Fun vs Finance: Web3 Game Design Must Balance Money With Enjoyment
The rise of decentralized technology has brought about a new type of video game, generally referred to as a “Web3 game.” These games utilize various aspects of blockchain technology, often incorporating cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) into dynamic economies within the gameplay, which enable players to generate value that they own and control.
While this is an exciting development, the games released so far have encountered a range of issues, most of which have come about as a result of injecting money into the games without understanding how this affects the motivations of players. What Web3 game designers need to realize is that the extrinsic motivation of money can have an unbalancing effect on the intrinsic fun that players derive from a game.
In the early wave of Web3 games, we saw this focus on money go too far but this doesn’t have to be the norm forever. In fact, by designing incentives in a way that balances finance and fun, the next wave of games can fulfill the promise we know that Web3 holds.
Understanding the Dynamic Between Money and Fun
The issues that surround games having real economies are all tied to the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivations involve the inherent joy of the act itself, meaning the gameplay is its own reward. Extrinsic motivations are external and drive users to perform a task for some reward that will be granted as a result. Video games have always had a balance of both but the introduction of digital assets that people value has dramatically shifted the balance towards these extrinsic motivations.
The problems that have arisen vary from game to game but some are common across many situations. First, there’s the issue of allowing players to assign monetary value to their game time. For example, if there’s a legendary item that requires 20 hours of grinding to achieve but is also available for purchase for 5$, then players will almost inevitably value their time playing at $0.25 per hour. It’s a psychological tendency that is unavoidable once money is introduced.
This is then exacerbated by the natural dichotomy that exists between having fun and making money. Having fun may cost money but it is usually distinct in most people’s lives from earning money. Earning money is serious and even stressful. This makes it difficult for users to fully engage with the fun aspects of a title when they also know that money is on the line. The natural tendency for most is to forego what is most fun about a game in order to maximize profits. This almost inevitably leads to what was once a recreation feeling like a job, killing whatever fun may have initially been associated with it.
One more problem that comes from real economies being introduced into games is that it actually creates a new type of gamer by doing so: the value extractor. Even if a game is fun to play on its own, the very presence of an economy with extractable value means that some portion of the people playing are there for that reason alone. They will find a way to bring minimal effort into the ecosystem while getting maximum return. Depending on the game, this could take a variety of forms but it leads to increased barriers to entry, as prices of in-game assets get inflated without bringing much value into the game. Importantly, they affect the experience of other players.
Finding a New Balance
Despite the above, the potential of web 3 gaming in giving players true ownership is still massive. As such, it’s important to understand how any challenges can be addressed without giving up on the benefits of decentralized tech.
One place to start could be to abstract the monetary element from the game. The game should focus first and foremost on being a fun game, meaning the average gamer doesn’t need to constantly see dollar symbols or references to ‘money’ or ‘tokens’. This way gamers are able to enjoy the title even if they choose to ignore whether they are earning .
In addition, whatever NFTs or other digital assets are offered, these should be so tied into the experience itself that they have more than just monetary value. These assets should have personal, emotional value as well. While items may be traded, some items should offer enough in-game benefits or sentimental connection that trading them isn’t the holder’s main aim.
This philosophy applies to how value is earned as well. The activities that are the most rewarding monetarily should also be the most exciting for players. These rewards don’t need to be profound but they should overlap with how enjoyable the activity is, in order to discourage players from grinding through boring tasks simply because they are profitable. Otherwise players are forced to trade-off between playing in a way that is ‘grindy but efficient’ versus ‘fun but inefficient’.
Lastly, developers need to accept and account for the fact that, almost inevitably, there will be some portion of their user base who are just value extractors. Because of this, the game needs to be built in a way that prevents this portion of the community from eroding the experience for others. How this could be done will depend heavily on what is being offered, so every project will have to think hard about how they can account for this unfortunate inevitability.
The field of Web3 gaming is very young and there are always going to be lessons that the industry needs to learn along the way. If developers can find the right balance, then this industry can revolutionize how gamers interact with these products. By melding real engagement with carefully balanced monetary incentives, Web3 games can become major players in the next generation of the digital entertainment economy.
About The Author
Derek Lau is Game Director for Guild of Guardians, a ‘play-and-earn’ mobile RPG where players turn their gaming passion into NFTs. The game is published by Immutable and developed by Stepico Games. He has a unique blend of experience in gaming, product and start-ups, with long and sustained exposure to the NFT space since 2017.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.