Why Does Web3 Gaming Suck?
It's an easy lob, just hit the damn ball
I haven’t been writing for a while, part of this is having lost a lot of my intrinsic motivation due to the Stripe fiasco with my substack. This has caused me to feel like my hard work can be ripped from me at any moment. A slightly smaller contribution has been due to the rise of ChatGPT which has given me an existential feeling of dread regarding my work and writing. With that being said, I know at least cognitively that GPT—at least for now—has a very dry prose and people read your writing for more of a human connection than pure facts, but the feeling that this is all futile is stuck in the back of my mind. That feeling of yelling into the void is present whenever you write so I know it’s only temporary anyway. I’ve been writing for over a decade and only recently have people begun to read what I have to say so that’s not particularly important. That being said, these are both ad hoc rationalizations of my behavior, I think a lot more of it has to do with being a lazy piece of shit who’s been playing my Switch too much.
First I was playing Dark Souls Remastered because I was in college when this came out and I stopped playing video games entirely during that time period. After a week or so of this, I started playing Ori and The Blind Forest because it was on sale, then well I beat the game in one day so fuck it I have to buy the second one Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Both of which are these fantasy Dreamworks-like Metroidvania platformers. There are some amazing Raiders of the Lost Arc, Crash Bandicoot sequences in these games where you run out of collapsing temples and it was genuinely one of the most fun games I’ve played in years (well, at least since my favorite game Hollow Knight). All of these however pale in comparison to one of the most clever games I have ever played in my life, Tunic.
Tunic, for those who don’t know, on the surface seems like a Zelda clone. The graphics intentionally look like Windwaker; the gameplay is basically the same as original Zelda games and he literally is wearing a green tunic akin to Link’s and his shield and sword look like the Master Sword and the Hylian Shield. What makes this game so brilliant is that it makes no attempt to hide this influence, in fact, this is just a red herring. This game is one part Zelda and second part mystery/puzzle game. The major gimmick of this game is that they don’t tell you how anything works and all of the text is in an unintelligible runic language. As you explore, you begin to uncover pages from the handbook. This handbook is designed to look just like the old handbooks you would find in SNES games. This handbook, is also mostly in the runic language but with some clues on it about early objectives, controls, etc. Reading a guidebook you can’t understand transports you to the feeling you had as a young child playing games while you can’t read and you’re using context clues and pictures to figure it out (or as an adult playing games in Japanese). Everything you learn from the handbook are things that were always available to you. You can use the full functionality of the game from frame one, but you don’t know these things are possible. As you progress through the game, the depth of the world begins to open up and you realize the handbook is filled with clues about what you should be doing as you go along. I won’t spoil anything because I highly suggest you play it, but it’s so brilliant I had to gush about it for a bit.
Since I’ve been in crypto I’ve worked with several crypto gaming companies to varying degrees. The last year specifically, I have worked with three to four companies and it has caused me to put a lot of thought into what should be one of the most obvious blockchain use cases for adoption. Many questions have come to mind, but the most persistent being:
Why The Hell Do All Of These Games Suck?
There have be so many games at this point that have shown up and ultimately you are left with the same conclusion every time. It doesn’t make sense on paper why these games don’t work. They absolutely should. In standard video games, you play the game for fake rewards, what if the rewards were real? It’s such a straightforward premise.
The key reason I believe most suck is because most games start with the crypto component then try to build a game off of it. This in turn gives you something like Cryptokitties. You end up with something that is virtually impossible to use because the barrier for entry is too high. The NFTs are impossibly expensive and everything requires you pay gas fees. In practice, this just means when a community of players (which you need and want) are playing the game, it becomes prohibitively expensive to remain viable. This failure mode is recreated over and over again for about 80% of games so I wont harp on it too much, we’ve all seen it happen.
For games that were able to escape this failure mode like Defi Kingdoms, you end up with a situation where you add gameplay elements to standard blockchain activities. You create in-game reasoning for liquidity provision, staking, etc. You add some quest lines and NFTs for characters and it in theory should work, right? We all enjoy crypto without the gameplay elements because we can get the dopamine fix from making money, so in theory we should also like doing these things when you add RPG-like attributes. This worked for a while actually, until you begin to experience market forces ruining all your hard work for reasons that have nothing to do with the game itself. Which leads me to believe this type of game is not viable because the game should be incubated from external forces to some degree, but not too much because you need to tempt players with the possibility of real life riches for the intrinsic motivation to kick in.
When there’s real market forces and permanent game states, you end up with games with massive communities. Consider pre-blockchain games like WoW, Eve Online and Runescape. We all know of stories where people made serious money selling in-game items. In fact, tons of people within crypto got into it because they were already used to selling items from Runescape. This works in this case, but not in the case of crypto because your economy has second-order effects it has to consider. As long as there’s players, you can sell items from those games for real money because your fiat currency is likely not going anywhere. This makes the fiat vehicle a better medium of exchange for this organic ground-up behavior of the games community. The volatility of the settlement asset in crypto games makes this far more difficult, but you can always just settle things in USDC or USDT so this ostensibly shouldn’t be a long term prohibitive factor.
There’s also of course the complete lack of understanding of the underlying technology. Last year, the narrative was “metaverse.” Everyone was trying to create a UGC metaverse game, but with one exception being Nifty Island, all of the games fixated on the scarcity of the blockchain to create scarce digital land.
This is the stupidest fucking idea imaginable.
Yes, the blockchain allows you to create scarcity and from this scarcity you can derive value, but the point of the metaverse is that it’s a collaborative and interoperable virtual dimension. The entire point of it existing virtually in an online pocket dimension is for there to be infinite resources and land. You can create anything at any scale. By choosing scarcity, over the core functionality of the metaverse, you are grossly misunderstanding the value proposition of a pocket dimension. You don’t need to own land, the moment you put something down on those pixels it is no longer occupied by someone else’s pixels. The metaverse is infinitely expansive and fractal. It’s literally the same mfers that talk about Simulation Theory and infinitely regressed universes that don’t recognize the metaverse would ultimately be our simulation of a pocket universe.
The blockchain should be used in a metaverse less as “scarcity” and more like “permanence.” You should consider the blockchain as ways to catalog, ways to create interoperable items and experiences, etc. So if you have a sword you earned from experience A in metaverse X, there should be a means for that sword to be transmitted across the set of experiences belonging to the subset of metaverses which are interoperable.
The Metaverse—as the name implies—should ultimately be an emergent phenomena which arises from interoperability across the subset of metaverses (lowercase).
Outside of a gross misunderstanding of the blockchain or the internet more broadly, there’s a fundamental failure in building the games themselves.
When you create a game, you need to create a game loop that keeps players hooked.
The core gameplay loop is comprised of some of the basic actions players can take at any point in time, the main mechanics. We expect the player to use them at a certain frequency and conceptually arrange them in a cycle. That’s run and jump in a runner, swap gems and plan in a match-3, etc. Take a rogue-like: the core gameplay loop might resemble something like walk, attack, collect. That’s what you keep doing from moment to moment.
Nathan Lovato - How To Perfect Your Game’s Core Loop
The gameplay loop needs to be something that is fun independently, which later can be further incentivized via tokenomics. This is the reason the easiest and most successful games on the blockchain so far have been increasingly complex casinos. This is the most obvious methodology for creating a financial game. Casino games have a loop that is based on a legitimate game that would be fun even without money, but when you wager per turn in the game you add a level of stakes there weren’t their previously. The core gameplay loop of poker is based on arranging the cards in your hand relative to the flop, turn and river cards. You can also have games that feel a lot more like a slot machine, which would be trading on 100x leverage or playing HXRO (when it existed) which allows you to bet coins on the minute candles of BTC price action and you guess up or down for the candle’s close. These games are easy and fun and the loop is straightforward.
The core gameplay loop for blockchain games which aren’t gambling are often lacking. If the space is going to take off, we need to progress pass this.
You need to understand that a gameplay loop is the most important feature of your game. It can be rudimentary and if it’s good, that’s all that matters. Pong. is move you paddle up and down the screen to hit the ball and you gain points when your opponent misses. The gameplay loop of Tetris is fit shapes into the slots, if you fill a line, its removed and you lose if the stack is too high. Shit even in 2023 there are incredibly simple games with massive reviews. Most recently the indie game Vampire Survivors is literally run around the screen killing the onslaught of enemies with increasingly strong weapons.
In a space where everyone copy and pastes other people’s contracts and rush to create a million derivatives, I am shocked that people have not just taken existing games, then adding blockchain components to them.
You would think, the first games to exist would be standard games where the leaderboard itself is on-chain but the game is otherwise normal. Yet, I don’t think I’ve even seen that happen. I’m going to be generous and say that the reason for this is that people have a sense of pride if they’re going to create a game. They want the game to actually be fun and be representative of their vision, so they don’t want to build something that is a clear grift. Fair. Then we need to consider, what kind of gameplay loop would be native to a blockchain game?
Types Of Web3 Games Which Need To Be Made Immediately
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