Blockchain technology has the power to revolutionize damn-near every industry, and it has already started on several. One industry that has felt blockchain’s gravitas, particularly in 2021, has been gaming. We have seen the rise of Play to Earn projects, which have taken the gaming NFT trading volume from under $1 million to over $1 billion per month in less than a year. These browser titles have proven to be superb proofs of concept, but they are simply the hors d’oeuvres; what’s to come is a sumptuous feast beyond imagining.
There are genres of games in which blockchain seems to fit seamlessly, but one genre will be revolutionized and improved immeasurably: MMORPGs. Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games have carved out a significant portion of the games industry in the last few decades. Their addictive, community-driven gameplay allows for time-erasing immersion. But what makes MMOs such strong candidates for blockchain technology has gone largely undiscussed: MMOs are mini, centralized metaverses.
The Birth of a Giant
It was a cool, quiet morning, light rain faintly pattering against my window and a hollow breeze. I sat huddled at my desk, alone in the house, and double-clicked the icon. My character loaded into a forest that too was raining. I sipped my drink and opened my quest log. Some messages from guild members popped into my chat window asking for help with some aggressive players they had been fighting. I joined their group and began the run across the map. I remember this morning so clearly; how atmospheric everything felt inside and outside of the game, the sense of community — almost tribalism, and a feeling of motivation no game had ever given me.
It was that morning I transitioned from somebody who loved games, to somebody who lived for them. The progression, the risk, the rewards, the identity, the legacy, the little societies — it tapped into something I unknowingly yearned for, as many others had too. Over the next 15 years, MMOs would house millions of gamers spending millennia of combined hours in these worlds. Nevertheless, somewhere along the line, they lost their way. There have been many factors, but stagnation is one of the most damning. The foundations felt so strong, but building upon them seemed too difficult. Familiar experiences were poured from one bottle to the next and relabeled, losing substance and staling with each iteration.
What MMOs lacked was innovation. There had been little in the way of evolution for the genre and modern graphics were a band-aid on a beheading. The genre had and has unparalleled pull, but it needs something to propel it back to the forefront of gaming. That something is blockchain.
The Perfect Blend
The allure of MMOs is difficult to distill, but its most valuable components can be identified. Whether you’re talking about high fantasy like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy, sci-fi like Eve Online and Planetside 2, or anything in between, there are clear commonalities. I believe there are 5 key aspects: community, economy, progression, identity, and risk.
A flourishing and realistic economy is something of an unsung hero in the MMO genre. Many of the best titles that have lasted the test of time have had deep and intricate economies that underpin them. In fact, Eve Online’s economy is so realistic that it has been studied by universities.
Conversely, a blight of MMOs can often be found in the developers unsettling the economy or undermining it. World of Warcraft suffered significant backlash when they introduced a way to directly buy gold, the in-game currency, for real money. This change caused widespread inflation within the game and drastically changed how people spent their time online.
This problem is mostly overcome by creating a token for the game with a limited supply and the necessary features of a currency baked in. However, successful MMO economies are also improved by blockchain, with a token’s fiat and swap value increasing the risk and reward (which we will return to) of game loops. Needless to say, in-game items having true ownership as NFTs furthers that tenfold. Of course, the economies of MMOs when using blockchain would need to be carefully monitored as exploits, among other issues, would be more problematic. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Character progression — even account progression — is one of the greatest features of any RPG, but it remains core to MMOs too. There is a familiar satisfaction from leveling up, or acquiring better items, or completionism for the hardcore. While blockchain may not add more progression per se, it will certainly have a dramatic impact.
There is a plethora of nuanced ways that blockchain can allow for more fulfilling progression, from NFT achievements to collections, but one area reigns supreme: permanency. If the character you are progressing has an obvious lifespan, it detracts from the experience. However, if your character is an NFT you own and can take with you even after you have left the game, it will feel like time well spent. I dropped thousands of hours into characters and accounts I knew I didn’t truly own and that could be taken away from me. I shudder to think what I would have done had I had full custody of my character and it had applications outside of the game I used it in.
Identity is intrinsically linked with progression in many ways and the benefits of blockchain to it mirror as well. One of the most interesting dynamics in MMOs is the famous and infamous players that rise up. Whether they’re a king of PvE, a sultan of trade, or the queen of PvP, the names stay with us.
I have come across familiar usernames many years later and wondered if it’s the same person. With blockchain technology, your character, your identity, your provenance — they all are retained. The extra dimension this adds should be appreciated. Perhaps before that player steals the shiny loot, he or she will think about the implications that have to his now permanent reputation.
Risk is a mechanic that isn’t always applicable in MMOs, but when it is, it’s thrilling. Whether it’s the fear of losing your loot or the cost of death, when in-game currencies are tokenized and your loot are NFTs, the risk is exacerbated tenfold. Imagine finding a rare NFT, worth considerable sums, and trying to sneak back to town without it being stolen. It’s rare that gaming brings about true adrenaline, but blockchain technology will increase the frequency and strength substantially.
You might argue that a related feature of MMOs is luck. That is, getting rare loot. Need I unpack how exciting that becomes when the items are NFTs with true ownership?
As “Massively Multiplayer” suggests, community is the backbone of any great MMO. The guilds, corporations, or clans that form, the servers and their communities centered around common interests, and so on. How will blockchain impact this?
Firstly, crypto has one of the strongest and most passionate communities you are likely to find, and some of this may transfer across. But the way blockchain will really have an impact is as a result of all the other areas that are enhanced. One key area is the consequence of tokens and tradeable NFTs with true ownership: trust. This is somewhat ironic given that crypto has had the fact that much of it is “trustless” as a core value. Nevertheless, with P2E being core, the communities you build will be akin to real-life insofar as you must trust those around you to prosper.
MMORPGs have been suspended in time. Their fundamentals retain players and prompt the brief return to familiar lands after long having fled the walls, but the genre has floated without direction for too long. Blockchain technology will infuse gaming in familiar ways we have already seen, such as Play to Earn, but its true value is tantamount to unknowable. As far as MMORPGs go, blockchain has the power to resurrect the genre and infuse it a new soul — one that will bring MMOs back to being a singular, all-consuming, gaming vanguard.