Blockchain is slowly infiltrating into industries relevant to its original concept, such as finance, but also widening an entrance in spaces where it was once just a peripheral, novel presence. From healthcare to agriculture, the distributed ledger technology is having a profound impact, and it’s not just because of cryptocurrency or speculation. Ask a blockchain expert where the next disruption will take place, and “inside your favorite video game world” is likely to be the answer.
Many industries are finding uses for blockchain’s uncanny ability to help digitize assets and value materialize. Denominating value in the form of data transmissions is useful for countless sectors, not the least of which is big data. Currently, big data companies must watch from the sidelines as user data is not only made more tangible but also more accessible. This is because blockchain platforms have helped to wrest control of user data from centralized authorities, instead empowering users to choose what to do with it. This has a special relevancy to video games as well.
Data generated by users on the blockchain is free from being immediately owned by the platforms, services, or applications that host users. The idea that a user of an app—or a player in a video game--owns the data generated by their activities is valuable, and it’s created brand new dynamics in the gaming industry where they’re sorely needed.
Blockchain Busts the In-App Cartel
Industries tend to stagnate when there isn’t new, foundation-level innovation. Videogames are a pertinent example. Though they are now offered digitally without discs or cartridges, these are hardware-level upgrades and don’t speak to the nuanced relations between video game players, developers, publishers, advertisers and others.
When defining the relationship between players and publishers, payment is black and white. There are just two models: games that are free and harvest player data (mobile games mostly) and those you’ll pay cash for in some way. This could be a onetime physical or digital purchase, a subscription, or even the newer more controversial in-game purchase model.
Blockchain creates a new, enticing grey area with the idea of players owning their own data, and it could overcome this particularly nasty gaming trend: in-app or in-game purchases, features, and upgrades. Also referred to as “pay-to-win”, this model is reviled for two reasons. The first is simply that you have to pay, and the second is that payers get an advantage over purely skill-based players who might otherwise have to put in hundreds of hours to get the same loot or powers (or who don’t have them at all). A third reason to dislike in-game purchases is the penchant for fraud.
Mobile gaming companies recognize that in-game purchasing is an idea that is enticing for younger gamers in particular and so they’ll often make it easy to accidentally purchase in-app gear or levels with the credit card attached to one’s mobile app store. This usually belongs to their parents, who rarely have a means to seek justice. Blockchain ideas will put this ugly practice to rest, with companies like Zinc already developing a solution for using one’s data to pay for in-game loot instead of with cash. Zinc makes it possible to share data or watch short in-app ads and receive Zinc coins, which can be used as in-game currency, for example.
Zinc addresses a large set of problems, other than “I don’t want to pay for items in my favorite video game”. It also intends to stop the emergence of in-app models that are intended to target unknowing children, because one’s parent can have them play games on Zinc’s network, where the data-donating model precludes the existence of in-game cash purchases.
It will also improve the relationship between advertisers and players for both groups. With gamers willing to share their data and give feedback if they know a chest full of rare armor is in their future, it’s a great opportunity to glean deeper insights and therefore reduce needlessly intrusive ads elsewhere.
LeviarCoin is another contender in the sector that is employing blockchain to create a framework for application developers who plan to offer in-app purchases. Developers planning to offer in-app (or in-game) purchases can use the LeviarCoin ecosystem to integrate more secure, cryptocurrency-based payment solutions directly into their platforms. This includes exchange integration with APIs, so one might soon be able to pay for the secret level of Angry Birds with Bitcoin, for example.
Building Bridges Between Players and Developers
In the world of video games, the discrepancy between what players want and what they get is at its widest chasm ever. Frustratingly enough, Electronic Arts was rated the worst company in America twice in a row, yet still earns billions on the backs of players who still agree pay to get the experience they should have gotten in a single bundle. This will doubtlessly be diminished with blockchain’s mainstream introduction to the industry, and it isn’t hard to imagine a game like Fortnite including an option for players to donate their data as feedback to earn rewards that were once available for cash exclusively.
As players are given a greater share of the value generated by their own fandom, new dynamics in the relationships between themselves and content providers will emerge. This is going to be big in the gaming world, but blockchain still has an uphill battle to face. The reason people still preorder games from EA is that there is a dearth of other options, even from studios that aren’t using new technology. Gaining a foothold will be difficult, but all it takes is a single success story. Fortunately, blockchain is encroaching on EA’s territory slowly but surely, so it could be a matter of months—not years—before games with decentralized elements change the industry forever.