Toy and game giant Hasbro caught serious flak earlier this year, with Bank of America reiterating its “Underperform” rating for the company due to aggressive over-monetization of its brands.
According to BoA, the publicly-traded firm was “destroying customer goodwill” by pursuing profits within its Wizards segment, which includes Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.
A bank rapping a publicly traded company on the knuckles for trying to wring maximum profit from one of its products is certainly amusing. But it speaks to a wider issue, which is how much big, established brands take their customers for granted. And it shines a spotlight on the problems Web3 wants to solve.
Hasbro Provokes Player Backlash
Theoretically, businesses focused on providing excellent value for money should see their revenues rise accordingly. What Hasbro has been trying to do, according to Bank of America, is put the cart before the horse. Among other things, the bank took umbrage with Hasbro’s attempt to make changes to a long-standing licensing agreement for Dungeons & Dragons in a bid to cash in on the upcoming movie release of the game.
What Hasbro failed to realize is that it doesn’t own Dungeons & Dragons; the community does. D&D has, for many years, had a life of its own, enabled by the original licensing agreement that let fans commercialize their efforts. Over time, it has come to represent a kind of meta-lore for fantasy fiction, tabletop gaming, and much else. You can’t simply modify a licensing agreement that, under its original terms, saw the franchise become an all-encompassing behemoth of the genre. The community has long been the engine of D&D’s momentum.
Naturally, the gamer community doesn’t need a bank to speak on its behalf: Players responded to the attempted licensing change with fury, issuing calls for a boycott of the film and forcing Hasbro to back off on its proposed changes.
Surely, the concept of tokenized storytelling represents a more rewarding and remunerative model. Tokenized storytelling is “quickly shaping into an art form that is developing its language, genres, and canons,” according to Sasha Kapustina, who wrote a rallying cry for the model last year. In the long term, Kapustina said tokenized storytelling represents the “creation of decentralized content franchises owned by creators and patrons and orchestrated with tokens.”
To say this vision of disintermediated, decentralized storytelling is compelling would be an understatement. Passionate fans of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, Star Wars, and other hit franchises already independently home-brew their own stories and characters to tremendous effect. Tokenized storytelling merely seeks to credit and reward them using Web3 technology—particularly blockchain.
Web3 Publishers Are Winning Hearts And Minds
It’s hard to read the Hasbro story without thinking about Web3, tokenized storytelling, and the growing blockchain gaming sector, which is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2022 to $65.7 billion by 2027.
In this evolving sandbox, players and collectors can transact in a peer-to-peer fashion, trading digital collectibles around the clock. They can monetize their intellectual property by selling their own NFT creations and mini-games, and they can even create their guilds and communities, some of which help to “govern” the game itself.
Web3 gaming is a serious step-change on what has gone before, and if a publisher attempted to do what Hasbro did, it would provoke an immediate backlash from gamers. Indeed, making such an attempt isn’t possible in many cases since players wield more authority than publishers and function more like co-owners.
Rather than relying on a centralized publisher to facilitate trading, Web3 games rely on decentralized marketplaces and smart contracts to match buyers to sellers, with publishers sometimes earning a share of transaction fees. There is also a strong emphasis on collaboration and co-creation between developers and players, something that simply doesn’t exist in the tired Web2 model.
This collaboration comes in many forms: grants awarded to guilds; incubators committed to building out a game’s lore; rewards for influencers and communities; and tournaments, mentoring, tooling, and early-stage accelerators. Player-driven gaming that leverages open-source technology and supports thriving digital economies is increasingly seen as the future of gaming, and it’s easy to see why.
Few projects illustrate this new gamer-centric milieu better than Alien Worlds, the world’s most-played blockchain metaverse. The gameplay is set across multiple planets, each governed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) whose members engage in high-stakes decision-making and manage a treasury of native Trillium tokens (TLM). These “custodians” also help to determine things like mining rewards and consider regular proposals from the community. The game has a close-knit, fraternal feel that is a million miles away from the cynical, corporatist outlook of those Web2 publishers who strive to wring every last buck from diehard players.
And other Web3 games emphasize player-driven gaming and decentralization. One of the best examples is the Ethereum-based Illuvium, a sprawling open-world 3-D game that tasks players with collecting NFT creatures (Illuvials) that grow more powerful as they win battles. Rewards, meanwhile, are dispensed in the form of in-game token ILV. As with Alien Worlds, Illuvium is epic in scope, with terrain divided into land plots; players who acquire such plots become landowners harvesting Fuel, the game’s de-facto power source that can be used to upgrade equipment and obtain stronger Illuvials. Those uninterested in becoming landowners can focus on competing in tournaments and competitions, collecting resources, and completing PvE quests.
Games like these underscore the power that is increasingly flowing into players’ hands. Ultimately, major Web2 companies like Hasbro will have to innovate or die as the influence of such games—as well as the communities driving them forward and the technology under the hood—grows. The beneficiaries of such innovation will be the players themselves.
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