Virtual Robots & Crypto Gaming

Etherbots.ioEnter. Click. Click. Click.

Four simple steps… that’s all it takes for someone to buy a virtual crate filled with digital robot parts. The purchase currently costs about $170 USD at time of writing – and is designed to become more expensive after every single sale. Does that seem steep? Really? Because approximately 65% of the buyers were repeat customers. They bought at least one more digital crate.

About 20% of buyers so far bought more than five crates.

One buyer bought 54.

The game was announced less than five days ago and isn’t yet fully functional. That hasn’t stopped it from generating almost $60k USD in sales.

Crypto Gaming is Serious Business

Remember: this isn’t an ICO. This is a game. No one is promised any rights to share in the profits of the creators. They are simply granted the rights to own digital goods and to play – and that latter right isn’t immediately exercisable, because the game isn’t finished. Regardless of these facts… there are apparently numerous repeat customers.

This left me more than a little perplexed. I’m not a gamer, but technically there wasn’t any gaming going on yet anyway. I just couldn’t understand the dynamics behind what I was witnessing – but I wanted to understand… just in case this turns out to be the future of gaming.

I would go on to spend three days exploring a small part of the rapidly expanding crypto gaming community. I spent that time interacting with the team behind Etherbots. I examined the blockchain transactions that were linked to their game. I chatted with a few of the people buying the digital crates. Slowly, I began to understand…

Crypto gaming isn’t currently all about fun and games. People are making serious money in this space – and it’s not limited to just the developers. When you can own and trade digital assets for real value – the lines between investing, speculating, gambling, and playing inexorably start to blur.

Games are fun. Scams aren’t.

What I learned first (and was reasonably aware of from the outset) is that this new space was ripe for scammers. After all, if someone can sell some eye-candy characters for a “game in development” for $60k or more – there are certainly people who will attempt to do so without any intention of developing a game.

In the case of Etherbots when I first encountered the project, this risk certainly wasn’t dismiss-able. The creators had launched a beautiful website with a single function. It could take your money (ETH) and show you some pictures of what you had “bought”.

What’s worse – is that they had done this basically anonymously. Their “parent company” was registered just days before – their domain name was registered just weeks before. They didn’t have a single picture or bio on the game’s website or the parent company’s website.

(Update/Clarification: They are no longer anonymous as of 01-Feb-2018.)

So, was it a scam?

This is always going to be a pivotally important question – because if you think you’ve been scammed, you cannot make your case to a credit card company. This is the blockchain – this is between you and whomever you transact with. Due diligence is important when you spend your money. Outside of the crypto space this is often overlooked because middle men will insulate you (at a cost).

If I was standing on the side of the road selling digital images for my upcoming game – at least you’d know what I looked like. I still don’t think I’d have many buyers, especially if my asking price was $170. If you paid me for my digital images and I transferred them to you as promised – have I scammed you? If I am unable to finish the game after a year of toil – were you scammed? You were never misled into thinking the game was presently playable…

Intentions are a huge part of this equation. When your counterpart is anonymous on the internet, you will most likely never have access to their intentions. Asking: is this a scam, is the wrong question in this scenario.

Instead, ask: If this might be a scam, does it still make sense to buy? For most players/gamers the answer would most likely lead to an instantaneous rejection of the transaction. If you want entertainment – only buy games that are currently, verifiably, capable of entertaining.

Solving the Ponzi Problem

In most cases, the people who are still buying in early to crypto games have considered the associated risks of failure or of outright being scammed. Inevitably, they seem to decide that it’s worth it! Because they are sure that if the game is a success, they can sell their digital assets to someone else and make an easy profit. Many have done this before – to the tune of thousands of dollars. Gaming, meet Greed.

This mindset invariably turns every game with a marketplace into a potential Ponzi. This is also something that’s going to become important – because in many cases the developers are not to blame. They are not promising high returns on any initial “investments”. When the market becomes saturated with crypto games and in-game marketplaces – maybe then the situation will improve… hopefully well before regulators start policing games.

The Etherbots developers I chatted with vocally wanted to avoid having their game devolve into a Ponzi in the minds of the players. The team was inspired by CryptoKitties, but wanted to make Etherbots much more engaging with more pronounced elements of competition. Until their arena code is published – we can only speculate on their ability to achieve their stated goals.

If their solidity code exudes the attention to detail that they have put into the planning and presentation of their project – they will likely achieve their goals.

Etherbots

Scams, ponzis, profits, players – oh, yeah. Games.

This whole experience taught me a lot about what people in the crypto gaming space are looking out for. It’s a space filled with a lot of conflicting incentives – and the potential for an awful lot of profit. Creativity can thrive here and so can greed. That makes sense, because people are involved.

Oh, speaking of people: as of today, the Etherbot team members are no longer anonymous. You can see them here.

In my mind – Etherbots had a bit of a bumpy launch induced by overwhelming excitement on the part of its founders. Their enthusiasm for their project is something that isn’t easily faked. Their presale appears to be exactly what it claims to be – the fantastic looking skeleton of a game in development. The captions are witty, the graphics are polished, the team is responsive and open to suggestions.

They expect to launch the full game in less than two weeks. While most of the game dynamics and drop rates will be immutable – things like robot battle fees will be adjustable and the team will, no doubt, keep listening to their community.

It is expensive – but the market dynamics of the game complicate that cost/benefit analysis. That aspect of crypto gaming probably isn’t going away anytime soon. I can’t yet tell you if it that makes gaming better or worse

I say yet, because I did buy into the game to find out. I’ve been curious about crypto gaming, but wanted my introduction to be engaging. I’m genuinely excited to see what this team can do. They’ve set the bar pretty high for themselves, but if they’re successful – their game is going to be a lot of fun.

That’s what games are supposed to be about, right? See you in the arena.
(For the sake of journalism, of course…)

Etherbots.io by FUEL | BROS (code on github)

Disclaimer: I’m not currently associated with this project in any official capacity. I stumbled on it via reddit and the developers kept me interested. I do not directly benefit from your purchase of a pre-order crate and none of the above links to their websites give me “credit” for anything. I’m sharing this story solely because I find it interesting. I hope you do, too.

I’m passionate about blockchains. I’m excited about decentralization, autonomous organizations, cryptocurrencies, and uncensorable dApps.

I’m also overwhelmed – with questions about these cutting edge technologies. I want to understand the tech, the politics, and the implications of the blockchain revolution.

Most of all, I want to share what I discover – because broader understanding will lead to greater participation, more rapid adoption, and, subsequently, a better world.