Blockchain Games See Surge During the Pandemic — Can the Tech Handle It?

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As more people self-isolate due to the coronavirus pandemic, gaming platforms all over the world have seen a spike in traffic. One report notes that cell network company Verizon claimed that online gaming platforms have seen a 75% increase in traffic with an overall 20% spike in streaming across the web. Despite the fact that the boost in traffic on online gaming platforms is as a result of the unfortunate pandemic, blockchain games have not been left out.

A recent report shows Microsoft Azure, a service that allows developers to operate blockchain networks for applications such as Xbox, registering record-high levels of latency on its network for the first time as a result of quarantined gamers straining the Xbox app. Although most industry watchers will admit that blockchain gaming is the future, the jury is still out on whether that future can be sustainable.

Other platforms that have seen increased traffic

Apart from Xbox, other non-mainstream gaming platforms have also been gaining new users. War Riders, a blockchain game where players get to build and crash cars in a Mad Max-like experience, is said to have received upward of 70% in new users with an increase in the average time spent in the game.

According to Sebastien Borget, the co-founder and COO of Pixowl — a San Francisco-based startup that is behind a blockchain game called The Sandbox — Cryptovoxels, which is a Sim City-like gaming experience on a blockchain, has also seen an increased number of users recently. 

In Borget’s observations, the decentralized virtual worlds of games such as CryptoVoxels, Decentraland and Somnium have seen “an influx of new users who are meeting and socializing in the metaverse, organizing their own events, meet-ups or even festivals.” He added: “I think this is great and hosting events and providing activities to do for gamers inside the metaverse is the right way to go.” 

Borget also mentioned that Pixowl’s Sandbox decentralized gaming platform “completely sold out its virtual land presale, generating 3,400 ETH in just five hours on March 31.” Other gaming platforms that have had a successful run so far include Cryptowars announcing its v2 launch and Skyweaver launching Season 0, among others.

What’s driving interest in blockchain gaming?

Edward Smith, the co-founder and lead developer at Neblio, a blockchain as a service company, believes that: “Gaming and entertainment will be some of the biggest winners of the crisis our world is facing today, including blockchain-based gaming.” According to Smith:

“We will start to see more and more blockchain integration into esports as time goes on. The two industries share many of the same users, as gamers are some of the most passionate blockchain users.” 

There is a general consensus among most industry watchers that interest toward blockchain-based games will grow as more developers lean more toward play-to-earn gaming models — as has been the case with popular blockchain games like Gods Unchained and CryptoKitties. Borget also agrees that what’s driving more interest is the fact that “blockchain games have been pushing further on the play-to-earn side, offering an appealing alternative to make some money while having fun and playing.”

Borget also pointed out Axie Infinity as one of the games in the blockchain gaming space that has benefited from “a growing active community who are sharing tips on how to make money with crypto gaming.” Apart from an opportunity to earn extra income, another factor that is pushing gamers toward blockchain games is the freedom and autonomy that comes with decentralization.

While the gaming industry offers blockchain technology a user-friendly avenue for mass adoption, in turn, the technology can contribute through its open-source, transparent and decentralized nature to the gaming world.

A decentralized and autonomous alternative — but is it ready?

Last year, a decentralized digital card-based game, Gods Unchained, generated significant revenue on the backdrop of the Hong Kong protests after standing up for a gamer who spoke against the actions of the Chinese government. With a promise to give gamers freedom through true ownership and autonomy over their collectibles and winnings, the Heartstone-based game saw a spike in traffic, becoming one of the most popular blockchain games of 2019.

With some arguing that online censorship is on the rise, especially among centralized applications, more gamers are looking toward blockchain games to provide a much-needed reprieve. For years, blockchain developers have been waiting for mass adoption. Even though Bitcoin (BTC) has been in the limelight over the years, it is nowhere close to mass adoption.

Therefore, to match the increasing demand and appetite for entertainment among mainstream gamers, especially during quarantine, blockchain gaming platforms are being forced to adapt. Blockchain games have been gaining traction and acceptance, however, scalability and capacity are still issues for most blockchain networks.

While scalability is less of a problem for private blockchains, gaming platforms that want to support massively multiplayer online games will have to increase the capacity to manage and store large volumes of data. The strain is already being felt by companies, such as Microsoft, Azure that provide blockchain as a service. 

The curious case of Azure

In a recent United States Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Microsoft Azure, a platform that allows users to deploy a blockchain network on a cloud without having to invest in hardware infrastructure, reported a decline in its typical network capacity as a result of quarantined gamers putting a strain on its cloud platform.

In a statement, the company admitted that “deployments for some compute resource types” had dropped after “receiving significant demand” for its services in some regions including northern Europe, western Europe, the south of the United Kingdom and southern Brazil, to mention a few.

Since Microsoft’s Xbox application is among the clients Microsoft Azure serves, the increased number of quarantined Xbox gamers is said to have strained the Azure Blockchain network. However, Mike Brusov, the co-founder and CEO of Cindicator, a fintech company offering predictive analysis for crypto investors, begged to disagree:

“Capacity is probably not the main problem for blockchain gaming. Azure is Microsoft’s cloud and a rival to both Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. So, the increased strain Xbox Live was putting on Azure is probably due to its 65 million gamers spending more time playing, and is not necessarily related to blockchain.”

On the other hand, Carlos Roldan, the founder and CEO of Satoshi’s Games, a blockchain gaming platform, painted a different picture when asked about blockchain technology’s capability to handle mass adoption:

“There is no blockchain gaming platform, whose infrastructure is distributed or on-chain, that will kick off in a very attractive spectrum to supply the massive demand that is currently going on due to the current scalability issues happening with on-chain gaming infrastructure.”

He added that some games based on the Lightning Network have still been ”able to supply the current demand despite the low demand on the Bitcoin’s network.”

Preparing for mass adoption amid a global pandemic

As the world continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, placing more people in quarantine, industry watchers like Brusov, Roldan and Smith expect growth in the in-game token economy, as more gamers use blockchain games to earn extra income. 

Responding to a question about how blockchain games can best prepare for increased mass adoption during this pandemic, Roldan said: “In order to scale up and board traditional gamers into blockchain gaming, the onboarding process must be minimal and frictionless.” He pointed out that “any blockchain game that accomplishes a minimum of skill-based gameplay can achieve” mass adoption, adding:

“Currently, we see a high volume of blockchain games with around 80% blockchain integration and around 20% (fun) gameplay. This only supplies the demand for gamers within the blockchain users, which is a small niche.” 

According to Brusov, gaming companies could “use tokens for managing access and rewarding gamers” as a way to attract more gamers during this period of a global pandemic. Meanwhile, Borget maintained that a natural way of increasing mass adoption is through the adoption of competitive and collaborative gaming that will push blockchain-based games to be played the «way video games are played: built and shared across communities.”

It’s time for blockchain games to evolve

Apart from experimenting with different consensus protocols, blockchain gaming platforms can begin to think beyond offering NFT based games and start to delve into interactive and engaging games on the blockchain. As pointed out by industry participants like Roldan, this can be achieved on an off-chain LN.

Related: NFT Floodgates Open With Impressive Lineup of Blockchain Games in 2020

It is also important for game developers to think outside the box and come up with games that are as engaging as traditional games. Furthermore, instead of building blockchain games from scratch, game developers can build on top of preexisting networks like Microsoft Azure or Neblio that provide highly scalable, general-purpose blockchains capable of handling mass adoption.