The developers of play-to-earn crypto game Axie Infinity recently made headlines when they released a new “lite” version that doesn’t require users to own NFTs to play. Instead, the game offers players an easier path to entry with non-NFT “starter characters”.
This is just the latest evidence of a trend taking hold across the blockchain gaming industry: Web3 studios are releasing games that are more similar to their Web2 counterparts in both accessibility and gameplay quality. It’s a transition that, slow as it is, has some of us wondering how long it will be before the magical moment when web2 and web3 games become indistinguishable.
The new, more mature approach from the studios that once preferred speed to substance will almost certainly yield a major advantage: sooner or later it will attract more players to Web3 games.
Blockchain games with Web2 properties
There were signs that this shift was imminent even before any games left Launchpad. In 2022 and early 2023, Web3 Studios entered the market to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. And yet none of them has rushed out to major releases. That wouldn’t be surprising in the Web2 world, where quality games can take three to four years to develop. But things are moving fast for Web3, where developers once produced games in just two or three years Months.
Unlike Web2, where games go through long and intense testing periods before being released to the public, Web3 games were often launched relatively untested for reasons of speed. This was one of the reasons for the primitive design of early Web3 games. Studios would release games and let players jump right in. So in a way, these “tests” were being done live – studios continued to work on developing and improving releases after release.
At times, this meant that developers had to fight serious bugs and technical problems in real time – problems that were caused by the extremely short development cycles and lack of testing. This was frustrating for players – but since most cared about more than just a smooth and engaging gaming experience, these early players kept playing.
That is now changing. The games Web3 studios develop today include pre-launch testing, a factor that is causing development cycles to stretch to at least six to 12 months. Studios are now balancing the time they spend developing games and user acquisition versus how many users they retain, with the goal of achieving the highest retention rate at the lowest spend.
In particular, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the next few Web3 games will have better graphics – optimizing to keep them doesn’t necessarily mean that games will look much fancier than before. While some Web3 games are aiming for graphics comparable to AAA Web2 games, it will be years before people can play them. After all, the average AAA game can take three to four years to create.
When web2 players accept web3 games
However, with the increasing convergence between Web3 games and their higher-end Web2 counterparts, and Web3 studios making a conscious effort to increase their appeal, the question is not if the Web2 community will embrace them, but when.
As the line between web2 and web3 gaming continues to blur, more traditional gamers will enter the scene. And gamers won’t be the only ones. Major Web2 studios are exploring how to integrate blockchain technology into their releases. Sony, for example, is piling up patent filings related to NFTs, while Final Fantasy creator Square Enix said it will take NFTs seriously this year.
However, this merging of the two worlds will not happen overnight. This is due to both the long development cycles of AAA games and the fact that Web3 technology is still evolving.
Web3 may not be on the cusp of releasing AAA games yet – but it’s getting there. There are a number of Web3 games in the pipeline that offer both far better gameplay and easier access than before – features that game studios hope will attract members of the Web2 crowd. However, building this larger, more solid foundation will take more time.
Meanwhile, Web3 players are holding their own. And while there may not be that many Web3 gamers, most of them are willing to invest more time and resources into the games they want to play.
Soon they will be rewarded as Web3 game studios refocus on quality and create better and more engaging games – until one day the barrier between Web2 and Web3 games will completely disappear.