The leading gaming consoles are stepping it up with Microsoft just announcing that they have integrated blockchain technology into their XBOX to help calcualte the royalites for game publishers. Also with the rumors surrounding SONY that they will be embedding a blockchain-based Digital Rights Management system into their upcoming PS5. So what about the major video gaming publishers or developers? Well the first one out of the gates to be showcasing their experimentation with blockchain tech is Ubisoft. We got a first hand look at what they are doing and what their vision is for using blockchain in their games from their Blockchain Initiative Manager, Mr.Nicolas Pouard.
1) Please tell us about your background, what you do at Ubisoft and what you have worked on there?
One great thing about Blockchain and gaming, two fields I don’t originally belong to, is that it brings together people with very different and unexpected backgrounds. I was a philosophy teacher for 10 years before joining Ubisoft, 4 years ago, to begin a new carrier at the Strategic Innovation Lab. I started to work on World’s Consistency to help build some conceptual tools for our open worlds. As part of our mission is to help Ubisoft’s teams anticipate the future, I also help monitor and analyze changes happening in various areas — technological fields, society, and business practices, which led me to get more and more interested in the “crypto-world”. As Ubisoft’s interest for Blockchain started to grow significantly, the Strategic Innovation Lab was allowed to launch a Blockchain Initiative which I am thrilled to co-lead today.
2) When did the Strategic Innovation Lab project start and what is its purpose? How is it being used to explore Blockchain technology?
In 2016, the Strategic Innovation Lab started working on Blockchain through desk research and ecosystem scouting. At some point, we realized that to better understand what this technology could bring to players in gaming and entertainment, we needed to bring some of our thoughts and reflections to life. Fortunately, we were soon joined by an agile team of developers comprised of a senior programmer, a game designer and a tech artist, able to work on several projects and concepts. At the end of 2017, we began to discuss the possibility of prototyping something using Blockchain technology. Our focus was first to explore ways of plugging Blockchain to specific in-game features like true ownership and item trading, but we ended up going way further with the ambition to develop a prototype which game design and online features entirely relied on Blockchain. A game which gameplay was truly inspired by the inherent specificities of Blockchain.
With our first prototype, Hashcraft, we therefore tried to answer three questions:
- How can we leverage this technology to bring more value to players?
- What is the true state of the technology laying under the buzzword?
- Are there any specific gameplays that only blockchain could support?
3) From what we have knowledge of Ubisoft is only one of a few large game publishers researching the integration of blockchain tech into the games. Why is this and will this put you guys ahead of the competition?
Exploring new technologies and imagine how innovations from other areas could apply to gaming has always been part of our DNA. Thus, we look at Blockchain as one of the many existing opportunities we have identified to innovate in our industry.
We believe it is worth reflecting how it could reshape our relationship with games and investigating the possibilities it opens for players especially in terms of digital ownership, user-generated content or even resilience. In the end, the best way to apprehend a new technology and understand how it can best be leveraged is through test and learn. That is why we are 100% focused on our learnings and prototypes at the moment and don’t wish to comment on our competitors’ activities.
4) What stage of development would you say you are at with smoothly implementing blockchain tech? Are you making great strides in the research?
We are moving fast but are still in the thinking and prototyping phase. We don’t want to plug Blockchain in some of our games or services just for the sake of it, it needs to have a purpose and it has to bring an added-value to players. There are also a lot of strategies here that we have to assess: using a public, private or hybrid blockchain; on a protocol level, tools or Dapp. As the whole ecosystem, we also have to manage the technical difficulties, but as some of our worlds gather up to millions of players, we also need to solve the user experience problem. There is a lot to do from that point.
5) Coming up is your blockchain Hackathon event. What are you looking for? Is there anything specific you guys would like to see?
We are really eager to see what participants will come up with.
First and foremost, the Blockchain-Heroes hackathon (that is how we called it) aims to support the ecosystem in its effort to find some killer apps that could foster the adoption and the understanding of Blockchain. That is also why we are sponsoring the Blockchain Game Summit organized by B2Expand next September, one of the only high-level international events that brings together gaming and Blockchain thought-leaders to take on today’s challenges and think of a common future.
Secondly, it’s a way for our teams to see what can be done with this technology and explore what kind of gameplays will come out of it. Eventually, the hackathon is also a good way to scout for passionate people, at the crossroads between blockchain and games. We think there are Blockchain enthusiasts out there who are also passionate about video games and we want to offer them the opportunity to explore and build the bridges between these two worlds in the best conditions.
6) Can you give the gamers any hints as to what is being planned for Ubisofts blockchain integrated games? Are there any crossover of digital assets in your games planned? Will we get to use Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad from Assasins Creed and travel into the world of Far Cry?
As mentioned, we are still very early in our R&D process so nothing is planned in terms of integration at the moment. As for crossovers, the right question to ask ourselves right now is how Blockchain can bring more value to our players.
7) What do you see are some limitiations in current blockchain games and that you guys would like to improve upon in your games?
Obviously the main problem today in the collectible items games such as Crypto Kitties or Spell of Genesis are the transaction fees that can be outrageous when the value of Ether or Bitcoin are going up. A second obvious limitation is scalability, for now there are no cryptogames able to manage millions or even thousands or players. Speed of transactions can also be a challenge: gamers are used to frictionless experiences, especially on mobile phones, in terms of UX the slowness and the uncertainty of transaction is not good enough today. Last but not least, immutability; it’s the strength of the Blockchain but when it comes to data management, privacy and new rules as GDPR in Europe, it becomes important to decide what data you store on the blockchain and what you don’t. Privacy could definitely be a matter of concerns which we are also investigating.
8) We saw your prototype blockchain game Hashcraft. What is the general summary of the game and what are you trying to learn with the development of this game?
Hashcraft is a treasure hunting and islands exploration game, where players directly contribute to expand the world by creating their own island, hiding their own treasures and setting their own challenges to the players. (see question 2)
9) You will be offering more power to the players and do you know if creating your own Ubisoft cryptocurrency is a part of this plan?
With such a promising technology, and stakeholders like Ethereum already well in place, we wish to keep all of our options open and are thus exploring all possibilities but we are not there yet. As to give more possibilities to players, like our CEO Yves Guillemot mentioned in his closing words of our conference at E3 this year, we need to work even more openly with them. Blockchain could be one way to help with that.
10) Will blockchain and decentralization be common terms and part of the future in the gaming industry? Will they be common terms for Ubisoft?
There is always a certain amount of time before which a technology or innovation actually reaches a significant rate of adoption, which makes it difficult to predict when and how Blockchain will actually become a common ground for the gaming industry. There are signs however that decentralization is a growing trend in technology beyond the gaming industry; 5G for instance relies on a decentralized protocol and will have a massive impact on our access to information. So it is safe to assume that Blockchain will have a huge impact on society and gaming, but part of the challenge will also be to make it seamless for players. In the future, we will not speak about Blockchain more than we speak about TCP/IP today, unless you are an online developer of course.
We’d like to thank Mr.Nicolas Pouard, Mr.Joel Morange and the Ubisoft team very much for taking the time out of their busy schedules to talk with us for this exclusive interview.
Don’t forget to follow their Blockchain Heroes Hackathon event coming up soon from June 29th to July 1st – http://blockchainheroes-ubisoft.com/en/home/
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