It may come as a shock to gamers under the age of 30, but there was a time around 15 years ago the PC gaming platform Steam wasn’t seen as the saviour of PC gaming.
In fact, it was a buggy mess that many people resented having to download. I personally only downloaded it, begrudgingly, when Valve shut off their old multiplayer servers for the original Half-Life.
When we look back, it’s easy to think the adoption of digital media happened overnight. It took years.
Valve and companies like it are where they are today because they bet heavily on new technology at a time when many remained sceptical. It took nearly 8 years for Electronic Arts to launch Origin, their own digital platform, a trend now seen across the industry with the likes of Battle.net, the Epic Games launcher and more.
The fight for digital distribution is over. There’s no room for other players in the market unless they come with the backing and exclusivity of major publishers.
However, the blockchain market, and in particular NFTs, offers a new battleground, one that’s going to change the face of gaming more rapidly than many people might expect.
Blockchain, NFTs and Web 2.0
Back during Steams infancy, major changes were occurring on the web. A period commonly referred to as “Web 2.0” was sweeping the internet. In 18 months, Steam, Facebook and YouTube had all gone live for the first time. Sites moved away from static pages and became focused on interaction and user content.
You might be wondering what any of that has to do with games, but the parallels between the 2004 web and the 2021 blockchain can’t be ignored. the technology is reaching a similar moment in its lifecycle.
The blockchain has been around in its modern form for more than a decade, mostly surviving on the promise of some greater application. Its most well-known application, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, may still be a while from true mass adoption and realisation of their goals, but the blockchain is more than just cryptocurrency and has far more practical applications than simply speculative investment and exchange of money.
NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are one of the more recent trends in the blockchain. Their mainstream attention and adoption has happened far quicker than the original cryptocurrency movement behind Bitcoin, spurred on by a more easily understandable and accessible entry point and the advantage of entering a market that has matured and saturated into the public conscious.
NFTs, Gaming the Power of Utility
So, what does this all have to do with gaming?
The first round of mass media press coverage of NFTs has been far more focused on the art world than on video games. There are many reasons for that. Digital art tends to be a great deal easier and quicker to produce than video games.
It’s also a little more appealing to the mainstream as an overall topic, the idea of owning digital art is a lot easier for mainstream media to write about and understand than the idea of true digital ownership of assets in games.
This coverage has allowed NFTs to gain a huge following, but it has also caused damage to the perception of NFTs in the eyes of some. Many people now see NFTs as nothing more than a way to own a “digital JPEG” that could be easily distributed and copied by anyone, many others are worried about the environmental consequences. Some games media platforms have banned NFT news articles and features completely.
Never mind that you could make the same claim of music since the dawn of the MP3 file, or the fact that the NFT technology is unique amongst its ability to identify and confer ownership, or that most NFTs have a negligible impact on the overall energy cost on the Ethereum network. The war of perception is going to be long, and hard-fought.
These sorts of misconceptions are why I introduced this article by mentioning Steam. The same sort of complaints, problems and concerns around NFTs reminds me very much of the complaints and concerns I had when moving all my games to a digital format over a decade ago.
I was wrong then — I’m still an avid user of Steam, GOG, Origin and uPlay many years later — but sometimes it can be difficult to see the potential of new technology.
It’s going to take time for NFTs to shake up the games industry the way they’ve disrupted our concept of art ownership. Games take longer to produce, and despite some early forays into NFT gaming with titles like CryptoKitties, we’re still very much just scratching the surface of the potential for deep NFT integration into games. The good news is, once the second generation of NFT games start to launch, there’s no limit to how far the technology could take games and the very concept of digital ownership in the future.
Here at RGG, we’re currently working on our second NFT title, Doctor Who: Worlds Apart, after success as an early mover in the space with the AR/NFT mobile title, Reality Clash.
In Worlds Apart, players can buy digital trading cards directly from us, but unlike other games, each of these cards is an NFT, minted using our hard fork of Ethereum. That means our players can take a digital asset purchased as a traditional microtransaction, and attribute ownership. This, in turn, means we can run a full, online marketplace for all our cards.
This is a major step forward for digital trading card games and brings them one step closer to their real-world counterparts. It generates a thriving second-hand market that, unlike physical cards, can become a brand-new revenue stream for game creators. It also provides far greater value and choice for players.
It’s one application, but only a few years ago even this wouldn’t have been possible. Over the new few articles, we’ll be covering how think NFTs could be used by developers in the future.