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To retain players in the long-term, Web3 needs more engaging games. To make it happen, developers should change their priorities.
Web3 games acquire new players at a steady pace. GameFi has noted nearly 1.1 million UAWs (Unique Active Wallets) in Q2, making up 52% of the entire Web3 activity. Tech investors seem to notice the potential as they poured $2.5 billion in this niche in Q2 only. If they keep the current pace, we may see $12 billion invested in blockchain games by the end of the year.
While it’s true that play-to-earn and other forms of in-game monetization catch users’ attention, Web3 struggles to retain them in the long-term. Players enthusiastically connect their wallets to quickly realize that the promise of blockchain gaming hasn’t been fulfilled yet.
GameFi was meant to be the most pleasant way to earn money, but the fun part seems to be missing. Players comment that despite economic incentives, Web3 doesn’t appeal to them because games are… dull. In fact, play-to-earn isn’t an alternative for traditional gaming for now. Gaming is a mature market dominated by big players, so Web3 projects prefer to position themselves as a way of making money rather than compete with established titles.
GameFi creators have heard players’ complaints and plan to put more effort into making games fun. At the beginning of the year, Axie Infinity declared that “2022 will be all about gameplay” for them, similarly to the Red Door Digital studio which commented that “web3 gaming needs more immersive and engaging interactions” while closing its $5M seed round.
Leaving aside external factors such as blockchain’s entry barrier or security concerns, there are several issues inside the games themselves that affect their entertaining potential. Web3 creators may eliminate them early at the development stage, but they need to reprioritize the creative process. We’re in the early days of GameFi, and developers need to learn how to work with this model: free-to-play adoption also didn’t happen overnight.
There are three major reasons why Web3 games fail to entertain users: lack of meaningful gameplay, invalid matchmaking and cheating.
Number one refers to gameplay: the most important piece of the puzzle as that’s what makes games entertaining and replayable. Web3 usually doesn't require sophisticated skills and that’s what makes it less engaging compared to Web2. Developing skill-based gameplay is technologically challenging, so many teams – especially those with more blockchain than gamedev competences – develop games that are interesting as a source of income but not fun.
Even worse when the infamous pay-to-win comes in. It happens mainly in games with playable NFTs, e.g. cards or weapons. When it’s money, not practice, that makes perfect, there’s no satisfaction from achieving mastery and thus no true engagement.
To solve this issue, Web3 developers should prioritize gameplay over tokenomics. Money-making mechanics should never play the main role, even when tokens or NFTs are involved. That’s what kills most blockchain games.
The second issue, flaud matchmaking, is common in multiplayers, both Web2 and Web3. When the system matches players of diverse skills, duels are neither fair nor entertaining. Money prizes make it even more frustrating. Just like in the traditional sport: if we match a pro tennis player with a beginner, none of them has fun.
It’s a perfect use case for machine learning. Matchmaking is more complex than it seems: players use dozens of tactics, and game developers need to adjust. Machine learning models observe their behaviour and draw conclusions that help them match opponents according to their skills. That’s how matchmaking works in Elympics.
The last problem is cheating. Most players don’t know about it, but it’s quite easy to cheat in blockchain games. You can lose a match and still convince the system that you won it. Having a better internet connection can give you an edge if the game doesn’t compensate for that.
The reason behind it is purely technical. Most multipliers use the so-called client authoritative approach. It flags one of the players as the arbiter of the match and asks them to verify the statuses of the gameplay. The chosen player determines who has won although they can lie to their advantage. This way, there’s no need for an external server to play the arbiter role, which lowers the infrastructure cost but opens a window of opportunity for cheaters.
To solve this problem, we recommend adopting the server authoritative approach. This way, players only communicate their in-game actions, and an external server keeps the status of the gameplay. It immediately catches invalid claims about the result of a match.
Adopting the server authoritative approach is more complicated, time-consuming and expensive but also necessary because cheating destroys fair competition. Using ready-made multiplayer engines that adopt it is the best option for most teams. Developers should think about it from the first day of the project so that they don’t wake up with a half-ready game built on the wrong assumptions.
Game developers are all aware of the problems mentioned in this blog post. The question is: why do they keep making these mistakes?
Blockchain games are more challenging than Web2 projects. Apart from gameplay, art and design, they require superior security, tokenomics and plenty of minor technical elements. The so-called heavy lifting consumes much of developers’ time, so they cannot focus on what makes games fun: designing engaging gameplay.
Instead of building the entire technical layer, they can take advantage of ready-made solutions. It’s not necessary to write smart contracts from scratch, especially if we don’t have such competences on board. Game developers can use blockchain-specific engines that take the heavy part of them. That’s what we did at Elympics: created a robust engine that makes games built on any blockchain secure and interoperable so that GameFi creators can focus on making them engaging and avoid the mistakes mentioned before.