This year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) provided an expansive view of the challenges, opportunities, and innovations that will shape the future of the game industry. As always, the event was a peek behind the curtains to see what studios and developers are really focused on—and what they’re most concerned about. Forte was on the ground at the conference to cover all the Web3 panels and deliver our impressions on the first half of the event and the second half.
Of course, there was a great deal of media attention around the event, with gaming journalists offering multiple perspectives on the state of the industry and Web3 in particular—ranging from skepticism about blockchain gaming to enthusiasm for its potential. Here’s a roundup of the media coverage of GDC 2023, and Forte’s stance on what was said.
The root of Web3 skepticism
Several outlets pointed out the reluctance toward Web3 among the gamer community and developers themselves. While there was a significant Web3 gaming presence (including a dedicated summit) at this year’s GDC, it was somewhat diminished from 2022. As Axios reported, “Organizers say the number of non-sponsored talks on Web3 blockchain gaming, which proliferated at GDC 2022, are down this year.”
As Forte has explained, much of this decline can be attributed to wider market conditions, including NFT pricing volatility and high-profile banking collapses, which has precipitated a shift away from fast launches of NFT games in favor of a strong and deliberate refocus on building real communities and organic experiences in Web3.
Reporters also mentioned that players seem hesitant about Web3 gaming because they haven’t heard a compelling rationale about the upside potential for blockchain integration or digital asset ownership.
“To many gamers, blockchain-based tech comes across as just a way for companies to make even more money off players without meaningfully adding to the fun of their experience,” according to Bloomberg News. “They have yet to hear a convincing argument about why their escapist activity needs real-life financial stakes–particularly ones involving transactions that have an outsized environmental impact.”
Some gamers “think NFTs are great and understand the technology and want ownership of virtual items they put their time into. The other side is saying this is not good for the environment,” Tomi Brooks, head of business development for blockchain and NFT game developer Double Jump.Tokyo, told Bloomberg. “But maybe they don’t understand there are different types of technologies.”
The lack of education around Web3 is a critical hurdle to overcome in order to gain mainstream adoption. That’s why Forte has been committed to sharing knowledge and expertise about subjects like the evolution of ownership models, incentivizing sustainable economic growth, and how true asset ownership generates value for gamers and developers alike.
“You can see a lot of effort going into the marketplaces, but not the games,” Jawad Amjad, COO of The Game Storm Studios, told Bloomberg. “I think it should be the other way around: You create a game first. You market it. You get the user base. And if the users like that game, then you create the NFTs.”
Forte strongly agrees with this view—we have always emphasized that Web3 gaming needs to start with creating fun, enjoyable experiences for the player community, instead of focusing on the technological underpinnings of blockchain or its financial aspects.
“Going forward, you have to build a great game and anything Web3 should be secondary—it’s a hook to improve the experience,” explained Andy Yang, President and COO of Forte, at a recent panel hosted by Polygon Studios. “Maybe keep the technical Web3 jargon in the background and express the value proposition directly to consumers. Leave the Web3 lingo in the background until it’s really needed for the player community.”
Enthusiasm on the horizon
Despite some of the doubts voiced at GDC, media coverage also picked up on the healthy amount of interest and excitement for Web3 gaming as the next frontier for the industry. As Pocket Tactics reported, “We’re on the ground at GDC 2023, and one thing has become clear: no matter what you think of Web3 or blockchain tech, the people upstairs seem to love it.”
For example, leading Japanese-South Korean video game publisher Nexon announced that its MapleStory Universe virtual world ecosystem will allow players and creators to develop and manage non-fungible tokens (NFTs), operable through the Polygon blockchain protocol.
“Each region within the game has a limited number of NFT rewards, which enhances value and increases the fun of ownership,” according to VentureBeat. “Nexon intends its already beloved franchise to deliver fun that most other blockchain games have not yet done so.”
“The NFTs will have both tangible and intangible values. It’s another example of how South Korean game companies are all-in on NFTs, which can be used to establish player ownership and resale of assets,” VentureBeat continued. “The South Koreans are in even though many hardcore gamers in the West have resisted NFTs.”
The Asia-Pacific region represents one of the fastest-growing markets for Web3 and blockchain game adoption, and many developers are recognizing the importance of making inroads into that market. But when it comes to global acceptance, there’s still a noticeable lack of major Web3 releases that have attained worldwide popularity.
As VentureBeat reported, “There is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem, where skeptics want to see more players and more fun blockchain games before diving in. But it’s hard to get developers to invest more in big games without a big audience.”
Forte has long held the position that Web3 gaming needs a prominent—and profoundly fun and engaging—game that can compete with triple-A titles in order to draw in a wider swath of the 3 billion-player global community, while generating greater acceptance of Web3 as a whole. Developers have taken notice of this need, as well, with games showcased at GDC this year seeking to bridge this exact gap.
Economic realities shaping the future
While skepticism around Web3 gaming at GDC has continued, it’s a trend that often accompanies any new tech, whether it was the uncertainty about mobile games and their market potential or more recent innovations around VR.
Alissa McAloon, one of the leads in crafting the GDC 2023 State of the Game Industry Report, said, “A lot of developing technologies have ebbs and flows and then we see where things settle after the fact. VR is a good indicator of that.”
In this regard, the potential for new experiences offered by Web3 gaming puts it in line with the same gameplay innovations that allowed mobile and free-to-play gaming to captivate audiences and grow into what they are today. That is, as developers learn to utilize the unique features offered by any platform to create compelling games, players will follow. But inevitably this often means momentum is initially slow to start before reaching mainstream acceptance. “This cycle of hatred, envy, and then adoption, is where we’re going with blockchain gaming,” said Joyride CEO Omar Siddiqui at the Polygon Studios panel earlier this year. “We’ve seen this with free-to-play and everyone hated it, but everyone now has it as part of their toolkit.”
These sentiments echo our own long-held beliefs. As Forte’s co-founder and CEO Josh Williams explains, “Forte believes blockchain-connected games will usher in a new era in game design: it will be as transformative to the market as free-to-play.”
Focusing on quality gameplay, innovative mechanics, and scalable, sustainable economic design are the keys to bringing the benefits of Web3 gaming to a mainstream audience. While hype tended to dominate the very earliest stages of the space, we’ve now entered a more mature phase in which vibrant—and viable—projects are the priority.
“We’re in the early stages here of Web3 gaming. 2022 was a lot of hype off the back of Axie Infinity, and that business generated a billion in revenue in six months. We saw a strong signal that Web3 gaming is here,” Andy Yang said. However, “it’s a long road ahead of us, so let’s not talk about finances or pre-sales. Developers appreciate authenticity, and we’re just here to support developers and creators beyond the saturation of hype.”