We've previously highlighted mobile as a possible green pasture for web3 games, but desktop is theoretically a much more open place to play. This is sometimes ignored, given Steam’s ban on web3 games, but Valve’s stance against this technology hasn’t stopped developers from building desktop games. So let’s look at who is building alternative distribution platforms. What are the goals? What are the differences? And which is best positioned to succeed?
Enter Epic Games Store
Epic Games Store announced it would allow web3 games on the store in Q3 2022, which resulted in a few early games like Blankos Block Party and Grit quickly jumping in.
There are of course guidelines that must be followed; the most important of them are around maintaining country restrictions, disallowing external links to marketplaces on the store page, and following relevant gambling laws. There are some additional requirements that must be adhered to around documentation and legal agreements, but overall the Epic Games Store rules are reasonable.
Shortly after Epic began allowing web3 games, it also enabled self-publishing. This meant developers could get a game on the store without going through a drawn-out internal process with Epic Games. This opened the floodgates for all types of games, and it wasn’t long before there were 20 web3 games slated to appear on the store.
Epic Games adds a block of text on the store page to identify web3 games as having some element of blockchain, NFT, or cryptocurrency in it. The word “blockchain” works as almost a tag within search, allowing users to quickly find all web3 games in the store, live or not. At the time of writing, 70 games show up, with 30 of them already playable in some form; the rest can be wishlisted.
14 of these games also appear on Steam, although most are either in early access or listed as “Coming soon”. Even though Steam doesn’t allow web3 functionality, many game developers still want to leverage the platform to gain maximum discoverability. As a tactic, developers are either releasing compatible versions on Steam with no web3 functionality, or they are simply moving all of the web3 related interfaces out onto the web so that the game client lacks the “taint” of any blockchain to the casual observer. This is a clunky, unsustainable strategy that’s destined to evolve over time.
While Epic Game Stores’ adoption of web3 has been decent to start with, there’s a Steam feature that could take things to the next level: an integrated marketplace. Epic has an opportunity to create a marketplace system that not only provides a marketplace fee/royalty cut to developers for non-blockchain game items, but also supports blockchain trading with royalties as well for NFT items. Epic could still take a marketplace fee in that scenario and have a competitive advantage against Valve.
The big consideration here is just how much Epic Games wants to continue investing in its store. When Epic built the store it was leveraging the huge influx of money and players from Fortnite as well as fighting a battle against other storefronts on the 30% tax being charged. As the legal battles against Apple continue to drain cash and the overall market feels the strain, Epic has already had to start making cutbacks; Epic also draws attention to its store by paying for timed exclusives.
Unfortunately for web3 games, there isn’t a significant enough draw for Epic to really invest in building them up. Allowing web3 games to exist on the store was an easy win because it didn’t require Epic to do much to take most of the market share, due to Valve’s stance. If Valve decides to change its mind then Epic wouldn’t be in a position to invest further. At the moment, Epic hasn’t had any big wins beyond Fortnite, although there is at least growing interest in the Unreal Engine and even UEFN creators in Fortnite. While we don’t expect the store to disappear anytime soon, it’s entirely possible that Epic could end up deprioritizing it to divert funds elsewhere.
Despite the dominance of Steam and Epic Games Store, web3 gaming has inspired some other potential competitors to take a shot.
Ultra: A Challenger with a Twist
Ultra steps into the fray with the ambitious goal to one day compete with giants like Epic Games Store and Steam. While it provides a home for both web3 and non-web3 games, Ultra’s unique proposition is in its tokenization feature. In short, games that allow this feature can be tokenized and resold as NFTs. This has actually pushed Ultra to house far more non-web3 games, often with a more indie focus. Blowfish Games, maker of web3 space mech game Phantom Galaxies, has a good number of its games on the platform, for example.
At the moment Ultra lists 73 total games, but only 12 of those are web3 games. There is also no reliable way to filter for web3 games on the platform, so we had to manually check all 73 for web3 support.
Ultra also has a marketplace for both games and NFTs, and it offers toolkits to assist developers in using the platform features for its collectibles called Uniqs. However, as of now, there's a conspicuous absence of games available for trade – while the feature is novel, it’s unlikely to see huge usage by players and even less interest from most game developers. Secondary markets for video games like GameStop are generally operating under a different model focused on annual style games, and they also buy the used copy heavily marked down and mark it back up for resale. The transparency of NFT sales don’t really work well with a ‘buy it low and flip it’ model.
The Uniq marketplace at the moment predominantly showcases NFTs crafted by Ultra rather than any of the games as well, signaling a potential lack of interest in Ultra’s style of marketplace, especially with the low number of web3 games on the platform. Ultra does enforce creator-set royalties for NFTs on its marketplace, but also makes sure to take a 2.5% marketplace fee on trades for itself. Ultra also makes a point of only taking a 15% cut from primary sales in stark contrast to the 30% of Valve, Google, and Apple (Epic takes 12%). This likely helped it onboard the 55 premium games it sells which seem to cap out at $35 with most being $19 or less. While the platform is fairly new, it so far isn’t looking like a success with such low traction and lack of adoption of its main unique feature.
Elixir: Focused on Web3
Elixir, originally released in 2021, dives headfirst into web3. With 114 games in the catalog, some exclusive, it’s the only platform beating Epic Games Store in terms of total web3 games supported right now. Game quality varies; there are hobby projects, wannabe AAAs, and some games that are most likely abandoned (and should be removed).
There are at least 75 games either currently playable or in active development. It’s unclear what Elixir’s funding situation is, but it was still putting up job listings as recently as three weeks ago. It’s also unclear what the business model is with nothing for sale, but it does make constant partnership announcements, including GameStop recently – although we’ve seen how that worked out for Immutable.
Elixir leans heavily toward PC desktop with only 13 of the games also having a mobile version, and 21 titles compatible with MacOS. 40 genres are represented, though one might argue that there's an over-saturation of MMOs and open world games. The upside is that if any of them are successful, those genres do have potential to monetize well on web3 assets.
Elixir also has partnerships with the likes of Square Enix and Gala Games, supports 10 different blockchains including Sui, and provides an easy interface to connect up all of the different wallets.
Unfortunately, Elixir also obscures a lot of the onboarding process for game developers behind having to make an appointment with its business development team. Testimonials on the site suggest there is a Unity SDK to help developers integrate into Elixir, and even with no monetary flow it’s not hard to see why studios would be interested in getting exposure by getting featured in the Partners tab, as well as event promotions in the Events tab.
There are also social friending and chat functions, although we can’t imagine that is being used heavily compared with something like Discord. With web3 games struggling to find new players, it doesn’t hurt to release on Epic Games Store and Elixir just to hedge bets. The big test will be if Elixir can get a decent share of users when a really popular web3 game launches, as many of the hyped games like Shrapnel and Metalcore are nowhere to be found. It gives the impression that the real AAA games are focused on Epic Games Store.
Hyperplay is a launcher and platform not focused on the titles it hosts but ones from Epic Games Store and GOG (Good Old Games). It does have 52 games it has partnered with itself, but the point of Hyperplay is to help bridge wallets into web3 games easier. Browser-based games have had the benefit of the Metamask and other wallet extensions, and mobile has had standalone wallet apps that can interact. This has left desktop games often having to use a browser to get the wallet linked up.
That was the opportunity Game7 saw and built Hyperplay to help address. The solution also caught VC attention as Hyperplay raised $12M in June led by Griffin Gaming Partners and Bitkraft Ventures.
Hyperplay has also taken advantage of its roots as an open source Epic Games Store launcher with Linux compatibility which includes the Steam Deck as a portable Linux gaming machine.
By loading Metamask support into the launcher and an in-game overlay, Hyperplay has essentially bootstrapped the web3 financial rails onto individual desktop downloads, browser games and Epic Games Store games without the constant fear of dodgy website interactions. The only downside to this method compared with a launcher like Elixir is that it only supports networks that work with Metamask. That leaves gamers on Solana or other Layer 1’s that use a different wallet unable to work with Hyperplay for now. Luckily that’s a solvable problem should Hyperplay adopt other wallets that usually also work as browser extensions into its system.
There is some overlap between the 52 games natively supported on Hyperplay and the 70 supported on Epic Games Store. It also can be a little misleading to view it as a desktop platform since 15 of the games are browser-based, 35 are Windows-based, and just 10 are supported on MacOS.
At the moment Hyperplay doesn’t look to be including any marketplace or profit generating features, but being able to extend an easy-to-use marketplace for Epic Games Store games with a wallet already setup seems like a win-win scenario even for Epic, which could avoid the associated legal hassles.
The ability for Hyperplay to get traction and user attention may end up depending on partner games and those on Epic Games Store promoting its use as an easy way to connect a wallet, although some of that $12M raised could also go towards some marketing.
The current version of Hyperplay is labeled as a “Public Alpha” but the experience feels pretty polished already. With the app being a full launcher for Epic Games Store it's also worth mentioning that you can use it to run and play non-web3 games as well, which if it became a habit could make transitioning to web3 gaming feel smoother.
Sky Mavis’ Mavis Hub is likely the earliest web3 game launcher. The platform originally only housed Axie Infinity, and it became important during the transition from Axie Infinity: Classic to the newer Axie Infinity: Origins.
As the platform matured, it expanded to accommodate spinoffs like Raylights, Homeland, and Project T. Additionally, third party Axie games, such as Defenders of Lunacian Land, found their place on Mavis Hub. With the integration of the Axie Infinity marketplace, events updates, staking programs, and a support center, the Hub has metamorphosed into a one-stop-shop. Its recent Greenlight program also promises to introduce new Axie-related games into the Hub.
It’s unclear if Sky Mavis intends to add the third party games that it has convinced to join the Ronin blockchain to the Hub. Its original intention was to expand Sky Mavis as a publisher and distributor beyond Axie Infinity projects to leverage the Axie audience across multiple games. Unfortunately, the economy of the game fell apart and it lost a good chunk of its player base. Sky Mavis still seems intent on trying to direct the remaining players to new games being onboarded to the Ronin blockchain, so it would still make sense to showcase that in the Mavis Hub to avoid it really just being an Axie hub. It’s also worth noting that Sky Mavis hasn’t listed Axie Infinity or its related games on any of the other launchers.
While Sky Mavis has managed to get five games to deploy on the Ronin blockchain, there isn’t any clear indication that the plan will significantly grow the audience for Axie or Sky Mavis in general. Attempts to reinvigorate interest in Axie Infinity through Origins or any other games using Axie NFTs have been fairly muted. Without a sudden rekindling of interest, the Mavis Hub is likely doomed to sink alongside the Axies that spawned it.
With Gala Games publishing at least 16 web3 games, it makes sense to provide a launcher to manage the ones currently live. How it chose to do so is a bit odd, however.
Players download a launcher that has no user interface and instead runs more like a background service for providing installation and updating services. Players are instead expected to use the Gala Games page as the launcher UI, with options on the game listings to “Install and Play”, “Update Launcher”, “Update Game” and “Play”.
It’s clunky, confusing and not what most players would expect from a launcher. This could be why Gala is happy to have its games on some of the other platforms mentioned like Epic Games Store, Elixir, and even Steam. We hope that Gala Games pivots away from its own unnecessary launcher and pushes players to either Elixir or Hyperplay/Epic Games Store as its inferior launcher is simply a distraction.
We are still early in terms of tooling, quality releases, and even understanding what the use cases and implementations will be for web3 games and their distribution.
It may be that Epic Games Store or Hyperplay is best positioned to capitalize on growing interest as games arrive. Many of the more professional games are targeting a release on Epic Games Store, but with Epic unlikely to add web3-specific features this provides an opportunity for Hyperplay to become the go-to for smoothly combining its partner selection with Epic’s offerings. Elixir has made a solid start when it comes to games for a web3 native audience, but it may not be taken seriously enough by web2.5 style games to bridge the gap to larger success.
There is also the looming possibility that Valve could change its stance, but after being burned by cryptocurrency as an early adopter, it is unlikely to reconsider.
Hopefully with time some of these games will find enough success to draw attention to these platforms, and curiosity will help the others find footing. Until then, Epic Games Store will provide the shortest path to potential desktop exposure.
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