Blockchain versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon and Goon Squad due 2019
Is it about the monetisation of games or the gamification of money?
Atari (video game tycoon) and Animoca (blockchain tycoon) have partnered to release mobile blockchain versions of the popular RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch and Goon Squad games, according to the press release. Publishing of both is expected to begin in 2019.
In more detail, Animoca has acquired the rights to produce and publish blockchain-based versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon and Goon Squad worldwide (with the exception of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) in a licensing deal that saw Atari become a strategic shareholder in Animoca Brands.
At the same time, Atari and Animoca signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a strategic partnership to explore mutual opportunities in the world of gaming, product development, blockchain and other areas.
This is so far in keeping with Atari's blockchain strategy. As Atari CEO Frédéric Chesnais previously said of the venerable company's blockchain plans:
"Given our technological strengths with the development studios, and the global reputation of the Atari brand, we have the opportunity to position ourselves attractively in this sector. Our objective is to take strategic positions with a limited cash risk, in order to optimise the assets and the Atari brand."
Atari's keen interest in the blockchain space has been no secret, and its early team members also seem to have found themselves disproportionately involved in the space, albeit in somewhat strange ways. Founder Nolan Bushnell has a cryptocurrency named after him – the Bushnell Token – that was designed to raise funds for an Atari film biopic, while early Atari employee and EA co-founder Jeff Burton has found himself joining a cryptocurrency gaming project called Dragonglass that seems to have nestled itself somewhere into the crowded yet little-used field of Ethereum games.
Unfortunately, obscurity has been the fate of most blockchain games to date.
But this time might be different. First, because these are recognised game names receiving the blockchain treatment, and second, because they'll be mobile games entering a market that's increasingly ready for them.
The HTC blockchain smartphone is already on the market, as is Sirin Labs' Finney blockchain smartphone. And elsewhere, there are whispers that the Samsung Galaxy S10 will come with a built-in cryptocurrency wallet, while Sony has made its plans for a cryptocurrency gaming wallet abundantly clear.
The ground for blockchain mobile games looks like it will be quite fertile by the time RollerCoaster Tycoon and Goon Squad land on the blockchain.
What's the difference?
The actual details of how these games will involve blockchain is still sparse, most likely because it's still very much up in the air, but the press release does mention that they'll be integrating non-fungible tokens.
Non-fungible assets are those which derive their value from uniqueness. A signed baseball card, for example, is non-fungible because it's unique in its own way. A different baseball card might be visually identical but won't necessarily be identically valuable.
So in the case of these games, that suggests there will be a system of finite assets and perhaps a microtransaction arrangement of the kind gamers know and
hate love. The difference between blockchain and traditional microtransaction systems might be that gamers can get actual meaningful ownership of the digital assets they purchase.
For example, there might be a rollercoaster model of which there are only five in the world at any given time. A tycoon might buy and install it in their park, and can then sell it on to someone else once they remove it.
You can get a much more meaningful gaming micro-economy going. Someone might charge other players for rides on their rollercoasters, and in turn be able to spend those earnings riding around in other people's parks. Riding, in this case, might be envisioned as experiencing a first-person view of the rollercoaster ride on one's phone. The funds used to pay for these rides might be a cryptocurrency of sorts, obtainable from other players through the game purchase, as well as from NPC park visitors and similar.
These kinds of digital assets might then be transferable between different games in various ways to help give them a bit of value and demand over time. It's still early days and there's no exact science on how (or whether) a company should necessarily commit to bringing its games to the blockchain, but there are plenty of opportunities.
Overall, one of the most promising routes that's elicited results to date might be systems that let gamers potentially make money from just playing a game, such as by acquiring valuable digital assets (a la World of Warcraft farming) or straight up gambling (a la straight up gambling) – although there are probably still some better revenue models that have yet to be discovered.
Whether this kind of thing is more like the gamification of money or more like the monetisation of gaming might be mostly a question of perspective.