Since the peak of play-to-earn games in 2021, Web3 has faced a period of critical evaluation. During its zenith, games like Axie Infinity were a boon for players in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and the Philippines, enabling them to earn significantly more than local minimum wages.
But this golden era has since faced many setbacks, including a major token bridge hack and a declining market, leading to a substantial reduction in rewards. Only a few projects have managed to maintain steady growth, highlighting fundamental issues with the play-to-earn model.
One major challenge is the high entry cost; players often need to invest hundreds of dollars in NFTs to participate. And even those who can afford the initial expense might find the games lacking, with underwhelming graphics and limited storytelling.
In this post, we argue that web3 gaming should focus more on player experience (PX) first, rather than just play-to-earn models. So let’s start by detailing what elements drive a good gaming experience.
Key elements of the player experience in crypto gaming
In general, it takes more than just nice visuals and functional in-game economy to make things work in the gaming industry, moreover in the emerging field of crypto games.
The problem is that there are no strong foundations in blockchain games defined yet and the golden rules and best practices are something that thought-leading game developers have yet to reach consensus on.
Faced with painstaking user onboarding and subpar gameplay, most of the web3 games will die off if they don’t pay more attention to these key elements of player experience:
- Motivation - In entertainment games, player motivation stems from a desire for new experiences, escapism, and personal curiosity, centered around two key factors: interest and competence. Players' intrinsic interest immerses them in the game's world, while their desire to demonstrate competence motivates them to improve and excel, resulting in increased player retention.
- Meaningful choices - In gaming, player motivation is closely linked to meaningful choices, falling into three areas: agency, strategy, and tactics. Agency allows players to influence the game through their choices, turning the experience from passive to engaging. Strategic choices involve long-term planning and affect the game's overall state, including interactions with other players. Tactics, in contrast, deal with immediate decisions impacting a single turn or moment, focusing on the game state or player interactions.
- Balance - Achieving balance in game design is a complex yet crucial element for maintaining player engagement, as perfectly illustrated by the engagement curve. This curve advocates for a mix of high-intensity and relaxed periods, ensuring that games don't overwhelm or bore players. The most engaging games master the art of being easy to learn yet hard to master, offering accessible mechanics for beginners while gradually revealing complexity for seasoned players.
- Usability - In gaming usability, designers must address three crucial questions that significantly influence player agency and decision-making: First, what's happening in the game? This focuses on core mechanics, like understanding objectives such as scoring points or racing to a finish line. Second, how do players' actions impact others? This ranges from games where player interaction is minimal, to games like Warhammer 40,000, where strategy is deeply intertwined with other players’ actions. The final question is what actions can players take? This defines whether a game is contentious or allows for a mix of self-advancement and impacting others, adding layers of strategic depth.
- Aesthetics - The five senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell — crucially shape our perception of the world and play a significant role in gaming experiences. Digital games use haptics for tactile feedback, enhancing player immersion, while alternatively, games can leverage style and theme effectively. For instance, tall trees casting shadows which influence gameplay, merging design with mechanics.
- Fun - a subjective aspect, arises from players' interactions with a game and is not directly crafted by designers but rather facilitated through combining various game elements. While these elements can lead to enjoyable experiences, they don't inherently guarantee fun. This is a big issue for educational games, simulations, and serious games, where fun may not be the main goal; instead, the focus lies in keeping players sufficiently engaged to motivate ongoing participation in the game. Ultimately, the combination of motivation, choice, balance, usability, and aesthetics influences players' approaches to games, but the pursuit of fun remains the fundamental driver of the player experience.
The challenges Web3 games need to overcome to improve player experience
Unfortunately, many current crypto games on the market fall short of these key elements, featuring outdated graphics, clunky gameplay, over-complicated onboarding processes, and promises of unrealistically quick gains.
Research shows that motivation behind mainstream players’ willingness to try out crypto games is indeed to indeed ‘earn a bit extra on a side,’ but quality of the gameplay also ranking high on the list. Web3 gaming companies must focus on creating engaging, high-quality games that rival Web2 production values. Blockchain technology should enhance – not dominate – the gaming experience, offering a well-designed and transparent economy on top of the entertaining gameplay.
There are two additional pivotal points to optimize Web3 games for Web2 users - user onboarding and buyer experience.
Smooth user onboarding
The first impression always matters. While addressing general best practices of game design is essential to create an entertaining player experience in crypto games, more often than not, complicated user onboarding is the real dealbreaker.
The emphasis on user-friendliness starts right from the login process and extends to every interaction within the game or gaming platform. It's essential to create an environment that accommodates the needs of users who may not be as familiar with Web3, ensuring that their experience is straightforward and enjoyable. Built-in wallets with intuitive UI and simple drag-and-drop asset management should be the centerpoint of a smooth user experience.
As a non-custodial wallet and authentication solution, Immutable Passport serves exactly that purpose. It’s specifically tailored for the gaming community, simplifying user onboarding by eliminating the need for passwords and automating wallet creation. This approach not only enhances security but also ensures a frictionless gaming experience. From support for social media logins to unified access to a broad network of games, Immutable Passport enhances security and streamlines the user onboarding experience.
Streamlined buying experience
Another pain point addressed in the Crypto.com and Newzoo study stems from the fear of financial loss and comprehensive Web3 purchase processes. QORPO Game Studio developers and Immutable therefore seek a paradigm shift in Web3 payment methods thanks to groundbreaking solutions that prioritize smoother user experience and a high level of security.
Immutable Checkout offers a comprehensive and efficient checkout management system that enhances transaction experiences in gaming and digital marketplaces. It enables instant purchases and asset swaps, supports multiple payment methods for a global audience, and uses smart routing for increased conversions. The platform's configurable interface allows for quick integration, catering to over 100 countries. This ensures a frictionless buying experience, essential for user retention and community building in the digital sector.
The future of Web3 gaming belongs to games prioritizing player experience
To open Web3 gaming to mainstream players, game developers need to come up with truly thought-out player experience models. Their efforts need to reach beyond just engaging game designs but also bear in mind complex user onboarding and purchase processes.
We believe that only through games and products that prioritize users, can Web3 become a place of mainstream mass adoption. Thanks to Immutable’s partnership with QORPO Game Studio’s Citizen Conflict, we can look forward to more user-friendly, accessible and democratized blockchain gaming.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the guest author, and not necessarily to Immutable or its employees. Immutable does not endorse or assume responsibility for the accuracy, appropriateness, or completeness of any information presented by guest authors.
Authors: Samuel Gallo, lead game Designer QORPO Game Studio, & Ratislav Bakala, CEO, QORPO Game Studio