Okay, let’s keep the intro short. What is going on here?
The @CCPGames Twitter account posted a link to a new project called Project Awakening. Now that’s a cheesy name. The TL:DR; of the website at the moment is basically this:
- new tripe-A game (inside the Eve Universe, but not Eve Online)
- financing of $40 million
- key game systems are supposed to be “on-chain”
- smart-contracts seem to be important
- focus on persistence
- open third-party development
Some buzzwords, some quotes of people. Somewhat this reminds me of CCP’s attempt to make NFTs a thing… which they luckily realized wasn’t going to happen without people caring for it.
Since I already was on Twitter, I decided to retweet this and ask if someone could explain me the benefits of it. My question:
Can someone try and explain to me what options a blockchain is adding to a video game that you can not accomplish with current technology?me
I have yet to find an advantage for the player. At least when I impute that they would be looking for a fun leisure activity.
Oh boy, did I get a lot of comments! Some people get really emotional over it. And relatably so. If you love Eve Online, see the issues, that would need work, and then the CEO of the company making said game seems to be pulling away resources from it, that’s not nice on its own. But when the reason is also a vague project using tech and investors of a rather questionable reputation? Yes, you bet that raises eyebrows.
But let’s have a look at one of the more expansive answers I got. To me, it appears that the author has not played Eve Online for a longer period of time.
DISCLAIMER: Sadly @yarbro_o deleted their tweet while I was working on this article. So you sadly have to take my word for its existence. Another reminder for me to screenshot posts more often.
players […] can transfer [items] […] outside of the game environment.@yarbro_o
That’s the first point that is mentioned. And it’s really the only thing that currently is not possible in Eve Online. However, there is a catch. Most in-game assets would require too much space to be stored on a blockchain. Just like with NFTs, the trading would not really happen with the asset. That would still be stored in a conventional database. And if that database goes down, you may have that entry in the blockchain left stating item#629826879 belongs to user#0397470, but without the context provided by the database this doesn’t appear very useful to me. The solution to that would be to put the whole game “on-chain”. Why that hasn’t been done successfully yet – although there have been attempts – is a rabbit hole you can dive into yourself. Let’s head on.
Scarcity and Rarity: Using blockchain, developers can create unique in-game items that are scarce and rare, increasing their value and desirability.@yarbro_o
Here is a screenshot of a contract with a pretty rare ship called “Bestla”. It’s rare because these ships are only ever given out once, to very few teams who performed well enough in the Alliance Tournament. Players can trade it in the game – not out of it. But very securely via contracts that are created between player characters. AT-ships are also quite powerful for their class, making them desirable beyond their limited number.
So… apparently, developers could just release a limited amount of items with current technology already. I don’t see the need to use a blockchain here.
The blockchain can ensure that these items are truly unique and cannot be duplicated or forged.@yarbro_o
Well, okay. I guess technically it’s just some ship, not the ship. It could be any of the few hundred Bestlas that have been given out by CCP as AT prices. It’s not 100% unique because of that. But it can become such a unique item. It can accumulate kill marks no other ship has. It can be fitted with truly unique abyssal modules. Technically there is the potential for someone rolling an abyssal module that is exactly like another one they created before. Statistically, that’s pretty unlikely.
In fact, I have created such a unique ship myself. It’s not an AT ship by any means. And the hull is just a simple Osprey Navy Issue of which probably thousands exist within Eve Online. But I used that ship for a long time in nullsec. I created a story around it, made a video, and gave the ship a name. The fitting, the kill marks, and the fact It’s missing a big chunk of paint because I never repaired the hull when I docked it in Thera make this item unique to at least some degree.
AT ships combined with fittings, killmarks, and the records in form of killmails are probably as close to uniqueness as we can get in the current state of Eve Online. And to me that’s enough.
Secure Transactions: Blockchain technology allows for secure and transparent transactions, so players can buy and sell in-game assets with confidence.@yarbro_o
I’d like to refer to the mentioned contract above. It’s pretty transparent and secure for the parties involved. If a player gets scammed via a contract in Eve Online, that’s on them for not reading properly. A system can hardly solve an issue that exists outside of it, in front of the computer.
Transactions can be processed in real-time, without the need for intermediaries.@yarbro_o
The intermediaries here would be CCP, I reckon. On a blockchain, the participants running the instances of the ledger would be those. Both provide a platform on which people can create contracts. The difference is that one happens inside a game, the other outside of it. And real-time, yes. Eve has that.
What is left of these arguments seems to be basically one thing. And that’s trading of in-game assets on an external platform. The only big benefit of using a blockchain is – from my limited perspective on it – that a developer of a game can open it up to third parties.
More Realistic Views
A more realistic approach to what the application of a blockchain may mean in the context of video games comes from capsuleer Jurius Doctor. Author of a long article shines some light on past and present of the current situation. I recommend reading it here on imperium.news.
I find two of the mentioned applications especially interesting:
[…] develop systems that do not rely upon turning blockchain into a revenue stream, but making blockchain an integral and required component for security, which increases the value and positioning of new and existing IP. Meaning: if it makes what they already have intrinsically more valuable, it’s good.Jurius Doctor
The security argument is indeed one of the very few that I could get behind myself.
Another would be to establish a protocol or a technology that leverages blockchain and makes the use of their protocol so valuable that they can license it to other studios to improve their products.Jurius Doctor
From the perspective of a developer, that’s a great thing. But both are better sold in B2B situations. The regular customer whose sole intention is to enjoy internet spaceships is rather unaffected by what technology is used on the backend. As long as it works, the majority won’t really care.
Possibly this is the main reason for the issues in communication here. Players approach the blockchain topic from their perspective and the effects it may have on the game. Meanwhile, developers are excited by the new box of tools that they can experiment with. But the tech is new and in many ways unproven. The main concern to me is how much resources have not gone into the development of Eve Online because of this? Could Eve Online have had 50.000 accounts logged in instead of the 25.000 last night if the hours spent on Project Awakening would have instead gone into Eve Online? From the outside one can only speculate.
P2E – Play To Earn
A concept that is brought up since the idea of “crypto-games” is one to earn money while playing.
- Do tasks in a game
- Get rewarded currency
- Use currency to get stuff or convert it to fiat money
This concept always has left me with a lot of unanswered questions:
Who is doing these tasks? How much currency will be awarded? What are the tasks? Is this still a game or is this gamified work? Who pays for it? If a game is a set of rules, how will developers stop automation and the caused inflation? And most importantly for me, hence my original question: Would a game still be fun if it has P2E elements in it?
Is it still fun or would I have to feel miserable because I blew up someone’s ship in PvP and now they can’t use it to make enough money to pay the rent? Will I be guilt-shamed that because of my actions in a virtual world, someone is off worse for real?
I don’t believe I would want to play such a game.
I play games because they are fun. The ISK generated, spent, wasted, or stolen is all play money in a virtual universe disconnected from our real finances. If I lose my ship in a gate camp, I don’t lose the ability to buy groceries.
If you want to dig deeper into how P2E can play out
Axie Infinity is a great search term to learn more.
“A Little More Context”
On a break from typing this, I stumble over another tweet from Hilmar:
Hilmar is mentioning smart contracts in this article a lot. It’s described as a way to organize third-party or user-generated content and add it to a game. I just dearly hope they put some human in the middle to curate these contents… If you look at social media, where users create basically all the content, then moderation will be a major requirement for it to not catch fire.
Just imagine Tamber (caldariprimeponyclub) going rogue or getting hacked and mass-injecting ship skins with political extremist or pornographic imagery. That would make some undesired headlines for sure.
“Smart contracts” may or may be not beneficial to a regular player. Too early to say.
I did not get a satisfying answer to what advantage a blockchain would provide to the player of a video game that plays not to earn money, but to have fun and enjoy themself.
I come to the same conclusion as about a year ago: At least currently, I can’t find a use case that makes a blockchain better than other technologies. I’m open to being convinced, though. Meanwhile, I can only hope that the games I care about – Eve Online and the “unannounced shooter” being developed in CCP’s London studio do not suffer from it.
- Project Awakening website
- Original Tweet by @CCPGames
- Imperium News article by Jurius Doctor
- MapleStory Universe video by NEXON
- Ertschlag sharing his views on his twitch-stream
- Venturebeat article shared by Hillmar
- NFT – Not For Tranquility
6 thoughts on “Benefits of a Blockchain”
Having determined that there is no strong case that the technology benefits the game or the players, I think the next question is “who does benefit from this?” The a16z people aren’t tossing $40 million at a science experiment just to see what happens, and they are doing this specifically to fund a blockchain game given the partners they are bringing with them.
I am, of course, naturally suspicious of any video game project that is first and foremost about a technology and implied business model and they’ll get to game design later.
[…] The Greybill – Benefits of a Blockchain […]
I think you got the generic blockchain spiel, from people who are not really EVE players or experts at blockchain. I thought it’d be interesting if I provided some context, as an EVE payer who left in 2014 and whose interest was recently reignited (by non-blockchain things), I also dabble in blockchain and finance, so those are my credentials.
I will speak as though blockchain is being applied to EVE itself, instead of speculating on the new game, to make it easier to visualize the “benefits”.
The following are ordered from most likely to least likely. Needless to say, execution will be everything. I will add my own counterarguments in order to deepen the analysis
This is the most obvious one and which you’ve covered. EVE was probably the first game to successfully formalize the gold farming grey market, but liquidity flows have always been one way. Converting space-game fortunes to fiat was possible, but very risky, using opaque third parties of dubious legality. This conversion is trivialized by blockchain in terms of security/settlement.
Counterargument: Opens the door to gameplay qualifying you as a worker depending how much your country wants to stamp out blockchain.
Funding player owned UI/UX
EVE has always relied on a wealth of player developed tools to patch holes in the experience. However, those tools often become abandoned as their developers move on or run out of funds to continue development. Greater liquidity flows will allow more player-devs to “skim off the top”, as it were, semi-professionalizing addon development, incentivizing people to continue development or revive/fork defunct projects.
Counterargument: The bethesda model of relying on player mods to fix their games can be exploitative, and same for schemes like Steam Workshop. These things inevitably experience race to the bottom due to exogenous economic forces.
Financialization – Banking
Banking, as it exists in EVE, operates on an honor system. When mediated through smart contracts, banking would be both deterministic and self-regulated, complete with the ability to reliably have ISK Savings accounts that earn interest, banks that make loans for ventures, etc.
Corp funds would be safer if they were mediated by player-designed multi-signatures (wallets that need multiple people to sign off) rather than the in-game tools.
Counterargument: Bankers are ontologically evil.
Financialization – Gambling
During my time, things like casinos or ISK doubling scams were common. They were viable scams because they were opaque and mediated through uncredited third parties. I heard they eventually banned casinos. When mediated through on-chain open-source contracts, these casinos would be more flexible (blackjack in space) and less scammy, as the funds would not be under the control of the casino-runner.
I only briefly looked into the Hypernet and it didn’t make sense to me, until I recognized some on-chain lotteries in its design/function. Think of it as a beta test for what on-chain monopoly gambling might look like.
Furthermore, assets being one chain with reliable fiat values would allow non-players to safely bet on, say, the outcome of wars or the price of ships.
Counterargument: NGL, it sounds dystopian to me too, but on brand for EVE.
Financialization – Derivatives
Probably my favorite potential as a finance-head. Smart contracts can be designed to simulate futures on tritanium. Calls/puts on BRAVE. Corps would be able to sell bonds to raise funding. Deterministically, and with built in default/collateralization requirements.
Players would be able to design trading terminals to manage their market activities, track prices, integrate third-party tools like TradingView. It would be the genuine Stonks-ification of EVE.
Even non-players can conceivably find exposure to in-game economic activity, drawing in more overall activity to create incentives for wars/exploitation/subterfuge/organization.
For the last 20 years, EVE has, for all its innovations, never developed beyond a very extensive 19th century commodity-based economy. Derivatives would bring EVE’s economy into the 21st century.
Counterargument: Please no, we’re already in a recession, I just want to F1, not think about my Tengu as a retirement asset. Also, taxes, regulation, etc. Commodity economy = fun, financialized economy = unfun.
During the heyday of Axie, there were millions of players in third-world countries who only played to arb exchange rates and try to achieve an above average stable income in places dealing with poverty/hyperinflation. These players were often unsophisticated, in the same vein as their original incarnation, the gold-farming sweatshop.
However, EVE is reliant on a massive industrial base of people to click rocks, both to produce “wealth”, and also serve as targets for PVP. In the end, a body is a body and EVE is a better game when there are lots of bodies. And who knows, CCP might be able to entice unsophisticated players into nullsec w-space to inject activity back into those spaces.
Counterargument: For the record, I was opposed to Axie and the original P2E pitch. It was exploitative, and vaguely colonialist. The vast majority of P2E attempts since then have started with exploitative ponzinomics instead of a playable game, which is why I think CCP, of all people, can build something meaningful and equitable with their experiences in EVE/Valkyrie/Dust.
This one is the longest shot. If CCP makes their code bases open source, player-devs would be able to conceivably fork EVE-Online to make EVE Classic or Freespace-EVE, while importing player accounts/assets vastly increasing extensibility of the core EVE experience and allowing the game to survive the death of CCP.
They could do this now, of course, but they wouldn’t be able to cleanly migrate accounts without a credibly neutral settlement layer.
Counterargument: Sounds like dumping CCPs bags on the player base. What incentive do they have to give up control?
That was longer than I expected. To summarize, blockchain adds:
1) Monetary Liquidity
2) Economic Financialization
3) Incentivized Activity
4) Programmatic Extensibility
To existing, successful games.
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Hey, thank you for the extensive comment. I think I understand better now, but the only thing I could see myself liking somewhat is the banking-aspect of this. All the other options seem rather unattractive, considering the potential side-effects.
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I agree, the knock-on effects can either be incredible or dystopian, and not necessarily a “better game” even if they are popular/successful. I sympathize with the “bittervet” critique of “I just want to enjoy my spaceship sim man, wtf is all this stonks shit”. However, I’m also a pessimist and think those days are over, the world has moved on. Even WoW Classic was “solved” within a few weeks. I wrote this mini-essay from the POV of EVE-as-toy-economy rather than EVE-as-pastime.
Going by critiques I’ve read about EVE between 2014-2022, it seems EVE is stuck in a death spiral of poor executive decisions leading to exiting players leading to further decaying systems. An injection of, call it, activity liquidity, I think would help revive its player count even if what comes out the other side is disturbing and unfamiliar. I think the odds are low of EVE ever reclaiming its golden age, but there might be new futures to explore.
Lastly, I think if nothing else, CCP passing development (longshot, tbf) to the players can succeed as much as OSRS. Blockchain provides a lot of infra (coding language, settlement, security, transparency) for extensibility they wouldn’t need to build themselves, given their history of overextending their relatively limited resources, freeing up resources to do needed TLC on, say, the NPE.
Also, I resent both Star Citizen and Star Atlas, CCP going into this space is a dream come true for me, I should’ve mentioned that, I’m definitely biased here.
Timing could’ve been better, but maybe it’s best they didn’t raise billions off of normies in 2021-2022.