The ability to share assets across applications is a new frontier in gaming. With the power of blockchain technology, developers are beginning to realize the true potential of interoperability.
Okay… What is Interoperability?
Good question. Before we begin our journey, let’s get some pesky definitions out of the way. When people talk about interoperability in gaming they’re talking about one of two things: cross-platform interoperability or cross-application interoperability.
Cross-platform interoperability refers simply to the capacity of games to be played across multiple platforms. Fortnite, for example, can be played on a number of devices: Xbox, PlayStation, PC, etc. When traditional companies refer to their game as “interoperable” this is what they mean. In lieu of a single access point, they boast a series of gates to their ecosystem. Impressive? Sure. But the borders of that ecosystem remain closed and items earned in-game cannot be used elsewhere.
Cross-application interoperability refers to the capacity of games to utilize a shared asset. Items, in other words, can be used in other games. Imagine defending Azeroth with your Fortnite gun. Or strutting through Skyrim in your customized Fall Out gear. That’s the promise of real interoperability: game items without a confined digital ecosystem.
Extracting data from items to spin up new ones in games (as opposed to explicit asset-sharing) is one way creatives can collaborate to leverage interoperability. Players might even stake their items from one game in another, leveraging the value of their assets without strictly migrating them from their original context. Interoperability permits a level of flexibility (for gamers and developers) that we just don’t get under the traditional model.
When we talk about interoperability we’re talking about this second class. Cross-platform interoperability requires updated business practices between developers and platform providers. Cross-application interoperability requires a complete shift in the technology used by gaming companies, one which will revolutionize the field and restore ownership rights to players.
Ok… so now we’re on the same page, it’s time to begin our journey. And, like any hero’s journey, our story begins with a dreary status quo…
Part One: Why Present Models Fail
“So”, I hear you asking, “technically, why can’t I load up my Fortnite skin in World of Warcraft?”
Another great question. Look at you go. You’re on fire.
Interoperability doesn’t exist on traditional apps as items are housed on company servers: siloed databases which confine assets to their native ecosystem. When you purchase a skin on Fortnite, the properties of that item along the records of your purchase, are held exclusively by developers.
When you switch to WOW you’re switching to a new server and database, one with separate asset records and regulations. User-transactions, under this model, form mere license agreements: a right to use items within, and only within, the context of that original game. Thus forming a closed loop between player and developer.
In 2018 over $50billion USD was spent on in-game items. 69% of Fortnite users purchased assets in the game, spending an average of $85 USD each. And yet, none of these assets are truly owned by the player.
So long as assets are bound to one server their value hinges on one use case: the original game. And when players get tired of that game, or when that game shuts down, that item becomes a sunk cost. The centralized model, put simply, traps your assets to a single server.
It’s been this way for so long that it’s hard to imagine an alternative, and most gamers have just accepted the status quo as a feature of virtual ownership. Now, with the power of decentralized networks, we’re finally testing these assumptions and proving we can build a world where interoperability is the rule, not the exception.
Part Two: How Decentralized Networks Enable Interoperability
Through storing these assets on distributed ledgers, players can leverage their use in a variety of games. For Gods Unchained, in early 2019 we partnered with CryptoKitties to highlight this very feature of blockchain-derived interoperability. Items in Game A have use-cases in Game B.
This breaks the outdated precedent set by traditional companies of these closed loops between player and developer. Instead, decentralized networks foster an open-economy, one in which the borders of applications are opened, allowing migration of assets from one game to the next.
Blockchain-based game assets (commonly referred to as non-fungible tokens) promise to set this bold new standard for cross-application support. Their properties and ownership records are managed via the blockchain, a decentralized model which facilitates exchange between game ecosystems.
Under this model, user transactions confer true ownership. If developers shut down, your assets aren’t lost. You can still use them in other games which recognize those assets and continue to trade them on decentralized marketplaces. Players can even develop games of their own to ensure these legacy assets have continued value. Of course, that item might not have the exact same use-case in the next game. The idea, however, is that assets are no longer constrained to a single ecosystem.
In this way, assets in blockchain gaming function more closely to property in the real world. If IKEA suddenly shuts down, the cupboards and tables you spent hours setting up in your living room won’t suddenly disappear. And neither should your assets in games.
Developers benefit under this model as each use-case compliments the other, raising asset-liquidity and value of the product. When items are worth more to players, they’ll be worth more to developers. And the movement towards decentralization will birth a new breed of creatives, eager to capitalize on the burgeoning market of interoperable items.
Our partnership with CryptoKitties showcases one of the many possibilities unlocked through blockchain gaming. For too long, we’ve treated ownership of virtual goods as distinct from physical goods. Now, with the power of interoperability, we have the chance to empower gamers and create digital economies we can be proud of.
~ Robbie Ferguson
Co-Founder @ Immutable