If this article were to find itself in front of the anti-NFT gaming masses — it won’t, though I hope it does — the community will collectively prolapse with rage. I can read the imaginary Reddit comments already and they’re a blend of links to Line Goes Up and ad hominem abuse. Nevertheless, whether you believe it or not, I’m on your side and I like the fact that gamers are ferociously trying to protect the industry.
I have been a gamer for at least 30 years, and it has been a major influence in my life. It is the industry I hold most dear, it is a hobby, and it informs a lot of my career and business. If someone offered me millions to promote the destruction of the gaming industry, I wouldn’t take it. I want it to thrive and evolve as it has for my entire life. The distance it has covered since my Dad first plonked me down in front of an Atari in the early 90s, defies belief. So, when gamers wage war on exploitative games or practices within the industry, I’ll be right there on the frontline.
Furthermore, I am doing my best to fulfill that role within early Web3 gaming, criticizing projects and developers for the very behavior that traditional gamers take umbrage with. Web3 gaming is flawed and we must fix that, I agree. For example, pre-sale cash-grabs that resemble preordering, absurdly expensive beta passes, an obsession for tokenomics over gameplay, and so on. I even recently called out some of Web3 gaming for operating similarly to Diablo Immortal which has been rightly lynched.
That isn’t to say, however, I agree with the wholesale opinion that blockchain in games is a nightmare, because I do not see it that way. There are plenty of examples of how it could go wrong and how people will try to exploit it, but we ought to take the infant out before hurling the bathwater out of the nearest window. You’d be hard pushed to name a significant invention that hasn’t had a role in something unsavory or illegal. What blockchain offers to gaming is being drastically undervalued by many gamers, but in this piece, I’m not here to convert or point to its potential.
Jaded, Entitled, and Capricious: I am the Modern Gamer
When you were a child, did you ever just develop an unhealthy relationship with a game? I continued to do this far past childhood, but I happen to remember the first time it happened. The game was called Bloodshot on the Sega Megadrive and I would be shocked if anyone remembers it. I was 6 years old, and this game scared the ever-living shit out of me. It was also difficult to complete for 6-year-old me. Nevertheless, I hammered this game daily, going as far as to take my console with me to my grandparents’ house so I could continue playing.
For years, this compulsion to play games over and over was present and it followed me into the likes of World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs where there were mechanisms in place to reward that sort of relentless dedication. Perhaps this mindset of wonder and commitment was born of how fast gaming was moving, or how newly complex games were, but I was fulfilled and excited for what was coming next. I didn’t require all that much and I didn’t expect it, either.
My journey as a gamer traveled from undiluted, wide-eyed joy for anything presented to me, to being critical of the games I bought and played, and suggesting ways they could be improved. This was a natural and healthy path, I believe. I remember buying Age of Conan, another MMORPG, and as soon as it released, I played it to death for a month. I then went to the forums and wrote weighty tomes on how systems could be improved, where the flaws were, what I’d love to see, and so on. This was my instinct when playing any new game: enjoy it and give constructive criticism. My relationship with gaming had matured and I wish the journey terminated there, but the train kept on going.
Now, I will buy and install triple-A games of such dizzying complexity and beauty that my young mind would have short-circuited. If someone had presented 12-year-old me with the game For Honor, I would have existed in it for 16 hours per day until I was of drinking age, if left to my own devices. Instead, I bought it upon release, logged in, got bored of the tutorial, and it has been on the digital shelf ever since. This is far from an isolated example.
I know I’m not alone here, but all I can give is my own experience. Take New World, for instance. Amazon’s first game launch and it was a AAA MMORPG by anyone’s standard. In most regards, that title is a masterpiece. It’s visually stunning, the world is vast, the performance is superb, the combat engaging, the systems are varied and deep… and yet I consumed it for a few weeks, decided it didn’t have some inexpressable quality, and haven’t logged in since. Judging by the Steam player stats, I’m in good company: During the release week, there were over 900,000 concurrent players at its peak. In July 2022, it peaks at around 20,000.
I don’t even care to offer feedback anymore. It was brilliant, but it didn’t offer the many things I would like (competitive PvP, for example) and it didn’t have that quality I can’t pinpoint, so into the bin it goes. Is this reaction my fault? Yes and no. Yes, insofar as I am a jaded, entitled, and capricious shit, so spoiled on the volume of quality games that there is nothing I won’t discard at a moment’s notice. No, in that there are games I play religiously, some of them new, some of them old. So there’s something I’m trying to get at and it’s the developers’ job to innovate their way to my and our attention.
The truth is, we’re experiencing diminishing returns, and something major needs to occur. Can you guess what it is?
Blockchain Is the Next Internet for Gaming
Now, when I say we’re experiencing diminishing returns, I’m not making the age-old mistake of suggesting everything we will invent has already been invented. Rather, gaming goes through phases and catalytic events occur on occasion that change everything. I believe blockchain is that next watershed event.
The closest comparison I can draw is between pre- and post-internet gaming. Before the internet was widely available, local multiplayer was your only option. Gaming catered for it, built with it in mind, and singleplayer took the bulk of the resources in most cases. Then, the internet made it possible for players to game with each other, remotely. There have been few more significant changes in the history of gaming and there is no chance the industry would be the titan it is today without the internet.
In all honestly, I can’t remember if gaming was stagnating before the online multiplayers came to fruition, but it’s certainly possible. Eventually, current systems become explored to exhaustion and while there may be novel games that occur, they will become fewer and further between. For me, gaming has reached that point. We see the same tired projects, mild alterations of the most popular genre, and rehashes of past successes, playing on nostalgia. The industry is growing faster and larger because it is a money-making supermachine and the entry point for a gamer is cheaper and more accessible than ever before. But, I believe we now need that next internet.
I could wax lyrical to you about the merits of blockchain in gaming; the complex economies, true item ownership, the enrichment of the ecosystems orbiting games — but, I’ve covered that extensively. Instead, I merely want to highlight that — if you’ll excuse the crypto meme-language — we are so early in blockchain and NFTs’ roles within games. So early, in fact, that it’s difficult to imagine all the ways in which the technology will be employed. It opens up new planets of innovation, entirely unmined before now. Gaming can simply be augmented with it like it was with the internet and at no inherent loss, as long as we keep developers and publishers in check.
Perhaps I am alone, but I suspect I’m not: innovation in gaming has slowed and to major publishers, the rewards for taking risks don’t justify taking them, so we’ll get another battle royale instead. As Mr. Cooke said, a change is gonna come, and I’m backing blockchain to be it.