Web3 game companies have struggled to convince gamers they offer an experience superior to the Activision Blizzards and Ubisofts of the world. The hassle of managing private keys, special strings of digits and numbers that enable crypto transactions, is a tall order for gamers who cut their teeth on cartridge and compact-disc-based games in the 80s and 90s.
Any 90s kid growing up in the affluent West tell you about the thrill of popping the latest version of Tekken or FIFA into their console. The excitement when their TV screen lit up with the game’s intro sequence was palpable, and trips to the nearest GameStop were often the highlight of the summer holidays.
Moreover, after finishing a game, you could sell it. In addition, lists of so-called “cheats” enabling quick completion were often the subject of lunchroom chats.
Gamers Abandoned by Studios Making a Quick Buck
Later, the proliferation of internet connectivity saw online vendors resort to new distribution methods that slowly deprioritized user engagement. Slowly but surely, gamers clamored for greater autonomy. Then came Web 3.
The advent of the first programmable blockchain in 2015 redefined the decentralization of money. It also changed the way we view what we own.
Gamers stuck in siloed ecosystems were suddenly intrigued. Maybe they didn’t have to tell their families they spent $100 on a virtual weapon upgrade.
They could sell them on the blockchain, and no one would be the wiser – no big deal. The price to pay? Managing wallets, private keys, and crypto addresses.
Gamers have always been more tech-savvy than the general populace, so blockchain shouldn’t be much of a leap – a walk in the park. Right? Wrong.
It turns out Web3 has many challenges, not the least of which is usability, according to Jérôme de Tychey of Web3 gaming company Cometh. We chat with the Ethereum-France president about some early mistakes by Web3 game developers and how cutting-edge key management solutions paint a brighter future.
But first, we must understand how we got here.
How Blockchains Evolved to Host Applications
Founded in 2015, Ethereum was the first blockchain to support smart contracts. On Ethereum, smart contracts encode logic for finance and other decentralized applications using a special programming language.
An Ethereum developer activates a smart by sending it to a specific address on Ethereum. Later, Ethereum participants can use their own addresses to interact with a smart contract.
To send funds to a smart contract, a user must sign the transaction with a string of digits and numbers called a private key. A private key authorizes outflows from a crypto address.
For most crypto transactions, crypto wallet software signs payments. Vendors create a seed phrase, a group of 24 words they can use to help users recover lost keys. A user who loses their seed phrase loses access to their crypto.
Blockchain Game Developers Forgot About Gamers
Until now, blockchain gaming companies have trusted gamers to protect keys governing access to in-game assets. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation gamers who are expected to be tech-savvy, right?
Read about early NFT-based Web3 games here.
Not really, according to Jérôme de Tychey, founder and CEO of Cometh and President of Ethereum-France.
“… Web3 user management is a two-step process; first, you get the player a public key, then you let the player interact with your game through this key.
Hard questions pop up once the player has to use [their] key, how to pay for gas? How to relay the transactions? How to update the game from what just happened on-chain?”
These questions merely scratch the surface of deeper problems plaguing blockchain games. According to de Tychey, game developers tried to make life easier for gamers through various techniques, including storing the key in relatively safe locations and using remote key management,
These are, at best, workarounds, he says. A more robust solution is to wrap the private key in a smart contract that manages security through account abstraction.
Account abstraction allows a gamer to manage their addresses and program them with better experiences using a smart contract. The smart contract creates a customizable wrapper with information that can be ported across different apps. An account represented by a smart contract is superior to an account represented by an externally-owned address.
Using this identity wrapper, users can define customer security rules and build transaction queues to execute complex trades. They can also create backup keys that will authorize the creation of a new key.
High-value transactions could be verified with multiple keys, while low-value transactions could be authenticated using a single key. The smart contract could allow gamers to create a trusted session to authorize many small transactions.
Verifying these transactions separately would disrupt the immersion. According to Michael Sanders of Horizon Blockchain Games, Web3 developers must focus on preserving immersion to get gamer buy-in.
Blockchain is a Means to an End for Game Developers, Says de Tychey
Ultimately de Tychey says gamers must not know or care whether their games are Web2 or Web3. Instead, they should focus on enjoying the experience.
“Blockchain…can pose constraints on the gameplay when heavily used, but it also opens new territory for game designs. As a testimony to this philosophy, we refuse to build our games on play-to-earn models. Instead, we believe in blockchain for its capacity to strengthen the link between players and their favorite games.”
Sanders agrees. While first-generation Web3 games prioritized economics, new games can learn from their mistakes and focus on the experience.
According to Sanders, second-generation Web 3 games will likely trend toward lighter We 3 integrations like on-chain exchanges of in-game assets. The main gameplay will still run on traditional Web2 architecture, like cloud platforms.
Fashion brands can place tradable non-fungible tokens in virtual environments on Web2. AAA Gaming studios like Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard may eventually allow assets from different titles within their own catalogs to be traded.
Ultimately, both Sanders and de Tychey agree on one thing: Blockchain games must prioritize “games” over “blockchain.” Otherwise, they will die a slow, painful death.