The use of blockchain in games has fizzed into the sky so quickly, releasing such an almighty explosion of light and cash, you could be forgiven for wondering where the major publishers are. After all, many of the most prominent companies in the gaming industry are infamous for turning a profit and getting their hands in players’ wallets. So, why are they not darting around under this gaming-based money explosion with their arms outstretched? Well, it’s complicated.
If you follow the blockchain gaming space closely, you’ll notice it is expanding like a universe. Axie Infinity has over $2B in sales, Alien Worlds is approaching 1,000,000 monthly users, and the amount of money up for grabs could put you on the Forbes rich list. The result of this unprecedented growth has been an influx of indie developers, each looking to take advantage of this unusual opportunity. However, the major publishers are still nowhere to be seen, which might seem surprising, but there are some fundamental reasons for their reticence. This is far from an exhaustive list, but here are the three overarching rationales.
1. Very High Risk, High Reward
As the gaming industry has grown from small child to Olympic bodybuilder, there have been a number of changes in the overall philosophy of key publishers. The amount of money in play means decisions are not made on a whim and what appears to be a highly hierarchical structure has lead to risk aversion. That is, innovation is only welcome insofar as it is financially justifiable. Blockchain technology and the crypto industry is anything but a safe bet.
The volatility of prices, the ever-changing landscape of preferred chains, and the market being largely a new and unknown entity are just a few deterrents for major publishers. The financial outlay to have blockchain integrated into upcoming (or even existing) games would be significant too, and that’s once a reliable system has been developed to allow proper integration in the first place.
At the moment, blockchain gaming represents very high risk, with the potential of high reward for any sizeable project. The problem is, the risk is doubled down on when you consider that the high rewards could be short-lived as the appetite for blockchain games may change rapidly. That isn’t to say people will stop wanting Play to Earn games, or that blockchain won’t solve innumerable problems in gaming, but that the most fitting and appealing genre is entirely uncertain with any view to the long-term.
It’s an uncomfortable, “bottom line” situation at present, with directors, board members, and shareholders wanting evidence-based profit center games, not wild moonshots. If a big player is to announce the first mainstream blockchain game, it is most likely to come from one of the titans where money isn’t always the bottom line, like Amazon, who is still trying to secure a foothold in the industry.
2. The Tech is Too New
Many of the reasons for major publishers to have not yet pulled the trigger on integrating blockchain into their games circles back around to risk. Blockchain technology is so new that it adds another element or two of risk into the equation. For instance, major developers producing AAA games have requirements far above and beyond that of the indie developers with humbler intentions. For large-scale, intricate projects, the tools simply do not exist yet. While gaming-centric protocols like Enjin have SDKs for Unity, that will not suffice for the enormous development projects these publishers are used to overseeing. This is all the more problematic if they’re looking for blockchain to be a fundamental part of the game as opposed to a feature.
The development of a AAA game is expensive, time-consuming, and with most new IPs, risky in and of itself. The addition of the need to develop many of the tools necessary to utilize the new technology before they can even begin development of the game just raises the stakes. If a leading publisher wants to create the first noteworthy, AAA blockchain game, they will have to hook some fruitful partnerships in crypto and be willing to empty a number of their coffers.
3. The Indie Developers Can Beta Test Blockchain Gaming
The change I mentioned at the end of section one — that large developers appear to be risk-averse now that there is so much money on the table — has led to a knock-on effect. Have you heard the quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal?” Well, something akin to that has resulted in gaming. The best example of this is the rise of the battle royale genre.
In 2012, a mod for Arma 2 called DayZ was made and was the first battle royale style game mode similar to what is popular today. This led to PlayerUnknown: Battlegrounds (PUBG) and then the society-altering, cult standalone battle royale, Fortnite by Epic Games. Since then we have seen more or less every major publisher join Epic Games in cashing in on this trend; Electronic Arts with Apex Legends, Activision with Call of Duty: Warzone, and so on. The new system appears to be for the major publishers to wait for indie developers to hit one out of the park, then either take the idea and throw money at it, or just buy the game outright.
This isn’t a criticism of the behemoths, it’s good business, I’m sure. But, if they are waiting to see a genre succeed before investing in it themselves, they’re unlikely to throw money at the foetal but volatile world of blockchain gaming. Instead, the indie developers can beta test blockchain gaming, and then the successful projects can be bought or drawn from, mitigating the risk. Aspiring indie developers ought not to be put off the space on those grounds, however. There is a rare opportunity with the potential for unimaginable riches and success if you are to create a successful blockchain game.
They’re Not in the Game Yet, But They’re Watching
Now, this isn’t to mistake inaction for disinterest. No industry could see the sudden influx of money and players like gaming has through blockchain and avoid the attention of those at the top of it. Every large publisher will be looking into blockchain and watching the new substratum of the industry with great interest, and perhaps they are even more active than that. For instance, Electronic Arts has blockchain and NFTs in its long-term strategy as mentioned in multiple of their job listings. The titans may not have skin in the game quite yet, but they’re watching.
I can’t help but wonder, which publisher will pull the trigger first, and just how valuable might that be?