Great Web3 games should be fully — not partially — on-chain


Gaming has been a catalyst in resurrecting Web3 from a year-long winter. It’s also a key force for mass adoption. Yet, the journey towards fully realizing the potential of Web3 gaming is fraught with challenges, notably the seamless integration of on-chain elements without sacrificing the core tenets of decentralization and player empowerment.

New users should only experience friction if necessary, and as late as possible. That’s not the case with most existing Web3 games. From connecting their wallets upfront to signing transactions for verification, users face multiple hurdles before actually trying the game. These frictions contrast starkly with the vision of a seamless and accessible gaming world that fully on-chain gaming aspires to achieve.

Titles such as Axie Infinity and CryptoKitties, though groundbreaking, fall short of being fully on-chain. Fully on-chain games store all game assets, mechanics, and states on the blockchain. This radical approach ensures unparalleled transparency, security, and player control, allowing for a truly decentralized gaming experience where players own and shape their digital destinies.

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Building the best game demands a functional, efficient combination of on-chain elements and the rich user experience of legacy titles.

Holding Web3 games to Web2 standards is comparing apples to oranges. Their requirements, value propositions, and scopes differ greatly despite serving similar audiences.

Web3 games are meant to solve age-old problems like top-down models, lack of user control, and strong-arming by gaming corporations. That’ll happen only by implementing alternative models, processes, and principles — not by emulating the outcomes achieved in Web2.

We can even argue that terms like “engaging,” “seamless,” and “hassle-free,” will take on new meanings in this context, enhanced by other aspects like community orientation, real in-game value, and user-generated logic.

Therefore, when building Web3 games, the most crucial requirement is to address novel challenges, ideally involving embracing innovative technologies and models that align with the principles of autonomy and community governance. It’s about building “Autonomous Worlds” (AWs), a concept introduced in 2022 by Ludens — the founder of — to describe “a world with a blockchain substrate.”

Moreover, new-age games must nurture and serve the expanding community of problem-aware gamers. Those who seek genuine solutions to the odds stacked against them in legacy gaming. Not mere bounty hunters and fleeting profit-mongers.

Building fully on-chain games

Ironically, titles like Axie Infinity and CryptoKitties, which served as pivotal catalysts in the evolution of blockchain gaming, weren’t fully on-chain. They were experimental, niche, and heavily crypto-centric, characterized by their clunky user interfaces. Despite opening up new avenues, they weren’t entirely Autonomous Worlds either. Users had little or no control over the rules and direction of the game, and only parts of the game states were on-chain.

Dark Forest was the first decentralized real-time strategy game, released in 2020. Using Zero-Knowledge Proofs (zkProofs), a cryptographic protocol, to create a “fog of war” in the gaming experience, this project set an example in building incomplete information games on-chain. For reference, think of games like poker, where players only see their hands and don’t know what cards others have.

The challenge Dark Forest tackled was maintaining a publicly accessible distributed ledger without compromising the confidentiality of players’ strategies — a fundamental aspect in any strategic gameplay.

Using zkProofs, Dark Forest maintained gameplay integrity and player privacy on a blockchain. This approach solved the critical issue of revealing sensitive game states (e.g., planet locations or attack trajectories), which is easily manageable with centralized servers but very challenging in decentralized environments. Dark Forest’s solution set a precedent for real-time strategy gaming on the blockchain, providing a blueprint for future on-chain game development.

They even sparked the proliferation of community-oriented, bottom-up AWs: Mithraeum, Citadel, ZkHunt, and so on. Loot Project was another interesting addition to this space, letting users permissionlessly expand the IP and spawning hundreds of games, lores, etc.

Mithraeum. Source: Screenshot

By putting everything on-chain — from game states (assets, actions, etc.) to logic (rules of introduction, mechanisms for in-game interactions, etc.), AWs unlock flexible and resilient digital realities where users come of their own.

Going beyond in-game asset ownership, they incentivize players to attach greater significance to their on-chain gaming activities. More importantly, on-chain logic provides gamers with a meaningful say in what’s legitimate and what’s not in the game-world.

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This is a massive departure from the status quo, where end-users are mostly passive consumers, playing at the whims and mercy of corporate publishers. Rules and norms emerge via community consensus, not the arbitrary will of external entities. And they serve grassroots interests. Players can build, contribute, monetize, and participate in ways that are impossible in Web2 games.

The empowering, skin-in-the-game nature of AWs instills a stronger desire for mastery in gamers. They’re more driven to find creative solutions to solve problems and create mods and plugins to establish entirely separate economies within the game. This participatory fosters a deeper connection to the game, encouraging creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration within the community. For example, Dark Forest players have built a range of bots, plugins, and custom clients they can use to climb a leaderboard.

As we look to the future, the journey towards fully on-chain gaming is not without its challenges, yet the promise it holds is immense. By redefining engagement, ownership, and control within the digital realm, on-chain gaming is poised to offer experiences that more closely mirror real-world interactions and relationships. In doing so, it not only enhances the richness of virtual worlds but also establishes a new standard for what gaming can be—truly immersive, empowering, and reflective of the players’ desires and aspirations.

The principles of decentralization, player sovereignty, and community collaboration will be the guiding lights, shaping the future of gaming into an inclusive, democratic, and exciting digital frontier.

Felix Xu is a co-founder and CEO of ARPA. Felix graduated with Finance and Information Systems degrees from New York University. For the past six years, Felix has been working on venture capital investment in fintech, big data and AI startups. Most recently, Felix led blockchain sector research and early-stage investment at Fosun Group, one of the largest conglomerates in China.

This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

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