In this mini-series we look at today’s centralized gaming models, also touching on how the emergence of blockchain technology is giving gaming a boost into a world of new opportunities for both gamers and developers, all through the power of decentralization. We’re also going to take a peek at how Cartesi holds the cheat codes that can enable the decentralized gaming industry to level-up in 2021 and beyond!
As graphics quickly improve, gaming experiences are becoming ever-immersive and, with the global pandemic trapping most of the world’s population indoors, the gaming industry has continued its growth year-on-year. With the worldwide gaming market forecasted to be worth just over $200 billion in 2023, rocketing up from just over $70 billion in 2012, the gaming industry has seen rapid technical advances in recent years.
Today’s most popular games such as Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite, see millions of people around the globe play alongside each other inside virtual worlds for hours on end, building, driving, fighting and exploring vast hyper-realistic landscapes. But these games (and in fact the vast majority of games on the market) share something in common; they all run on centralized servers, processing gargantuan amounts of data every second, from in-game commands to online store purchases.
With centralized gaming models, all game-related data is stored on servers that are fully controlled by the game developers or administrators, with the data including everything from user account information to all of the events and in-game assets they collect on their virtual travels. This presents several issues, as not only does this data being held on centralized servers mean that the players themselves never actually own their own data or the in-game items they spend countless hours earning, but that the aforementioned is all at risk of being stolen or even lost forever should the servers get damaged or shut down by the game developers themselves.
These are serious issues that need to be addressed before the gaming industry can progress to its next stage of evolution and below we take a look at them in more detail.
Several incidents in recent years have highlighted how dangerous keeping data, whether from gaming platforms or from a variety of other industries, stored in one centralized location can be. A catastrophic fire in France recently took down 25 EU servers for the hugely popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) Steam game Rust, destroying all user’s saved data; this was one of the worst incidents in recent years, with around 3.6 million websites across 464,000 distinct domains also taken offline as a result of the fire.
Fires are not the only incidents that can damage centralized servers though. Exploits and hacks have become more commonplace in recent years within the gaming world, with even the biggest game developers and publishers targeted. Last year it was discovered that critical flaws in a core networking library powering Valve’s online gaming functionality may have allowed hackers to remotely crash games and even take control over third-party game servers.
Hackers have been able to acquire the personal details of countless gamers over the years, with popular games such as the MMORPG CS:GO falling victim to such attacks (thankfully the most recent was perpetrated by a white-hat hacking group Secret Club and highlighted exploits that have now been addressed). With full control over the user’s system, hackers are able to steal passwords, banking information and more.
How Can Blockchain Technology Solve This?
Publishers and their developers building decentralized games on blockchain platforms can massively improve upon (and essentially rid of) vulnerabilities prevalent within current centralized gaming systems. Games can use blockchains to decentralize data and execution across multiple locations; even if a hacker does manage to gain access to one or a few of the blockchain validator nodes, the system remains resilient as a majority of validators can preserve the correct history and state of the game.
Let’s face it, we’ve all cheated at monopoly once in our lives but in the online gaming world, fair gameplay is a very serious topic. With gaming tournaments now regularly offering the world’s best gamers millions of dollars in rewards, the stakes are high and coordinated cheating has become a big problem in the gaming industry in recent years.
Most centralized online games use one of two communication models: client-server and peer-to-peer. Both of these architectures are open to manipulation and can be rigged by players with cheat codes negatively impacting gamers’ experiences around the world, but also posing a big challenge for game developers and publishers. If cheating continues to be a problem, gamers following the rules may eventually get tired of bad actors and leave for other platforms, lowering game traffic and shrinking company revenues.
How Can Blockchain Technology Make Gaming More Transparent?
The distributed nature of games hosted on blockchain platforms makes them near impossible to hack, as they run on distributed servers. With a single point of failure as seen in centralized models, games can be modified and cheats can disrupt and ruin gamers’ experiences; with blockchain-based games, manipulation of game mechanics can only be executed if a network of voters rules in favour of the change, ensuring fairness.
As the stakes in gaming get higher, provability becomes more and more important. The immutability of blockchain technology and smart contracts makes cheating basically impossible, with verifiable data etched into the blockchain and uneditable forever. This can help massively when attempting to verify gamer credentials and in-game actions. Provably fair gameplay is becoming increasingly important and it’s what is needed if the professional gaming industry in particular is to continue growing.
Besides eliminating hacking risks, building games with decentralized models takes the ownership and decision-making power from the game developer and central game servers. Arbitrary rule updates can frustrate gamers and depreciate their in-game assets; decentralizing the decision-making process puts the power back at the hands of the gamers and other stakeholders.
This in itself is a topic worth talking about in more detail, and we will look deeper into the opportunities for gamers to have more decision-making power, true ownership of their in-game items, as well as the verifiable scarcity of items and achievements that comes with decentralized gaming in part two of this mini-series!
Earlier this month millions of Sony PlayStation fans were presented with error codes that prevented them from accessing online features when the Sony Playstation Network went down. Centralized games are in theory able to be shut down at any time, anywhere, by the developers, publishers or by outside attacks such as DDoS attacks (that have been occurring a lot in popular games such as Apex Legends).
Players currently have very little control over what happens to their coveted in-games items or game saves that they may have worked for untold hours to have got to — if a game shuts down or is out of action for a period of time, they must simply sit on their hands and wait until the servers come back online.
Gaming on Blockchain = No Downtime
Decentralized gaming models, however, can run autonomously and are unstoppable, no server maintenance costs or backups required. With no centralized servers, damage or outages at one location simply mean that power is diverted to another location, meaning that players can enjoy 24/7 uptime.
But… And There is a Big But
As Cartesi CEO Erick highlighted in a past article, there are still major limitations that prevent decentralized gaming from reaching its full potential. Tight computational limits and limited storage on-chain make for big barriers that have prevented game publishers and developers fully diving into decentralized gaming models; large computational tasks are very expensive, many popular blockchains are extremely inefficient, and they also suffer from other inefficiencies such as low throughput, a high propagation delay, and long latency to finality.
Then there’s also the issue of accessibility and a lack of support for OS and mainstream software components or stacks. Game developers have for several years used familiar tools and programs to create the amazing games we all love to play today; C++ and Java are two of the most popular languages utilized to build many of today’s games, but blockchain platforms do not currently support these or in fact any of the software stacks, engines, and libraries that are so integral to a game developer’s programming toolkit.
Up until now, publishers and game developers have sacrificed decentralization for better accessibility, higher throughput, programmability and more computational power. Blockchain still has a way to go if we are to play our favourite real-time 3d shooters on a decentralized platform, but at Cartesi we are making important and exciting steps toward opening up a universe of opportunity for developers wanting to build decentralized games.
Cartesi is a second layer system that moves complex computation off-chain while preserving the security guarantees of the blockchain. The Cartesi Machine, a custom virtual machine that emulates a RISC-V microprocessor, runs an embedded Linux distribution and is capable of booting a real OS. Why is this such a big step forward for the gaming industry?
Cartesi brings Linux infrastructure to blockchain applications, giving developers access to the stacks, libraries, and tools that they’re accustomed to using with mainstream operating systems but within a decentralized environment. For the gaming industry, this is huge as it opens up avenues not previously accessible for developers; they can now can utilize 30 years of open-source software evolution algonside the enormous computational power underneath Cartesi’s engine.
“I expect people to be able to create much more interesting games with Cartesi that weren’t conceivable before on blockchains” says Cartesi CEO Erick de Moura. “A whole universe of turn-based multiplayer indie games or even completely decentralized RPGs can now be built with the access and tools Cartesi provides game developers.”
Game logic processing is performed off-chain with Cartesi, but the strong security guarantees of the blockchain are still maintained. We’re offering the best of both worlds to game developers and publishers; all of the decentralization that blockchain technology offers, but with tens of thousands more computation capacity and the convenience closer to what exists for centralized games when it comes to programming.
Make sure you look out for the next two articles in this mini-series to learn more about what Cartesi brings to the table for the future of gaming!
In next week’s article we explore how DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) can give gamers a voice and a vote on the future development of their favourite games, as well as how the emergence of NFTs is bringing about an evolution in open in-game economies, allowing for different entities and players to bring liquidity to the gaming world.