How many in-game items do you own? That’s a trick question. You don’t really own any of them since they only exist in a digital world controlled by someone else. If the game goes down, or you get tired of it and stop playing, your stuff loses all its value, even if you paid for it with actual currency.
If your game is blockchain-based or connected to a blockchain-powered economy, though, that item, skin, card, or character can outlive the game and change hands freely (with or without money being involved). The Sword of Cryptolight might become a collectible, famous for its role in winning a tournament. It might move between game universes, helping your in-game work outlive any one piece of software. The game itself might even be hosted and run by the players, improving uptime and taking control away from any one company.
This isn’t hypothetical, and it’s not just CryptoKitties: the games being built with blockchains range from relatively simple collectible games to vast MMORPGs with an EVE Online flavor. There are already too many to cover them all, so we’ll just focus on a few examples that represent several different concepts.
Non-fungible tokens: Gods Unchained
Even though it’s not technically out of beta yet, Gods Unchained is one of the most popular blockchain games out there. It’s a card-trading game with a Magic: The Gathering/Hearthstone flavor to it. What sets it apart from similar games in the genre is the fact that players can actually own the cards, which exist as non-fungible tokens (NFTs, meaning each one is unique and can’t be copied) on the Ethereum blockchain. They can be bought, sold, and traded as the players like, with no limits, and will be easy to track the history of each card, which may increase the value of certain items.
The actual gaming is done on centralized servers and built with Unity, as playing an actual game using the Ethereum blockchain would be impractically expensive and slow. It does, however, require some familiarity with cryptocurrency to get into Gods Unchained: you’ll need to be able to set up a MetaMask wallet and fund it with Ethereum to play the game and trade cards.
Play-to-Earn: Hash Rush
Play-to-earn is a game mechanic that flips pay-to-win on its head by actually giving players the chance to make money as they play, and Hash Rush is combining it with a beautifully-designed sci-fi real-time strategy game. The game itself revolves around players building colonies and mining crystals to build wealth, do battle, and complete quests.
Like Gods Unchained, many in-game items exist as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain and can be traded and even crafted as part of the in-game economy and in other marketplaces like OpenSea. It adds another layer, though, by also distributing cryptocurrency rewards to top players and players who complete certain challenges.
The game uses the RUSH network – an Ethereum sidechain – to enable players to make transactions without the lag and cost of writing everything to the main Ethereum blockchain. Getting into the game doesn’t require any cryptocurrency knowledge or setup at all, though, making it a great entry point for people who don’t want to learn all about Ethereum just to play a game.
Decentralized gaming platform: XAYA
Most blockchain games have to be run on a central server – they’re far too computationally intensive to economically run on an existing blockchain. XAYA’s main goal is to take the next step and go full serverless, using blockchain tech to enable games to run without a centralized entity being responsible for uptime.
This means developers who work with the platform (it has an SDK and is open-source) will be able to distribute games on a much broader scale than they might otherwise be able to, and users will benefit from more stability and virtual assets that are 100 percent player-owned. XAYA also introduces the concept of “human mining,” which is the idea that human work in provably fair video games can generate cryptocurrency with real value.
The biggest game currently being built on the XAYA platform is Taurion, a space MMORPG with an open economy and an interesting faction system. A few other games have already been released – notably, Treat Fighter – and are running, so XAYA appears to work quite well, though crypto-newbies may face a slight learning curve.
It’s not a blockchain game, but OpenSea is the largest crypto-goods marketplace out there, and as such it’s an important part of the ecosystem. Any Ethereum-backed item can be transacted here, and since the majority of blockchain games have some connection to the Ethereum blockchain, that means you can use it to sell someone a sword, a planet, a special kitty – whatever you have. It requires a bit of crypto-nerdery to use, but the fact that it exists and does a fairly brisk business says something about how ready people are for digital asset ownership.
Is blockchain gaming the future?
There are dozens more blockchain games and gaming-related projects being built right now, including CryptoSpaceCommanders, Decentraland, Enjin, Blankos Block Party, the Loom Network, CryptoAssault, Spells of Genesis, My Crypto Heroes, The Sandbox, Kingdoms Beyond, Horizon Games, 0xUniverse, Neon District, and more. The few mentioned above are just examples of what blockchain games currently look like.
Eventually, the idea that the work you put into your games should have some meaning outside the game itself might become widespread enough that it becomes the norm for some types of games. As with everything crypto, these ideas are still taking shape, and they’re not quite full products yet, but the general quality of this early generation of blockchain games bodes well for the future.