Many have theorized that the convergence of NFTs and gaming would bring about a unmatchably robust sector of blockchain interoperability. Yet, although a wide range of Web3 gaming endeavors exist and have achieved varying degrees of success, it seems that none so far have risen high enough to achieve the ultimate goal of NFT stewards: mainstream adoption.
But is mainstream adoption really what the blockchain gaming sector should be gunning for? Sure, taking NFTs from niche to mainstream is an admirable goal that, more often than not, seems to be universally accepted throughout Web3. But who are the true beneficiaries of this achievement? Aren’t games created for the express reason of bringing entertainment and fun to their consumers?
Some seem to think so, as has become apparent with a recent boost in NFT minigames. A far less complex sibling to traditional gaming ventures, minigames are crafted for brevity and serve to dole out enjoyment through simplicity. And while Yuga Labs‘ massively popular Dookey Dash might be front-running this burgeoning sector, it is far from being the only player aiming to make minigames stick.
What is a minigame?
Whether you’re a gaming hobbyist or a bonafide RPG aficionado, you’ve likely come across a good few minigames throughout your gaming escapades. Characterized by their short runtimes and simple mechanics, minigames are often contained within another video game or offered as a standalone game, similar to the gaming cabinets of old you might encounter in an arcade.
It’s important to note that NFT minigames (or arcade games as they’re also often called) don’t always adhere to strict parameters. While minigames have anecdotally existed as a subsection of a larger game (like in-game puzzle users must complete in Final Fantasy), NFT minigames are presented as one-off games either hosted on the blockchain or powered through NFTs.
Who’s creating NFT minigames?
Apart from Dookey Dash — an endless runner style game that, after launching in mid-January, amassed a significant market share as the new hot-button item from the Bored Ape Yacht Club — there are a few other notable NFT minigame endeavors that have risen to prominence. One such project is Levels.art.
A new endeavor from Jordan Lyall’s Web3 innovation studio Venture Punk and Animetas founder cyberh49, Levels.art is an interactive on-chain art platform where top artists drop exclusive collections of playable NFTs. For the platform’s first release on February 16, Levels collaborated with prominent Web3 creator Bryan Brinkman on Cloud Poppers, a minigame created in his brightly colored, cloud-themed style.
Cloud Poppers features 100 editions of an art-focused, uniquely crafted pixel-art game released via Dutch auction. Although the Brinkman minigame collection is a feat of on-chain innovation, it is far more on par with the aforementioned ethos of providing entertainment as a prime utility rather than aiming to turn NFT tourists into purists. As Lyall puts it, Levels is, essentially, all about fun.
“I always just try to have fun with what I’m doing. Like, if it’s not fun, then why even do it?” Lyall said in an interview with nft now. A seasoned builder in the DeFi space, Lyall switched directions when NFTs started to pop off, finding that memes and creativity were a perfect avenue to create innovation and fun.
With Venture Punk, he says he’s aiming to take chances with his projects, with Levels being one of the first to come from the studio. “The vision is of a decentralized arcade. I hesitate to use this example because I don’t want to sound competitive, but [Levels] is supposed to be like if Art Blocks and Chuck E. Cheese had a baby,” he said.
While Levels is undoubtedly top of mind for fans of fine artists like Brinkman and those watching the slow rise of minigames in the NFT space, it grows upon a niche sector that has been carved out over the past few years by similar endeavors. Because before there was Levels, ArcadeNFT and Pl4y.art were two of the sole proprietors of simplistic NFT gaming experiences.
ArcadeNFT, released on August 13, 2021, combines the lure of retro arcade games with NFT tradeability. A collection of interactive NFTs, ArcadeNFT centers around novel token mechanics and user experience. Each of the project’s playable arcade games has the look and feel of retro gaming cabinets while existing as code on the Ethereum blockchain. In the beginning, the project started out with the single release of a simple, playable pinball NFT, but it has since grown into a larger assortment of over 12,000 NFTs and features seven unique games.
Pl4y.art launched on April 17, 2021, via the now-defunct NFT marketplace Hic et Nunc. Created by an enigmatic artist and developer who goes by the name play, the series is comprised of dozens of NFTs that skirt the line between interactive art and minigame experience.
While play themself might lean toward identifying their releases as interactive NFTs (perhaps akin to other collections like TheDudes), it makes sense to label many of their Pl4y endeavors as true minigames, as their full-fledged NFT game unknown.exe goes a step beyond ArcadeNFT and Levels. Existing on the Tezos blockchain along a range of influential generative pieces crafted by the anonymous creator, Pl4y is seemingly the most unique and robust entrant into the still-growing NFT minigame sector.
What’s next for NFT minigames?
Of course, other NFT minigame projects are populating the blockchain in addition to those listed here. More minigame endeavors will inevitably crop up as the NFT space continues to mature, each adding a bit more merit to the slowly growing market sector and achieving an increasing degree of exposure via the gaming charts featured on prominent NFT marketplaces like OpenSea. But to reiterate, while AAA NFT games may still be taking the cake in Web3 gaming, hoping to cross the blockchain/mainstream barrier, projects in the minigame and arcade sphere seem to have set different priorities.
As noted by Lyall, while the holy grail of NFT gaming is often communicated as being interoperability — i.e., being able to purchase assets in one game and still utilize them in a range of other games — there’s a long road ahead before this reality comes to fruition. “There’s a lot that we need to do beforehand, and maybe even things that would be more compelling than [AAA interoperability],” said Lyall. “Imagine if you could own a level of your favorite game or if you could own a screen.”
For Lyall and Levels, this theoretical and detail-oriented iteration, which some might consider a lower level of development for a AAA game, deserves more attention and is what minigames thrive on. “With constant experimentation and evolution, I think we’re going to create some things that are only possible with blockchain tech and nothing any of us could have dreamed of,” he said. “At the end of the day, we just want to have fun and show what’s possible with this tech.”