Many players of some of the most popular multiplayer games are sitting on a wealth of digital content. But what happens to that digital inventory when player bases for these games start to dwindle and the games fade into irrelevance?
In 2007, Valve released Team Fortress 2 (TF2), a multiplayer, class-based, first-person shooter. It came bundled in a package of five games called The Orange Box. Alternatively, it could be purchased separately for $15. In 2010, the Mann-conomy update gave players the option to buy unlockable items for real money. In 2011, as TF2 interest and sales began to wane, TF2 shifted to a free-to-play model. Valve launched the Steam Community Market in 2012, allowing players to sell their in-game items for Steam Wallet funds, which can be used to make any Steam-related purchases.
When players began to lose interest in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Valve employed the same tactic they applied to TF2, unlockable in-game items that could be traded and sold on the Community Market. This time however, the items were cosmetic only, so that they would not affect the game’s balance.
Players have bought and sold items on the Steam Community Market for tens of thousands of dollars. The Pink Ethereal Flame War Dog Courier from Dota 2, another Valve game, famously sold for $38,000.
The Steam Community Market is rife with hacking and scams. Players invest a lot of time and money into these digital items and as games age out of existence and the player base starts to degrade the value of the game’s digital items degrade as well. These items are effectively worthless outside of the Steam ecosystem with no way for players to cash out.
A website called Gameflip offers a decentralized approach to virtual item trading, by storing in-game items on the blockchain and creating a transparent public ledger with smart contracts. Gameflip allows users to circumvent the Steam Community Market, or trade items from non-Steam games. Unlike Steam’s Community Market, Gameflip actually allows players to cash out, giving their items true value. The prevalence of in-game unlockable items is on the rise. The gaming landscape is moving towards a service-based model and the digital item collecting paradigm helps increase the lifespan of a game. A fast and secure blockchain-based item trading platform will ensure that players are able to get the most out of their digital inventory.