A lot of people are dismissing blockchain as a lot of hype. While that hype can be nauseating, some very big companies, including French video game giant Ubisoft, are taking it seriously. Yves Guillemot, CEO of the company that makes blockbusters, such as Assassin’s Creed, said at the ChinaJoy expo this summer that blockchain has potential to revolutionize the video game industry in the future.
Ubisoft held a blockchain hackathon, dubbed Blockchain Heroes, this summer in Paris. Its Strategic Innovation Lab team also created a blockchain game prototype, dubbed Hashcraft. In that game, a player tosses a seed into the sea, and the seed grows an island that the player can explore. Players can create quests on the island for other players to do. In this case, players create value through the act of creation, and the blockchain records that.
It’s worth noting that gamers are among the most prominent adopters for cryptocurrencies and blockchain. At the same time, Ubisoft is focusing on the player experience, and it is careful to distance itself from the cryptocurrency side of blockchain and currency speculation. But Ubisoft has also decided to sponsor the upcoming Blockchain Game Summit in Lyon, France, on September 25 to September 26.
Anne Puck, blockchain initiative associate manager at Ubisoft, is a board member for the Blockchain Game Summit. I talked with her about Ubisoft’s interest in innovation and blockchain.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I know Ubisoft is helping with the Blockchain Game Summit. What made Ubisoft interested in participating and looking into the technology?
Anne Puck: We’re really excited about the Blockchain Game Summit, yes. Just to introduce myself, I’m a blockchain initiative manager. I joined Ubisoft two years ago as an in-house attorney. It’s quite uncommon to work on tech matters with a legal background, but this is what is unique about blockchain. People are coming from different backgrounds and working together.
Now, I’m a member of our strategic innovation lab. Our job is to analyze the changes happening in technological fields, in society, and in business practices. Ubisoft is working to remain at the forefront of emerging technologies and provide players with new ways to have fun. As you know, blockchain is the biggest thing on the market for technology since the Internet. We feel that we can’t miss this opportunity, and that’s why we decided to launch the blockchain initiative at the beginning of this year.
GamesBeat: What would you communicate to people who don’t know too much about blockchain as far as why you think it’s this important?
Puck: At Ubisoft, we think it’s crucial to be part of pioneering the ways players can benefit from what blockchain has to offer. We think that blockchain has the potential to transform the gaming experience and even maybe to empower players as true stakeholders in their worlds. That’s why our job is to accelerate the integration of blockchain at Ubisoft with this initiative.
GamesBeat: I’ve written a lot of stories on blockchain gaming startups. So far, it seems like a lot of the big companies are still sitting on the sidelines. They’re not as enthusiastic about launching blockchain projects. Do you see that and understand why that might be happening? Why does Ubisoft, one of the biggest companies in gaming, have an interest already?
Puck: We’re more than interested in blockchain at Ubisoft. Yves Guillemot, at ChinaJoy, mentioned blockchain as a potential revolution for the video game industry in the future. We want to build our knowledge of the blockchain ecosystem and contribute to it by either organizing or sponsoring blockchain events — like the Blockchain Game Summit.
The summit is organized by B2Extend, a company that was part of our startup incubation process at Station F here in Paris. As a member of the advisory board, I can say that this is one of the only high-level events bringing together gaming and blockchain. The whole ecosystem will be there to discuss challenges and things that will be coming in the future.
GamesBeat: I’ve run into a couple of different kinds of startups in blockchain related to games. One is games like CryptoKitties, where they can verify the uniqueness and authenticity of a digital asset or a game character using blockchain. Game assets can be more collectible and also more portable across worlds. The other common application has to do with secure and transparent account management for online games. You can verify that someone is who they say they are and protect their privacy at the same time. Those are some big applications for games, but I wonder if you see other categories of innovation for games that you also see.
Puck: I totally agree. We’re connected with CryptoKitties. We organized a hackathon with them in June, and one of the jury members was from here. We’ve also featured some Rabbids kitties that were a participation gift for the winners of the hackathon. What we call a “nontraditional token,” it’s a new proposition of value for players. The tokenization of assets like in-game items allows players to have true ownership. We can attach metadata to those tokens to be able to handle provenance, and with provenance — the history of a token, its creation, and its ownership — we can make them more valuable to players.
We can also look at things like interoperability between games. Some startups, like B2Extend for example, are already experimenting with that interoperability. A token is just an ID on a blockchain. It might be connected to an in-game asset in one game, but potentially, it could be connected to two or more assets in different games. It would allow a level of involvement for players that’s very different from what we have now.
We can also think about using blockchain to reduce toxicity. During our hackathon in June, we had the chance to have a team thinking about that — how to reduce toxicity in gaming communities with blockchain. There were some interesting reflections on that subject.
GamesBeat: Is it possible to use blockchain to reduce toxicity without infringing on privacy?
Puck: Privacy, when it comes to account management, privacy and the new GDPR rules here in Europe — you’re right, it’s important to be clear about what you store in a blockchain and what you don’t. Privacy is definitely a matter of concern that we have to investigate in this area. But still, the idea is there and needs to be explored. At this point, everything around blockchain is worth investigating.
GamesBeat: In your view, then, you can still have privacy while using blockchain for verification?
Puck: We’re still at an early stage in the R&D process. Right now, I don’t have a certain answer. But we’re thinking about it. The French privacy authorities are working on this as well. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the academics who are in charge of their project since, of course, it’s a matter of concern for Ubisoft. But we don’t have an answer right now.
GamesBeat: When it comes to account management, do you think blockchain has potential there for things like better verification of identity and better payment transactions?
Puck: Absolutely. Digital identity is another area of exploration for blockchain, as well as transaction authority. That’s not entirely something we’re focusing on right now. At Ubisoft, our priority is on how to use blockchain to provide players with key new benefits. We’re not looking as closely at crypto transactions right now. But obviously, it’s a major area.
GamesBeat: Tim Sweeney at Epic Games has been talking about using blockchain to bypass the app stores. You can cut payment times from 60 days to a few hours, so developers can get their money from consumers more quickly and avoid the 30 percent fee from the platform holders. It seems like that’s relevant to the game industry.
Puck: There certainly [are] some discussions in the ecosystem around that topic. But again, we’re not yet focused on the transactional aspects of blockchain. We don’t have any intentions to change anything around the distribution of our games.
GamesBeat: Transactional concepts like that seem to apply to a lot of industries. How would you say that blockchain specifically applies to games?
Puck: For us, it’s always about players. How can we offer them more, offer them something new? The distributed nature of the blockchain network and the current state of the technology make it hard to envision what exactly will be the future of gaming and blockchain, but what we want is to use what blockchain has to offer for our players.
We’re working on our R&D. We have a step-by-step approach through prototyping to determine how blockchain can bring the most value to our players. We have a game prototype in the works from a team at our Strategic Innovation Lab named Hashcraft. It’s giving us ideas around how open a game can become thanks to blockchain.
Hashcraft is a treasure-hunting and island-exploration game, and its online features entirely rely on blockchain. The game is operated by a player on a blockchain, and the players are given the opportunity to expand the world of the game by creating blockchain-based user-generated content and sharing with their community. Players can create additional islands in the game and share them with the larger network. Other players can visit and explore those additional islands. The creators of the game can hide treasure on their islands and set up challenges so players can try out a new game they’ve created.
This is one of the things we think blockchain can do for players: It gives them an opportunity for involvement in the creation process. For us, the big deal isn’t about cryptocurrency. The big thing is about giving more opportunities to players.
GamesBeat: When it comes to players’ digital ownership of assets that they create in a game, is that something interesting for you? If you can use blockchain to verify that a player created something, can they own that and take that with them to another game? Do you want to make assets portable across games — like avatars? Maybe you could take your avatar from one game to another game.
Puck: Yes, definitely. That’s part of what we’re thinking about around making players true stakeholders in our worlds. With true ownership, the stake is obvious, if you can hold and own your assets — not from an IP standpoint, but from, let’s say, a virtual material standpoint.
GamesBeat: Wouldn’t a publisher normally get upset if a player could take something out of a game and bring it to a different publisher’s game, though? If blockchain allows people to take something like an avatar to another game, that’s good for the player, but it’s not necessarily good for the publisher.
Puck: We have so many different worlds, though. We’re sure we can keep players happy, jumping from one world to another. Obviously, we can’t keep players within a franchise. We want them to move across our whole ecosystem. Speaking seriously, though, it is possible. We know people that are already doing this, like B2Extend.
GamesBeat: Going back to Tim Sweeney, this is another feature he’s talked about because he thinks it’s key to creating a metaverse, a universe of virtual worlds that are all connected. Is that something you see as well?
Puck: To that I’d say that the rate of adoption of this technology — it’s looking like a long time. It depends on the accessibility of the tech. With blockchain, the user experience is quite slow at present. It’s difficult to predict when and how blockchain will actually become a common ground for any industry, including the game industry. Right now, it’s early to predict when we’ll live in something like Ready Player One [laughs].
GamesBeat: In summary, then, I guess we have a long way to go.
Puck: Sure. But it’s an exciting puzzle to work on. We’re really happy to be connecting with the ecosystem at the Blockchain Game Summit and collaborating with all the startups there. Our ultimate goal is to find use cases and develop content that have a purpose within the game experience. This will be the perfect place for all of us to think about that together and find new ways to entertain our players.