In today's gaming landscape, you have to grind A LOT, or make the choice to pay to improve your ability to progress. The result is a series of microtransactions which have been calculated by a marketing and data analytics team to get you to spend as much money as possible in-game. Mobile games are the biggest culprits here, and many (even myself) have spent money countless times to progress.
This formula is an issue for many gamers, for a few different reasons.
When you design a game around how to push people to buy things from the studio constantly to feel competitive it removes the amount of emergent play and creativity which players can discover and enjoy while playing. It becomes a gameplay loop to steer you towards feeling the need to pay. The "pay-to-win" style of game development is a spectrum, but they all intend to lead players to pay more.
Additionally, in this model, gamers don't own their content: they pay for the privilege to use it. Whether you are a competitive player or not, the goal is to get you to pay-to-play. This is achieved by the game studio introducing new items and constantly reworking the "meta" so that any one strategy doesn't last too long. Sure it can make the game more enjoyable to change things up, but the problem is each time you do that, it forces many to hand over cold hard cash to change their decks, buy different buildings, purchase better characters, etc.
So what's the solution?
An alternative to grinding in games, empowered by impactful actions, player-owned game assets, and free markets with baked-in royalties.
In recent years, many game studios have been utilising microtransactions to push gamers to purchase through pay-to-win mechanics. They have been doing this by pushing players toward interactions that are “low time, low value” or “high time, low value” (aka “grinding”) if a player does not pay (See orange and red areas in Image 1 above).
Grinding in games requires players to ALWAYS be playing as much as possible to stay competitive. While this can be done without ill intent, it forces players to choose to play the game more than they want to or to pay to try and keep up.
The first action game studios can do to remove the grind is to make it easier for players to take impactful actions rather than arbitrary, more minor steps over many hours. This will allow players who typically don't have the time to be competitive to have more ability to compete.
Mining in some games requires you not only to start the action but to channel it and tap buttons to ensure it is successful. Unless the game is about mining and not much else, that is an obvious culprit of a time sink and grinding that isn't needed.
In this made-up game that involves mining, let's allow the player to:
Click multiple mining lots
Identify what they want to mine
Confirm the start of the mining action
They are now free to come back later and see their progress. It becomes a time-locked event rather than a grind to complete.
Some games already time-lock actions but they typically have a system that allows you to spend in-game currency in order to progress faster. This results in players who are willing and able to pay to buy themselves a better position in the game than the most skilled players who do not pay. This is an example of grind systems at their worst.
Some might think, "Well, players who do have lots of time will be better regardless."That's only partially true, and this sentiment will be discussed more in-depth in the next section.
In summary, to remove the grind, game creators can:
Remove needless non-impactful actions
Time gate impactful actions
Remove the need to spend money on an arbitrary in-game currency to beat others
Game creators should seek to remove the need for players to sink countless hours into a game regardless of their skill if they don't want to pay.. Time is our most valuable asset in life. Freeing up time for players to do other things, even play more games, should be considered the goal, not the enemy.
Currently, we live in a world that has become more and more reliant on digital infrastructure. We spend most of our lives looking at screens, using web2 products, social media, and content platforms like Netflix. However, in this new era, we no longer own any of our content, which in some cases can be great, but it means we rely on the platforms to have our best interests in mind and be trustworthy custodians of our content. This has become an issue consistently swept under the rug for gaming, because game studios make BILLIONS of dollars by controlling players’ assets.
So what's the solution to ensure studios still make their cut to keep the lights on and pay people good wages and for gamers to feel more rewarded and valued as players?
Enter… Player Owned Game Assets
We have the technology to give every player actual digital ownership and self-custody of ALL of their in-game assets. Some people call these "Non-Fungible Tokens" or "NFTs" for short, but that is only one type of player-owned game asset and the term has often been used incorrectly. We all know gamers and the mainstream media have called NFTs scams and, honestly, a lot of skepticism was warranted because much of what we have seen labeled as NFTs now lack utility.
The utility is the key to an ecosystem empowered by Player Owned Game Assets (POGA). When given a choice between "I own my assets" vs. "I don't own my assets," players are almost always going to say they want to own their assets, as long as it does not affect their ability to play and enjoy the games they sink their time into.
Right now, in games, no big gaming studios let you own your assets. However, with "Real Money Trading," players have attempted to circumvent this system. Almost all popular games have a black market for in-game assets. Unfortunately, the terms of service say if the game studio catches a player utilising the black market, they will ban the player’s account FOREVER! Well, that sucks…
Games like League of Legends, Counter Strike, Fortnite, and many more all sell players in-game assets like heroes and skins. However, players don't actually own the content they are sold, and if a player is banned, those assets are gone, too. You are back to square one.
With web3, we have arrived at a point in technology where everyone can have equal access through POGAs. POGAs put the power of ownership back into the player’s hands, giving them more freedom over the content they spent the time and/or money to earn.
So what's the final piece to this puzzle that makes this all work?
Until recently, there was no digital infrastructure around buying, selling, and most significantly, owning digital property. It wasn't possible to prove that "Person A" owns "Digital Asset B" unless you trusted a 3rd party claiming to verify that ownership. The problem of verifiable custody of digital property has been solved by blockchain technology.
With the power of POGA, as stated in the previous section, and more flexible terms of services from game studios, we can have open and accessible markets. If you earn, craft, buy, trade, or find a powerful item in a game, you can choose what you want to do with it. No one is forced to sell anything, but it is now an option. This unlocks an incredible amount of freedom for players. We can now create fully peer-to-peer marketplaces from which gamers can buy, sell, and trade.
These peer-to-peer marketplaces will result in game studios being cut out of the economy, as they will no longer be the single source of where money flows.
Game creators still need to keep building and improving the game, paying the artists and developers that are still instrumental in creating games, in short, at least in the near term, they need to “keep the lights on”. Royalties that are baked into in-game assets can allow game creators to do just that.
A game creator can now set an X% royalty on any in-game asset that is traded for a price. Boom! Game studios are back in business.
What's so great about this system is that game studios' economies and actions must align well with the player base. If they make a crappy game and no one likes it, no one is trading/selling/buying items, and they won't be able to fund their game forever off the back of microtransactions from people who don't like to grind. It puts the player at the center of decision-making, a philosophy which is MASSIVELY underrated.
The way we can make gaming better for all players and ensure gaming studios can continue to monetise their games fairly is to:
Remove the grind: Remove needless non-impactful actions from games and make actions more impactful
Remove the need to spend money on an arbitrary in-game currency to beat others
Enable players to own their content, utilising player-owned game assets (POGAs)
Remove strict terms of services so that gamers can choose what to do with their in-game assets
Utilise secondary markets with royalties attached to the game assets to create a fair market that rewards gamers and studios
Blockchain and player-owned game assets are tools that, when used properly, can effectively empower game studios to make better games that are more aligned with the community that plays.
A few of the games that are currently shepherding this new technology and toolset for players include:
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