The e-gaming industry is booming, set to surpass $200 billion by 2023. The market reached an unprecedented peak in 2020, no doubt influenced by global stay-at-home orders. The gaming market continues to be a fiercely competitive space where a few developers (those who take a concept and design it into a game) and publishers (those who take a game to market) hold significant power and sway in the market. Looking ahead, the industry forecasts steady gains. But where are the new, disruptive opportunities for growth?

Opening walled gardens

Games today are typically walled gardens that operate independently from one another; this results in separate payment systems. Currency and assets can’t be transferred easily out of a game; gaming assets are property purchased in-game, either for functionality (e.g. equipment) or artwork (e.g. aesthetic graphics or audio, often for your avatar). Players regularly spend money on virtual items that are limited to a single game which, to an untrained eye, have no tangible value. What would happen if digital ownership of assets held lasting value and could be easily traded and transferred peer-to-peer and game-to-game? We may be about to find out, as cutting-edge technologies and crypto are bringing new capabilities to the market that have the potential to transform the industry.

What would happen if digital ownership of gaming assets held lasting value and could be easily traded and transferred peer-to-peer and game-to-game?

It makes sense from a consumer’s perspective to be able to trade freely between platforms. However, games are walled gardens for a reason. It’s because game developers and publishers retain the liquidity from in-game purchases. Unsurprisingly, this is a privilege they’re not fighting to forfeit. If the ecosystem is opened up, the dominant game platforms may see liquidity drain from their platform to other parties, eroding their revenue. It’s this fear of lost revenue that’s stifling innovation in the industry. However, a move towards an open ecosystem could spark new and commercially beneficial experimentation, innovation, and opportunity.

Where’s the opportunity?

Today, you can purchase currencies within a game. However, use of these coins is typically limited to the game, platform or ecosystem they were purchased within. There is a distinct lack of a cross-platform digital currency. There is also no existing marketplace or trading system that can rapidly convert digital game coins to other coins or currencies.

Opening up the gaming payments infrastructure to allow for a cross-system platform would enable currencies from different games to be frequently traded while not losing their real-world value. Introducing this level of currency flexibility has the potential to revolutionise e-gaming. For example, groups of people could in theory sit down and play their favourite game in the evening, and the proceeds from winning (or placing second or third) could go to funding a winners’ dinner. Potentially a better incentive mechanism than pure bragging rights. Technology exists that can enable this type of gameplay. CoinMode, a regulated payments company, provides a platform that developers can integrate into their game, and a cross-game wallet to end-users that can be used to pay in mainstream currency.

An open gaming ecosystem would allow subsequent industries to provide complementary products and services. Banks could get involved in digital asset custody to protect the assets that players procure. New marketplaces could emerge for 3rd party services that support mechanisms surrounding digital currencies. Digital advertising could benefit from in-app banners to in-game virtual sponsored shops that change weekly depending on the sponsor.

Where could the industry go?

Setting currencies aside, what about the in-game assets that can be procured? Currently, when you buy an in-game asset, it is unclear who truly owns it. It is also unclear what will happen to it if the servers it’s hosted on are shut down. Assets procured can only be used in the game they were purchased from, and currently players of de-commissioned games lose everything that they procure.

Imagine if game engines developed a method whereby assets could be easily transferred from platform to platform. For example: a ‘first-person shooter’ game whose asset procured is a weapon. When the player moves from this game to another ‘first-person shooter’, they can transfer the asset that they procured in the first to the second and it will still hold the same value. This would remove the potential wasted value and usefulness of any gaming assets procured. Developers could retain a degree of control by setting limits on transferability. What we’re proposing is a Platform-agnostic Transferable Asset (PTA).

Cue virtual plug-and-play

With this technology, a game could be developed with no original equipment or original artwork. This game could be an environment where users bring their PTAs bought from other games. This would create virtual plug-and-play and decentralise the development of digital gaming assets.

Moving to an open ecosystem would bring exponential growth and a multitude of adjacent opportunities to an already thriving industry.

This would catalyse a shift in the perception of the utility of digital gaming assets from an intangible asset to a capital asset with a long shelf-life and an established market value. These assets could appreciate and gain value over time, similar to retro games, especially if the initial supply is limited. Assets could also be distributed as original artworks and prints in the traditional sense. This would increase the overall revenue for artists and developers alike.

What must change for this innovation to happen?

A number of challenges must be overcome in the gaming industry for these to become reality.

  1. App stores need to open up their payments infrastructure to allow different gaming payment technologies and mechanisms to exist
  2. Game publishers must adapt to the open ecosystem of assets and ownership
  3. Game engines must create the capability to easily move assets from platform to platform, from scaling up and down, to defining and restricting what and how assets can be used within certain games

Moving to an open ecosystem would bring exponential growth and a multitude of adjacent opportunities to an already thriving industry. It would bring huge benefits to consumers, developers and publishers while driving user adoption and facilitating new innovative forms of digital advertising. It’s clear that the opportunities are endless. So, are you game?