In order to have true ownership, the assets and the state (or at least history of actions) must be on-chain.
One of the problems of the current traditional gaming industry is the ownership of a player’s items and more generally, player created content, but that’s for another blog. There is something of a thriving economy of gaming items being traded for real world money. Some people even make a living from buying, selling, and collecting these assets. All of that is despite the fact that the players never truly own those assets.
Players pay to access the game, but all the game items (the assets) are held on the servers owned by the development team. The end-user license agreement (EULA) will likely point out that the game items are not owned by the player. The artwork and the game code are traditionally under a closed-source license too.
Blockchain gaming could be different. In-game assets could exist on-chain with a provably claim to ownership. For blockchain technology to be most effective in gaming, it is not enough to simply associating game items with tokens. I think this concept of provable ownership is also true for many use cases beyond gaming.
A problem: centralized blockchain gaming
Most blockchain games today are centralized. The game assets are on a centralized server which controls the game logic. What makes these “blockchain” games is the existence of tokens on a blockchain that represents the assets. However, there is always that niggling sensation that the tokens might not completely represent the assets we see in game. What if there are duplicates in the front-end despite what we see on-chain?
Worse still, should the development company go bankrupt, the servers will disappear and all of the gaming assets and the players’ histories will disappear too. That would be a disaster for “true ownership”.
I don’t know of a single traditional game where you know exactly how many game items really exist. This isn’t such a big problem whenever the games and item markets are behaving normally, however the problem is pronounced when item duplication runs wild and the price of the items plummet.
This seems like a natural problem that blockchain can solve.
I’d want to be sure that the items I own own can’t be duplicated at will by the game developers or via an exploit. If I own 1 out of N swords, then I must be able to prove that there are exactly N swords at any one time in a trustless manner. To make this happen, game items will need a unique ID (c.f. NFTs). The items would be fungible, but the IDs prove uniqueness.
Why will this be beneficial?
It is not completely necessary to put the game logic on-chain, provided all actions are recorded on-chain. Having a proof-of-uniqueness will help to maintain a healthy economy with the caveat that the assets seen in-game must be provably linked to what we see on-chain. This can’t be done whenever there is a central server that provide the reality of what players see in-game.
This enables a deeper level of trust in a game if it is fully decentralized and hence a thriving economy. Item duplication eventually undermines a game’s economy which then leads to a decline in the player-base.
Provable and Enforceable Ownership
If assets are merely represented by an associated token without proper enforcement then we don’t have a guarantee of ownership. Fortunately, we know that blockchain technology allows us to cryptographically prove ownership of tokens in an open and permissionless system.
If my bitcoin can’t move without my permission, then neither should my gaming assets. Conversely, should I want to sell my assets then I must be allowed to do that. Having the game assets on-chain will mean that this is always possible.
Why will this be beneficial?
I think people will be more willing to help pay for game development when they have the ability to trade their assets. Just think on crowdfunding an indie game via Kickstarter. It isn’t so different to an ICO. People help crowdfund games when they see a benefit to purchasing early: e.g. improved backer rewards.
An additional benefit of allowing item trading is that players can recuperate their ‘investment’ should the game turn out to be different than expect. This is attractive as it can decrease risk. If you spent thousands of dollars on a game, you really want some way to sell the items and lower risk. This is the monetary release that I mentioned above, and I believe this can help indie game developers by allowing players to make larger initial investments because the risk of locked items is reduced.