A hot buzzword in the gaming industry is the term ‘blockchain’ – there’s a ton of white papers out there about how, for example, players will be able to truly “own” their characters, their IAPs, and be able to liquidate their game assets through the blockchain, if for some reason they become banned from a game server.
Blockchain vs Big Bad Central Servers
A lot of white paper examples on blockchains in gaming use pure hype and extravagant hyperbole. I like to think of this as a kind of pseudo-anarchism – a lot of folks hopping on the blockchain-in-gaming bandwagon want the benefits of highly polished game worlds, without the big bad centralized authority looking down on the players and saying “You can’t gold farm with 8 characters on the same IP!”
That’s kind of what blockchain in gaming boils down to – it caters largely to the grinders and black-market game item dealers. Because, with Blockchain, there won’t need to be a black market for game items, right? Selling in-game items and game accounts will be completely legal and decentralized! Open the floodgates of gold farmers!
Well now I might be the one using hyperbole – blockchain in mobile gaming certainly can have its benefits, but it is on a highly contextual basis. Blockchains in MMOs? Horrible idea – a “decentralized” MMO in the vein of World of Warcraft would not only be teeming with gold farmers wrecking the in-game economy, it wouldn’t even technically be possible, considering that MMOs need to run on central servers.
Crypto-Collectibles – A Preview of a Bland Future
Blockchains in collectible games, however, do have a certain potential – these are also known as “crypto-collectible” games. Currently, it’s really quite difficult to say how well this kind of model would fare in an AAA title, like a Hearthstone card game, as the most well-known examples of “crypto-collectible” games we’ve seen so far are titles like CryptoKitties – which saw a 98% decrease in sales in July 2018.
For starters, blockchain-based games are highly susceptible to technical issues that can plague ICO transactions – or worse, be a cause of them. Continuing with CryptoKitties as an example, CryptoKitties was once taking up 20% of Ethereum’s transaction volume, which led to extremely high congestion and temporary unavailability of Ethereum deposits and withdrawals.
In a nutshell, this rendered CryptoKitties entirely unplayable for a time, as the game relied on its ICO functioning properly for the game to function properly. If CryptoKitties was meant to be an experimental ground for blockchain in gaming, it definitely exposed the drawbacks of such a system in a way not many foresaw.
Blockchain-Based vs Blockchain-Supported Gaming Platforms
Of course, the industry learns from mistakes, and crypto-collectible games may have shown the benefits of blockchain-based gaming if the system is tweaked and refined. For example, the idea of blockchain-supported features and monetization is still worth considering, if games perhaps don’t run on the blockchain itself.
This will become the difference between blockchain-based and blockchain-supported gaming – the former is largely a gimmick, which is prone to technical ICO issues, and honestly an overall lack of gaming elements – as the games themselves largely revolve around ICO speculation and trading.
In blockchain-supported gaming, players can, for example, mine tokens / ICO while playing the game normally – this can be as simple as tokens earned for completing daily quests, or similar. That token can then be used for IAPs within the game, or used in other games on the same platform, or traded for fiat currency (to other players, of course, it’d be absolutely ludicrous to think developers will assign a monetary value to tokens and pay out token-holders from their own pockets).
There’s a handful of platforms being tested for what I’ve described above – Sgame Pro, GameCredits Inc., SGChain (Super Game Chain), CryCash (supported by the developers of Crytek). It seems that blockchain in gaming is inevitable, its just a race to see who comes out with the most stable platform that garners a mainstream audience – because blockchain in gaming still isn’t a mainstream idea yet.
If and when blockchain becomes mainstream, it will be because a truly stable platform was released that gathered the support of AAA devs – who are still on the fence about its appeal. AAA studios aren’t really known as “risk takers”, however – most AAA titles are formulaic, and sequels are planned in advance – so it is up to the blockchain in gaming enthusiasts to prove how blockchain will be useful to the gaming development industry. Sadly, crypto-collectibles like CryptoKitty haven’t really done that, though good ideas were garnered from observing various failures.
So, to answer this article’s headline – can blockchain be used in mobile gaming? – yes, it absolutely can. There’s nothing stopping blockchain, whether its fully blockchain-based or blockchain-supported features, being implemented in the mobile gaming industry.
Although to be honest, blockchain could have a great future in browser-based gaming in the meantime – we can certainly imagine games like Run 2 and surviv.io implementing a sort of token-reward system, especially if game portal websites somehow managed to become involved in crypto.
In any case, the real questions are “can blockchain be successfully used in mobile gaming?”, or perhaps additional questions like “can the mainstream mobile audience get behind blockchain in mobile gaming?” or “will mobile developers find ways to utilize the blockchain in their titles?”, and obviously, that all remains to be seen.