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How to Make Web3 Games Not Suck
Former Riot Games General Manager on How the Blockchain Can Make Video Games More Fun
👋🏽 Hello everyone, gm gm, WELCOME BACK to another edition of the Overpriced JPEGs newsletter, where we’re catching you up on the world of web3, NFTs, and the metaverse.
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We’re on a mission to help entrepreneurs, investors, marketers and creators front-run the opportunity in the world of web3, NFTs, and crypto.
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Today we have a special guest post from Justin Hulog, Chief Studio Officer at Immutable, where he oversees publishing and development of Immutable’s games including Gods Unchained, Guild of Guardians and other soon-to-be-announced titles. Prior to pivoting to web3 gaming, Justin was General Manager for Southeast Asia at Riot Games.
We’ve been waiting a long time, but it feels like web3 gaming is having a moment. From the raging success of DookeyDash – where the highest scoring player was none other than Fortnite legend Kyle Jackson, aka Mongraal, who sold his winning Golden Key for a cool $1.6 million – to Unity’s integration of MetaMask and other web3 tools to yesterday’s NFT-centric Twitter post from prominent game streamer Dr. Disrespect, it looks like web3 games are finally starting to crossover into the mainstream.
At Immutable we’ve also seen player activity and interest explode over the past year. Take these bear market stats:
the number of games played and total hours of gameplay for Gods Unchained has almost tripled
we have upwards of 1 million pre-registrations for Guild of Guardians
the Illuvium land sale was one of the most successful NFT sales in history, with $72 million in land sold in 72 hours
The market we’re targeting as web3 game builders is enormous. Gaming is already bigger than the movie, TV and music industry combined. And we got there without web3’s killer feature: true ownership of gaming assets. Ask anyone sitting on a bunch of untradeable in-game skins or items and you’ll see that players being able to do what they want with their digital assets will fuel the next stage of exponential growth in gaming.
But let’s put these wins aside for now and be honest: we’re not mainstream yet. And that’s because web3 games are still not fun enough.
We all know what the problems are: play-to-earn becomes a ponzi scheme, the promise of financial reward will draw a certain crowd, but can’t sustain the masses, and web3 UX/UI is deeply cumbersome and prohibitive (we’re directly addressing this with the Immutable Passport).
What we want as game developers is that players play the game, collect and trade game items, primarily because they enjoy it. Because it’s fun.
So how do we get there?
First, we need to learn from great web2 gaming reward systems which provide players with intrinsic rewards: achievement, progress, and skill development. This is foundational in designing fulfilling and engaging gaming experiences that players love to come back to.
But then we need to take it one step further: not simply making fun games and adding an ownership layer, but redesigning games using features uniquely and solely enabled through blockchain.
What does this mean? The power of web3 games isn’t just about owning an asset. It’s also in creating new layers of fulfillment and engagement by tying together the lore, the game mechanics, and the game economy. This is where web3 games can really start to diverge from web2 games: creating frictionless markets for the buying and selling of in-game assets and connecting this feature into the lore and game mechanics, driving story arcs according to emergent, player-driven on-chain activity.
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At Gods Unchained we’re doing a ton of experimenting with these emergent gameplay variations made possible by web3. The most recent example is something we call “Cosmic Shift.”
We were looking to replace our popular Thaeriel character with a new one “Thaeriel the Fallen.” While a web2 game would have limited options for swapping the old card for the new, we were able to incentivize players to make the transition using the blockchain and integrating it within the broader lore.
A wallet called cosmicshift.eth was created to represent the will of “the Cosmos” and was used to “hunt” old versions of Thaeriel and cards connected to him. We were able to buy up the older versions of the card while also creating a compelling and integrated narrative.
This unique approach to game design powered by web3 allows players to apply the lore to the card game itself and the trading of the cards, creating a more immersive gameplay experience. The story of the game influences the game mechanics, which influences the game economy, which influences player behavior, in turn influencing the story again, and so on. This feedback loop is something new and exciting that isn’t possible in traditional gaming.
Another example is our Forge mechanic. In this mechanic, players can combine duplicate cards they own to create a more powerful version of that card. The forging mechanic adds another unique web3-enabled element of strategy to the game, as players decide which cards to keep and which to forge, balancing their desire for more powerful cards with their need for variety in their decks.
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All of this points to a not-so-distant future where even more assets from the game are directly tied into the storytelling. Owning a piece from the game isn’t just a cosmetic, it can be a legitimate part of the entire narrative and gameplay experience. And this makes the game a deeper, richer experience for the player and, yes, more fun.
We’re only now just starting to really excavate the beginning of how to use these new tools web3 provides game developers with, which will evolve and change over time, and may look really different 3 to 5 years from now.
In the meantime, as web3 game developers we owe it to the players to push the boundaries of our imagination and remember why we all got into gaming in the first place: to have fun. And with the powerful tools at our disposal enabled by web3, we have everything we need to make games even more fun than ever before.
If you enjoyed this post and want to learn even more about web3 gaming and what Justin and his team are doing at Immutable X, please check out our podcast “Between 2 Layers” with Carly and Immutable Co-Founder and President Robbie Ferguson, available on all streaming services.
Check out the first episode below: