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A quest for web3 gaming’s home platform
This week's Nexus takes a deep dive into the platform landscape, examining the current options for web3 games and highlighting the most promising contenders
As web3 gaming continues to gain traction, there is an ongoing question regarding the true nature of web3 as a gaming platform that is yet to be fully solved. Game platforms have traditionally been distinct and easily recognizable categories defined by the hardware they employ, such as arcades, consoles, PCs, and mobile devices. On the other hand, the internet serves as a technological foundation that spans across all these gaming categories, without inherently being classified as a distinct platform itself. Consequently, it is even more challenging to categorize web3 since it is a technology built on top of the internet. Nonetheless, certain abstract technologies have successfully managed to establish a kind of home ground, like F2P on mobile or online gaming on PC. Although online gaming and F2P have not remained exclusively limited to those platforms and have gradually expanded to include consoles and others, we anticipate the eventual arrival of F2P arcades, which seems inevitable.
Moving from desktop to native solutions
Taking these considerations into account, let's examine where web3 currently sits within the platform landscape and explore its potential path forward. As web3 initially manifested through wallet and web3.js implementations, the web browser emerged as the primary platform during its early stages. The advantage of utilizing a browser was the ease of instantly reaching a global audience on desktop computers, while the usage on mobile was limited due to lacking plug-in capabilities. Although the browser served as an excellent platform for early experimentation and distribution, HTML5's capabilities proved somewhat limiting in terms of consistently delivering diverse gaming experiences. As a result, exploring native experiences became necessary.
Global platform fragmentation
Early examples of native experiences, such as Axie Infinity and Gods Unchained, were initially offered as downloadable executable files for Windows. Early adopters and those who bought into the NFT hype were willing to risk downloading, installing, running and manually updating these executables, but it wasn’t ideal for mass distribution. The next logical step was the adoption of "launchers," which allowed for automatic updates, making the experience more convenient. However, a significant challenge arises from the fact that different regions and demographics have their preferred dominant platforms amongst desktop, mobile, and gaming consoles. Furthermore, each of these platforms is typically divided between two different operating systems: Windows vs. Mac, Android vs. iOS, and Xbox vs. PlayStation.
Desktop and mobile as most suitable platforms
Consoles tend to be the slowest in adopting new technologies and show the most resistance to change. Both online play and F2P features have been introduced much later in their systems. This makes them less of an ideal potential platform for web3 gaming, which leaves desktop and mobile as the primary platforms, which are predominantly controlled by Valve, Apple, and Google. However, Apple has proven to be highly resistant to web3, driven by excessively stringent security sandboxing standards and a firm hand with getting a 30% share of payment processing. Valve, on the other hand, has expressed openness to the technology itself but is concerned about the dubious activities associated with it. While Valve may eventually embrace certain aspects of web3, it has even demonstrated a willingness to shut down its own technologies, like CS:GO case key trading, to prevent their exploitation in money laundering and alternative payment systems. Another challenge arises from the potential competition between NFTs and the Steam marketplace. Nevertheless, Valve could potentially consider integrating NFTs into its marketplace platform, allowing for its typical fee structure and while also supporting royalty systems.
Android as the potential home platform for web3 games
For the immediate future, three viable options emerge as potential home platforms for web3: Android, Steam alternatives, and web browsers. Despite occasional shortcomings, Android has taken a relatively hands-off approach regarding web3 games on the Play Store. However, this hands-off nature can leave users more susceptible to scams and fraud, which is an inherent risk associated with open technologies. Mobile game developers often exhibit an overemphasis on treating iOS as the flagship mobile experience - however, research conducted using data.ai reveals that the Android versions of various games frequently perform equally or even better than their iOS counterparts. Multiple factors contribute to this, including the number of players and the spending habits of each platform, which can vary depending on genre and demographics. Unless there are significant changes, it seems reasonable to consider Android as a potential home platform for web3 games.
Ultra incentivizing developers via tokenization and resale opt-ins
When it comes to desktop platforms, finding an alternative to Steam becomes a bit more complex. One approach involves game ecosystems that serve as publishers, blockchains, tokens, and more. Gala Games, for instance, has developed a launcher focused on its expanding collection of games. However, this launcher would primarily appeal to players of Gala Games' titles such as Town Star or Spider Tanks. Ultra, on the other hand, is attempting to establish itself as a Steam alternative by forming partnerships with both web2 and web3 games. By including non-web3 games, albeit from smaller developers and publishers, Ultra adopts an interesting strategy to build up its catalog, particularly since many high-quality web3 games are yet to be released. Ultra offers a mix of F2P and premium games, but with an interesting twist - it allows tokenization and resale of games if game developers opt into the system. Allowing re-sale of games does at least give a reason to consider getting a web2 game on the platform over the alternatives, but realistically its primary use case for now will be its web3 game catalog. Ultra already boasts several moderately established web3 games, including Cross the Ages, Undead Blocks, Cards of Ethernity, and Synergy Land. It's unfortunate that there isn't a straightforward way to filter the web3 games, as the platform has the potential to serve as a means to discover new web3 games to play.
Epic Games Store embracing web3 to challenge Steam
Surprisingly, the Epic Games Store, a determined contender to Steam's desktop monopoly, has emerged as an unexpected hero in this context. In its quest to gain an advantage over Steam, Epic has employed various tactics, including the strategy of offering free games. Rather than resisting the web3 movement, Epic has shown a rather accommodating stance towards it. The introduction of Blankos Block Party as the first playable web3 game on the platform marked the beginning, followed by a stream of announcements for other web3 games. Notably, Grit from Gala Games, a relatively recent release, made its appearance on the Epic Games Store, hinting at Gala's acknowledgment that their own launcher may not be sufficient for gaining traction. Superior is another interesting case as the game is also on Steam in Early Access without the web3 aspects, while it’s assumed the Epic Games Store version will. Further, even older games like Gods Unchained have moved beyond their own launchers and made their debut on the Epic Games Store this week.
Preferred desktop platform for web3 games
Although there isn't a straightforward method for browsing web3 games on the Epic Games Store, searching for "Blockchain" on the Epic Games Store seems to yield results and allows users to find games with associated pages on the platform, whether released or not. With the recent addition of the "self-publishing" feature on the store, an increasing number of games are making their way to the platform. Some notable titles include Apeiron, Metalcore, Defimons, World Eternal Online, Delysium, Star Atlas, STG Football, and The Machines Arena, one of the first 3rd party games on the Ronin chain. While being on the Epic Games Store doesn't guarantee increased discoverability, it still represents a significant improvement compared to browser-based games or the need to download executable files or launchers. Moreover, there is Hyperplay, a web3 launcher for the Epic Games Store, which facilitates seamless wallet connection. All of these developments are shaping up to position the Epic Games Store as a strong contender to become the preferred desktop platform for web3 games in the future.
Platforms can be beneficial for adoption
While the presence of a distribution platform for web3 games may not be the most critical element in driving adoption, these platforms offer numerous advantages that should not be underestimated. These advantages include:
Streamlined payment rails: Distribution platforms provide streamlined payment systems, allowing users to make secure transactions using various payment methods, including cryptocurrencies.
Enhanced discovery and curation: Platforms facilitate the discovery of web3 games, helping users explore and find new titles based on their interests. They also curate content, showcasing high-quality games and increasing exposure for developers.
Reduction in fraud: Distribution platforms implement measures to mitigate fraud and enhance security, protecting both developers and players from potential scams and unauthorized activities.
Efficient library management: Platforms offer tools for managing game libraries, making it easier for players to organize and access their web3 games in a centralized and convenient manner.
Ability to identify players across games via platform-based game accounts: One often overlooked aspect is the consolidation of game accounts within a platform. This feature allows web3 gamers and their associated wallets to be uniquely identified across multiple games. While wallets can be easily created for free, creating accounts on platforms like the Epic Games Store or Google Play can involve more work due to the attachment of game libraries and downloadable content (DLC) purchases. As these accounts become linked to wallets, games will gain a better understanding of players' web3 activity across a wider range of experiences.
While there are potential future platforms to consider, such as cloud gaming, VR/AR, it is reasonable to assert that Android and the Epic Games Store are currently the most promising candidates to propel web3 gaming to the levels achieved by F2P gaming. Android's ubiquitous presence and open source nature make it a great candidate for web3 gaming, while the Epic Games Store's developer-friendly revenue share model and large user base provide an excellent opportunity for game developers to reach a large audience. Unfortunately, consoles present certain challenges as a viable avenue to explore for web3 gaming. However, we believe that with the right partnerships and innovations, the console market could also be a viable option for web3 gaming. We encourage fans of web3 gaming to actively support and play web3 games on these platforms to showcase the value that web3 brings to the gaming industry and to help usher in a new era of gaming that is more inclusive, more decentralized and more accessible to gamers all around the world.
Thank you for reading this piece of our weekly series “Nami’s Nexus”, where we look to decode web3 gaming and dive into the intricacies of the industry and beyond. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter to receive more web3 gaming content!