Games utilizing blockchain technology are in their foetal stage, operating primarily as a substratum of mainstream gaming. While there are undoubtedly impressive games in development that have blockchain playing a central role, mainstream publishing houses are yet to adopt it. For the most part, there is a separation of church and state when it comes to crypto in general; save for a smattering of big names dipping toes in the newly famous waters, most development of anything that harnesses the utility of blockchain is at the hands of small companies. Nowhere is that more true than game development, in which it is almost exclusively indie developers.
There is nothing wrong with that, but in today’s gaming climate, indie games are far less at risk of titan publishers overshadowing them. Where once indie games were seen as cheap and cheerful, now they often evolve into behemoths with player bases that would sate even major companies. Steam has of course had a large part to play in this story. So, there is somewhat of a waiting game for a major developer to implement blockchain in an upcoming (or even existing) title. That is most likely to be NFTs, given the recent economy-shaking eruption of interest. So, why is WAX a frontrunner, and what has a collectible card manufacturer from the 1930s got to do with it?
Why Might WAX Rise To the Top?
WAX (WAXP) is a blockchain released in 2017 with a strong focus on being the world’s best decentralized computer game and entertainment network, dubbing itself “The King of NFTs”. While it has a strong developer portal, a cloud wallet, and brilliant infrastructure, it also has a different feather to its cap — one significantly rarer: impressive partnerships. WAX has dApps in the form of games and collectibles, and while there aren’t a wealth of popular games on this lesser-known blockchain yet (although there are a few already), the partnerships for NFTs are of weighty clout.
WAX has NFTs and dApps with Atari, Street Fighter, deadmau5, Godzilla, Leonard Nimoy, Garbage Pail Kids, and several more. Some of the largest intellectual properties to have officially participated in the early stages of the NFT and crypto movement have been on WAX’s blockchain. One particular partnership has only shed a few of its fruits — and arguably its lower hanging ones — but rumblings of the juiciest yields are starting. That partnership is Topps.
The Genius Pivot and the Role Topps Has To Play
For the uninitiated, Topps is a company best known for creating physical trading cards. You know those baseball cards with chewing gum that dominated childhoods for the last 80 years in America? They’re made by Topps. The sports trading cards have been a staple in collectibles, with rare cards auctioning for staggering prices. For instance, the 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $2.8m, and most of the top 10 most expensive cards are Topps-made. They aren’t exclusive to baseball either, with collections for football (soccer), Formula 1, basketball, American football, ice hockey, and even WWE.
Trading cards seemingly do not have the pull they did 50 years ago, however. In an increasingly digital world, many physical traditions have gathered dust or they have been reimagined in digital counterparts. The problem with collectibles, however, is duplication is all too easy. Even if you could limit duplication, how could a digital trading card have any value attached without proper ownership and provenance? Well, that’s exactly what blockchain can provide, and somebody at Topps — somebody who is owed rapturous applause in my opinion — spotted how powerful this solution could be to them. And so, Topps partnered with WAX, and from rough earning estimates from sales numbers and prices, it is already paying dividends.
A company of remarkable heritage and abundant nostalgia may well have crumbled to dust over the next half a century, but instead, you could argue their future is brighter than ever. Their relevance could swell exponentially with the advent and popularity of NFTs, not recede. Similarly, a symbiotic relationship between the digital and physical isn’t unlikely. Topps has already added NFT redemption codes to physical packs of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, so it seems plausible that physical trading cards could attract interest in official NFTs, and vice versa.
Since Topps partnered with WAX, we have waited with bated breath for the drop of Major League Baseball official NFTs, which will likely be a roaring success and rumors suggest are on the horizon. That’s without mentioning NBA trading cards, which given NBA’s Top Shot NFTs have grossed over $230m in sales, will likely draw a crowd. But what does this have to do with blockchain gaming?
Well, there are three angles: non-sporting IPs, exposure, and implementation of trading cards in games. The first and arguably the most exciting are the non-sporting IPs (Intellectual Properties) on Topps’ license roster. We have already seen Garbage Pail Kids and more recently, Godzilla NFTs, the latter of which sold out in a matter of hours. But Topps also has licenses for Star Wars and, in some capacity, Pokemon. The pull these IPs have is utterly staggering and would have new members to WAX’s ecosystem arriving in droves.
This is, in fact, the second of the three angles. The exposure to WAX this could — and I believe will — bring is almost unquantifiable. The fanbases of Star Wars (which does feature on Topps Digital) and Pokemon (which doesn’t currently feature on Topps Digital, but Topps has produced physical Pokemon cards) are bigger than any other of their licensed IPs by an ungodly factor. If they could pull even a small percentage of fans into WAX, the interest in this particular blockchain can do nothing but increase, potentially attracting big-budget games publishers to team up.
The third angle is a speculative one from me: the implementation of trading cards into games. With Topps leading the charge in digital trading cards and collectibles, it’s tempting to imagine uses for them. That is, the next big step for NFTS: utility. For example, you use a Topps NFT inside of a game. NFTs with utility in games is not new and recent titles like Age of Rust have it implemented. But imagine how deep this could go. The popular football (soccer) game by EA, Fifa, already has a coveted and loved game mode by the name of Ultimate Teams. You will have likely seen “pack openings” when they get rare players. It’s hardly a far cry to see these cards as NFTs, even if the cards are pointing towards utility rather than having utility in and of themselves.
Topps spotted the efficacy of blockchain in aiding their business, which had an uncertain future. The interest in collectible trading cards has ebbed and flowed, but in an increasingly digital society, it was caught in no man’s land; they were unable to exist digitally without ownership and interest in the physical cards may dwindle. Blockchain added the provenance and ownership they needed to make official, digital trading cards in the form of NFTs and they have been slowly rolling out collections from their milder IPs, as if to test the water. Given the water seemingly kissed their toes invitingly, hotter IP trading card collections as NFTs seems likely, which could in turn bring more attention and developers to WAX. For those of us interested in blockchain’s value to the gaming industry, that’s an exciting prospect indeed.