Author's own XBox One avatar, uncanny likeness, right?Adrian Bridgwater / Microsoft
Software application developers who focus on building video games for consoles, PCs or smaller handheld devices including tablets and smartphones have a specific set of tools and specialisms that they use every day.
Some game developers will be specialists in graphics, some will concentrate on the game engine itself and aspects of rendering, while others will be dedicated to managing all the different elements of code being brought together from various teams by using Software Change and Configuration Management (SCCM) tools.
But the video game developer family just got one bigger… and it is as a result of blockchain technology.
What is blockchain, again?
As many readers will now increasingly be already aware, blockchain is an immutable (incorruptible) distributed method of creating a digital ledger of financial (or some other valuable resource) transaction data.
Blockchain for games hasn’t been widely discussed; to date we have focused on how it underpins cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (and others) and where it will be able to serve major deployments in both the private sector and in government. Being able to operate a massive-scale database (blockchain purists may prefer to call it a base of data or 'linked list' rather than a database, and they’re arguably correct) of transactions that is inherently robust has massive implications. So how will it work with the games industry?
Blockchain for games
There are a variety of ways blockchain could be applied to video gaming. Over and above its use as a payment mechanism for game purchases (were a cryptocurrency to gain enough traction that we all regularly shopped with it), Bitcoin transactional technology could be used to create and manage in-game currency accounts. When a player wins various rounds, stages, levels and competitions, they are rewarded with coins, gems and other shiny collectibles that signify their ‘level of worth’ in any given game -- and blockchain could be used to manage this backbone function.
Managing director of emerging technology training and education company Binary District is Alena Burdock. For her money (virtual or real) this is not going to be a big area. Burdock asserts that in nearly every case, this type of functionality is little more than a gimmick.
“If you strip out the cryptocurrency element you are left with a 'normal' game. I don't see this approach having a long shelf life. However, it does lead on to a much more exciting application - the use of blockchain to underpin the trading and use of in-game resources and characters. There is a huge market for the sale of characters, weapons and other augmentations in multiplayer and RPGs. Underpinning this market with blockchain could add enhanced transparency and security -- making cheating much harder -- and also potentially open the door to inter-game trading and transfers,” said Burdock.
Her comments are (arguably) painfully correct; anyone who has played Miniclip’s 8-Ball Pool will know that some players have downloaded hugely advanced (or hacked) additional skills that allow them to gain a massively unfair advantage.
Blockchain as a game
There are also some applications of blockchain as a game, in and of itself. Released in 2017, CryptoKitties is a blockchain-based video game where players to purchase, collect, breed and sell various types of virtual cats. This is thought to be one of the first applications of blockchain for purely recreational purposes. It is, if you will, gamified blockchain.
"These blockchain implementation varieties lead us neatly onto the most viable use of blockchain - within online gambling. Currently, 'the house' has an incredible amount of power. Individual gambling companies provide little to no transparency to their players. Developing blockchain-based gambling games would add some much needed certainty and safety. This is the most likely avenue of development for blockchain in gaming and something we will see fully realized within a very short time frame,” said Burdock.
Burdock feels that it is ‘unlikely’ that blockchain will become a special subset of games. She says that realistically, it's going to be used to augment existing games in such a way that the end user will not even realize they are using blockchain technology.
What the market is doing
So with the above applications zones in mind, what is the blockchain game market doing right now and what will it mean for software application developers?
News this month sees Forte, a provider of blockchain-based platform technology for the games industry and Xpring, a developer ecosystem initiative from remittance network technology company Ripple, now come together to form a US$100 million fund to support game developers. The fund will include open source solutions designed in collaboration with Ripple to (the firms hope) accelerate the mainstream adoption of blockchain technology in gaming.
“Blockchain technologies’ key innovations unlock vast potential for nearly all forms of digital interaction. Gaming is a $140 billion global industry driven predominantly by digital micro-transaction economies, which we believe will benefit immensely from the integrity and resilience of blockchain technology," said Brett Seyler, chief platform officer, Forte.
The companies argue that Forte’s platform makes it easy for developers to apply blockchain technology to their games, increasing engagement and monetization with their players. The inaugural fund, managed by Forte, is primarily targeting game developers operating live game economies with over 50,000 daily active users and an interest in using blockchain to unlock support for new game designs and drive business results.
From coin slots to cryptocurrency
As Forte and Ripple noted in line with their news announcement, the history of the games industry is one of reinvented business models.
From coin slot-based pay-per-play arcade machines, to early Atari 2600 consoles and onward to retail boxed CD-ROM games with the advent of PCs and other home consoles, to downloadable games with the advent of the Internet, to free-to-play tablet and smartphone games with the advent of cloud technology.
Game industry development -- and the software application development tools that run in line with it -- appear to go through a paradigm shift of reinvention every decade… and so perhaps blockchain in your game is the next big thing.