At the time of writing, the biggest game in the world is Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption II. As the glowing reviews and accolades pour in from all over the world, it represents the pinnacle of achievement for the traditional gaming industry, casting a wide shadow over the nascent and emerging field of blockchain games. Whilst the concept of blockchain gaming is still in its infancy (Ethereum wasn’t even a twinkle in Vitalik Buterin’s eye at the time when Rockstar’s previous entry in their Western franchise came out in 2010), it does have something in common with the Red Dead series. They’re both the Wild West, where if you’re not careful, outlaws can put you in a world of pain.
In RDR2, this might take the form of virtual lead perforating you and giving you a nice new wardrobe of proto-Jamaican Clothes. But in blockchain gaming, where cryptocurrency underpins many of their offerings, it could be your wallet that ends up hurting after a run-in with scammers.
Decentralised > DecentraLIES
One of the strengths of blockchain technology – its decentralised nature that allows anybody who can code to integrate it – also serves as a means for the unscrupulous to pretend they’ve built (or are building) games bringing the benefits of blockchain, whilst serving as nothing more than a sophisticated hold-up. In an effort to protect us from both bandits and silver-tongued Snake Oil Salesfolk, here’s a basic checklist of things to look out for and avoid when looking at new blockchain games announcing their arrival.
1) Scammers are Down Wit OPP
Last week in the Enjin Coin Telegram group, where a mix of gaming enthusiasts and rabid crypto investors are always on the lookout for the next game in the Enjin Multiverse furthering adoption of the token and the tech, a couple messages popped up featuring a website for a new game that proclaimed they were building a multiverse of games powered by Enjin Coin. Excitement was the default reaction, but as people began to look further into the site and the game, they realised that it raised more Red Flags than a Workers Day Parade in the Soviet Union (a phrase which I must credit to Reddit). Within about an hour of the “news” first leaking, it was confirmed as a scam by an Enjin Coin admin, but many community members had already reached the same conclusion.
The first, perhaps most egregious sign that a game developer might be naughty by nature is a predilection for Other People’s (Intellectual) Property. It’s a lot quicker (read: less work) to build an audience by leveraging existing fanbases of popular media. If a game is named after a popular Netflix show, but doesn’t feature any of the character from that show, that’s suspicious. If characters share the names of heroes from both the Marvel and DC Universes, that’s just silly.
2) Lack of Techspertise
Misattribution of technology is another giveaway that people are just looking for a get-rich-quick scheme rather than building a proper game. If the developers are really going through the trouble to integrate blockchain tech, they should have some familiarity with its concepts and be able to speak about it comfortably and correctly. They should be able to speak on what benefits blockchain tech brings in the context of their game in particular. In the case of the scam game, they said they were storing characters on “the Enjin Blockchain”, which sounds good – but isn’t actually a thing. Enjin runs on the Ethereum blockchain, and people who are actually developing on it would be aware of this distinction.
3) Drive to Purchase vs Drive to Discovery
Whilst the business side of gaming is a consideration for any developer, it’s a bit fishy if that’s the primary purpose of the website. Driving consumers to purchase as the first thing on the website – and a dominant feature over other content that helps gamers discover more about the game (lore, development diaries, team information etc) – should be treated with suspicion. Ideally, some game development is visible before they try to squeeze money out of people – are there gameplay trailers, character design sheets, roadmaps? If there aren’t any escrow payment options or solutions in place when they’re asking for your money, be wary.
All studios should want to make some money off their games, but if they’re really in it for the long haul, it shouldn’t be the goal that they shove in gamers’ faces from the get-go.
4) Too Good to be True?
Another red flag of the scam game was the pricing scale. The amount of ENJ minted into their characters, was exactly the same as the cash value they were selling them at. If something was minted with $10 worth of ENJ, they were selling it to you at $10. In theory this sounds great, but in practice it makes little sense. Part of the point of putting game assets like characters and items on the blockchain (by infusing them with a cryptocurrency like ENJ) is to give them a minimum base value that players can recover by melting the asset if the game dies or they just grow tired of it. Remember though that studios are businesses, and most basic understanding of capitalism dictates that ultimately profit is preferable to loss.
The transparency of blockchain helps gamers see the base value that their assets have from the crypto minted into them. This should deter studios from asking huge prices for minimal mint values, but on the other side of the coin (or token), if a studio claims melt values near or equivalent to the sale price, it greatly minimises their potential for profit. The goal of the melt value won’t usually be a complete refund, but rather a modest recovery of value.
5) Needs More Sauce
In the era of Fake News, we should be discerning about the sources of our information. If you’re in a Telegram group or Discord channel or subreddit, check if the person dropping the news is an established member of the community. In these early days of adoption, the cryptocurrency teams behind blockchain gaming tech are keen to officially promote all the studios and development teams they’re working with. If the news is from a third-party source, check their credibility rather than instantly believing everything they say. Legitimate games should reach out to legitimate platforms for coverage, and have multiple active social channels.
As SDKs come out and independent integration proliferates, and as Initial Asset Offerings become a more popular and accepted fundraising model, these core criteria will become increasingly important to consider, as developers and studios will be able to integrate blockchain solutions without any official contact or support from the likes of ENJ, LOOM, etc. This decentralised development opportunity will give us many more legit games than scam offerings, but it’s always worth casting a critical eye over something and seeing if it all makes sense. In the Wild West of cryptocurrency, you as the individual are ultimately responsible for what games you choose to support, kickstart, or invest in. It’s better to thoroughly vet a legitimate developer than chuck cash at a charlatan. If there are too many red flags around a game, just steer a wide berth around them, and it should be happy trails all the way.