This week on Enjin Room we take a look at yesterday’s open letter to Valve which Enjin signed, asking them not to ban blockchain games on Steam, their game distribution platform, in response to the action taken by the company two weeks ago. It was written by Fight for the Future, an advocacy organization centered around tech policy, and cosigned by many Enjin-powered games and associates like Kingdom Karnage, Lost Relics and Somnium Space to name a few.
Valve & Blockchain Gaming
According to Bryana Kortendick, Enjin’s VP of Communications, the letter is meant to “Spark an open dialogue with Steam to discuss how our platforms and technologies can co-exist and support each other.”
The letter presents to Valve all the benefits of blockchain gaming, and in doing so, reveals some conflicts at the root of such a proposition. Blockchain games’ very existence is an existential threat to the illusion of Steam’s open, but still centralized marketplace. Enjin shouldn’t need Steam either. If their mission is true to the Web3 ideal, Steam’s marketplace is a Web2 behemoth made obsolete by Enjin’s distributed networks that grow beyond the scope of Steam’s porous, but still walled gardens.
Of course, at the time of writing, Steam is still a crucial distributor of games, and one of the few options for developers. It boasts a massive user base unrivaled by many aside from the growing Epic Games (who is still open to blockchain games). It’s in every game’s best interest to be hosted on Steam, and while Enjin provides blockchain networks and marketplaces, it’s not a game distributor.
Why Steam Rejected NFTs
Blockchain games just need a new host, and in Steam’s rejection is an opportunity to build a new generation of game launchers friendly to crypto, or adopt the ones that already are.
The letter itself describes how “Web3 token-based technologies like DAOs and NFTs can positively enhance the user experience of games, and create new economic opportunities for users and creators… these enhancements make games more decentralized, democratic, interactive, player focused systems.”
These qualities are likely of little interest to Steam, who makes three percent off every transaction through their marketplace. The illusion of an open market stems from Steam’s API, which allows for a pseudo-metaverse experience where TF2 hats can be traded for CS:GO skins, and trading cards from a random indie game can be hosted on the same site as a Dota 2 item. Surely there are a multitude of ways Valve could incorporate blockchains and remain in control of its ecosystem, but on the surface, NFTs only serve to wrest ownership away from Steam and into the hands of the individuals and game developers.
For the common user, there are few differences between the Steam marketplace and its blockchain counterparts, aside from the assurance of ownership and validity on a blockchain instead of a centralized server. Even though players can technically sell NFTs anywhere, there are few viable marketplaces with substantial customers. There may even be more third-party Steam trading posts than NFT marketplaces in the current blockchain gaming economy.
Steam vs Enjin
But even though Steam’s open market is mostly an illusion, it’s a radically open experience compared to similar Web2 behemoths like Activision-Blizzard and Riot Games, who keep their markets much closer to home. Players can’t do anything with League of Legends cosmetics, yet the game possibly makes billions a year off their $20 proprietary aesthetics.
Enjin’s platform and networks could be seen as Steam’s successor, a company that removes the illusion from the open market, and instead looks to genuinely decentralize a marketplace.
Witek Radomski, Enjin’s CTO mentioned in an interview earlier in October the “People try to develop tools [for games]… but the game developers haven’t been very flexible especially when they’re not a top tier company that can provide APIs for people to feed into.”
He’s almost exactly describing Steam’s markets, in that Steam’s enormous profits allow them to invest in APIs that serve the function of access to developer tools. An NFT-centered infrastructure makes this investment redundant, as the API has essentially been built into the fabric of the system. Access to developer tools – items, maps, scripts (depending on how much the game developer wishes to give out), could be innate, and traded on any platforms connected to JumpNet or Efinity.
In a recent Ecosystem Update, Radomski emphasized Enjin’s work on their SDKs and API, making it even easier for developers to bake Enjin’s infrastructure into their games. Where Steam releases SDKs for developers to build on top of games, Enjin’s SDKs allow developers to build on itself, essentially giving them access to any marketplace with a Mainnet/Jumpnet/Efinity connection, where Steam allows for only one.
Again, this doesn’t take into account the chief issue of game distribution, which is a necessity for the blockchain games to even consider using Enjin’s networks. People have to be able to play the game. In a Reddit AMA yesterday, Chris LoVerne, a game developer from the upcoming Enjin powered game Age of Rust, said they’ve “Started to evaluate Epic as well as other platforms to see what the requirements are and that it makes sense for the game as well as the players.”
A Growing Industry
Other crypto-native platforms are looking to become pioneers in the game launcher space as well, though many are still in their infancy. Elixir Game Launcher is one of them, though mostly based on Bitcoin games. Expopulus is also trying to become a major publisher for blockchain games.
The metaverse space is also ripe for this sort of expansion into hosting, with platforms like Decentraland, Sandbox, Nifty Island and others being fertile grounds for developers to launch their games.
The blockchain will continue to grow in the context of gaming, and Steam is deciding on which side it wishes to support. If it doesn’t decide to change course, a huge opportunity lies in its wake for a re-imagining of the platform’s function.
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Grass Block Enthusiast + Metaverse Writer