Coin-operated: Speculators and their role in the next wave of gaming
Capturing the interest of speculators is crucial for NFT games but is this an unsolved problem or an unrealised opportunity for the gaming industry?
Speculation in Blockchain Gaming isn’t the problem everyone thinks it is, it's an opportunity.
A few brilliant developers, like Limit Break and Wolf Game, have already recognized this. They have 10’s of thousands of people playing a game that doesn’t fit the normal mold, a game that the rest of the world are calling speculation..
They’ve recognized a glaring flaw with the commonly held belief that unlocking the true power of blockchain and ushering in the future of gaming will require some radical new value proposition to get speculators to play games the way gamers have been playing them for decades.
This is an idea that makes sense at face value. It's hard to deny the incredible power of speculation, or the capital and attention that active speculation brings. But there’s a reason why no one has been able to solve this “problem”...
Quite simply, it’s because it isn't a problem, it's our opportunity as an industry. Just as Facebook and then mobile helped to expand the definition of what games were, and the audiences that played them, Web3 and the introduction of true ownership will expand the definition of gaming.
Speculation is gaming. We can see in our ecosystem already that the two are already tightly interlinked and developers only need to lean into web3’s new native gaming mechanic to harness the incredible potential that this brings.
Speculation IS Gaming
Calculating risk and conducting research, analyzing patterns and staying agile until the perfect time comes to strike. The thrill of being caught off guard and managing to adapt, pulling a save out of thin air and narrowly avoiding ruin. The rush of anticipating dangers before they arise and being one step ahead, knowing that a bad move could unwind your entire strategy.
Are you speculating on the latest gaming assets here, or playing League of Legends? Investing in an emerging coin, or holding onto your inventory as your favorite game goes through a rough patch? There’s a satisfaction derived from all of these that’s essentially the same: an intoxicating combination of skill, strategy and chance.
Not just within the games and investments themselves but in the meta narrative that surrounds them. You only have to look at the popularity of fantasy football leagues, or the huge amounts of time, money and airspace dedicated to discussing player swap and rules changes.
/r/wallstreetbets has 12.7m subscribers. There are more Discords and Telegrams full of theories, punts and analysis than you could ever hope to count.
People don’t just want to play, they want to watch, theorycraft, speculate, discuss and explore.
An Unexpected Alliance
This opens up a whole new world for developers, especially when it comes to blockchain or NFT games. There’s a whole untapped market full of people that are essentially chasing that same speculative rush, you just need to capture their interest.
The most obvious way to do so is to include ingame ecosystems and ownership models that allow players to own, trade and cash-in on items. Allow them to become invested, speculate and engrossed. This is an extremely popular monetization model for games like CS:GO, where trading is a carefully planned and managed part of the game’s appeal.
And that’s the beginning. Rather than having fixed, static assets that only appreciate and depreciate based on market conditions, some developers are beginning to experiment with the idea of a fluid, adaptable economy. Where the content you already own can potentially change and adapt after you buy it.
This might come from an in-game evolution, crafting or combining system that allows players to enhance their existing assets. Adding in time-sensitive items that are relatively poor in the short term but have exceptional benefits when they reach certain benchmarks. Or consistently injecting new content that allows existing assets to be recontextualized.
Trading Card Game players will be immediately familiar with the latter concept. It’s not uncommon for certain cards to hold a seemingly inflated value not because of how they currently operate, but because of their overall potential. Plenty of savvy speculators have enjoyed considerable paydays by holding onto cards that only became exceptional months or even years later.
The Game Outside The Game
Of course, speculation can extend far beyond the game’s internal ecosystem. In many ways, games themselves are speculative investments. Not just of money, but of time, energy and enthusiasm.
We’ve already talked about the drastically extended lifecycle of modern games, which often continue to enjoy new content, engagement and profitability long after they’ve been released. That’s only half the picture though, because these games are actually beginning long, long before that.
Creating a sense of anticipation and excitement before release even happens is a powerful way to forge an engaged community. Or take it one step further, take DigiDaigaku, Limit Break’s groundbreaking ‘NFT Game’. Not only did it use NFTs to authenticate digital items, it also gave them away for free and then asked its holders to make strategic decisions with their assets based on intentionally limited information. Limit Break immediately overcame common reservations about pre-selling NFTs for upcoming products and generated real engagement in their game before there was ever a pixel to play.
The game actually started far before its release. It began with the first cryptic tweets, then the slow reveal , eventually leading to Gabe’s manifesto on the path to a Free to Own future.
Similarly, Wolf Game has slowly and deliberately dripped out more and more of the game narrative, carefully maintaining the buzz and building a compelling storyline that hooked thousands. The slow reveal of assets and information maintained engagement as thousands wanted to know, what was coming next, what assets were most valuable, how will the assets interact, what is the best strategy for the long term. When should they hold, when should they trade. The line between the game itself and investment began to blur, and suddenly it became clear.
This isn’t investing , this was a glimpse into the future of gaming in the ownership economy and maybe of blockchain itself.
The Future is Now
The rewards for embracing this and thoughtfully constructing the “metagame” are staggering. Speculators won’t replace gamers as we know them. Having fun in games the way we have all become accustomed is still the most critical part of the ecosystem, but speculators offer attributes beneficial to any economy, bringing considerable engagement, enthusiasm and liquidity with them. Enticing them into the gaming ecosystem in earnest to play the part of the game that most fits their interests, the meta game will quite simply change the game adding countless more “players” and substantially more liquidity to any game economy.
The wider blockchain economy will benefit enormously. There would be a significant increase in the number of people who have wallets and are crypto comfortable, helping to fuel the widespread adoption and recognition of cryptocurrencies. The value of those wallets would also be considerable, incorporating the considerable wealth of both speculators and “whales” from the gaming industry.
But perhaps most importantly of all, it would provide other industries with demonstrable proof of the economy’s appeal, longevity and exceptional potential. Often, the games industry cuts a pioneering path through the wilds of technology, and opens the way for the world at large to follow.
This time will be no different, the only question is: who will be brave enough to chart these unexplored lands?
Thirdwave's CEO, Peter Jonas is an innovative veteran of the tech and gaming industries. His expertise drove Compass through its hyper-growth, expanding from a few offices in California to a profitable team of over 13k people in 150+ offices across the United States and generating billions in revenue. Prior to that, he launched the Games and Mobile Apps business at Facebook and helped grow it into a global multibillion-dollar business unit, as well as spearheading multiple emerging initiatives at Uber.