming experiences makes the issue a doozy.
The best answer? It's complicated.