It’s fair to say that decentralised ledger technology (DLT) has an image problem. This is especially true when you consider how it has so far been presented to gamers. Mention non-fungible tokens, blockchain or even the metaverse in any reputable gaming article and you can be sure that readers will holler their disapproval in the comments below (something that we don’t have to worry about here of course).
It’s understandable why there is so much hostility. Quite apart from the money being exchanged for what are considered little more than easily replicable screenshots, advocates barely seem able to make a discernable or cohesive case for NFTs existing in or around games at all, aside from the distant promise of freedom from the tyranny that retains ownership of our digital stuff.
We can probably all get behind that ideal, but when you dig a little deeper and read about the scams and the scheming, the hacks and the hacked off (not to mention the persistent environmental impact of token mining), it’s no wonder why most would rather watch from behind a barrel lobbing hand grenades at the denizens of the wild digital frontier as they go about their financial feuding.
Understandable too that there are so few high profile game developers openly admitting to embracing the blockchain. Even those whose stars have fallen below the horizon quickly pay the price when they do, as was the case when Peter Molyneux’s 22cans announced Legacy back in December. What is perhaps needed is a meat shield, something that embattled DLT-supporting devs can rally behind as they battle the tide of opinion.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
Hoping to raise the banner behind which the blockchain-empowered masses can fight back is Moxy.io, a soon-to-be launched platform that, in part, aims to be the Steam of blockchain games.
The service will comprise a number of aspects beyond being a host for games. People will initially sign up for Moxy Club, which is a one-stop shop for tokens, NFTs and the like. Allied to this is Moxy Launch, which is essentially how new games are backed, voted on initially by Moxy Club members (presumably votes cost tokens – it’s not entirely clear). Finally there is the core of the whole service, Moxy Forge.
“Sort of how Unity and Unreal are like the engine for the graphics for a game, Moxy Forge can be the engine for the blockchain side, the crypto side, all that kind of stuff” explains marketing director Nolan deFouw “On top of that we have the Moxy platform, which has a bunch of games on it, sort of like Steam and Epic.”
Sort of is maybe pushing it. Steam has 50,000 games. Epic has over a thousand. Moxy.io, when it initially launches, will have just two fully-integrated titles. Fish Tanks from Teesside’s SockMonkey Studios, and BattleRise: Kingdom of Champions from Polish studio SoDigital. Admittedly Steam and Epic only started with a handful each and Fish Tanks does look a heap of fun, but Counter-Strike or Fortnite it is not.
The good news for gamers is that the Moxy team is actively courting the developers of FPS and sports games, but the reality is that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and until Moxy.io is fully up and running, there’s not much for risk-averse studios to sample.
“We’re really targeting indie publishers that are willing to take the risk and allocate some of their resources into integration,” says deFouw. “I think it’s been very successful so far, and I think it’s just gonna become more successful going forward.”
BETTER CALL GABE
They might not be backed up by too many games right now, but Moxy is not without some impressive firepower among its executive team, many of whom have backed a few successful titles in their time. Leading the pack is Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari who has the curious title of chief knowledge officer. Moxy’s executive chairman Lawrence Siegel is a former president of Sega Europe, while heading up Europeon operations is the co-founder of MicroProse Stewart Bell. Sure, collectively they’ve likely cultivated more grey hairs than games in recent years, but there can be few teams as experienced at securing successful titles. Plus, they each come with their own network of industry contacts built up over the full 50 years of the games industry’s existence .
“Funny story” says deFouw, “right after the news dropped where Gabe Newell pulled all the NFT games off Steam, Stewart (Bell) was on the phone within two hours and he was like, ‘What are you doing Gabe? What’s going on? He’s like, ‘Well, I can’t have 12 year old kids making money on my platform and I don’t even know who they are. I’m gonna get shut down in a few days. And then Stuart’s like, ‘Well, let me tell you, we have something coming up soon. He’s like, ‘Perfect. Get it done and we’ll talk.’”
NEW SKIDS ON THE BLOCK
Since dropping blockchain and NFT games from Steam last October, the Valve co-founder and president has clarified the reasons for the bombshell decision, saying that it wasn’t the technology he has a problem with, but the way it’s being implemented, citing reports that fraud underpins 50 percent of cryptocurrency transactions. That would suggest that the availability of blockchain games could be reinstated across Steam if the correct checks and balances were in place. An opportunity for Moxy, sure, but it also begs the question, what’s to stop Valve or Epic offering the same functionality that Moxy is soon to launch?
“They definitely could do that” admits deFouw, “but I don’t think any of them are gonna take the initiative to go out right now and do it in the current climate.
“A lot of the concern is with regulatory compliance. Moxie has an on ground USA letter of utility. We’re not a security, we’re not a financial token or utility token. So no perceived increase in value, no monetary value, just utility, so you can add this into your game if you’re interested. You can have your own token, put play-and-earn into your games, you can make some Moxy token, you can use it as you would any other in-game currency like Riot Points or Fortnite V-Bucks. We help with all that and we make it easy for publishers without them having to hire $500,000 a year blockchain devs, tokenomics people and lawyers.”
INFINITY AND BEYOND
As much as Moxy.io wants to make it easy for game developers and publishers to sign up to the service, it’s just as important that it be a no brainer for NFT-curious gamers to do so as well. One of the aspects that differentiates Moxy.io from the competition, insists deFouw, is that the process of joining Moxy and playing games is frictionless: “A lot of these other blockchain games right now, you have to buy Ethereum, make a MetaMask wallet, transfer that to Ronin Wallet, use PancakeSwap, get the game token, put it back in, pay your gas fees, all that kind of stuff. It’s such a high barrier to entry.
“To play Axie Infinity right now, before you even start playing, you have to buy a $2,000 NFT, you have to buy some Axie tokens. It’s insane. No one can afford to do this. No one wants to do it. With Moxy you just sign up, you’re allocated a wallet, and then you can
Despite Axie Infinity probably being the biggest play-to-earn game in town, it certainly seems like the Moxy team aren’t fans. “The graphics are bad. The game is bad. It’s not fun” says deFouw emphatically, saying that were it not a way to earn tokens, no one would ever play it. “We want to get in with triple-A games, really fun games, actual games you’d want to play.”
Rather than adopt the standard play-to-earn model common to games like Axie Infinity, the Moxy spin on the contentious concept is called play-and-earn. According to the Moxy sales pitch, with the former you play to make money, not to have fun. With Moxy, the idea is that gamers play for fun and earn along the way, as they might amass playtime on other platforms. Moxy terms them proof-of-play rewards. Players can then put an entry price to a game, or set up game tournaments, with entry tokens going towards a prize pool, allowing players to earn more money. Or lose more, we assume.
HACK AND SLASH
All games being equal, we’re not sure there’s a fundamental difference between play-to-earn and play-and-earn, or, if there is, it can only be subjective. Even so, prioritising fun so that it is at least equal to a game’s earning potential rather than being subordinate is in some way laudable. We doubt detractors will be convinced, however.
“We’re not trying to be a blockchain project” insists Nolan deFouw. “We’re not trying to be a crypto project. We’re not trying to be an NFT project. We’re trying to use the technology – distributed ledger technology – to actually accomplish the goal we have, right? Because it’s not really possible to be able to reward people and be able to transfer things and do all this other stuff if you don’t use DLT. We just want to be a gaming project that uses that technology in order to accomplish our goals, because it’s the only technology that can do it.”
But is it though? Gamers earn in-game currency all the time. We’re all familiar with Steam’s trading cards, which are earned through gameplay and can be sold and traded for points or put towards game purchases. Sure, Valve is the primary gatekeeper, but then Moxy.io, to some degree, has to be the gatekeeper of its transactions. Where those transactions are recorded seems almost irrelevant in that context.
“I honestly don’t think there are other solutions that are as safe and secure as blockchain,” says deFouw. “The thing is with crypto, sure, there can be hacks. But it’s not like you can actually take people’s coins at the core blockchain level. The other part is I can’t hack my way to have more coins. In a regular database, if someone gets in there, they can make it so they have 100 million tokens, but inside of blockchain, since it’s distributed ledger technology and everything’s kept on that ledger, it’s not like you can really change them all at once.”
Almost undermining his own argument, when asked about the Moxy.io launch, deFouw revealed that it had been planned for the end of April, but due to the $650 million that was hacked from the user accounts of Axie Infinity, the Moxy team decide to review its security to provide hardware support for wallets.
“We didn’t want to just launch and get hacked, because you never know, anything can get hacked. We just want to take extra precautions, especially with the kind of money that’s involved in this. We did a fundraising round, we raised $10.35 million, so we definitely want to make sure all of our investors are safe and secure. And as well as, you know, regular players.”
If there are no destructive hacking attempts in the wake of the Moxy.io launch and the two games lined up are well received, deFouw hopes that within six months the team will have at least one triple-A title from a large studio integrated into the Moxy ecosystem. Then, by the end of 2023, the Moxy team hopes to have its first in-house game in circulation, a Pokemon Go-style blockchain title that has yet to be revealed, but which as a concept actually came before that
Despite the team first coming together in 2017 when the blockchain and NFTs seemed far from threatening gaming’s borders, it’s clear that Moxy.io is very much at the beginning of its journey. Whether it’s able to counter the overwhelming hostility from gamers to blockchain gaming through a combination of experience and approachability seems unlikely, because as we know with every platform launch, whether a piece of new hardware or not, it always comes down to the perceived quality of the games. Whether Moxy brands them play-to-earn or play-and-earn, for gamers it’s not about the preposition or the conjunction, they just want to play and enjoy. The Moxy team has a long way to go to convince those that consider playing and earning anathema to one another that DLT games can be fun.