Our new Sector CEO-in-Residence Colin Anderson, author of the popular blog on Gamasutra, has been chatting with our Founder Paul Durrant about the opportunities and challenges that Web3 technology presents. With Round 9 currently open for applications, we thought it would be helpful to capture their conversation here.
Paul: The UK Games Fund (UKGF) is tasked with identifying and supporting innovation across all aspects of the early-stage UK games development sector, wherever that occurs. Periodically new technology or working practices arise that challenge existing norms and split consensus within the industry.
Past examples of these would include the emergence of games with no ability to play offline, Free-To-Play games that utilise microtransaction payments, or the player reward systems that are now known as ‘Loot Boxes’. All of these proved divisive within the games industry when they were first trialled, and some continue to be. It looks like Web3 will prove similar with even the term itself being controversial for some.
What do you think?
Colin: I’ve studied Web3 in detail and I’m familiar with the many ‘vapourware’ projects and other dubious practices currently masquerading as innovation in the space. For this reason, any Web3 enabled projects UKGF receives with associated features such as blockchain and NFTs for evaluation during this round should expect to meet with a healthy level of scrutiny and scepticism.
Paul: UKGF hasn’t funded any applications from Web3 games development companies to date, but we anticipate we may be asked to consider this either within our latest funding round, or possibly a future one. So, it’s timely that we can chat about what this means before starting the review process.
Colin: Given UKGF’s important role in identifying and supporting genuine innovation within the games industry I wouldn’t recommend immediately ruling out applications from teams whose designs utilise Web3 elements. I’d expect these to be considered with an open mind alongside any other applications received in the first instance. Unfortunately business and technological innovation don’t always fall neatly within industry consensus, hence the ‘marmite’ effect we’ve seen with Web3.
Paul: Yes, we are acutely aware of the wider concerns surrounding Web3 and would therefore only consider providing support where we were genuinely satisfied the project could demonstrate a compelling case for the use of Web3, such as:
1. that Web3 was fundamental to the games functioning, and not merely an additional or non-essential feature;
2. that it would be impossible or prohibitive to replicate the game’s functionality through any existing non-Web3 technology; and
3. that UKGTF was satisfied the project objectively represented a true design, system, or other material innovation within a videogame product.
Colin: I think that’s reasonable, and I’d suggest the UK Games Fund should consider repurposing Carl Sagan’s template for rigorous scientific scepticism to its review process for Web3 gaming project applications. Essentially: “The more unlikely a certain claim is, given existing evidence on the subject, the greater the standard of proof that is expected of it.” Therefore, any project intending to include Web3 elements within their application to UKGF should expect to provide that standard of proof as part of their submission. That, as you mentioned in your criteria, would require demonstrating their project is unable to be delivered without the inclusion of Web3 elements, in addition to meeting all the same requirements as other non-Web3 applicants.
Paul: And how does that all sit alongside concerns about loot boxes? Where does ‘play to earn’ need to sit so that Web3 rewards aren’t potentially tarred with a gambling tag?
Colin: Play-To-Earn is an incentive mechanism that has been used in video games at least since Space Invaders first introduced the concept of awarding “Extra Lives” in 1978. Elements of it can be found in one form or another within most games today, and all the talk of Web3 seems to have led to game designers looking for innovation in those areas. The specific issue many people have with Loot Boxes though, is that they introduce chance and randomness to the purchasing process. That is, I pay for a Loot Box, and I don’t know what I’m getting until I open it. As DCMS itself reported in its 2019 Immersive and addictive technologies report “…loot boxes are only one part of the in-game purchase market. Their unique element is the chance mechanism. For other forms of in-game purchase, players will know what item they will receive in advance of purchase…” That’s the key distinction I see between Loot Box mechanisms and any other type of in-game purchase or Play-To-Earn mechanism, regardless of whether it’s Web3 enabled or not. It’s that ability for the player to know in advance exactly what reward they will receive before choosing to proceed that differentiates Play-To-Earn from Play-For-Chance.
Applicants have until Thursday 23rd June, 10:00 to submit their full applications to Round 9 of the UK Games Fund. More information about what’s involved can be found here.
Colin Anderson has been working in the videogames industry for almost 30 years, having worked on more than 100 game releases as well as playing a key role in both Denki and Earthbound Games studios, amongst others. Joining UKGTF as Sector CEO-in-Residence, Colin also brings his wealth of experience of supporting The Independent Game Developers Association (TIGA) for 10 years as Director (during his tenure, TIGA successfully campaigned for the introduction of tax relief on video game production in the UK), has served as a juror for many industry awards including BAFTA, DEVELOP, IGF, UK Games Fund, etc., advised Abertay University on the syllabus for its videogame degree programs, and also advises the Scottish Government on creative industries policy as part of its Creative Industries Leadership Group.