Since the emergence of Ethereum as a general purpose blockchain platform, decentralized application developers have realized that games can be implemented on the blockchain.
There are two main properties blockchain technology brings to gaming. First of all, assets, such as game characters, can be uniquely represented on the blockchain. They can have an owner, hold a value and even be traded. Usually, this is achieved with non-fungible tokens. Other game items, such as interchangeable weapons, can be implemented as fungible tokens and may also be traded. The recently beta-launched game CryptoFights is a very good example of this. The game represents role play game-style characters that can engage in battles in an arena as ERC-721 tokens on Ethereum.
The second reason for implementing blockchain-backed games is the transparency of the transactions. Game logic implemented in smart contracts can be verified by anyone. This reduces cheating and gamers can have confidence in the correct execution of the game, particularly, if prices and valuable game assets are involved.
A slow start
Whilst crypto gaming has been a popular idea for a while, it has taken some time for the community to come up with decent gaming experiences. Early games were simple Ether betting games, such as King of the Ether. This type of gambling games keeps appearing on a daily basis. A recent announcement promised a game that consisted in paying to press a button. If the button is not pressed after a certain pre-defined time, the accumulated bounty is paid out to the last “button presser”. Obviously, the house takes a cut. Some of these “games” are mere money-making schemes or even Ponzi schemes, others are just plain boring.
Things improved when games started to take advantage of the blockchains ability to represent value in the form of non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. Collectibles are the latest trend. Of course, as with everything else on the Internet, cats quickly managed to dominate. Cryptokitties allows users to collect and breed images of cats. At the peak of the hype, the popularity of the game caused major transaction backlogs on the Ethereum blockchain. Where there are cats there are copycats. You can now collect and trade everything from crypto punks to crypto Japanese porn stars.
Collectibles are an important step and they highlight some unique properties of decentralization, but let’s face it: the fun of collecting cat pictures can wear off fairly quickly.
Gamers are used to storylines, graphics, and strategic decision making. This type of real game is hard to implement on the blockchain, because of limitations in transaction throughput, confirmation time and transactions fees.
The fact that crypto gaming is difficult to implement does not negate the advantages outlined above. Projects, such as the before-mentioned CryptoFights, are working on clever off-chain optimization, using the blockchain for those functionalities for which it works best.
The gaming use case is also pioneering blockchain scalability solutions, with Loom Network providing an optimized sidechain implementation ideal for games.
Crypto gaming clearly is a use case worth keeping an eye on, whether you are a gamer or not.