When asked about the household names of web3 gaming, you would expect to hear of Illuvium, Star Atlas, BigTime or GalaGames. Yet you might be surprised that none of them exhibit fully on-chain gameplay. One could even categorise them as web2.5 or NFT games. While this may initially sound provocative, true on-chain gaming is something completely different than you think.
Imagine a game where the entire back end sits on the blockchain. We are talking about every single game object, every single game interaction, and every single change to the state of the game to be recorded and executed on-chain. The entire low-level ruleset that defines the in-game digital physics and gameplay is defined within a smart contract.
Such a degree of on-chain gaming, not only makes the game fully decentralised but as a result, also provides full autonomy to each individual player. The game becomes the property of the active player base, and anyone can build on top of it, or fork it to generate entirely different game experiences all within the limit of the defined rules. The player base decides on the dominant fork, and so the game lives on.
The first game to ever achieve such a vision is called DarkForest. Dark Forest is a massively multiplayer (MMO) real-time strategy (RTS) game. It resolves around the idea of exploring the universe and conquering planets and is built entirely on-chain, specifically on the Gnosis Chain, a Proof-of-Stake Ethereum fork.
After 1 year of its creation in 2020, it not only established a loyal player base but also led to the making of several community DAOs solely focussing on playing and advancing the game. dfdao not only plays, but also creates entirely different game modes that have been adopted by the player base. And yet, Dark Forest is only scratching the potential of on-chain gaming.
With Dark Forest paving the way, several organizations are taking this even further. What Topology is terming as an on-chain reality and Lattice as autonomous worlds, is the coming of a parallel digital world. A world that serves as the foundation for coexisting digital realities with their unique digital physics and low-level rules. Each digital reality may be its own autonomous game or community space.
With our industry having slaughtered the term “metaverse” I, for the first, feel that this would be the appropriate term to define what the future of this innovation may look like. Do not get me wrong. We are still far from that, however, I firmly believe that this is where it starts.
Being overly excited, I have not forgotten to get into the current limitations. Back when Dark Forest launched publicly for the first time as a project to test and push the boundaries of the Ethereum blockchain 2 years ago, it broke the ropsten testnet. Also, it had a higher gas usage than the entire Ethereum mainnet combined. All that with 300 beta players. Since then our scaling solutions (rollups, sidechains, plasma chains etc.) have improved.
However, the issue still stands. If any player interaction is recorded on-chain would this not be expensive and awfully slow? Partly yes. As of now, the level of gameplay that is possible fully on-chain is limited. However, exemplary games such as DarkForest, Sky Strife or OPCraft prove that within these limits gameplay can still be fun.
To further advance the space requires more infrastructure and standards to make the development of games & autonomous more scaleable and easier. More tooling that handles the blockchain back-end and solves simple issues such as hiding information on-chain (can be solved by zk snarks) is needed.
This is exactly what MUD (engine for autonomous worlds) and MatchboxDAO (infrastructure of on-chain games on StarkNet) are working on.
I have always searched for the answer to the question: Why do we need a blockchain for gaming?
NOPE - Digital asset ownership was simply not good enough of an argument for me. Who the hell cares if I own items of a game that is not playable anymore because their servers have shut down?
NOPE - Play-to-earn is only an unsustainable growth marketing driver and does not contribute to the gaming experience. In the end, there needs to be a balance between token earning and burning.
NOPE - Data availability might be great for investors and data scientists but how does the gamer benefit? Indirectly, through more money flowing into the industry? That can’t be the way.
YES - I believe that true on-chain gaming is the answer. This is a blockchain-only innovation, that could not be duplicated by a centralised organization with centralised servers. It is an absolutely new form of gaming that we have never seen and allows for completely novel gaming experiences.
We still require more time and more innovation to get there, however, I am convinced that this could finally convince my web2 gamer friends to recognise blockchain as the superior master race.
Article written by me. With SeaCows we build infrastructure for both NFT games and on-chain games in form of an AMM for in-game NFT items.