In so many ways, gaming and blockchain seem like a match made in heaven: user-owned assets, interoperability, and even the potential to monetize play.
Yet despite the initial hype around blockchain-based games and NFT collectibles, web3 gaming is still struggling to gain mainstream traction. Jack O’Holleran, co-founder and CEO of Ethereum scaling solution SKALE Network , believes we’re on the cusp of a blockchain gaming breakthrough, but it won’t come easy.
“The tools and infrastructure that actually helps Web3 games compete are still fairly new,” O’Holleran said in an interview with CCN. “Add that to the fact that games take time to build. Based on those factors we are now just starting to see the next wave of games come to market.”
O’Holleran noted that many of the most promising web3 game developers have focused more on gameplay and user experience amid the recent crypto bear market, rather than trying to capitalize on speculative hype cycles.
“We’ll see games hit the market in 2024 that completely redefine Web3 gaming,” he predicted.
His own project, the open-source SKALE Network, aims to provide the blockchain backbone for these next-gen web3 experiences by offering high throughput, fast transaction finality, and zero gas fees for end users.
During the downturn, SKALE has “been squarely focused on making sure game devs and mass market web3 social dapps can deliver the world’s best blockchain experience at zero cost to end users/players,” O’Holleran said. “This means a focus on UX, stability, and performance.”
And there’s most definitely an uphill battle for those in the web3 gaming space. One 2022 study by Coda Labs, involving a global poll of nearly 7,000 gamers, found that Web3 games are struggling to gain mainstream acceptance.
Only 12% of gamers have tried playing blockchain games, and a significant portion remains unaware of or uninterested in “play to earn” blockchain games. Despite this, those who have played these games generally report positive experiences.
The survey, conducted in collaboration with the Blockchain Game Alliance, DappRadar, and Laguna Games, aimed to gauge global gamer attitudes towards cryptocurrency, NFTs, and blockchain gaming. It included participants from the U.S., UK, Japan, Brazil, and South Africa.
The results showed that while cryptocurrencies and NFTs are widely recognized (89% for Bitcoin and 51% for NFTs), actual ownership and engagement are low (only 3% own NFTs). 52% were unfamiliar with any Web3 gaming terms.
So what’s holding back mainstream adoption so far? O’Holleran pointed to challenges in balancing the original dream of decentralization with smooth user experiences (not unlike the dilemma with crypto wallets). But he believes the brightest developers are starting to crack this code.
“It is all about overcoming UX challenges while staying true to blockchain core principles. Therein lies the challenge. We are finally seeing some brilliant game devs create a good UX while maintaining core principles,” he said.
For average gamers, O’Holleran said web3 has the power to shift control away from big publishers and put players back in charge.
“The real power of Web3 is that it brings more power, transparency, fairness, and monetization to players. It extracts power from the big publishers and puts it back in the hands of devs and players,” he argued.
But overcoming status quo biases remains an obstacle. “It is all about overcoming UX challenges while staying true to blockchain core principles. Therein lies the challenge. We are finally seeing some brilliant game devs create a good UX while maintaining core principles,” he said.
Like many parts of the blockchain and crypto world, their lofty ambitions have yet to reach their full potential. But that is just as much down to the technical challenges as the lack of buy-in from players and consumers.
The fundamentals of giving power back to players, however, is something gamers across the board are receptive to. However, they just as often turn off when they hear the words ‘blockchain’ or ‘NFT.’ Much of it is a PR problem and one that isn’t their fault.
The SKALE Network itself now ranks among the top 5 layer-1 and layer-2 blockchain platforms globally in terms of daily active users and transaction volume. Yet O’Holleran believes they still fly under the mainstream radar, overshadowed by trends like decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols and their total valued locked (TVL) that attract speculators but have relatively narrow real-world usage.
As for why large traditional game companies still keep blockchain gaming at arm’s length, O’Holleran sees inertia and fear of change as key factors. “I think it is a full gamut of issues. We are soon going to see this start to change, but it will be slow… incumbents that are making billions a month in revenue, see more risk in change than reward,” he said.
So is the SKALE CEO fighting an uphill battle? He doesn’t see it that way. O’Holleran believes web3 gaming adoption has reached an inflection point thanks to pioneers willing to see past the crypto crash and focus on real utility over hype.
For crypto dreamers waiting for web3 to transform gaming from a commercial empire back into a creative player’s paradise, O’Holleran’s message is clear: the cavalry is coming. But victories will have to be hard-fought, not handed down as promised prophecies.