Tech isn’t the Barrier to NFT-Game Interoperability by@adriankrionofspielworks

Tech isn’t the Barrier to NFT-Game Interoperability

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Adrian Krion

Founded blockchain gaming startup Spielworks. Got a background in computer science & math & a passion for gaming & DeFi.

As non-fungible tokens make major headway into the gaming world, one of the key features their proponents hail as a boon for gamers is interoperability. An NFT sits on a public database, the reasoning goes, and is thus open for anyone, including other games, to inspect and potentially incorporate. So surely, the only thing needed to turn the industry into a whole metaverse of transferable entertainment experiences is more standardization, right? Nope. The real obstacle to interoperability lies elsewhere. 

But let’s start from the beginning. An NFT confirms your purchase and, thus, ownership of an in-game item, whether it’s a sword that kills gods in one swing or the galaxy’s fastest spaceship. As the rightful owner, you are free to sell the token (or lease it out) at your leisure, without fearing a ban, which is not necessarily the case for OTC trading for in-game items in non-blockchain games. The latter, though, also points at the fact that you don’t need NFTs to handle ownership and transfers of in-game assets in the first place. 

This is where technicalities come into play. The sword or ship itself, as a collection of digital assets like 3D models and animations, is stored either on your device, as part of the client-side app files, or on the game’s servers, depending on the selected network architecture. A non-blockchain game keeps track of the ownership over every instance of such a ship or a sword intrinsically. An NFT game, though, figures this out by talking to the blockchain—a decentralized database that’s not controlled by the game’s developers and is indeed open for anyone to inspect.

In either case, the proud owner of the sword or the ship will have little to do with them if the game they were part of were to shut down. The show’s over, the ship has no space through which to fly, and the sword has no gods to bring down—a fate shared by many promising MMOs, from The Matrix Online to Star Wars Galaxies. With an NFT game, though, the saga does not have to end there, and that’s where interoperability would ideally come to the rescue.

The quest for interoperability

The reason why it doesn’t is in the semantics. Yes, the token sits on an open third-party database, but it does not mean that the object it represents can be transferred into any other game at the snap of the fingers. And that’s even assuming that the assets for the object—its visuals and properties, such as speed, armor, or the number of laser cannons onboard—are also available to anyone to review and import. 

The first problem boils down to implementing objects from one game in another. Staying with the spaceship example, how would its properties work in a Happy Farm-style game, where space battles were never intended to be part of the gameplay? They haven’t been coded in, and thus, the game is incapable of processing them.

This problem, however, can be solved with some collaborative design and creative thinking. While the original graphical assets may not be transferable, developers could represent an NFT from a different game with a generic graphical asset. The NFT’s value in gameplay terms can also be retained, at least to a certain degree, even if it is imported into a game that supports none of its original properties and functions. This could be done by assigning it new properties and functions, intrinsic to the game it’s being imported into, by a random generator, which would take into account the original token’s rarity. This way, our spaceship would morph into a horse moving at the speed of light or a garden gnome that magically boosts our plants’ growth speed by 500 percent.

With such a design, if the space simulator game where we bought our NFT ship went down, we’d still be able to get value from our token by importing it into any other game within the larger ecosystem. Realistically, the NFT would most likely have to be staked into a specific game to go active, because otherwise, every token would bring its holder too much of a net gain, carving into the revenues of all the games that support it.  

And here, we land squarely on the other big issue in play. Why would a developer allow players to use assets from a different game, if they want users to acquire assets in their game? Believe it or not, this problem very much exists in non-NFT gaming too, with, for example, Sony infamously resisting cross-play for Fortnite and most other multiplayer titles on PS4. As a technology, NFTs are very much conducive to interoperability, but the issue of economic self-interest is the real obstacle for that.

Whatever project issued the original NFT always benefits from extra functionality brought by the capacity for its use in other projects. But what do these other projects stand to gain from that? They want to sell their own NFTs, not integrate third-party collections. A possible way around this is in a referral scheme that will see project A promote integrated NFTs from project B for a share in project B’s revenues from sales on this channel and royalties on their subsequent re-sales. Mutual integration is another possible option for projects of comparable scale that could benefit from tapping into each others’ user bases. As yet another alternative, projects can set up integration reward pools, filled from their own revenues and automatically shared among partner games based on their audience size or number of sales drawn from the integration.  

Cross-promotion could be another good incentive for developers to build a solution like that, and it has been working quite well for the non-NFT scene as well, from indie to AAA-titles. Fortnite lives and breathes crossovers, Dead By Daylight is pretty much a horror metaverse at this point, and Monster Hunter: World brought in Geralt from the Witcher series in a way that stayed faithful to the lore of both games. Wonderful things do happen when creators come together.    

As a technology designed to confirm ownership of digital or other assets on a public and auditable database, NFTs are perfect as the technological backbone for unleashing true interoperability for the gaming world. While today, this potential is hindered by business development considerations that have nothing to do with the blockchain, in the future, we could see a whole metaverse of NFT games where players can freely move their assets from one gaming world to another, with the technology’s full potential brought to fruition.  

About the author

Adrian Krion is the Founder of the Berlin-based blockchain gaming startup Spielworks and maker of the user-friendly EOS and Ethereum Wombat crypto wallet. Having started programming at age seven, Krion has been successfully bridging business and tech for more than 15 years, currently working on projects that connect the emerging DeFi ecosystem to the gaming world.


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