Previously at Riot Games, working on titles such as Valorant, Wild Rift and League of Legends, Justin Hulog is now is at the forefront of onboarding the next native web3 audience into blockchain gaming as chief studio officer at Immutable.
The web3 gaming market is currently in the midst of a considerable growth spurt as more and more casual gamers turn to blockchain-based games to experience the benefits of decentralized technology.
This trend offers a unique opportunity for developers to tap into the mass market and drive mainstream adoption. But to get there, they’ll need to heed the lessons of the not-so-distant past.
From play-to-earn to casual entertainment
The first major blockchain games were characterized by predictable, repetitive gameplay mechanics, clunky UX, and an obsession with monetizing everything.
Titles like Axie Infinity gained popularity, especially in South East Asia, where the earnings made from breeding one's in-game characters often exceeded the average monthly wage.
However, unsustainable tokenomics and high upfront costs to enter have quickly led to a decline in its popularity. And it wasn’t alone; other play-to-earn titles have struggled with the same.
Beyond a lack of sustainable token economies, the major problem with such games was too much focus on financial incentives and not enough on providing entertainment.
Web3 developers need to focus on a cohort that has traditionally been an important market for the adoption of new trends: casual gamers.Justin Hulog
Fast forward to today, and many developers have begun to change tack – reflected in the industry-wide rebranding of play-to-own, to play-and-own. This new paradigm emphasizes fun, engaging gameplay and users’ ability to truly own their in-game assets.
But there’s still a vital piece of the puzzle missing. Instead of fixating on converting hardcore gamers who have been traditionally more resistant to adopting new technology and trends, developers need to focus on a cohort that has traditionally been an important market for the adoption of new trends: casual gamers.
The opportunities in casual gaming
Casual gaming vastly contributed to the rise of mobile gaming, which has metamorphosed over the years into one of the biggest revenue drivers of the gaming industry.
In 2021, hypercasual mobile games were top 3 among the subgenres most downloaded responsible for over 10 billion downloads. The accessibility and affordability of mobile devices and the ease of downloading mobile games have led to a surge in players. In addition, these games often have simple and intuitive controls that are easy to learn, making them accessible to a wide range of players, including those who may not be fluent in English.
This has helped to expand the gaming market in emerging markets, where there may be a large population of non-native English speakers.
The casual gaming segment is projected to grow to $24 billion by 2026, promising to capture a new audience that doesn't consider themselves gamers in the traditional sense but is drawn in by the entertainment these games provide.
With easy-to-grasp game logic and little time investment required, casual games are perfect for playing on the go. And thanks to the freemium model, anyone can start playing them — all it takes is a simple download.
It's worth noting that casual gaming hasn't just accelerated mobile gaming growth but also contributed to diversifying the audience playing games. Candy Crush, one of the most popular casual games, features a 60% female player base.
Casual blockchain games require less commitment than their predecessors while still offering the benefits of web3 by allowing verifiable ownership over in-game items and tangible rewards. An early example of the more casual blockchain games are move-to-earn games such as Stepn, which enable users to track their steps while gamifying the experience through various rewards mechanisms.
By combining real-life activity with game elements, Stepn quickly grew within the crypto crowd. Yet, due to prohibitively high pricing to enter, it has failed to capture a broader audience.
The web3 gaming market is on the verge of mainstream adoption and the shift towards mobile platforms is crucial in this endeavor.Justin Hulog
That's where casual blockchain games can drive web3 adoption by enhancing focus on game design and increasing accessibility by lowering currently existing barriers to entry.
To truly succeed, the web3 market must establish its own unique ecosystem, catering to a specific audience that may differ from traditional gamers. As the industry matures and produces successful titles, it will inevitably attract new players who may have previously been hesitant.
The keys to unlocking the mass market
The web3 gaming market is on the verge of mainstream adoption. The key to unlocking this potential lies in simplifying the complexities of blockchain technology for casual gamers. Games that offer easy onboarding, uncomplicated infrastructure, and seamlessly fit into players' daily routines are likely to drive adoption.
The shift towards mobile platforms is crucial in this endeavor. Not only are smartphones the most commonly owned device, mobile devices offer easy and convenient access, fitting seamlessly into users' everyday lives. It's a frictionless, non-invasive way for the general public to experience web3 gaming.
One way of improving the overall accessibility of web3 games is ensuring there are no prerequisites to play. For example, integrating in-built custodial wallets into a game delivers a more mainstream user experience, helping to convert and onboard users.
This is just one approach that Immutable is taking with its upcoming free-to-play mobile action RPG, Guild of Guardians, which has exceeded one million in pre-registrations.
As the industry matures and produces successful titles, it will inevitably attract new players who may have been hesitant in the past.
With the rise of web3 technology and the increasing accessibility of decentralized apps, the web3 gaming market is poised for explosive growth, and developers who understand the needs of casual gamers will be at the forefront of this revolution.