What’s the best kind of blockchain game? The answer is obviously subjective, as it depends on your taste. Do you prefer testing your skill on runner-style games, or would you rather explore a virtual open world? It can be hard to decide which is truly best. That said, one game format has stood out as perhaps the most compelling case for blockchain integration: Card games. Even opponents of NFT games — including journalists who have published massive features attempting to disparage the Web3 gaming industry as a whole — have been forced to admit that NFT card games have real utility.
Need proof? One of the first-ever blockchain games released at scale was Spells of Genesis, a card game that owes much of its mechanics and art style to the ever-enduring Magic: The Gathering (MTG). Other early players in NFT card games include Gods Unchained and Axie Infinity. Over the years, these titles have been quite successful and acquired dedicated followings. But they’re far from the only high-profile card games to hit the market. There’s Sorare, Splinterlands, and Metropolis Origins — to name a few.
But what exactly makes the card game format so perfect for blockchain integration? We spoke to card game experts on the Gods Unchained team to find out.
Can’t collect ’em all
Over the years, the rush of collecting new and rare items has proven to be one of the most reliable ways for game developers to encourage player retention and growth. MTG: Arena, for example, has nine major releases on the calendar for 2023, including ones that tease new game mechanics and add to the game’s lore. In the last 30 days alone, the number of average monthly players on the platform has increased by more than 100,000.
The problem? One of the best parts of collecting trading cards is in the name: trading. But in Web2 digital card game offerings, like Hearthstone or MTG: Arena, players can’t trade (or even sell) cards. Much of this was an intentional choice by game developers, as they wanted to encourage players to purchase boosters packs from their in-game marketplaces to increase their profits.
While some players don’t mind the inability to trade cards, others see it as a turnoff, as it limits the types of decks they can assemble. Instead of customizing their deck to be precisely what they want, they are forced to purchase booster packs repeatedly in hopes that they will score “that one card” that will complete their planned deck.
Gods Unchained‘s Executive Producer Daniel Paez is uniquely positioned to understand this drawback, as he began his career at Blizzard and was a part of the Hearthstone team. He explains that this inability to select cards on one’s own is one of the great shortcomings of Web2 card games — a shortcoming that can be solved with the blockchain.
“The hunt to try to get certain cards that you really want for your collection, that in itself is daunting, right? Collectible card games in Web2 do not empower that, and in Web3, it is one of the most basic decisions you can make,” Paez explained in an interview with nft now. “There’s demand from players that [want specific cards.] They have their money. They have the time to play, but they really want that specific card. I think that’s where you kind of need to really empower players to be able to trade,” he said.
How Web3 changes the (card) game
But how exactly does blockchain technology empower players of digital card games? By minting digital playing cards as NFTs, each card can freely be transacted just like its physical equivalent. If a player’s looking for a specific card, they won’t have to rely on booster packs they can only buy from the game’s developer — essentially paid dice rolls to get the cards they want. Instead, they can check whatever NFT marketplace hosts cards for the Web3 card game they’re playing and directly buy them from another player.
Voilà. True ownership and true empowerment.
On a larger scale, the entire blockchain gaming industry has shown a strong indication of rallying around ownership as its newest point of emphasis. Amidst the slow decline seen by play-to-earn titles throughout 2022, the industry has rallied around a new term: play-to-own. It’s a deceptively simple concept. Through this model, players can finally claim real ownership over their in-game assets and creations. In the case of virtual worlds like Decentraland and The Sandbox, ownership is all-encompassing. Everything in these games is up for grabs with regard to ownership. Save for other players, of course.
That said, empowering players to own, trade, and collect cards unbound by the limits imposed by the booster pack-driven model also enriches a player’s overall gameplay experience. “The fact is, there’s inherent joy in curating a collection of unique and rare cards and exploring the possibility space they provide to break the meta and win games,” Chris Clay, Gods Unchained Game Director, explained in an interview with nft now.
Before working with the Gods Unchained team, Clay held a directorial position at another massive Web3 collectible card game: Magic: the Gathering Arena. To him, Web3 provides the logical next step — and potential endpoint — of this corner of the gaming industry. “NFTs are a perfect technology to bring back true card ownership, allowing for digital TCGs to come one step closer to their legacy physical counterparts. This puts [the] power back in players’ hands to curate their collection as they see fit,” Clay said.
The future of card-based games?
Certainly, blockchain-enabled trading card games stand to considerably shake up this segment of the gaming landscape. They may even create a future paradigm wherein the main factor for anyone looking to get into a new card game is whether it comes in a digital or physical format.
For his part, Clay thinks that digital collectibles will likely win out in the end. “Some players will simply always prefer the physical versions of these types of games…[but] as the demographics shift towards a younger generation, who are more used to digitally native platforms, it is likely that we will see even more adoption. The benefits that NFTs bring to this field as well, concerning ownership, will also be appreciated more and more as time goes on,” he said.
Indeed, of everything in Web3, card games may have the best odds of onboarding future generations onto the next phase of the internet.
However, Clay is quick to point out that Web3 is still in its infancy. Collectible card games have served as a largely successful proof-of-concept regarding the new dimensions of gameplay and interactivity blockchain technology can bring into the gaming industry. But there is still so much innovation to be done that many ways of integrating blockchain tech into gaming experiences have yet to be seen. “[Trading card games], by their collectible nature, are a great first place to explore this technology, but it could be applied to many other genres as well,” said Clay. And so, although the full future of card games remains unclear, one thing is certain — we will see many more changes on the horizon.