Gaming is a huge and varied landscape, but there’s one thing that connects gamers of all types. The tracking and discussion of their accomplishments. From the casual solitaire player through to the most competitive FPS tournament champion, gamers want to know how their abilities are progressing, and how they compare with others.
Wallet-based credentials are an emerging identity technology that grants users control of their digital assets through a wallet app. These credentials are issued by various providers. They represent anything from a passport or bank account, down to a favourite colour… or even an accomplishment. They can then be presented by their owner to prove a claim about themselves: “I am over 18”, “I studied at Southampton University”, “My favourite default theming for websites is dark”, “I’m in the top 10 players of this game in the world”.
From high score tables on arcade machines to esport tournament finals with prize pools of millions of dollars, gamers love to demonstrate their mastery of their chosen game. And game developers and publishers have responded in the last thirty years to this appetite with systems of increasing sophistication. These systems increase engagement from players, fostering their sense of progression and mastery. And once mastered, and the initial hit of adrenaline and dopamine begins to wear off, players look to share their accomplishments with others – their friends and gaming communities.
Players share their accomplishments for various reasons: showcasing their skills, unlocking exclusive events or game features, enhancing their reputation within a community, even revealing rare and hidden interactions in a game that most players don’t come across. In short, accomplishments become a currency for reputational clout, and a means to unlock access to new experiences.
Tracking accomplishments within a game usually takes one of three distinct forms: in-game competitive tournaments and their associated ladders, community-organised tournaments or challenges, and the more casual-friendly in-game achievement systems.
Achievements are generated by the game during play, and are associated with the player’s character or account. These are kept either within the game itself – achievements within Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft; or externalised to a separate centralised location with wider reach – a game issuing an achievement out to the user’s account on the Steam platform. Achievements are issued once, do not expire, and are non-revocable.
Tournaments and Ladders are both the resort of games that operate on a seasonal basis, and significant esport scenes. Players compete against one another to climb rankings in a ladder that generally resets every few months. The top players in the world will often – depending on the game’s popularity – join professional gaming teams and compete from prize pools ranging into the millions of dollars.
Community-Organised Events such as speedrunning are generally run in similar fashion to their more formal ladder counterparts, but are usually done entirely outside of the control of the game’s developers and producers. Communities run almost entirely on reputation. So long as the folks running the events have the respect and trust of those participating, they’re the ones able to make announcements on awards and to validate claims of success.
Today, the tracking of these accomplishments occurs in one of a small number of centralised locations. The emergence of wallet-based credentials and digital identity wallets presents a striking opportunity to challenge this status quo, and enable use-cases that are not possible with today’s implementations.
Problems & Opportunities
When a credential is issued to a user’s digital wallet, it’s signed by the issuer, and can later be verified by anyone to whom it is presented. Unlike with claims that are shared through federated systems like social login, wallet-based credentials are in full control of the user. Moreover, the receiving party (the verifier) requires no pre-approved, formal relationship with the issuer.
Gaming accomplishments are a perfect fit for wallet-based credentials: They’re issued only upon the accomplishment of a specific set of criteria by an entity that has the authority to validate the claims made about those accomplishments. The issuer could either be automated during gameplay, or an action taken by a tournament steward after announcement of its winners.
Wallet holders can present their credentials to anyone. For gaming accomplishments, this means rather than only being able to share World of Warcraft achievements with other WoW players while in-game, they’re presentable to any person or system in the world, at any time. Rather than having to direct someone to a centrally held database of previous season’s ladder winners (that may go offline at any minute!) players have verifiable proof they were top of the ladder in the 2022/23 season right there in their digital wallet.
These ideas go by many names, though I prefer the phrase wallet-based credentials. Decentralised identity, verifiable credentials, self-sovereign identity, blockchain identity… all of these terms have ebedded and flowed over the last few years, and are popular with various groups. Though the specifics of each term differ somewhat, they all come down to holders presenting to verifiers credentials created by trusted issuers. See this article on exactly why “wallet-based credentials” works best for me.
In an effort to market wallet-based credentials to the mainstream via the technology’s adoption by large enterprises – financial institutions, governments, the travel sector, and so on – the typical examples presented when the topic is discussed relate strongly to proving the authenticity of real-life attributes or documents: Passing KYC checks by presenting a verifiable, digital passport. Proving a pass in a certification, or award of a degree. Demonstrating an individual is old enough to drive, or purchase/consume alcohol. Frequently a significant aspect of the presentation mechanism of these credentials is overlooked, or at least understated — the wallet holder’s choice to present a set of credentials in response to any given request that describes only the persona they wish to present at that moment.
However, in the gaming world, this choice of presentation is everything. There are very few games in which a user will present themselves to other players using anything resembling their real identity. Avatars, and presentations of the user’s self of different kinds are the norm, and in cases where gaming companies have attempted to push for greater transparency to the person behind the player character those efforts have been met with strong, almost extreme, kickback from their communities.
The feature of wallet-based credentials to store an unlimited amount of verifiable data about a user while giving control to the holder about to whom to share that data and in what guise fits with the separation of identities that gamers have come to expect. Wallet-based credential presentations are not simply broadcast as a result of a set of credentials being owned, as they are on an open platform such as Steam when a user’s profile is made public. Rather, a specific presentation request has to be made to an individual. If a request asks for a player to present more information than they are prepared to share, then its entirely in their control to choose whether or not to share that information, and at what level of granularity.
Many of the existing largest stores of gaming accomplishments are locked within centralised achievement ecosystems. These platforms use achievements as a way to incentivise players to remain loyal and engaged.
While wallet-based credentials offer new benefits and means of interacting with achievements to the player, large platforms may consider the decentralised aspects of wallet-based credentials a threat to their existing models. If players are able to accomplish the same achievements issued by a game regardless of which platform the user was engaged on, a small part of their attraction may be considered lost.
Forward-looking developers and more nimble studios that engage in the novel act of issuing achievements to wallets through their games and communities may get a first-mover advantage, and even encourage adoption by the larger platforms once value has been demonstrated. Alternatively, the platforms may consider the issuing of credentials directly to the user to be a form of bypassing their systems, and even prevent the sale or publication of games that utilise such technology. The reaction of large platforms, whether to embrace or discourage this decentralised aspect, will inevitably play a large part in any conversation around potential adoption.
The use-cases wallet-based credentials enable include the formalisation of systems that will already be familiar to many gamers, as well as new opportunities for engagement between players, developers, and communities.
A few examples
Demonstrating mastery for in-game event access
A player in World of Warcraft needs to demonstrate they’ve previously defeated a particularly difficult boss when applying to a group, as the group leader has asked for proof of their abilities. They supply this by linking the achievement that they got when they first defeated the boss. However, this time around they’re playing an alternative character which hasn’t defeated the boss before. Sharing their achievement is a huge pain, involving relogging to their other character while hoping that group spot doesn’t go to another player. Instead, the group leader can simply request the presentation of the achievement credential from the player’s digital wallet.
Attracting the best beta testers
A game developer working on a new FPS wants pro-gamers from other FPS games to be able to beta test their new tournament system. They set up an application for joining the beta test that requires the presentation of a credential demonstrating a top 10 ladder position from other FPS titles within the last 24 months.
Verifiable accomplishment for offline event access
A speedrunning community wants to host an in-person event, but doesn’t want to risk inviting players that may have gotten their high scores through illicit means. They require applicants to submit a credential that’s been signed by a trusted speedrunning community attesting to their claimed high score.
Rewards for long-term franchise players
A sequel in a gaming franchise wants to reward its dedicated players from earlier titles. On launch, new skins are available only to those players that are able to present credentials issued by the older titles in the franchise. There’s even a bonus skin awarded for players that are able to demonstrate playtime in all three previous titles in the series!
Proving seemingly outrageous claims to a friendship group
In the highschool playground, a teenager wants to prove to their friend they really did defeat the last boss without any equipment in a manner that only 0.001% of players have accomplished. The game doesn’t have mobile capabilities, and requires users to be logged in to share their achievements. Wallet-based credentials solves for this – the teenager can simply present the achievement directly to his friend.
Beyond the starting examples, wallet-based credentials form the basis for interactions across Connected Worlds. It’s not just accomplishments that can be shared across-ecosystem via wallets… but that will have to wait for another article.
Implementing wallet-based credentials correctly in the gaming space is going to be tricky, and will no doubt take a lot of iterating to get right. Here’s a few pointers for issuers to consider when deciding if an accomplishment is deserving of a credential.
Issue the right set of accomplishments as credentials
Many achievements are frivolous, and would hold no value when shared from a user’s wallet. An achievement for completing a game’s tutorial is unlikely to win you much clout with your friends. Achievements that are most suited to being issued are those which the fewest users will naturally obtain, either due to the challenge (completing a stealth-game without defeating any enemies), or the dedication required (locating all 10,000 hidden stars throughout the levels of a game). Generally, these achievements will be issued to fewer (sometimes far fewer) than 10% of a game’s players.
Don’t overload a user with too many credentials
Respect a user’s wallet space. While digital identity wallets can store an effectively infinite amount of verifiable credentials, the user experience and management, interaction experiences are rapidly degraded when there are too many items stored. As with issuing the right set of achievements as credentials, ensure that set is kept relatively small.
Issue credentials that act as currency
People reach for their wallet when they want to pay for something, gain access to something, or to prove something of note about themselves. If a credential you issue doesn’t enable one of these use cases, its value to the user is probably negligible at best, and a hindrance at worst. Consider both social currency as well as more realisable value such as access to new experiences.
Some credentials may make their holders targets
If a player becomes known for owning a specific accomplishment credential that is sought after, or envied by other members of their community, that individual may be considered a target for unsavoury attacks. Ranging from harassment to attempted account takeovers, the safeguarding of users and their accounts should always be the top priority for any online service. The use of multifactor, phishing-resistant strong authentication, and suitably enforced policies to protect users is a must.
Wallet-based credentials are only just emerging from their development chrysalis. Some applications of the technology are already in place to prove national identity, to demonstrate the veracity of claims about an employee’s place of work, and to act as digital driver’s licences. With a naturally digital-savvy, youthful audience full of early adopters, games are well positioned today to prepare for new interactions tomorrow, building on top of their existing user experiences.
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 Global: Gamers are much likelier to be early tech adopters