Enjin’s Blockchain Promises ‘True Ownership’ of In-Game Items

Jeremy Ray
Games Indie Games
Games Indie Games

You don’t own your items. That lucky knife skin you scored in CS:GO? The cool Halloween-themed Overwatch outfit? Nope. Property of the developers who let you use it. That value is destined to stay within the game’s ecosystem, and we’ve never had a better technical solution. That’s the problem Enjin is trying to solve.

It didn’t take long for the blockchain to enter gaming. The two tech-savvy crowds form a solidly joined Venn diagram, and we’re already losing track of all the startups aiming to use the new technology to carve out their little niche in the gaming space.

While most of the esports focused cryptocurrencies focus on betting – some legitimate, some less so – Enjin is focused on true ownership. Whether that be ownership of games, or items, or persistent character traits, or whatever else the developer can think of. It’s a platform for others to get creative with.

Having flirted with entering the top 100 cryptocurrencies by market capitalisation for months, Enjin Coin moves from gaming show to gaming show, preaching the word of adoption. If developers don’t adopt, none of the cool stuff happens. If they do, the sky is the limit. The difference is Enjin has some great ideas about how to get people on board.

We sat down with Enjin’s head of dev tech Pat LaBine to chat about what the blockchain could bring to our space. His background is gaming, not crypto. A 13-year veteran of Bioware and IO, he’s worked on titles like Mass Effect, Jade Empire, Dragon Age, Hitman, and even a much older version of Anthem.

His expertise reflects the team. They’re mostly game developers, not just mathematicians. And perhaps that’s why they have what we think is the best strategy for getting people started.

How Can Enjin’s Blockchain Help Gaming?

Enjin Coin – or blockchain tech in gaming, for that matter – has no killer app. Enjin is focused on making a platform, and letting developers use it in all the innovative ways they can think of. There’s no roadmap here — it’s all new.

But seeing as he ditched his life as a videogame executive, we figured LaBine would have some crystallised ideas about where the tech could take us.

“Provable scarcity,” he told us. “It’s good to show people sometimes that there are only ten of these items in the world. And you can actually go on a blockchain scanner and see – you don’t know who they are – but you can see only ten people own these things.

“I look at it like, you’re going to have this digital garage of stuff you collect from playing games over and over. You could have tokens from a game you played five years ago, and maybe some of them are worth something.”

Pat LaBine of Enjin explains the philosophy of having a few very skilled people.

But what ensures those items will have value beyond the game’s lifecycle? Isn’t the value still tied to the game? What happens if people just stop playing it?

“Every token you create, you actually have to give it a value, and you have to spend real-world value to craft that,” explains LaBine. “So it would be like spending real-world materials like metal. Like you need to buy the metal – in this case, it’s Enjin Coin – to forge the sword out of it. So there’s always a minimum back value for it out there.

“So, the Black Lotus, which is a Magic: The Gathering card, it’s an extremely popular and rare card. It’s only five cents of paper. But it could be worth thousands of dollars. Same with these tokens.”

Pat LaBine fully expects that many gamers won’t even know about the crypto side of the coin. They’ll just know that they can trade their items, and if need be, melt them down to the raw Enjin Coin value to be used elsewhere. But you won’t have to be a developer to benefit monetarily from the crypto side.

With item rarity being not only provable but enforceable, it’s even possible to attach items to a one-time event or achievement. The winners of a DOTA 2 tournament could merge their team skin with an Enjin Coin and trade it like a signed Messi jersey. A world record speedrunner could offer something similar to their streaming audience.

“That could be a good way for an esports team to create revenue,” says LaBine.

Adoption — How Do We Get There?

The cryptocurrency space is prone to outlandish claims, and we’ve already seen a few in the gaming space. Much of the time, it comes in the form of inflated numbers. “We serve 3 billion gamers!” is a real boast currently made by one coin unaware of its self-parody.

One such claim that caught our eye was GameCredits’ proposed strategy of creating its own game-making engine to create games around using the coin. We weren’t sure what was more arrogant: reinventing the wheel, or the assumption people will abandon their favourite developer environment to make a game involving one proprietary crypto.

Far more realistic is Enjin’s strategy of integrating into existing engines. Tools are on the way for both Unity and Unreal – the two most popular engines – which require no coding to use. It even recently announced support for Godot.

“You need some basic knowledge of how they work, but you don’t have to code the smart contracts,” says LaBine. “So theoretically the target user we’re looking at is a technical designer. Familiar with the tools but won’t necessarily know how to code.”

While there’s certainly an overlap among developers and those interested in crypto, keeping the learning curve small is key. To borrow Unity’s motto, modern engines have somewhat democratised game development, and those walls between creators and their vision should stay levelled.

To that end, Enjin Coin wants to have a developer portal in the future that shows off different use cases. Much like the Unity Store’s example projects, Enjin’s portal will have a “game as a token” project, or an example of a token-enabled collectible card game.

Unity users will soon be able to download the tools for free, and Enjin won’t take a cut of transactions made through the technology. The barriers to entry are low to facilitate maximum experimentation. And should any promising projects emerge, Enjin has earmarked 10% of its coins for partnerships and developer incentives — it can effectively fund them.

The Enjin Wallet Strategy

We’ve seen enough “top wallets in crypto” articles to see the Enjin wallet mentioned a few times. It’s touted as one of the most secure in the world, and we wondered what the strategy was behind a gaming crypto investing so much time and energy into a wallet.

“It’s to get people into the ecosystem,” explains LaBine. “It’s a place where you can see all of your games and items. We’ll open source it at some point but for now it’s closed source. But who knows, we might have skinned wallets, like a Blizzard wallet or stuff like that, if they allow it.”

LaBine opened up his own wallet full of gaming items for us to see. It’s currently a minimalist UI and will be expanded before it hopes to shoulder the burden of your entire game item collection. But it works — LaBine can send you a sword in Minecraft on demand.

As for wallets themed on other companies? While possible, they may already be making their own moves into the space. LaBine expects early adopters to be mostly indie, but now that he’s known as the “gaming crypto guy” to his career’s worth of triple-A contacts, he’s had executives picking his brain.

“Yeah, we’ve had a couple of conversations with them,” he says. “Don’t count the big triple-A studios out, because they all have skunkworks departments, and they are definitely working on blockchain stuff. They’re just not telling anybody about it.

“They don’t know how they’re going to use it yet, a lot of the time. But it’s going to happen at some point. One of the big publishers is going to come out with Ubisoft Coin or something like that. Steam Coin, or whatever.”

Enjin’s Blockchain vs Databases

The big question with any cryptocurrency is “what can this do that a database can’t?”

“I think traditional systems do a good enough job most of the time. But databases can’t provide true ownership of the tokens to you,” LaBine tells us. “They’re basically just leased to you, at their whim. So you could be banned — we see that in esports. As a value proposition, I don’t know that that’s compelling enough.

“For a developer, you don’t require as much infrastructure because you’re leveraging the Ethereum network and all the properties of that network. You don’t need a huge security team, or DevOps, to administer. That removes the customer service element that you might traditionally need, running your own giant databases.

“But again, it depends on where the market goes, right? Like, what players think is valuable. Some of my friends are like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care.’ So you put 200 hours into Overwatch and you don’t care that you don’t own the skins? And they’re like, ‘Nah.'”

In the case of Enjin Coin, there will be interesting use cases made newly possible. But much of its appeal is doing the same things with increased confidence. The idea of a digital collector, for instance, is less likely to occur if the collector is technically leasing items behind mountain-sized EULA agreements.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the fact that separate systems can be designed to interface with any token. It’s rare enough to see your RPG characters carry over into a sequel. But what if they could carry over into any game? Progress in one game could affect the world of another. If the receiving software knows how to interpret the token, anything is possible.

For all the bluster in the crypto space, LaBine is refreshingly frank about the issue.

“We know it’s going somewhere, but I don’t what form it will take,” he says. “Blockchain isn’t as sexy as AR/VR. Those techs have been around for 30 years at least, as an idea. But blockchain hasn’t been around very long, as Bitcoin and whatnot. As an idea, it’s very new. You’ll see some people doing wacky experiments with them, and mostly crash and burn, but somebody will figure something out. And people will be like, ‘Cool, I get it now!’

“So I don’t know which way it’ll actually go. It may not even take off at all. But I can easily think of a world where my son is playing Fortnite or PUBG, and all these items are things he could own and give to his friends. I could easily think of people saying ‘How was it not like this before?’ I worked at big studios for a long time, and this time I actually feel like I’m slightly ahead of the curve. So that’s exciting, but it’s also kind of scary.”

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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