Starknet's Onchain Gaming Oasis

Crypto gaming is early and Starknet is racing for an early lead
Bankless Bankless Oct 11, 20235 min read
Starknet's Onchain Gaming Oasis

Dear Bankless Nation,

The NFT bear market has been a brutal one, taking the wind out from the sails of a number of crypto gaming efforts, but game devs aren't so easily discouraged!

Today, we take a look at a number of rising gaming opportunities in the Starknet ecosystem and showcase what tailwinds the network is bringing to developers.

- Bankless team

Guest Contributor: dcfpascal

There has been a lot of buzz on Fully Onchain Gaming (FoG) as an upcoming narrative within crypto, from the Ethereum Foundation’s push towards Autonomous Worlds and related infrastructure like Dark Forest and MUD to Paradigm’s research post on The Open Problem of On-Chain Games

Different ecosystems have their own sets of builders and gaming studios creating games on top, and Starknet has carved a niche by fostering a vibrant community of builders working towards the vision of having games built fully onchain. From Dojo, Starknet’s provable game engine, to teams like Topology, Realms, Cartridge, and Influence building games rooted within blockchain principles and adhering to the tenets of composability, decentralization, and transparency, the unique functionalities that the Starknet tech stack possesses could allow games within the ecosystem to spearhead the movement towards the new paradigm.

Back in February, the Bankless podcast interviewed Tarrence from Cartridge on Starknet onchain gaming here:

Wait, what even is Fully Onchain Gaming?

We’ve seen different approaches to tie in blockchains with games. For the most part, minor aspects are brought onchain: the clothing that your in-game character wears is an NFT, or the in-game currency happens to be an ERC20 token. However, this only utilizes the blockchain as an auxiliary feature rather than a core principle upon which an entire game is built.

Fully Onchain Gaming attempts to configure as many components of a game onchain as possible.

From the physics engine that dictates how objects interact with each other to items within the game that can be composed upon and “modded,” there are clear and transparent parameters upon which players of the game can interact. From this, players can create bots, build mods and frontends on top of the existing game logic, and develop downstream secondary markets for any aspect of the game, actions that, in traditional gaming, were entirely subject to the whims of the original game developer.

Try out some of the games that are already playable!

  • Shoshin by Topology
    Shoshin is a fighting game that allows a player to first create a sequence of actions and reactions for their fighter and subsequently deploy the character into a fight. As with most fighting games, it requires strategy; knowing to set dodge or parry actions if the opponent starts an attack sequence, building up for a long-range attack when the opponent strafes back, and cleverly pre-programming a set of instructions is key to outplaying opponents.
  • Roll Your Own by Cartridge
    Roll Your Own is a drug dealing game: adhering to the basic principle of “buy low, sell high” (principle also applies to trading crypto), players travel to different regions to make money ($PAPER in this case) by buying the cheaply priced drugs in one region and selling it higher in another. 
  • Loot Survivor by Realms + BibliotecaDAO
    Loot Survivor is a fight-to-survive game where players fight monsters, upgrade weapons and armor and stay alive while gaining XP.
  • Influence
    Influence is a space strategy MMO game where the player and their crew colonize planets, mine resources, and forge a new civilization.

Why do we even need games to be onchain?

Many argue that onchain games are strictly worse than web2 games due to added restrictions incurred from building onchain and a relative lack of fidelity compared to the most popular games played by billions today. 

Similarly, many waved off mobile gaming for many of the same reasons, but as games such as Doodle Jump and Angry Birds came out, critics saw what was unlocked by utilizing the new design space that touchscreens, haptic feedback, and other features unique to phones enable. Instead of trying to directly compete with desktop and console gaming on graphics and compute power, it created a new path for both developers and users to realize the different types of games that could be created outside of the confines of usual gaming traditions.

Onchain gaming is still nascent and takes time, but an Angry Birds moment could catalyze a new paradigm of gaming. The focus should be on teams that are actively working towards building innovative, new features within their games and being open-minded toward how this space could evolve to eventually onboard millions of gamers.

Why Starknet?

There are several features within the Starknet architecture that make it an attractive ecosystem for building games:

Enhanced user experience through Smart Contract Wallets

One of the main complaints of existing onchain actions is the EOA (externally owned account) Wallet User Experience, which is what the vast majority of wallets, including MetaMask, are built on. Due to native account abstraction inherent within the Starknet architecture, Starknet uses Smart Contract Wallets such as Argent and Braavos, substantially improving upon the user experience abstracting away the frustrations that users have when interacting onchain.

Smart Contract Wallets allow “Session Keys” to be made. Instead of signing every transaction one by one, imagine signing one transaction – similar to “logging on” in a traditional game – that automatically signs any subsequent action until the game session has ended. Actions are still written onchain, but any UX issues are abstracted away, and interacting with the game is as seamless as in any other online game.

Dojo provable game engine

Dojo is a provable game engine built by the Starknet onchain gaming community led by Tarrence of Cartridge. The emphasis on “provable” means that instead of having to write every action that a player makes onchain, a proof can be created at certain intervals that shows the correctness of previous actions within that interval that are processed offchain. This allows games built with Dojo to scale beyond the TPS restrictions that onchain games currently face and is especially useful for games that require many actions per second, from Real Time Strategy (RTS) games to First Person Shooters (FPS)

Crypto-native builder community

Game developers in crypto typically:

  1. Only build a small part of their game on a blockchain. A simple NFT mint or ERC20 token as in-game currency to supplement their otherwise web2 game is the status quo for most games.
  2. Are chain-agnostic or otherwise hold little loyalty and community towards the chain they are building.

These approaches may very well work, but Starknet’s ecosystem is unorthodox in that the community of builders attempts to think from first principles how building onchain enables unique features for their game. Additionally, because the ecosystem is still nascent, teams within the ecosystem build developer tooling and infrastructure that other would-be competitors utilize and also build upon. It is less of a zero-sum game but rather a discovery process that teams within the ecosystem are aligned on and are working towards in tandem.

Where do we go from here?

The Angry Birds moment for onchain gaming has yet to come, and the bear market has dampened the enthusiasm for a lot of sectors and chains.

However, developer talent has continued to rush into Starknet, many of them looking to build games that heavily utilize blockchain components that enhance the enjoyability of their product. We are currently still in the zero-to-one stage of onchain games, both in general and specifically on Starknet, similar to DeFi in 2019, which experienced a Cambrian explosion in the subsequent year.

Starknet is a particularly interesting gaming ecosystem to keep track of, but there are also many different approaches in different ecosystems, from Arbitrum Orbit and custom OP stack instances powered by teams like Caldera and Conduit, Polygon zkEVM where ImmutableX has made its home, to other alt L1s such as Solana, Avalanche, and Sui.

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