The economics of the $116 billion video game industry continue to evolve, and that’s one reason game developers are looking to blockchain technology to keep them profitable.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to play a video game, you bought it. Now, with so many smartphones and their app stores, downloading a game often costs gamers nothing. Where their developers make their money is from in-app purchases such as special features and in-game collectibles.

Enterprising developers have found ways for users to play new games with their blockchain game assets.

Now, blockchain and traditional gaming developers are joining forces on a consortium, the Blockchain Game Alliance, aimed at making sure the game players truly own their collectibles.

Blockchain technology means players can “finally have real digital collectibles that cannot be replicated by anyone and can be 100 percent owned by you,” Lidwine Sauer, director of insights and trends for Ubisoft’s strategic innovation lab, told gaming magazine IGN. “Thanks to the blockchain, we can now have the equivalent of a digital Picasso, with the advantage that it’s a lot more difficult to steal something on the blockchain than to [steal] a Picasso.”

Spreading the Blockchain Word

The Blockchain Game Alliance is focused on “the democratization of blockchain within the gaming industry” and spreading “the integration of blockchain by developing common standards and best practices,” according to its website. Its members include Ubisoft, developer of a wide range of popular videogames including “Just Dance” and “Assassin’s Creed;” blockchain developer ConsenSys, and startups including Figs, Alto, Ultra and EverdreamSoft.

The importance of collectibles is not limited to mobile devices. Even paid console games, such as those found on Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation, are adding features that require in-app purchases.

The growing numbers of blockchain-based games are no exception to this trend. Arguably the first blockchain game, “Spells of Genesis” allows users to collect and trade cards and use them to battle each other. The blockchain twist? Certain cards can be exchanged or traded outside the game using cryptocurrency, and like bitcoin (BTC), there will be only a set number of them, meaning their value could conceivably increase over time.

“Our goal is to build an innovative in-game economy, where players own their game items and cards not only in the game world but also outside the game, on the blockchain,” the Spells of Genesis company says on its website. “We believe players should have full ownership of their game items. Once you acquire a game asset, you should be free to own and transfer it.

“Unlike in other games, you should be able to keep their assets outside the game database and be completely independent with them. Once you own a game item, you can play it in Spells of Genesis, trade it on the blockchain or even find alternative uses for it in other games.”

That last idea – using or trading items across games – is driving the push for common standards and best practices like those sought by the Blockchain Gaming Alliance.

New Ways to Play

Despite the absence of standards, enterprising developers have found ways for users to play new games with their blockchain game assets, which often are stored as unique non-fungible tokens on the Ethereum platform. Earlier this year, for example, owners of CryptoKitties, the notorious cat-collecting site, were able to use their virtual kittens in other Ethereum-based games such as Crypto Cuddles.

Other blockchain-based games focused on the ownership of virtual property also are gaining steam: Mega Crypto Polis, a decentralized take on SimCity-like building games on the Ethereum platform, reportedly raised $1 million from would-be virtual landholders ahead of its launch this month.

Still, gamers, like all internet users, need to safeguard their virtual assets. One recent malware attack takes advantage of the mania around the (non-blockchain) game Fortnite by promising a downloadable hack that instead searches victims’ hard drives for bitcoin wallets and other sensitive data.

Mark Toner
Mark Toner is a Washington, D.C., writer and editor. He has covered business, technology, media, education, and healthcare for a wide range of trade and industry publications.