At the start of the year, Web3 games such as the play-to-earn Axie Infinity were grabbing the headlines for enabling gamers to fight virtual battles online and win earnings in cryptocurrencies.
This, many declared, was the way forward for gaming, just as cryptocurrencies were expected to replace fiat money in many of today’s digital transactions.
Blockchain technology could also help turn many in-game items into non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that could be traded, exchanged and “owned” by players.
Fast forward 12 months, however, and the outlook for many Web3 games today is a far cry from the rosy one before.
High-profile hacks, for example, on Axie Infinity where US$600 million were wiped from the game’s economy in March, have made gamers wary of the risks involved in investing so much time and money in a title.
Then, there are the scams. Just like with headline-grabbers like the FTX collapse in the cryptocurrency world, many Web3 games that were almost always linked to NFTs and cryptocurrencies were not immune from “rug pulls” or “pump and dump” schemes.
A rug pull, as a Polygon article describes it, is one where a company takes the money from excited investors only to run off with it. Pump and dump, like with regular investments, means having a high-profile celebrity or even a fake news release drive up the value of a stock or other digital asset only to dump massive volumes of it, usually killing small investors.
While these are not as common in Web3 games as they are in NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the general perception of all things Web3 has fallen drastically in the past 12 months because of their image of a Wild Wild West.
The biggest problem for Web3 games, in particular, is that many gamers do not see value in what the technology promises.
The idea that a gamer could truly own items such as his game loot and even his online character hasn’t really taken off, perhaps because of the volatility that has accompanied many of such blockchain-enabled platforms.
After all, if an exchange like FTX can go bust overnight and lose all the money people placed on it, what more a game world where you’ve spent hundreds of hours on?
And what about the idea of using items from one game in another? Potentially that could work, say, if they are in the same genre and if developers go on a common, open platform for these in-game items to be interchangeable. If you can have crossovers in comics and movies, why not games?
Some are more optimistic of this idea. South Korea’s Wemade, for example, is a success story with its Mir4 Global massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORG), which drew 1.4 million concurrent users last year.
Wemade believes the way to keep gamers engaged long after a title is completed is for them to own the items they have earned. This way, the experience is not one-off but can be continued as new game content arrives.
If anyone has figured out how to make games work, it’s probably the Koreans. More than two decades ago, as they’d tell you, nobody had believed in multiplayer online games but gamers there were among the first to embrace the competitive element involved. Today, e-sports are no longer the domain of fringe geeks but big-money events.
Yet, the future is not always a repeat of how past events pan out. Web3 or NFT efforts elsewhere by top game studios and publishers, such as Ubisoft, have been rebuffed by gamers.
Not surprisingly, many gamers have taken a dislike to any “intrusion” to their game worlds by what they view as opportunists and gold farmers who play to earn rather than truly enjoy a game.
Herein lies the biggest problem. While the new Web3 technology is capable of empowering gamers, as its proponents say, its development has been dominated by the idea that you need to or can make money off a game. Even Wemade’s game, for example, lets users swap in-game earning for its Wemix tokens.
What happened to the joy of enjoying a game itself, say, by slaying a monster or building up a powerful character, without thinking of swapping that achievement for some blockchain-backed token?
Is it possible for both to happen at the same time? Perhaps with a lot of regulation of the in-game economics, to prevent the game world from being distorted by opportunists who destroy the fun of the game.
Plus, tougher cyber defences need to be in place to guard against the regular hacks that occur. If a gamer were to truly “own” a piece of a game, then the value of that will only grow if it’s better safeguarded than today.
Otherwise, many gamers will continue to question why there is a need to change from what are transient but still engaging experiences in today’s non-Web3 games.
Yes, the technology is sound but its promises have needed a reality check. 2022 may have provided that important correction.