Heed the Warning : The Blockchain Games are Coming

I thought we turned a corner on this towards the tail-end of the pandemic. Years ago, when the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) craze hit, the immediate and almost universal backlash occurred once we realized exactly what the gambit truly was. That didn’t keep companies from viewing the potential of this concept, going full speed ahead with their projects.

After almost three years of constant back and forth, the crash of the crypto markets, and utter disdain for the market as a whole; the games are still releasing. While it might seem inevitable, there are tons of wonderful people calling out these games for what they are, and if you have not been paying attention then it is about time you start because as the landscape has changed with micro-transactions, companies will find ways to sneak these concepts into your games without you understanding the playbook.

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Understanding the Gambit

I’m not going to explain what or how the entire breadth of the crypto and blockchain market works. There are more qualified people out there to discuss the full gritty nature of its existence (if you want to call it that). Dan “Folding Ideas” Olson is a YouTube media personality whose videos tend to examine some of the more interesting and thoughtful concepts behind a wide variety of topics such as pop culture and game design.

In a video of his released last year, Dan discusses in a three-hour video how the entire crypto market works, what it destroys, and how the entire concept behind NFTs, Crypto, and Blockchain tech is a complete farce. It is the most comprehensive video out there and if you wish to learn more about those inner workings, I suggest watching the video.

Image courtesy of YouTube

You don’t need to watch his epic to understand the full validity of what I am about to say, but it is good if you are familiar with it, and that is because this is technology that could change the future of our medium. It is presented as a net gain for users, but it is all similar to the lootbox craze and the “buy new to get in-game content” of this generation; a huge trend in gaming where companies attempt to optimize their profits by providing the bare minimum for gamers with little to no effort on their behalf.

Applications in Practice

To summarize the ideology behind these Blockchain games comes in three parts with only two of them really fleshed out. Earning and trading seem to be the “working” parts of this system while the third “universal” concept has yet to be proven to work at any level, because it will never work, much like the executives who oversee these systems.

A BC game has you play and earn equipment which is unique to you. Maybe you have a green hat which gives you a bonus to some aspect of your character, something that would make it sought after within the game. The game only offers a certain amount of these items to create a level of scarcity, putting a nice price on the table for it when you engage with the second part: trading.

Image Credit: IGN.com

This is how the system goes: you can find a unique in-game item and then sell it on the market for whatever you want in the currency that the game uses. Usually, these currencies are tied to various crypto markets. If you have a mini-gun that is red and adds to your dexterity, but it doesn’t match your outfit, then you can sell it and maybe get the blue one that does match for a certain amount of currency. It is like thrift shopping in a store that only accepts fingernails, it is strange, but the shop owner just hopes you start nibbling at your fingers. Think of the Diablo III auction house, but incredibly worse and filled with more venture capitalist tech bros than demons from hell. Hell, Diablo might be evil but not as evil as the folks who are openly campaigning for subscriptions on previously free services.

Then we have the third part with is the universal concept of bringing the item from one game into the next thanks to the blockchain technology. Problem is – that is not how game development works as Linkin’ Park’s Mike Shinoda once thought before he was educated on the concept. Simply put, every game tied to the blockchain would have to include every variable and design feature that is in all games, making it impossible for any game to have everything. Imagine having to load a game that requires millions of the same asset simply because the color was different? How about taking a jetpack from one game and porting it over to another that doesn’t have a means to handle that concept? It doesn’t work on any level.

Credit: Twitter – Yes, he didn’t know what they were

Truth is that these games are not supposed to work as something meaningful for the player. It is designed to create shareholder value and addiction that most games have these days already, but I digress. The problem we are facing is how these games are now starting to rear their ugly heads and there is a strong possibility that you can end up playing one without even knowing it. They are even playing off designs reminiscent of other popular titles.

Upcoming Releases

Take Moonfrost for example. This free to play farming sim role-playing game looks and feels like Stardew Valley, a highly popular title that is still seeing huge amounts of support till this day and is available on mostly every platform including mobile. The only difference is how Moonfrost has digital collectables as a selling point, which may seem innocent enough and that is because it is attempting to be innocent. Developers Oxalias doesn’t want you to know that it is a blockchain game, so it uses other terms to obfuscate the language.

Credit: Moonfrost Twitter

Diving further into Oxalis and Moonfrost brought me to a thin landing page with three menu options: game, contact, and investors. When “investors” seems to be a main focal point of your game, I can’t say I have faith in what is being delivered especially when you see who exactly is involved which includes Griffin Gaming Partners, Animoca Brands, Pantera (not the band), and Supercell best known for Clash of Clans and Clash Royale.

If you are unfamiliar with either of those games, they happen to employ various tactics designed to take your money for very little return. Aside from King, Supercell is absolutely one of the biggest titans of the mobile game industry, claiming to have made annual earnings of $666 million US dollars in 2022. That right there is an insane amount of money for a mobile game that easily measures up close to how much banks make off annual fees.

The profit that Supercell makes shouldn’t alarm you as much as the rampant amount of videos and articles asking the question: “Is Clash of Clans addicting?” and my personal favorite “10 Signs You are Addicted to Clash of Clans,” which is funny because I have seen that poster in my doctor’s office right next to “7 Ways World of Warcraft causes UTIs.”

From Indie to Major Corporation

It doesn’t end there, as Square-Enix has been rather open with their own investment plans by releasing NFT and Blockchain games by the end of 2023 or early 2024. This also comes after Ubisoft’s failure to properly implement NFTs into Ghost Recon Breakpoint, which if you ask me, is the worst game you could implement NFTs into. With the money poured into that project, Ubisoft could have just made another Rayman game, something people want but don’t do because it won’t give them the return on investment they are looking for, and that is the sad part about all of this.

Credit: Kotaku – Symbiogenesis is Square-Enix’s NFT Game

Companies have no problem taking risks when there is a potential high-profit margin and knowing this makes the forefront of game development kind of scary. Sure, it won’t happen right away, but if one company can make it happen, then it won’t prevent others from attempting to do something similar.

Even right now, Sony has been welcoming the idea of “digital collectables” for PlayStation fans, giving them something visually appealing along with the already available Trophy system. Rumor has it, Microsoft is looking into something quite similar and it doesn’t surprise me as they have also been avid supporters of Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse project; another equally ambitious yet unappealing concept.

At PAX 2022 I was introduced to an NFT game. It had a lot of features that people would find enjoyable, but it was based off an original IP that no one would jump into. If that were to be applied to something along the lines of Pokémon, one of the biggest franchises in the world, it could be a force to reckon with. Apologists would create reasons to play the game over not engaging with it, as we have seen countless times, there is nothing weaker than a gaming boycott.

How to Stop This

So, what do we do here? We are now going to see more of these games pop up and there is very little that we can do to prevent it aside from calling out these titles and educating folks on how bad these games are. It won’t stop everyone, but it may be enough to balance the results in our favor. There is another hope and that is the utter confusion of how crypto and blockchain technology works.

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In some cases, you must take your real money and buy coins to put them in a wallet. Sometimes you need to convert one coin to another and while this technology can be simple for those who are tech savvy, it could be confusing for the target audience who may find that jumping through hoops just to enjoy a game to be too big of an ask. After consulting with one company, I can tell you wholeheartedly that utility and barrier to entry are not considerations for them.

While the future of gaming looks bright, there is this storm up ahead that we must navigate cautiously, because it is no longer the small and forgettable companies springing up. Game monetization is already a hot topic, but if a major publishers with ties to companies that have no problem investing millions with any level of projected success, you can bet your coins that others will do the same.

By Steve Esposito

Steve Esposito is a dedicated content creator with a focus on his love for technology, video games, and the very industry that oversees it all. He also takes part in organizing the Long Island Retro and Tabletop Gaming Expo as well as a Dungeons and Dragons podcast: Copper Piece. You can find him on twitter @AgitatedStove

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