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Key take-aways from Slush 2021 for game development

At Slush 2021, the two overriding themes on how gaming is evolving, were cloud gaming or games-as-a-service and NFTs, non-fungible tokens. Understanding how these two trends effect the game development process is key to designing future-proof applied games concepts.


Johanna Mäkeläinen

lehtori, markkinointi ja viestintä
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 22.12.2021

Slush 2021 was once again a great venue to explore how gaming is evolving. There were two overriding themes: cloud gaming or games-as-a-service and NFTs, non-fungible tokens. In Haaga-Helia’s Luo Hype RDI project, we create novel applied game prototypes for client companies. Understanding how these two trends effect the game development process is key to designing future-proof applied games concepts.

Some of the biggest changes in gaming today are cloud-native games offered as a service, widening access to high-end triple A games. In a way, instant games are changing the gaming industry from the bottom up, enabling new ways of democratized distribution and unprecedented user growth. Instead of being purchased from traditional sales channels, these games are accessed via peer-to-peer links from Discord, Twitch or Messenger.

Most gaming will move into cloud

Thor Gunnarsson from Mainframe Industries is currently developing one of the first fully cloud-native MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games that can be played by anyone, anywhere and at any time. He called their platform Mainframe the Netflix of gaming. A slogan, which was already used by the Finnish Rovio spinoff Hatch years ago. A bit too early perhaps?

Despite the ever-increasing competition, multiplay participation and seamless activity are seen as real game changers. Enabling true virality requires the game to be accessed through many different platforms, which alters game design profoundly. It also means that the player’s experience and game content become more important factors than platforms and mechanics.

All screens are access points to the game

Gunnarsson foresees that every gaming experience that is difficult to access and onboard will die away. Learning a game must happen intuitively, while playing. Also the engagement pattern will change. In a cloud game, you’re playing throughout the day and you can drop into the game at any stage, invited by a friend. Each screen is an equal entry point and each device is treated equally. You don’t optimize to any particular screen. As the emotional connection with you friends is key, you become an active co-creator in a shared experience.

This is great news for applied games, too. Cloud-native MMOs harnessed for a good cause could make an enormous impact. What would happen if thousands of likeminded people gathered around to come up with solutions for say saving energy, improving health or conquering depression. The possibilities are endless. In fact, the current activities around DOA’s, digital autonomous organizations, are giving positive signals of things to come.

Moving away from centralized digital services

Decentralizing digital platforms and services was probably the most talked about topic in Slush 2021. Frustrated by Facebook’s and other conglomerates’ claims over the metaverse, there was a strong sentiment to take the web back. Especially when it came to the Web 3.0 or the metaverse, decentralization was the prevailing topic.

One of the key issues of decentralizing digital services is the monetization of digital artifacts, such as NFTs. Blockchain enabled non-fungible tokens are a way to develop the digital ownership economy and to allow creators to monetize their digital artwork. The Web 3.0 has the potential to become the great equalizer, not just in gaming and arts, but in digital commerce in general.

Aleksander Larsen is the co-founder of Axie Infinity, a blockchain-based pet universe where you can trade game-time for AXS crypto coins. The Verge recently described it as Pokémon on the blockchain. In Slush, Larsen preferred to describe it as ownership of digital assets and the beginning of your digital self. As NFTs are based on blockchain, the in-game rewards go back to the user, not the game publisher. Larsen describes the NFTs and the use of cryptos as the metagame around the actual game, and sees this as the way gaming will evolve in general.

Crypto wallets are close to becoming mainstream

Decentralization goes way beyond gaming. Stani Kulechov, the founder of Aave, is a very noticeable character in the Finnish crypto currency scene. Aave is an open source and fully user controlled decentralized finance (DeFi) money market. Kulechov speaks about economic empowerment through crypto wallets, which bring accessibility to decentralized digital assets. Any changes in Aave go through a governance process fully controlled by users, who gain providence power by deposit digital funds to Aave. So the entire Aave protocol is governed by active users.

My take-away from NFTs and the whole blockchain-enabled crypto scene is that the market is finally ripening to produce some concrete examples of decentralized digital business models. In the near future, not just trendsetters, but ordinary people may start to turn away from centralized digital platforms and entertainment providers like Facebook or Disney, in favour of more organic and decentralized options. Digital artifacts and collectibles are booming and providing interesting new revenue models for game makers and cultural industries alike.

About the Luo Hype project
The article is part of the Luo Hype – Creative skills from applied games project, which aims to develop Finnish applied games competencies by developing applied games for client companies in multidisciplinary student teams together with TAMK. The project is conducted between 03/2021-05/2022 and funded by the European Social Fund (ESF).

Interested in more take-aways from Slush 2021? Read Johanna Mäkeläinen’s blog Key take-aways from Slush 2021 for digital products.