One of the most successful companies in the field of games has spent the last year experimenting with the blockchain. It is time to pay attention
Imagine a game in which you jump with a parachute on a unique island that generates your own computer. Against the backdrop of a landscape painted in vibrant colors, you run through fields of polygonal colors and shape the terrain, creating “challenges” for future visitors to the island. Do whatever you want and when you're done hit Publish and save your creation to the blockchain. This is your property. You own it - in every sense of the word.
This is the vision of HashCraft on the blockchain Ubisoft, a project of the French gaming giant - Strategic Innovation Laboratory. Inspired by Minecraft, this treasure hunt and island exploration game is based on the total computing power of its players. There is no central server. There is no controlling company. Players can freely collaborate or compete with each other in a decentralized, ever-changing network, creating communities large and small, deciding what the rules will be, even the physics of their world.
This is different from anything the gaming industry has ever experienced. But, for better or worse, Ubisoft I am not yet ready to release this experience.
HashCraft is a prototype experiment that could be the future of cryptogaming. The game is the brainchild of a manager on blockchain initiatives in Ubisoft Nicholas Poard, Robert Fals, senior research and development programmer, and the rest of the Strategic Innovations Lab team, whose job is to anticipate where the industry is heading.
Ubisoft wants their games to be future proof (works)
“The mission of the Strategic Innovations Lab is to help the team Ubisoft anticipate and be prepared for the future, ”says Poard, one of the founders of the newly formed alliance Blockchain Game Alliance. "We are exploring technical, social and business trends that can affect gaming and entertainment in general, in 5 or 10 years." Poard says that Ubisoft For many years she worked with external experts, including neuroscientists and data experts, long before other game companies started doing the same.
The laboratory leads the work Ubisoft in advanced research, in various related fields such as augmented reality, machine learning and blockchain, “exploring all potential impacts, not only from a technical or gaming perspective, but also from a business and legal perspective,” explains Poard.
The Strategic Innovations Laboratory spent most of last year creating a prototype of HashCraft and demonstrating its potential as in Ubisoftand at exhibitions and conferences. Poard says he was shocked by the game's reception - the hordes of gamers (and impatient journalists) who want to know when the game will be released. According to Poard, no matter how well the Laboratory predicted future trends, this was not what they expected.
While HashCraft will never be released to consumers, the experiment Ubisoft with blockchain already pushed the boundaries of the possible in the gaming industry. And most people in the company are just as excited about what this means for the future of games.
Learning to coding - the road to HashCraft
For Poard, the experience of creating HashCraft was nothing more than a transformation. The man who heads the blockchain direction of one of the largest gaming companies in the world does not have a formal technical education. Before joining Ubisoft he taught philosophy for 10 years, working mainly with teenagers and young students. A geek teacher who spent his free time playing videos and role-playing games when he wasn't questioning existence and wondering where the hell it was being created.
"When I was offered to join Ubisoft and its Strategic Innovation Lab, I saw an opportunity to use my abilities in the service of one of the leaders and most innovative companies in the video games and entertainment industry, ”says the former philosopher. “I thought it was the perfect platform for thinking about the future of the industry at the intersection of innovation and creativity and how it will affect society, even outside of games.”
When poard joined Ubisoft, he began by mapping the company's "global consistency" - the idea that things, places, characters in the game universe should have meaning, a reason for being. At the same time, he was asked to help track and analyze changes in various technologies, business practices and society at large, which led him to "become increasingly interested in blockchain," he says. And as soon as he realized the "socio-economic promise" of distributed ledger technology, he was immediately hooked.
Poard essentially taught himself everything he needed to know about the blockchain, not unlike coders on his team. According to him, the real “wizard” behind HashCraft was Robert Fals, the lead game developer, who had no experience with the blockchain before HashCraft. Fals is a former technical director of Braincandy Studios, and also worked as a developer at Mob in Life and worked on visual effects and developing his own software for rotoscopy for several years before joining Ubisoft.
Both Poard and Fals say they are not interested in using blockchain to create a game, unless the technology is used to genuinely create something that no one else has ever done, no other game company has ever tried - let alone already about a publisher of AAA games like Ubisoft.
For Poard, this was a chance to demonstrate how blockchains can be used to “redefine management models” and completely reverse the traditional dynamics between developers and players, changing the game ecosystem. For False, it was a challenge to pull up the blockchain to its technological limits.
HashCraft Development is Taking Crypto Games to the Next Level
Studying all the details of the blockchain was not easy, says False. There were a lot of "painful trial and error." But finding a way to integrate the blockchain in a new and useful way was even harder.
Cryptocollege, non-interchangeable tokens (NFT) or even the creation of a new cryptocurrency were removed from the table. Even if they are not widely used in the gaming industry, all of them have already been created and were not interesting, says Fals. But at that moment, when the team found out what the blockchain can do in the gameplay, they immediately became very "enthusiastic and ambitious."
“We have forced ourselves not to use any database or network system outside of what blockchain itself could offer,” he says. "We thought this was the only way for us to truly explore the technology to its fullest, although it will necessarily limit what can be done."
Ultimately, HashCraft will be built on the private MultiChain blockchain using a proof of work-like consensus mechanism. Each player, using the computing power of his system, essentially plays the role of a miner in the network, creates and checks the "work" built into the block, visually represented as an island. “After that, the island becomes available to all other players, and they do not need to re-perform the calculations,” explains Poard.
The mechanics of HashCraft allows each game to act as a “node on the network,” which creates “a constantly running network without the need for a dedicated central server,” says Poard. “Players are directly contributing to the expansion of the world by creating their own island, hiding their treasures and exposing their own challenges to other players,” he says. Then each island created by users is registered on the blockchain, which gives players unprecedented freedom of action.
Because players can choose who they share their islands with, the communities they create can be as large or small as they would like, or, as Poard explains, groups of players can even “create their own blockchain networks,” which are completely new universes, each with its own unique set of possible boundaries in the game.
So the goal of games like HashCraft is to make publishers like Ubisoft, worked as creators of "fantasy" - the characters and the general storylines of the game - and then just got out of the way. Through blockchain, the “ecosystem” (individual players and the communities they create) creates “experiences” by acquiring true literal ownership of those characters and creating new stories of their choice.
“This is another paradigm for online gaming,” says Poard. "At the moment this world is very rough and basic - the online side is really limited - but it gives us an idea of a possible future." The question arises: how close is this future?
Can cryptogaming be a business?
Since a lot of time and resources are invested not only in creating a prototype of HashCraft, but also in demonstrating its audience around the world, there is a natural curiosity about short-term intentions. Ubisoft to create a blockchain.
Poard says that while the HashCraft experiment is completed, the work on its presentation to the teams Ubisoft hoping to inspire them to bring their apps to market continues. It is too early to talk about "business models" with games like HashCraft, he said. Monetization may end up involving some type of cryptocurrency, but Poard is not convinced that such a strategy is sustainable over time. “On the other hand,” he says, “NFTs can redefine in-game item purchases,” and blockchain also offers “new opportunities for the digital supply chain, using smart contracts to manage the distribution of revenue from user-generated content.”
However, all these modelsincome raises important questions, he says. “How to manage NFT inflation over time? Should they be fleeting? How do you manage the decentralized trading of these assets? ”The long-term implications of these decisions have yet to be verified, says Poard. And Ubisoft is closely following several startups that are funded by its Station F program, such as Azarus, EverdreamSoft и B2Expandthat explore some of these issues.
And while the bear market forcibly reduces the entire cryptoindustry, Puard says that the cryptogaming market is virtually unaffected. In fact, the recession probably had a positive effect, returning honest companies to the ground, he says. "A return to reality may be tough, but it is beneficial for the entire ecosystem." Some may worry about the uncertain future of cryptoindustry, but for Poard the future of games is as clear as day:
..like how multiplayer online games and mobile games have changed the game industry, the blockchain is ready to do the same!