Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies have long been slated as tools that can be used to create new sources of value. In the past, we’ve seen examples of this in financial trading, data collection, and application building. More recently, various forms of blockchain tech have been making a splash in cultural spheres: NFTs took the art world by storm earlier this year. Now, the conversation is shifting toward gaming.
A growing number of blockchain researchers, analysts, and startup companies are working on developing video games that are equipped with the technological capabilities to support functioning secondary economies. In-game currencies are being reinvented as blockchain tokens: imagine that your wealth in a virtual world could translate into wealth in real life.
Samson Mow is the chief executive of Pixelmatic, a social mobile game development company that is currently developing Infinite Fleet, a video game that will operate with INF, an in-game blockchain token. Pixelmatic is also holding a security token offering to fund the development of the game.
Samson is also the chief strategy officer of blockchain technology provider Blockstream, which has contributed to the development of Bitcoin’s Lightning network. Blockstream is also responsible for the development of the Liquid network.
We spoke with Samson about the intersection of the work that Pixelmatic and Blockstream are doing to create functioning economies in virtual worlds. Samson also spoke in-depth about Bitcoin’s status as digital cash, the Lightning Network, and Coinbase’s recent public offering.
Blockchain can enable gamers who invest time and money into gaming to get something back
Samson explained that Infinite Fleet, Pixelmatic’s new massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, is leveraging crypto technology in two important ways.
First of all, the game is fundraising with a security token. “This is a token issued in the Liquid Network,” which is a sidechain-based settlement network that was developed on the Blockstream Amp platform. “Amp is a management platform to control the tokens in Liquid Network and add a layer of permissions onto them so that you can have things like securities,” Samons explained.
“We have transaction restrictions, dividend payouts, and all sorts of things that basically allow for the recreation of a financial system on top of Bitcoin-based technology,” he continued.
Infinite Fleet players can purchase the security token, called the EXO token, and “effectively be investors” in the game’s development. “So, if you’re going to make a decision to invest years of your life–most MMO players play for two years if not more–you can also own a piece of equity” in the game.
The EXO token “will pay out 20 percent of the profits not only from Infinite Fleet, but also from subsequent games that are published by the publisher, Exordium.”
How does Infinite Fleet’s blockchain economy work?
This equity-ownership model “is a very new paradigm,” Samson explained. “We haven’t seen many games try this yet, and much less in a tokenized format. So, we’re one of the forerunners of that.”
In addition to the security token, Infinite Fleet will also operate with the INF token, another crypto asset token that exists in the Liquid Network.
“Unlike the EXO security token, this is a pure utility,” Samson said. “It can’t be bought–we’re not selling this token, so it’s not an ICO or anything like that.” Instead, “we’re simply replacing the game currency.”
“If you take World of Warcraft as an example, you would be replacing World of Warcraft gold with a crypto asset,” he continued. “Our goal for that is to have a more open economy where players can freely use this game currency: they can take it out of the game, they can use it for other purposes (you could potentially buy someone a coffee with this token down the road), and you can also have peer-to-peer trade of your assets in the game.”
In Infinite Fleet, these in-game assets are spaceships. “These ships are all non-fungible tokens (NFTs),” Samson said.
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NFTs in gaming
“We pondered the decisions to make the ships into NFTs for a long time,” he said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to go that route, but in the end, we decided that we needed to , because the NFTs and the INF token both live on the Liquid blockchain.”
Because both of these assets exist on the same blockchain, “players can perform what we call ‘atomic swaps,’” Samson explained. “These are trades that are ‘trustless’–there is zero counterparty risk.”
“So, if you want to buy my ship and you have the INF token, we can construct a transaction that only executes if both of us sign off on the agreed terms.”
In essence, “you’re reducing the amount of complexity and need for trust and risk for players. In the past, if you were playing an MMO game like World of Warcraft, and you wanted to buy golf from a gold farmer, you would have had to send the money first–and the gold farmer may or may not deliver the products. It could be a scam.”
“So, this is a way to understand and embrace the fact that game users are going to develop secondary economies, and give them a more open platform to enjoy and to augment their game experience. In a way, what we’re doing is kind of a precursor to ‘Ready Player One,’” Samson said, referencing the 2018 film directed by Steven Spielberg.
For example, “you can play the game, invest your time, level up a ship, and then trade that ship for INF with another player.” Players could also potentially earn passive income through building and operating “space stations” and other services in the game.
“The trend will be to empower the players.”
What could the future of these virtual economies look like?
“The trend will be to empower the players,” Samson said. He drew a parallel with the growth of the Bitcoin network: “the reason why Bitcoin is so dominant is because it’s the freest money, and the freest money will win.” The term “freest” means that it is “the most permissionless money–you can have custody of the asset yourself…it can be sent across borders. Effectively, it’s ‘unstoppable money.’”
“[…] I think that the same thinking will increasingly apply to the game industry and for digital assets for games” Samson said. “Right now, if you play Fortnight, and you buy their ‘Vbux’ currency, it’s not portable–you’re locked in. If you don’t spend all of your Vbux, they’re gone.”
Therefore, “you have this problem where you play games, you buy currencies from the games, and you have these residuals that are locked up. So, our thinking is that we just want to open it all up: you can freely move it, you can do what you want with it, you can trade peer-to-peer with other players, and make it a more welcoming and open experience.”
“NFTs give players a much broader range of reach. They can trade items more freely, and you can have those peer-to-peer economies.”
NFTs could also continue to play an increasingly important role in gaming–perhaps more so than in other industries.
For example, “for the art industry, NFTs are an interesting tool that artists can use to establish closer relationships with their supporters and fans: they can sell something directly to a purveyor of art, they can fractionalize their artwork. But I think the real frontier for NFTs is the game industry.”
“It’s going to be the more disruptive startups, like Pixelmatic, that push this concept forward,” he said, adding that the PIxelmatic team is operating with a high level of understanding of blockchain technology. “Bigger incumbents, like EA or Activision–they’re not going to touch this.”
Why not? “They’re so entrenched in their existing business models,” Samson said. “Why would they give up revenue? Why would the allow players to have a secondary economy when they can just keep selling players stuff that is not portable and locked into their own ecosystems?”
“NFTs give players a much broader range of reach,” Samson explained. “They can trade items more freely, and you can have those peer-to-peer economies.”
However, simply adding the NFT concept to the gaming industry doesn’t necessarily change anything about the gaming world. “The key thing here is that the technology should enable new use cases,” Samson said. “If you just make an NFT, and there’s no way for players to trade it freely, then there’s no point–it’s just a collectible. It wouldn’t really matter if it was or was not an NFT.”
“That’s why I think games that enable player-to-player trade, like online MMO games, are the perfect venue for applying this technology.”
We covered a lot of ground in this interview, including Samson’s thoughts about Bitcoin as digital cash, the Lightning Network, and Coinbase’s recent public offering. This text is an excerpt. To hear Finance Magnates’ full interview with Samson Mow, visit us on Soundcloud or Youtube.