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    Sony’s Gaming Blockchain Patent Shows Something Important

    "With verifiable ownership tracked, a market will form for in-game items used by top streamers and esports professionals. Imagine, S1mple wins a CS:GO Major tournament with an iconic AWP shot through double doors. That AWP — the exact gun — could then be sold to collectors or gamers. Where esports memorabilia diverges from physical memorabilia is that the buyer can then use and enjoy the item without eroding its value; I doubt whoever owns Ali's gloves from Rumble in the Jungle is using them for sparring."

    Sony has filed a patent that has caught the attention of many in Web3, the title of which is: “Tracking Unique In-Game Digital Assets Using Tokens on a Distributed Ledger.” However, something that is contained in this document is interesting in a deeper sense than just the use of blockchain.

    Sony Interactive Entertainment is undoubtedly one of the premier forces in the gaming world. Not only do they create the PlayStation, with the latest iteration — the PS5 — an unprecedented success, but they house many gaming studios too. A personal favorite of mine is Polyphony Digital, creators of the PlayStation-exclusive Gran Turismo series, but there is also one of their most recent flagship acquisitions, Bungie, of Halo and Destiny fame.

    While many of the gaming masses may believe that blockchain technology was merely part of a phase and is now vanishing, those working in Web3 know differently. Gamescom proved to me that more or less every big name in the industry is working on how to integrate blockchain and what Web3 might mean for their business, and news is cropping up daily as these organizations make their intentions public. Sony has been neither rejecting nor overly outspoken about blockchain, but rumors and patents have filled in some of the blanks. In fact, just a few months ago, Sony Music filed patents involving NFTs.

    Photo by Alexandros Athanasopoulos on Unsplash

    Now, Sony Interactive Entertainment has filed a patent that pertains to gaming.

    Sony’s In-Game Digital Assets Patent

    The patent, filed in the U.S, is called “Tracking Unique In-Game Digital Assets Using Tokens on a Distributed Ledger” and can be viewed by clicking the link. Below is the abstract:

    A system and method for tracking digital assets associated with video games. The digital assets may be in-game digital assets, such as in-game items or characters. The digital assets may be video game digital media assets representing moments of gameplay of a video game, such as video clips or images. The digital asset is created, and a distributed ledger tracking a history of the digital asset is created and stored across devices. A unique token for the digital asset can include a unique identifier and metadata identifying properties of the digital asset. Changes to properties of the digital asset, such as ownership, visual appearance, or metadata, can be identified in a request to update the history. A new block can be generated for, and appended to, the distributed ledger identifying the changes to the history of the digital asset. The new block can include hashes of previous blocks.

    — US20220358450 – Tracking Unique In-Game Digital Assets Using Tokens on a Distributed Ledger

    To be clear, what is being described here, without using the word, is blockchain. I’m not sure why the term was omitted from the abstract, but it is used nearly 50 times in the full document. So, Sony is looking at utilizing blockchain technology and tokens, including NFTs, in their gaming ecosystem, and that’s great — albeit expected — news.

    There is talk of true digital item ownership, cross-game items and interoperability (within Sony’s bubble, I suspect), an increased level of transparency in trading between players (the removal of the gray market), and improved gaming economies.

    There is also a curious focus on “moments”. While this isn’t the primary area I want to discuss, it is something that I haven’t seen much attention paid to in the industry so far. These “moments” span everything from what is in essence, on-chain screenshots, to interactive game elements. The following — mentioned while discussing the value of “moments” as digital assets — is a staple in one of Sony’s prized pigs, Gran Turismo:

    …the digital asset can include a “ghost” that can be imported into a game in a way that is visible to a player of the game. The ghost can follow a path of a previous player’s gameplay. For example, in a racing game, a ghost can show us in a player’s game following the route that another player raced at the pace that that player raced.

    — US20220358450 – Tracking Unique In-Game Digital Assets Using Tokens on a Distributed Ledger

    Putting screenshots, replays, video clips, and more user-generated content on-chain is an interesting approach and I wonder if this is part of a larger vision for how Web3 content will be stored.

    I’m pleased to see all of the above, but there’s one element of this patent I want to discuss in particular.

    Sony and the Rise of Digital Provenance

    Since 2018, I have relentlessly banged one drum when it came to unpacking the value of blockchain technology to the games industry: provenance. There are a plethora of ways in which Web3 can and will revolutionize gaming and most are discussed at length (true ownership of in-game items, transparency, creator support, and so on.) However, the element I believe to be wildly undervalued is the provenance of digital items, and Sony, with this patent, appears to be tapping into exactly that.

    — US20220358450 – Tracking Unique In-Game Digital Assets Using Tokens on a Distributed Ledger

    Provenance is the history and origins of an item and the record of ownership of an artwork, for instance. Blockchain provides this by default, although more information can be layered on top of the basics of who owned the item and on what dates it changed hands. Sony is looking to do exactly this with detailed histories and more metrics tracked. This includes modifications made to an item, changes to visual appearance, even actions taken with it, like getting a kill.

    — US20220358450 – Tracking Unique In-Game Digital Assets Using Tokens on a Distributed Ledger

    This opens up a new world of analytics too. If player characters or accounts become NFTs or utilize blockchain technology in any meaningful way, insightful data can be collected and cross-referenced. The above image shows one mild example: you might learn that you have played with someone before. We have all made in-game friends that have drifted off into the ether, never to be seen again. Websites have been created in an attempt to overcome this, but with little success.

    There is then my go-to example for the benefits of blockchain in gaming, and one I have mentioned in several articles and on the podcast: esports and digital memorabilia. With verifiable ownership tracked, a market will form for in-game items used by top streamers and esports professionals. Imagine, S1mple wins a CS:GO Major tournament with an iconic AWP shot through double doors. That AWP — the exact gun — could then be sold to collectors or gamers. Where esports memorabilia diverges from physical memorabilia is that the buyer can then use and enjoy the item without eroding its value; I doubt whoever owns Ali’s gloves from Rumble in the Jungle is using them for sparring.

    Sony’s roadmap for how the put blockchain technology to work is unknown and a lot of what we can discuss involves some guesswork. Nevertheless, the patent filing is comprehensive and hits on some key markers that suggest Sony’s vision is well aligned with some of blockchain’s chief benefits, even those discussed less.

    Lead image made in part with a photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

    Robert Baggs
    Robert Baggs
    Full-time professional crypto writer and Editor of Token Gamer. Obsessed with MMOs. London based. Primary holdings: WAXP & ENJ. Secondary holdings: ETH & GALA.

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