Marvel, networks and blockchain: how video games come together in a shared universe and who gains from it?


It is strange and funny at the same time. It’s something that nobody has ever done before — Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, comments on the structure of the Marvel cinematic universe.

During the past 10 years we have been been witnessing one of the most important experiments in the history of cinema. Marvel Studios has united standalone films with different protagonists in a shared universe. Nevertheless, this had no negative impact neither on the authenticity of the films nor on their box office performance. In fact, each film has gained additional significance becoming a key to deeper understanding of the rest of the movies.

What it might look like

According to a recent study conducted at the University of California by a group of scientists headed by Dmitry Krukov, all networks, be it the Internet, the universe or even the brain (our network of neurons) follow the same algorithms in their development. The main principle is that network elements first strive to create links with major nodes that are already have a lot of connections to other elements, instead of seeking to connect to as many peer elements on their own. When it comes to Marvel movies, the ones that united a number of heroes in the Avengers can be considered major nodes.

In is not difficult to imagine how an entire structure of multiple video games will look like: the iconic projects will become hubs for smaller nodes to connect to. This will not only attract some audience from the bigger hub for the smaller node, but make the latter more significant. Infinity War set a record due to the number of connections it had with previous films that allowed several character stories to be further told simultaneously.

Similarly, a large-scale game event, such as a raid that the game community will be preparing for over a long period of time will become even more important because of the previous events related to it (not only in this particular game).

A shared game universe may extend to an unimaginable scale transforming the very concept of games and make the experience for each player valuable to the development of the universe. But how possible is this? Is it possible to unite a considerable number of games, and why has nobody done it before?

Game platforms and publisher limits

Nowadays most rules of the gaming markets are set by the companies that own gaming platforms. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo seek to increase their console sales by making the most interesting titles exclusive to their platforms. Facebook has been more and more vocal about its new virtual experience, however it will most likely be exclusive to users of Oculus, a Facebook subsidiary. Big corporations prevent the interaction between game developers and end-users on various platforms. Meanwhile, multi-platform games could attract larger gamer communities.

Blockchain technology and decentralized platforms let developers and gamers communicate directly and do without the monopolists of the market. The technologies will significantly increase the income for developers that are forced to give up to 30% of revenue from each game copy sold to publishers.

Besides, more freedom and unlimited communication opportunities will have a positive impact on the quality of games. And, the most interesting thing is that decentralized solutions will help to unite independent games in a single universe without third parties that would own the game copyright.

Global gaming cryptocurrency

One of the most significant changes brought by blockchain technology has become the integration of cryptocurrencies in the game economic system.

In contrast to the ordinary games’ market, where people have to use fiat currencies to buy virtual coins, blockchain games will enable conducting the transaction directly in cryptocurrency (for example using ETH). As a result, gamers will save their time and money.

But what is even more interesting is that there are gaming assets supporting cross-game transactions. Buying or selling characters in different games at the same time using a single currency will create a free trade market for the shared game universe. The very existence of such market will make players more interested. Thus, a shared universe will make it possible to transfer not only money from one game into another but characters or objects you buy as well.

The rules of integration

It is impossible to create and control such complex and interconnected market from one point of control. Even several developers that have created various games within one common universe would hardly be able to maintain its functionality and keep the balance  for a long time within such structure.

However, with blockchain technology now available we began testing the efficiency of different methods that allow all members of a large decentralized community to reach a consensus: the improvement of old and new consensus protocols, first attempts to establish sustainable Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).

In addition, there have been precedents when developers have completely given up the control over their game, and shifted down to the level of ordinary players. For example, the Dragonereum project scheduled for release in Q4 2018 will not have any sources of monetization and will instead rely on its token price growth. The tokens themselves will be distributed for free (Ethereum network fee not included) and sometime after the release of the game, the team will pass the right for further development of Dragonereum to the community. The shared game universe will most likely consist of similar projects: it is impossible to foresee which rules will be effective for integrating new projects into an already existing ecosystem, therefore, it must be possible for the community to change the regulations and mechanics within both new projects and the existing ones. In order to make it possible, all development rights for the game must be fully transferred to the community.

Protection and unique digital assets

Today, officially only one company, Valve, features buying and selling game items within its platform called Steam. All profits received from these activities are held inside the platform — the user does not have the opportunity to cash out the time invested and the money spent on game items. Yet, today the unofficial market for gaming items is estimated at more than $10 billion.

Blockchain enables creating game characters and items in a single copy as well as log all the information about their use over time. An example of such unique characters — Cryptokitties, with the most expensive character sold for $100,000.

Considering this one may wonder, how much would a unique item used in a key raid in some big game from a shared game universe cost?

Of course, a pass-through market with unique artifacts will be subject to a large number of malicious attacks. However, this is where blockchain comes to the rescue. Large gaming studios are already considering blockchain as a means for securing rights for a particular subject to the user. The head of Ubisoft Strategic Innovation Lab, Lidwine Sauer, has said that players will “finally have real digital collectibles that cannot be replicated by anyone and can be 100 percent owned by you. Thanks to the blockchain, we can now have the equivalent of a digital Picasso, with the advantage that it’s a lot more difficult to steal something on the blockchain than to steal a Picasso.”

First steps

At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, blockchain and cryptocurrency were the most discussed topics. 28000 gaming industry leaders of the gaming industry have examined new opportunities offered by blockchain technology, and some of them claimed that they had already started testing it in their projects. The aforementioned Ubisoft takes the first steps in the direction of solidifying several game mechanics via blockchain, though so far their attempts were limited to a single game. The company’s debut blockchain game — Hashcraft — allows users to develop quests and tasks for other players, saving all the data about changes within the game on a public blockchain.

On the other hand, the governance process Dragonereum is going to propose seems to be a more important experiment in the context of combining games into a shared universe. If the project is successful, this model will certainly become interesting to other developers, primarily the ones that specialize in blockchain games: taking into account the large marketing costs that today require an ICO. Given the pace at which the cryptogaming sector is developing, we may see the first attempts of creating a common market for several blockchain games (with active communities and significant volumes of in-game transactions) as early as next year.

Thus in 2018, after symbolic 10 years from the release of the first film that marked the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we may see the birth of the first game that will lay the foundation to transform the gaming industry. A shared game universe may become a place where one successful raid can yield an ordinary player more profit than the developer of the game.

Such paradigm makes in-game treasures real. Something similar is shown in Ready Player One, but the reality, as it often happens, may turn out to be much more interesting.

Learn more about the Dragonereum project