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Decentralizing Video Games - An Introduction

polats profile image Paul Gadi ・4 min read

Why do we need to decentralize video games? It's all about Platform Lock-in

Game developers take it for granted, but we default to using certain platforms without really thinking about it.

When developing a game, we start with Unity as our game engine, add in a slew of third-party SDKs, fire up a backend server on AWS, and then finally deploy on the App Store.

We usually don't think about alternative platforms, as we've become so accustomed to using these particular ones.

In the current state of the game industry, it may seem that choosing these platforms are the best choice. After all, there are reasons they are so dominant: they have the most mature tools and have the greatest player reach.

What we fail to realize is as we centralize around these platforms, they become the gatekeepers of the industry.

All the value from our players have to go through them. They decide which games players see, and what percentage their revenue share is.

When platforms lock us in, they effectively define the rules.

What's more subtle, and arguably coercive, is the ways these platforms affect how video games are designed.

Just a few examples:

  • The Play Store's focus on in-app purchases has moved game design away from building narrative to making more compelling microtransactions

  • Unity's weak support of HTML5 plus their push for services such as Unity Ads have made games become always-online native downloads with ad monetization

  • Top grossing leaderboards on App Stores plus analytics tools focused on Daily Average User counts (DAUs) have primed game developers towards these metrics

As a result, video games have become more focused on monetization and retention instead of player enjoyment.


This is the argument for decentralizing our games. Platform lock-in is insidious, slowly taking agency away from developers and players.

I believe that decentralization, brought about by Web3 and open-source, will be how we take back control.


The truth is though, these platforms didn't set out to be coercive from the start. It's economics: the rational choice is for the platforms to optimize for the most important metric-- in their case, it's increasing user base and revenue.

The problem is it's all done at the expense of anything else, leading to player dissatisfaction and an unsustainable attention economy.

To change the status quo, we must change the economics behind these platforms.

Decentralized Finance (DeFi), Decentralized Autonomous Organiations (DAOs) and Platform Cooperativism are some of the movements trying to do just that, not just by upending economics but also adding in community governance. Learning from these movements would be a good first step.

Another step would be to learn from Web 3.0 startups that have successfully moved the needle.

Opensea

Opensea is a great example. By leveraging the open Non-Fungible Token (NFT) Standard, they have been able to stimulate a new economy around virtual item trading.

Core Loop

This open standard has allowed virtual items to exist outside of their own game universes, and has expanded the core attention loop of traditional games.

Players have always wanted to use items outside of their games. Value can be found in these intersections and gaps.


Another Web 3.0 startup that is currently revolutionizing open-source economics and governance is Gitcoin.

Gitcoin

Currently the epicenter of Web 3.0 development, Gitcoin provides developers and startups the tools we need to galvanize our communities. It does so by building open-source web 3.0 services such as Gitcoin Grants, sharing breakthrough thinking around the economics of public goods such as Quadratic Voting, and bringing developers together on fun virtual hackathons.

Quadratic Voting


If we move the games industry towards open standards, open-source and decentralized governance, platform lock-in would be eliminated.


Funding The Future


Our company OP Games has partnered with Gitcoin for the Funding the Future Hackathon, where we're exploring how to use Web 3.0 to build new funding opportunities for game developers.

We have set up some fun challenges for developers who want to get started in making Web 3.0 games, with some prizes for additional incentive.

Come join us in Funding the Future!

Notes: Glitch diagrams were made from a fork of Austin Griffith's Eth.build, a node graph tool for learning Web 3.0

Discussion

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ghost profile image
Ghost

That is true for all non-FOSS software, Windows seems to go to the SaaS model itself. Of course is all about control, but nobody cares so why not?, If people willingly accept an OS that does it, hardly they will object about the games they play on it. Specially gamers don't care about vendor lock-ins, spyware, etc. vendor lock-in is part of gaming since the beginning: Atari, NES, PS, all of them where centralized, nobody cared. DRM has never been a concern to the gaming market, only when it made the game unplayable has arisen concerns. And with the advent of free-to-play spyware has never been a issue to the players. I think the gaming industry is the one with less FOSS nowadays, because, sadly, gamers care even less than the rest.

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polats profile image
Paul Gadi Author

Sadly that's true, we don't usually look at the processes and economics that goes into the products we use.

The first step I believe is we should be aware of what's happening. We may sometimes not have a choice but to accept lock-in, but it should be an informed choice.

The second step is, as developers and creators who know better, we should strive to change the status quo as much as we can. Movements such as open-source faced an uphill battle initially, but now we see corporations embracing it. I remember a time when Microsoft was the model of an evil corporation, but now they embrace open-source and support the tools that enable it -- like Github and 3d engines like Babylon.js. Decentralization and Web 3.0 will get there!

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ghost profile image
Ghost

Sadly I don't have that hopeful view of people anymore, they already know, they just don't care; years ago with: Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, etc. I thought people would wake up, govs would take action; corporation would peddle back with intrusions on privacy; later with Cambridge Analytica and the US and UK elections still had some hope, but nothing; FB still strong, doing exactly as before, Win10 steals even more data than Win7, people don't complain about it, just on how updates are annoying; MS probably just bought Github to appeal to devs that didn't had MS as "dev friendly" anymore; .NET was dying so they had no choice than making it FOSS. Google still collects data, probably even more than before. People just don't care, the negative effects are just too complicated, to complex or too long term. If doesn't take money of their banks tomorrow it doesn't matter to them. I would bet that over 70% of people reading this right now, are doing it from Windows. If users don't care, why would companies do?, if people will play my game even if run only on Win10, why would I spend money and time to making it work in Linux?, who has ever abstain to play a game because is not FOSS?, now people loves Office360 SaaS, and nobody cares, just a few of us do.

But is not all gloomy either, corporations are starting to see the perils of not owning, of the loss of control, govs too. That's why I'm not sure if Linux will ever take the desktop, most people don't care, but some do, and because of those few Linux and BSD are alive and well, not sure how well BSD anyway. I think we as FOSS people will have to settle for being the underground, the backend, the backbone, not the ones they deserve but what they need; but unlike Batman, they don't deserve more, because they don't care!, and we will keep doing maybe not because they need it but because it's too goddamn fun :)

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polats profile image
Paul Gadi Author

For sure we need to be vigilant. Platform lock-ins happen because corporations are incentivized to do so, and the larger ones will have the resources to affect legislature. We need organizations like the EFF now more than ever.

It may be disheartening when most people don't care, but I think It's more important to reach out to those few who will actually listen and try to do something about it.

It also helps to connect with other people who are also trying to effect change. I was at EthDenver, a Web 3.0 conference, and was energized seeing all of the activists, entrepreneurs and developers. There are actually a lot of people looking at the underlying economics of industries and collaborating together on how they can fix them. That might be something worth looking into to bring back some of the hope! :D

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Ghost

Just now I found about the EARN IT Act (S. 3398) being discussed in the US Congress, aimed to ban perr-to-peer encryption under the excuse of protecting the children, not kidding, that's the excuse, I'm sure they took the idea from The Simpsons. I'm not an US citizen but sadly what they do, the rest of the world take as a good idea. Sets precedent and even tho most of us don't have a vote in the subject, we are all affected by it. We'll see how much people care. Coincidence that this is now, with everyone occupied with COVID-19?, well, probably, those things aren't written in a month, but paranoia seems to be justified nowadays.

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Ben Sinclair

I have to say, I don't understand a lot of what you're saying.
I don't understand the diagrams:

  • what's an SNS login and why does a game care about it? The googles do nothing.
  • why are ad networks and analytics part of game development at all?
  • why are there plateus on your whatever-those-graphs-are that look like the policital compass?

Unity is restrictive in its weird licensing and limited platform support, too. It seems to be one of the biggest standards, but perhaps that's a starting point for where to look for better alternatives?

Games are decentralised by default. You have to put work in to centralise them.
Is the answer you're looking for, "don't do that in the first place?"

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polats profile image
Paul Gadi Author

Hey Ben, thanks for the questions!

An SNS Login is a social network login, one of the most common examples is when you use Facebook to login to a game you're playing.

When you play a game (this is more obvious in mobile free-to-play ones), you're usually asked to confirm that your data will be tracked. Most popular free-to-play games use ad networks to serve you the ads you see when playing them.

The graphs will make more sense if you read the link on Quadratic Voting (vitalik.ca/general/2019/12/07/quad...), a short answer is that the graphs show there are better ways of making the community's votes matter in an economic system.

My belief is that games are instead centralized by default, since game developers are locked-in to certain platforms due to economic considerations. And yes, there are some pretty good alternative game engines. Web-based ones are particularly more open, such as A-Frame, Phaser, and Babylon.js.

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Ben Sinclair

In my mind, games are games are games. Sometimes you get a game like an MMO where you need to be connected to other people, but it's the exception. Nothing about games inherently makes them need to phone home even, let alone have some kind of central authority.

I guess I don't play games on my phone so I don't come across this. Is that what you're getting at? Is this mostly about mobile games?

Full disclosure I have only installed three games on my phone in the past: one is entirely self-contained, one theoretically connects via some kind of SNS to share global high scores, but the feature never worked, and the last never got past the installer so it was money down the drain.

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polats profile image
Paul Gadi Author

Yeah It's definitely more pronounced on mobile games and free-to-play games, but we're starting to see this also move unto other platforms. For example Street Fighter 5, which used to be a pay-once and play offline game, is now mostly monetized via in-app transactions and ads (though the ad model seems to have failed after some player outcry).

All video games will have some form of dependency on platforms, like from what store you downloaded them from. Even more open stores like Steam have an effect on how the games are made.