Computer games have come a long way since Pong, a two-dimensional arcade game, arrived in 1972 and enthralled players with a simple yet immersive virtual experience.
Thanks to technologies such as virtual reality and cloud computing, more people have jumped into the gaming arena, growing the gaming industry into a juggernaut valued at US$198.4 billion (S$285.1 billion) in 2021.
Yet, one thing has not changed in the past 50 years of trailblazing transformations – games are still “islands” where the virtual experience starts and ends. In other words, players cannot carry over the experience from one game world to another.
Now, blockchain-based games promise to change that by creating a form of “persistency” in such game worlds.
The idea is to let gamers own and keep the in-game content that they create, such as the treasures they pick up, characters they generate and friends whom they have made online.
Doing so means gamers can retain the items they have collected in a game and use them in another, different, game title.
Last September, the online fantasy game Mir4 had more than 5 million active players, according to Active Player. That is half a million more than when it launched about a year ago.
Mir4 runs on a blockchain platform created by Korean developer and publisher Wemix. Today, there are 70 game services on the platform.
The decentralised nature of the technology means that anyone can own a virtual asset in a game, be it a character or in-game item, in and outside of the game’s world.
In other words, when a player finishes or completes a game, the items do not simply disappear or become useless. Instead, they exist on a blockchain network that is accessible by the gamer as well as a gaming community anytime.
The idea of ownership will be increasingly important in the years ahead, said Mr Henry Chang, chief executive officer of Wemade, which also owns Wemix.
From personal data to other virtual assets generated by their activities online, people will increasingly want ownership of and utility from their own data, he notes.
In the future, Mr Chang says this means that players can bring their digital items to a new game and continue playing with the same “assets” that they have earned or collected in earlier games. Yet, there have been pushbacks by many gamers about blockchain-based games, as these titles tend to be built around “farming”.
Mr Chang pointed to the negative association of blockchain games with play-to-earn games, where players can receive rewards with real-world value.
In Mir4, he stressed, there are rules set up to prevent players from spoiling the game and distorting the economics of valuable virtual resources.
“We can set up rules such as the maximum number of items that can be mined for a day or by a certain user per day,” he said, adding that this encourages gamers to be more engaged with the rest of the game’s content, such as in-game quests that also rewards players with items and experience points.
As the gaming industry grows (which saw explosive growth during the pandemic), Wemade expects developers and publishers’ ethos on both rewards and entertainment to adapt.
For many in the industry, this may also be a time to rethink the way they create tomorrow’s games and how they wish to engage gamers in the future.
Instead of simply building the biggest and best “island” that locks players in, they have to find a way to create an open world that keeps players engaged over a longer period of time.
Mr Chang likened this to multiplayer online games from more than 20 years ago, which many in the industry had doubted would be a success.
“Back then, if you said you’re a game company, you have to do the best content,” he recalled. “What’s the point of gamers coming together online – this was preposterous.”
Now, almost all modern games allow for a form of multiplayer interaction, whether it is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft, or a casual game like Clash of Clan, he notes.
The same will happen with blockchain-based games, he argued, adding that he believes that the technology will become mainstream in the years to come.
“Most of today’s gamers still don’t have ample experiences of having ownerships over their in-game items and other virtual assets yet,” Mr Chang says. “But once they realise what these inter-games portability means, they won’t want to go back to the games of old.”
For more information about Wemix's blockchain platform, click here.