In the evolving blockchain gaming sector, developers from various professional backgrounds have brought their skillsets to Neo, all with a vision of leveraging the technology offered by blockchain to create even more engaging gameplay. Launching a game requires much more than just programming knowledge. It also takes storytelling, marketing, visual artistry, and a host of other skills and abilities, and there is a world of opportunity in this space for both coders and non-coders alike.

But why would anyone choose to work on blockchain gaming instead of in the more traditional gaming space? After all, the Los Angeles Times has reported expected global revenue for traditional gaming markets to hit $188 billion in 2023. That’s a lot of revenue to spread around the more established video game market. However, it’s the opportunities behind digital asset ownership via NFTs that create a strong draw to blockchain. Game developers see the power of this characteristic of the technology, even if they haven’t fully figured out how best to utilize it yet. While it’s early days, it’s clear that blockchain can unlock aspects of gaming like play-to-earn and portable NFT ownership that can lead to entirely new gameplay experiences as well as secondary markets.

Skills needed from everywhere

While many working in blockchain game development have the more traditional software and programming backgrounds that might be expected, others bring completely different experiences. This diversity of thought and perspectives leads to better results, even if it means climbing a steep learning curve for those new to such a tech-heavy environment.

“I started with nearly zero developer experience,” said Frank, the developer behind World of Elements, a 2D role-playing game created using RPG Maker MV. Whatever programming background might be missing is more than made up for with Frank’s passion for gaming. “I mean I’m 35 years old and got my first computer at the age of five,” he said. 

With an education in cultural studies and technology, Frank has let his love of gaming define his path. He led the first German gaming guild for Sacred, and was one of the leaders of a popular German World of Warcraft guild on Frostwolf. Largely self-taught, Frank explained how he has leaned on the Neo community for help where he’s needed it, “There are a lot of awesome guys in the Neo Discord who can help you.”

TOTHEMOON UNIVERSE is a metaverse-based game currently under development that incorporates character as well as item NFTs in a quest to colonize the moon. An expansive game like this requires breadth of experience, and the TTM team certainly has it, exemplifying the unique and varied paths that can lead people to blockchain. Co-founder Flight brings a background in media buying and lead generation to the team, while partner co-founder Mission has a degree in psychology and professional experience in sales. The rest of the core team continues the theme of broad experience, coming from areas as diverse as IT strategy and screenwriting. 

Flight sees the power in such a diverse team, and he explained how Nika, with a background in screenwriting, has been crucial. “We think storytelling is essential to captivating our audience and connecting to the brand. It’s why Nika is part of our core team and not just somebody we contract.” Having such breadth of expertise on the core team allows the members to get out of their echo chamber and benefit from many different perspectives and backgrounds.

Kunjon, the developer behind AfricaN3’s Wordle game, combines skills in analytical thinking honed by his medical training with the problem-solving ability that comes from experience in programming. While the word puzzle game (currently paused) that his team launched on Neo in late 2022 was more of a learning experiment into the possibilities of blockchain, he’s looking beyond gaming and sees potential for medicine in this space. “The intersection of my medical and programming backgrounds has driven my interest in healthcare technology and software solutions that can positively impact the medical field,” he said.

It’s clear that game development on blockchain isn’t just for hardcore developers. As the industry starts to accelerate, well-rounded teams with broad expertise will be poised to more effectively connect and engage with the gaming community.

Ownership opportunities

Experienced and inexperienced game developers alike see the incredible opportunity for entirely new gaming economies in blockchain, and the possibilities for digital asset ownership provide a strong attraction to the space. Jurica and Marko, the developers behind DogeRift, echoed input from many others when they said, “We chose blockchain to leverage its unique features in gaming, like secure asset ownership and real-time transactions.”

DogeRift’s 3D universe offers a mix of competitive and cooperative gameplay, with players encouraged to amass DOGER tokens. The game’s Adventure mode offers exploration and resource discovery, and a significant element is the ability to buy and trade NFTs, enhancing resource gathering and token farming efficiencies.

The future of gaming is being shaped by projects like TOTHEMOON UNIVERSE. While it’s currently unclear how best to use the possibilities of NFT ownership and new economies in the gaming world, the industry’s early visionaries are determined to figure it out. “The Gaming / NFT industry is still in its infancy,” TTM’s Flight said. “Teams, projects, and their communities are shaping what the industry will become. It’s exciting being able to be part of putting our own view and ideas of how NFT projects should incorporate their assets into games.”

Blockchain Cuties Universe is the veteran game in this space, having launched in 2018. The BCU team, like many others, was attracted to developing on blockchain due to the intrigue of NFT ownership applied to gaming. “Gaming was always my passion and a very intimate way of telling a story or creating a world where anyone can interact with it and create wonderful memories by themselves or with their friends,” said community manager Andrew Jekimochev. “And being able to make it ever so slightly more tangible is another unexplored universe of possibilities.” 

Overcoming common challenges

The development of blockchain games presents a series of challenges, each requiring unique solutions and approaches from the developers. With blockchain being so new, especially to the gaming world, the teams are learning as they go and solving problems as they arise. There’s no playbook to follow. 

BCU’s Jekimochev summarized it best when he said, “Blockchain technology is very new and many of the underwater rocks are being hit nearly every day. We test theories and move forward every day through sheer willpower. It’s tough and the hours can get crazy, but it’s done with love for the craft.”

A challenge faced by nearly all game projects involves using blockchain as an engine, not as a central feature of the game. Many developers expressed the idea that players shouldn’t even necessarily realize that they are playing a game powered by blockchain. In other words, players should want to play because the games are great, not because they use blockchain technology.

Alex Scoresby, founder and lead developer for the recently launched online board game Pixudi, sees the challenge in trying to bring gamers into web3 technology without them even realizing it’s happening. “Blurring the line between regular games and blockchain is the most important problem we are solving with the user-friendly interface,” Scoresby said. “Blockchain is just an engine that makes it easier and better and is an integral part, but not something that distracts you.”

In addition to this challenge, World of Elements developer Frank faced outright skepticism from the gaming community. “A lot of people in the game maker scene still think it’s impossible,” he said, referring to applying blockchain tech to a more traditional, RPG maker-style game.

In the gaming world, blockchain should be a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. Jurica and Marko, in developing DogeRift, encountered the task of adapting traditional gaming concepts to blockchain. They had to reimagine gaming mechanics in a way that leveraged blockchain technology’s strengths without compromising the game’s core elements. 

Their success in this endeavor stems from their ability to innovate and think outside traditional gaming paradigms, merging their existing knowledge with the new possibilities offered by blockchain. “While there have been challenges in adapting traditional gaming concepts to blockchain,” they said, “the positives, like efficient transaction handling and stability, have been substantial.”

While developers try to make the technology powering their games as invisible to the user as possible, they would also like to see some changes to Neo’s developer-friendliness. Digi, lead developer for TOTHEMOON and founder of Battle Hard, expressed frustration with the nature of smart contract work. “There is huge room for improvement that can be obtained from simple function design, as most contracts can be created with similar boilerplates,” he said. 

Digi would like to be able to ask a first-year IT student to write smart contracts, a task that he claims remains too complicated. “Personally, I would like to see something like Unreal Blueprint Visual Node Editor or Code Bits, a system for teaching kids how to program with code blocks, being adapted to Neo smart contracts,” he added.

Insights and advice

The trailblazers in Neo’s blockchain gaming sphere offer valuable insights and advice for aspiring developers, drawing from their varied experiences and challenges. Their guidance can provide a roadmap for navigating the complex world of blockchain game development.

The most common advice from the developers interviewed for this article was to “slow down to go fast”. Instead of immediately diving into development, developers new to Neo should get to know the available tools and fundamental building blocks. “Take time to get to know the Neo community, NGD, and other developers on the chain before anything,” TTM’s Flight said. “Understand the technology you are dealing with and ask a lot of questions. Don’t rush into promotion… build your reputation up first.”

Pixudi’s Alex Scoresby echoed this sentiment. “I think the most important thing is to gradually approach development and study tutorials,” he said. “And if there are difficulties, communicate in Discord or on Git in the branch of your proposal.” 

The helpfulness of the Neo developer community stands out. “Ask questions if you really get stuck on something during development,” Frank said. “And get the community onboard, they will keep you motivated.”

Finally, Quirky Soul College developer Michael Fabozzi asks that developers find ways to give back to the community. The only way to maintain such a helpful and thriving ecosystem is for the new developers to embrace the community and look for ways to help others. “For example,” he said, “if you build a Unity Neo connector, please share it with the world!” 

Charting the future

The insights and experiences of these pioneering developers in Neo’s gaming ecosystem paint a picture of a domain brimming with potential and innovation. Their journeys, marked by diverse backgrounds, challenges, and triumphs, not only underscore the evolving nature of blockchain gaming but also highlight the critical role of community, adaptability, and continuous learning.

As blockchain technology continues to evolve and gain traction, the experiences of these developers can serve as guidance for aspiring creators. They demonstrate that with passion, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace new challenges, the world of blockchain gaming offers near-limitless possibilities. The journey will be complex, but the rewards of pioneering in this space can be significant, not just in terms of game development but also in shaping the future of digital entertainment.

Digi looks forward to this future, when developers have worked through the early fundamentals and figured out how to truly leverage the power of blockchain technology. “We will see things thrive,” he said. “But that will take time, development, and passion from developers.”