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ETHNews Exclusive | Blockchain And Video Games: An Interview With Ubisoft’s Nicolas Pouard




The blockchain initiative manager and researcher for Ubisoft’s Strategic Innovation Lab talks about the future of blockchain technology in the video game industry.

Since the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, video games have been at the forefront of entertainment technology. In recent years, gamers have become more sophisticated and demanding of interactive, seamless, and personalized gaming experiences. Gone are the days of helping a pixilated plumber hop his way past evil turtles.

The video game industry has come a long way since 1985. According to Goldman Sachs, video gaming is a $120 billion dollar a year industry and is projected to reach $200 billion by the year 2025. A 2017 study done by the Entertainment Software Association shows American consumers spent $30.4 billion dollars on video games and related hardware in 2016. The study also shows that 67 percent of US households possess some kind of device that supports video game play, and 65 percent include a resident who spends three or more hours a week playing. Their popularity demands that game software and hardware developers utilize cutting-edge technology to give gamers the desired experience. 

One industry player that has always been at the forefront of new gaming technology is Ubisoft.

Ubisoft is a computer and video game developer and publisher based in Montreuil-sous-Bois, France. Founded in 1986, the company now boasts 26 different studios spread across 18 countries. Some of its popular franchises include "Assassin's Creed," "The Prince of Persia," and "Tom Clancy" games. 

One way that Ubisoft is staying ahead of the game is through the development of its Strategic Innovation Lab, headed by project director Lidwine Sauer. Sauer and the lab are tasked with anticipating what kinds of opportunities future technologies might bring. In an interview with the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, Sauer talked about Ubisoft's Strategic Innovation Lab:

"The mission of the Strategic Innovation Lab is to help Ubisoft's teams anticipate the future. We monitor and analyze changes happening in various fields – technological fields, society, and business practices. Our goal is to have a global vision of the different forces that shape our industry. This way, we identify different opportunities for Ubisoft. That's the general context of our work."

So, naturally, Ubisoft is exploring how blockchain can be used to improve the gaming experience.  

Recently, ETHNews asked Nicolas Pouard, blockchain initiative manager and researcher for Ubisoft's Strategic Innovation Lab, to talk about how blockchain can play into the gaming industry. (The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

ETHNews: What attracted Ubisoft to blockchain for video games?

Nicolas Pouard: Seeing all the advantages that blockchain brought to other industries, we ... wondered: What can blockchain do for fun and gaming? As world-builders, we see it as a new way to empower players and increase their involvement in the creation process of new experiences. We believe it has the potential to set them up as true stakeholders of our worlds, both bringing our relationship with them to a whole new level and transforming their own relationship with games.

ETHNews: How do you think Ubisoft might utilize blockchain? What types of games or hardware could benefit from the technology?

NP: We should definitely use it to provide more fun and entertainment! That means we're currently trying to understand how it could be leveraged for new gameplays and experiences, but also to provide players with more ownership of the game worlds they love. Obviously, the "true ownership" of digital items seems to fit perfectly with open worlds. But we are also very interested in deeper uses of blockchain to prevent in-game toxicity, offer unique, one-off pieces of DLC [downloadable content] or create shared worlds for example.

The prototyping team from our Strategic Innovation Lab designed a prototype game named "Hashcraft," that allowed us to explore the possibility for the player to create their own Island and to share it with the community without any centralized servers. When the game is on, the player's PC works like a node of the network which stores the history of past transactions but especially some data related to user-generated content.

For now, it is still too early to predict what types of games will cope the best with blockchain. Indies are initiating a lot of experiments, but to go further with a new technology, it always begins with baby steps.

ETHNews: What is your research process like?

NP: First, we adopt a step-by-step approach through prototyping to understand how blockchain could bring the most value to our players – our ultimate goal is to only develop content or features that have a real purpose for them and their game experience.

Second, we are looking for major pain points in our production pipelines, and in our organization as a whole, that blockchain could solve.

Third, we are proud to collaborate hand-in-hand with amazing partners such as B2Expand, iExec, Azarus, or EverdreamSoft, within our Startup Program at Station F, and share with them Ubisoft's expertise in video games and knowledge of players, beyond blockchain.

ETHNews: What are some advantages of using blockchain technology in gaming?

NP: Advantages are manifold here. To name a few, transparency is clearly a true opportunity to reinforce the bond between developers and players. For instance, provable odds on the blockchain could modify the perception and the use of rewards in many games.

It's also a huge opportunity to create new kinds of communities where players could be rewarded for their involvement in the game and the community. Crowdsourcing could step up in a really interesting, new, and engaging level. Massive social gameplay could also be a great use of blockchain, where rewards would be shared in proportion to the players' efforts.

ETHNews: What are some disadvantages of using blockchain technology in gaming?

NP: For now, the disadvantages or obstacles are the same that the whole ecosystem is facing:

  • Scalability: If CryptoKitties was able to slow down the Ethereum Network, what would a game with hundreds of thousands of users do?
  • Speed of transactions: Gamers are used to frictionless experiences, especially on mobile phones. In terms of UX [user experience], the slowness and the uncertainty of transaction is not good enough today.
  • Immutability: It's the strength of the blockchain but when it comes to data management, privacy, and new rules (such as GDPR in Europe), it becomes important to decide what data you store on the blockchain and what you don't. Privacy could definitely be a matter of concern, which we are also investigating.

Pouard recognizes that these are early days and any "disruptive uses of blockchain in gaming" will "take some time to surface," but disruption is what the Strategic Innovation Lab is aiming for.

Nathan Graham

Nathan Graham lives in Sparks, Nevada, with his wife, Beth, and dog, Kyia. Nathan has a passion for new technology, grant writing, and short stories. He spends his time rafting the American River, playing video games, and writing.

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