A lot of people are discarding blockchain like a lot of hype. While that advertising campaign may be sickening, some very large companies, including the French video game giant Ubisoft, are taking it seriously. Yves Guilletmot, CEO of the company that produces blockbusters like Assassin's Creed, said the summer of ChinaJoy this summer's blockchain could revolutionize the video game industry in the future.
Ubisoft held a hackathon blockchain, dubbed Blockchain Heroes, this summer in Paris. His Strategic Innovation Lab team also created a blockchain game prototype, dubbed Hashcraft. In that game, a player throws a seed into the sea, and the seed grows an island that the player can explore. Players can create missions on the island for other players. In this case, the players create value through the creation, and the blockchain records that.
It is worth noting that players are among the most important adopters for cryptocurrencies and blockchains. At the same time, Ubisoft is focusing on the player's experience and is careful not to move away from the cryptocurrency side of the blockchain and currency speculation. But Ubisoft has also decided to sponsor the upcoming Blockchain Game Summit in Lyon, France, from September 25th to September 26th.
Anne Puck, Ubisoft's blockchain associate director, is a board member for the Blockchain Game Summit. I talked to her about Ubisoft's interest in innovation and blockchain.
Here is a modified transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I know Ubisoft is helping with the Blockchain Game Summit. What made Ubisoft interested in participating and analyzing the technology
Anne Puck: We are really excited about the Blockchain Game Summit, yes. Just to introduce myself, I am a blockchain initiative manager. I joined Ubisoft two years ago as an internal lawyer. It is quite rare to work on technological topics with a legal background, but this is what is unique in the blockchain. People come from different backgrounds and work together.
Now I am part of our strategic innovation laboratory. Our task is to analyze the changes that occur in technology fields, in society and in business practices. Ubisoft is working to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies and offer players new ways to have fun. As you know, blockchain is the biggest thing on the Internet technology market. We believe we can not miss this opportunity, which is why we decided to launch the blockchain initiative at the start of this year.
GamesBeat: what would you tell people who do not know too much about blockchain regarding why you think it is important?
Puck: At Ubisoft we think it's vital to be part of the way players can take advantage of what blockchain has to offer. We think that blockchain has the potential to transform gaming experience, and perhaps also to empower players as true stakeholders in their worlds. That's why our task is to accelerate the integration of blockchain on Ubisoft with this initiative.
GamesBeat: I wrote many stories about blockchain gaming startups. So far, it seems that many of the big companies are still on the sidelines. They are not so enthusiastic about launching blockchain projects. Do you see it and do you understand why it could happen? Why is Ubisoft, one of the biggest companies in the gaming industry, already interested?
Puck: We are more than interested in the blockchain on Ubisoft. Yves Guilletmot, in China Joy, mentioned the blockchain as a potential revolution for the video game industry in the future. We want to build our knowledge of the blockchain ecosystem and contribute to you by organizing or sponsoring blockchain events, such as the Blockchain Game Summit.
The summit is organized by B2Extend, a company that was part of our startup incubation process at Station F here in Paris. As a member of the advisory board, I can say that this is one of the only high-level events that bring together games and blockchain. The whole ecosystem will be there to discuss the challenges and things that will come in the future.
GamesBeat: I met a couple of different types of startups in the blockchain related to games. One is games like CryptoKitties, where they can verify the uniqueness and authenticity of a digital asset or game character using blockchain. Game resources can be more collectible and even more portable on all worlds. The other common application has to do with secure and transparent account management for online games. You can verify that someone is who they say they are and protect their privacy at the same time. These are some great applications for games, but I wonder if you see other categories of innovation for the games you see too.
Puck: I absolutely agree. We are connected with CryptoKitties. We organized a hackathon with them in June, and one of the jury members was from here. We also presented some Rabbids kittens that were a gift for the hackathon winners. What we call "non-traditional token" is a new proposition of value for the players. Tokenising resources such as game objects allows players to have real ownership. We can attach metadata to those tokens to be able to manage the origin and, with the origin, the history of a token, its creation and its property, we can make them more valuable to the players.
We can also look at things like interoperability between games. Some startups, such as B2Extend, for example, are already experimenting with this interoperability. A token is just an ID on a blockchain. It could be connected to a game resource in a game, but it could potentially be linked to two or more resources in different games. It would allow a level of involvement for players that is very different from what we have now.
We can also think of using blockchain to reduce toxicity. During our June hackathon, we had a chance to make a team think – how to reduce toxicity in blockchain gaming communities. There have been some interesting reflections on this subject.
GamesBeat: Is it possible to use blockchain to reduce toxicity without violating privacy?
Puck: Privacy, when it comes to account management, privacy and the new GDPR rules here in Europe, you're right, it's important to be clear about what you store in a blockchain and what not. Privacy is certainly a matter of concern that we must investigate in this area. But still, the idea is there and must be explored. At this point, it is worth investigating everything related to the blockchain.
GamesBeat: In your opinion, can you still have privacy while using blockchain for verification?
Puck: We are still at an early stage of the research and development process. At this moment I do not have a certain answer. But we are thinking about it. Even the French privacy authorities are working on this. I have had the opportunity to work with the academics who take care of their project, since it is obviously a matter of concern for Ubisoft. But we do not have an answer right now.
GamesBeat: When it comes to account management, do you think the blockchain has potential, for things like better identity verification and better payment transactions?  Puck: Absolutely. Digital identity is another area of exploration for blockchain, as well as the authority of transactions. It is not altogether something we are focusing on right now. At Ubisoft, our priority is on how to use the blockchain to provide players with important new advantages. We are not closely observing the encrypted transactions at this time. But of course it's an important area.
GamesBeat: Tim Sweeney of Epic Games talked about the use of blockchain to get around app stores. You can reduce payment times from 60 days to a few hours, so developers can get their money from consumers faster and avoid paying 30 percent from the platform owners. It seems to be relevant to the gaming industry.
Puck: There are certainly some discussions in the ecosystem around that topic. But again, we are not yet focused on the transactional aspects of the blockchain. We have no intention of changing anything around the distribution of our games.
GamesBeat: Transactional concepts like that seem to apply to many industries. How would you say that the blockchain applies specifically to games?
Puck: For us it always concerns the players. How can we offer more, offer them something new? The distributed nature of the blockchain network and the current state of technology make it hard to imagine what the future of games and blockchain will look like, but what we want is to use what Blockchain has to offer for our players.
We are working on our R & D. We have a step-by-step approach through prototyping to determine how the blockchain can give more value to our players. We have a game prototype in the works of a team in our strategic innovation lab, called Hashcraft. He is giving us ideas on how a game can be opened thanks to the blockchain.
Hashcraft is an island exploration game and treasure hunt, and its online features are based entirely on the blockchain. The game is managed by a player on a blockchain, and players are given the opportunity to expand the game world by creating blockchain-based content generated by users and sharing with their community. Players can create other islands in the game and share them with the larger network. The other players can visit and explore those additional islands. The creators of the game can hide the treasure on their islands and create challenges so that players can try out a new game they have created.
This is one of the things we think Blockchain can do for players: it gives them an opportunity for involvement in the creation process. For us, the big problem is not about cryptocurrency. The important thing is to give players more opportunities.
GamesBeat: When it comes to the digital property of the players of the resources they create in a game, is it something interesting for you? If you can use the blockchain to verify that a player has created something, can he own it and take it with him to another game? Do you want to make portable resources through games, like avatars? Maybe you could take your avatar from one game to another.
Puck: Yes, definitely. This is part of what we are thinking around, making players become real protagonists of our worlds. With real ownership, the stakes are obvious, if you can hold and own your assets – not from an IP point of view, but from, say, from a virtual material point of view.
GamesBeat: Normally a publisher would not get upset if a player can take something from one game and take it to a game by another publisher, though? If blockchain allows people to take something like an avatar in another game, this is good for the player, but it is not necessarily positive for the publisher.
Puck: We have so many different worlds, though. We are sure we can keep the players happy, jumping from one world to another. Obviously we can not keep players inside a franchise. We want them to move through our entire ecosystem. Seriously speaking, however, it is possible. We know people who are already doing this, like B2Extend.
GamesBeat: Going back to Tim Sweeney, this is another feature he talked about, because he thinks it's the key to creating a metaverse, a universe of virtual worlds that are all connected. It's what you see you too?
Puck: This is why I would say that the rate of adoption of this technology – seems a long time. It depends on the accessibility of the technology. With blockchain, the user experience is quite slow at the moment. It is difficult to predict when and how the blockchain will effectively become common ground for any industry, including the gaming industry. Right now it's early to predict when we'll live in something like Ready Player One. [laughs]
GamesBeat: In short, therefore, I guess we have a long way to go.
Puck: Sure. But it's an exciting puzzle to work on. We are really happy to connect with the ecosystem at the Blockchain Game Summit and collaborate with all the startups present. Our ultimate goal is to find use cases and develop content that has a purpose within the gaming experience. This will be the perfect place for all of us to think about it together and find new ways to entertain our players.