And Future of Developer Games
TLDR : Old depictions of heroes were typically characterized by whoever displayed the greatest strength and power in the ring, virtual or not, such as Faker being worshipped as a hero by eSports fans around the world. The next wave of “heroes” for audiences to admire, however, will come in the form of developer players showcasing their technical prowess in developer games, such as CTFs. As an industry, developer games can benefit from the influx of capital and talent in Web3, interoperable achievements, and by utilizing tokenization to attract greater fans and investors. Simultaneously, Web3 will also benefit from the introduction of developer games as they can attract talents and audiences into the space, who could become builders and participants. As a result, Web3 and developer games need each other.
Since its early introduction as a simple tennis game called Pong in the 1970s, video gaming has evolved to being a medium that blends interactive media with storytelling…at least for some genres. Other forms of video games forego telling a direct narrative in lieu of creating a competitive arena, letting players test their skills against each other directly. Similar to sports arenas, as the game itself became entertaining to watch by the masses, the players competing at the highest level were deemed heroes and adored by fans. This brought in a whole ecosystem supporting the competition of professional players: eSports teams, partnerships, etc.
Unlike sports, there exists a team of developers responsible for creating each game, starting from idea generation to its finished and playable form at the hands of the players, who have mostly gone unrecognized for bringing thousands of hours of entertainment and passion into gamers, until only recently.
We aspire to not only extend, but redefine what it means to be a hero in people’s eyes. In ancient times, the heroes were the hunters, who were the most physically powerful and adept. In modern times, that logic has extended to competitive sports, and in more recent times, to eSports as well, seeing players like Faker in League of Legends being adored by millions. Now, we see developers redefining and becoming the next roster of potential heroes that could be admired by the masses, and we see this through the cultivation of an ecosystem similar to eSports centered around developer games, for instance, CTFs.
CTFs (Capture the Flags) are computer security exercises in which “flags” are hidden in intentionally vulnerable programs that are meant to be found and “captured”. What originally started as a learning opportunity between cybersecurity professionals and students interested in cybersecurity, turned into an ecosystem of competitions worldwide for people to competitively hack for prize pools as it took off in popularity in 1996 at DEFCON, an annual cybersecurity conference. Eventually, these competitions became even more gamified, with the introduction of Pwn Adventure 3. Pwn Adventure 3 was a first-person, open-world MMORPG set on an island where anything could happen since the game was designed to be a sandbox that was intentionally vulnerable to all kinds of hacks. Players were immediately seen flying at uncontrollable speeds, becoming invulnerable, or found themselves with endless amounts of cash by hacking the game their own way. Each player/team would gain points by hacking the game in a way that allowed them to complete certain objectives, thereby “capturing the flag.” In this way, Pwnie Island, (the island where all the hacking took place), became the sandbox that showcased the extent and success a CTF could achieve when mixed with a traditional PvP gaming environment.
The popularity of CTFs has grown exponentially since its first DEF CON.
Participation: This past year, DEF CON 30 has attracted an attendance of over 25,000 people to the conference, a major improvement from DEF CON 1’s conference of roughly 100 people.
Prizes: These cybersecurity competitions have wide-ranging prize pools, with the most popular ones like GoogleCTF having a pool of more than $31,337, to the prize pool at DEF CON being around $2 million.
Viewership: On top of a massively growing participant pool and prize pool to attract talent, viewership also snowballed widely for this type of developer game. Live Overflow leads by a wide margin in terms of attracting a large audience, raking in close to 850,000 viewers when broadcasting its CTFs.
Despite such growth in participation and viewership, CTFs, along with all other developer games, still remain in the shadows of traditional Web2 gaming, and thus, so do the developers playing. However, these developer games are uniquely positioned to take advantage of Web3 capabilities, and in fact, need the contributions of Web3 in order to continue gaining traction.
Talent & Capital Vacuum: Firstly, current market conditions have left a vacuum of crypto developers and capital looking for the next lucrative opportunity (e.g. bounty boards demand has tripled in the last quarter). Developer games could fill use this influx of talent and capital to expand by filling this vacuum.
One Permanent Identity: Secondly, the interoperability of developer games being on-chain means that the protocol will capture games’ history attributes, traits and skills earned, and artifacts achieved per player across different developer games across platforms. This means that developer players are able to create a singular identity with them that exists in the player’s wallet, and thus bring their “ELO” or achievements with them and have their achievements known across all developer games on the chain.
Token Capabilities: Lastly, Web3 will give developer players the ability to create their own tokens, thus allowing fans to profit share the earnings of developer players while in return, supporting their favorite players in the form of token investments. In essence, fans will be able to have a financial stake in supporting their developer player “hero.” Traditional investors who are looking for opportunities in the space will also have an easier time taking a stake in a player’s performance, thereby bringing more capital into the industry. This could come in the form of individual tokens for players, or more structured DAOs for competitive developer teams in the competitive scene. Despite the crypto winter, the blockchain gaming space still attracts massive amounts of funding, as more than $7B has been invested so far in 2022.
While the capabilities of Web3 can act as the catalyst for developer game popularity taking off in the mainstream, Web3 also benefits from developer games coming on-chain. Mainly, Web3 is still in need of developers to ramp up the Web3 ecosystem to a massive scale. By attracting developers into the space through developer games, more developers are inclined to start interacting on the blockchain, whether that be through the development of content and games, or as players for developer games. These developer games will thus attract more talent into the space, which will bring in more general users to Web3. As users flow in and the space becomes more popular, capital and investments flow in as well to help fund more projects, thereby allowing Web3 to reach critical mass. In the end, both developer games and Web3 have a mutually beneficial relationship with each other that could bring major success to both areas.
TLDR: Web3 and blockchain technology is not only changing the developer games on an industry and business level. It is also changing developer games fundamentally. The composability and interoperability of on-chain games make developer games more fun to play and more fun to watch. Instead of looking at lines of code at traditional Web2 CTFs, audiences can now enjoy the gameplay visuals that they are used to and admire the creativity and technicality of the developers at the same time.
To fully understand the shift in the landscape that is taking place at the moment, we need to first map out the landscape for different types of developer games across Web2:
CTFs (capture the flag): security-focused, and there are three main types of CTFs
Jeopardy-style: teams gain points by solving tasks, and the winner is determined based on the sum of the points
Attack-defense style: Every team has its own network with vulnerable services, and can both gain defense points through protecting its own services or gain attack points by hacking the opponents’
Mixed style: A mix of the above two formats
AI programming games: players’ job is to code a bot/an agent that can compete in the game with other bots/agents
The landscape for developer games in Web3 is more condensed and concentrated, as there are mainly two types of games. We see a high concentration of jeopardy-style CTFs, and the rest of the games are smart contract programming games. Interestingly, due to the composable nature of on-chain games, these two types of games are actually merging.
On the CTF side, almost all are jeopardy-style puzzles and problem-solving games, and some great examples are Paradigm CTF (except 0xMonaco), OpenZeppelin Ethernaut CTF, and Capture the Ether.
On the programming games side, the games interestingly emerged out of CTF competitions. The first widely known Web3 programming game is 0xMonaco, which was a PvP challenge as a part of Paradigm CTF. In these programming games, players’ job is to write smart contracts that can compete with smart contracts written by other players, or use smart contracts as a means to automate basic game flows, and the two representative names here are Dark Forest and 0xMonaco. The key difference between these two games and the AI programming games in Web2 is the blockchain component, which is the enabler for 3 tangible and significant impacts that are listed below:
Infinite replayability through their composable nature: Much like Dark Forest and 0xMonaco showed us, on-chain games have the potential to be limitless as blocks are continuously minted. This is huge because it opens up the potential for infinite replayability driven by the removal of a skill ceiling — developers will always find new challenges to conquer, new strategies to employ, and new competitors to battle. A game where players will, literally, never run out of things to do and become bored.
Permanence & Interoperability: Everything is done and hence recorded on the blockchain forever. What this means is that developers can not only seamlessly obtain their past performance and track record as solid credentials, but also have them transfer between interoperable games. In the grand scheme of things, this would allow developers to have one overarching ELO or skill rating that they can use across various games or projects — in doing so granting them the constant recognition they deserve regardless of context.
Real-time continuity: For AI programming games, players build AIs on their own before submission, and it becomes very difficult to incorporate modifications and adjustments after submitting the agents they’ve built. It very much becomes another jeopardy-style competition, since there is only one fixed goal for AIs to achieve, and there are no real-time PvP elements. Games such as Dark Forest and 0xMonaco are based on smart contracts that are immutable and require constant changes and engagement from developers, which enhances the intensity of the games drastically, making them more fun to play and watch. A great example of this was the utilization of the Gradual Dutch Auctions mechanism (further information can be found here) in 0xMonaco. The mechanism essentially introduced real-time, dynamic price changes of resources to the game, which pushed developers to not only think about problem solving, but also game theory — they were pushed to think about other players’ actions before doing something.
The PVP challenge at Paradigm CTF, 0xMonaco, really gave us a sneak peek into what the future of developer games may be like. The idea was simple — a racing game that focused on resouce management, but based on this simple idea, there were a few aspects that made the game fun and showcased the real potential of on-chain developer games:
Each car was an immutable smart contract, which meant strategies could always be revised or updated depending on the situation.
The game incorporated Gradual Dutch Auctions mechanism, which required players to utilize their game theory knowledge to balance and maximize the utilities of their resources. In each turn, a player could either accelerate by 1, or throw a shell, setting the speed of the player directly ahead of them to 1. Each player starts with 15,000 coins that could be used to purchase either the acceleration or the shell, and the first play who gets through the 1,000 racing track wins. GDA enabled dynamic price changes for the accleration and shell, taking the playability of the game to a whole new level
It was a real-time PVP competition that even people who were not coders could understand from a visual perspecitve by simply watching which car was going the fastest
It allowed massive rooms for creativity, and Abdul’s Twitter thread sums it up pretty well. The variety and imagination that come with different strategies implemented by different teams are something that is never seen before, which presented the colorfulness of composable games for a brief moment in front of us. There were cars that were “buying dips” in acceleration and shell prices, and there were cars that rely entirely on the actions of other cars through if-statements
All in all, what 0xMonaco showed us, the possibilities of web3 dev games it revealed, excites us, and gives us a tremendous amount of confidence in the next stage of developer games — one where developers are finally the heroes.
TLDR: Developers will play an instrumental and exciting role in the future of eSports. ESports have only just entered the mainstream but examples such as Dark Forest and 0xMonaco have proven that there is a demand and audience for developer-led, CTF-esque games. However, the current state of CTF games is insufficient to achieve this goal. Moving forward, competitiveness, progress, collaboration, skill ceiling, and investor relation would have to be enhanced for us to achieve the goal of having a world of limitless creativity driven by the freedom of expression and celebration of developers.
Now, our vision for the future is as straightforward as it is exhilarating: for developer games to put developers in the limelight and reveal them for the heroes they are — and we believe that there is no better time than now. The rise of eSports is a good testament to this: a decade and more ago, making a living out of playing games was a completely foreign concept, let alone being able to make good money from it. Fast forward to today, and things are vastly different. From massive prize pools of up to $40M such as in the last iteration of Dota 2’s The International to FaZe Clan going public to the average mid-tier eSports player making upwards of $75,000 annually, we see a robust (and lucrative) ecosystem being built around eSports. This paves the way for the final piece of the puzzle — developers. Developers are the ones creating the energy source driving the whole ecosystem but are currently under-appreciated. The good news is, however, that people are starting to notice this and the road to developers getting the attention they deserve is being paved with CTFs leading the charge.
If you’ve read up to this point, the potential of CTFs should be clear as day (if not, we urge you to read the above). However, to achieve this goal of ours, the future of CTF would have to look different — it has to be better. Our current vision of CTF is that [insert summary about the current state of dev games], but we believe that looking forward it is instrumental to enhance 5 aspects of CTFs:
Competitiveness: To make CTFs more exciting to participants, there should be a strong and healthy level of competition amongst developers that would spur them to be fully invested in the competition and in doing so produce the best quality output they can. We envision employing a 3-pronged approach to do so: offering highly attractive incentives, providing the appropriate level of recognition for adept developers, and finally crafting intellectually stimulating and satisfying challenges for said developers to overcome.
Trackable progress: To ensure sustainable and lengthy engagement, we believe that there should be clear progress observable in real-time as the developers compete. These should be yardsticks in the form of quests or something tangible that both they and viewers can see. Said quests could possibly represent bounties made by Web3 protocols & dApps. An example would be running through the Museum of Crypto’s CyberCity and protecting the Web3 culture with bounties from Opensea, Rarible, Sudoswap, etc. By allowing viewers and developers to experience progress, engagement is increased and the competition is made more enticing.
Collaboration: To make CTF leagues a conducive place for growth and competition, there should be a high level of collaboration within and between teams as well. This would be in the form of knowledge and mentors made readily available or assigned to teams, league-wide debriefs, and team-to-team discussions post-match. By promoting a culture of open collaboration, we hope that developers will be able to learn from each other and allow the community to grow as a whole — it is by going together, can we go far.
Skill ceiling: To make CTFs enticing to developers, they should offer expansive room for strategy and improvement as well. This would come in the form of opportunities to improve one’s knowledge and the freedom to really flex one’s brain juices. Examples include different tracks or skill trees for developers to delve into, such as a developer learning and competing in gas optimization tasks while enjoying speed running a dungeon.
Investor relations: To tie it all together, there should be ample and attractive opportunities for investors to deploy capital and support the growth of this ecosystem. Much like how professional gamers are supported by eSports teams who in turn have the backing of investors, developers should be banded together or have access to capital — and investors should have access to developers they wish to back. This could come in many forms such as direct pairing or a DAO, but a robust framework for investor relations should be constructed.
Imagine watching developers, devise fully automated entities that execute the most unimaginably ingenious strategy mankind has ever seen — all in real-time.
And what will all this lead to? A world of limitless creativity driven by the most magical games we never knew could even exist, created by the bastions who will get every ounce of recognition and celebration they deserve — the developers. In doing so, and equally excitingly, we expect the line between developers and gamers to be blurred. The prospect of being able to build as you play and play as you build makes our heart race, and examples such as 0xMonaco and Dark Forest have clearly shown us that it is attainable. If you resonate with such a vision, we urge you to help us make it come true and participate in the hackathon in any capacity you can — even being a viewer, would go a long way in unlocking limitless creative freedom for the world.