Splinterlands is a Blockchain Trading Card Game Epitomizing What TCGs Must Become to Survive in a Changing World
by R.A. Rowell
As of yet, our team as not yet played Splinterlands, but I have played another extremely popular crypto trading card game, Gods Unchained. There are some things about Splinterlands, however, that I believe will give it enduring success. Why did I decide to write about Splinterlands before even getting a chance to play?
There are key aspects that make Splinterlands different than many other blockchain trading card games before it. These things are exactly what current Trading Card Games need to adopt to succeed in a changing world where crypto is going to become a part of everyday life. Blockchain trading card games are becoming one of the top genres in crypto gaming for several reasons, many of which I will cover right now.
Splinterlands Runs on the Steem Blockchain
Many current popular blockchain games use the Ethereum blockchain to store their more valuable assets. While Ethereum is great, its network is really not designed to keep up with the number of transactions that popular games require. Ethereum is known to have an average transaction speed of 25 per second. That doesn’t sound like that many, and really, it isn’t.
Steem is a blockchain known to perform over 1,000 transactions per second. Tron is another blockchain often used for gaming applications that has boasted over 3,000 transactions per second. Gods Unchained has done OK simply because it hasn’t yet reached the number of transactions as far as cards being bought and sold to congest the Ethereum network on a regular basis.
But for a truly popular trading card game - think of Magic the Gathering - to succeed on a blockchain, it needs a network that can perform thousands of transactions per second. That’s part of why Steem has so much potential, especially when you consider how inflated transaction costs can become on Ethereum when it becomes congested.
However, in January 2020, Splinterlands DID create the ability to send Splinterlands cards to the Ethereum blockchain so that you can trade them freely as ERC-721 NFTs on marketplaces such as OpenSea. Cards can be purchased with ETH and sent back to Splinterlands, too. It’s created a brand new potential avenue for interested gamers to get into Splinterlands. You’ll have to pay the associated Ethereum GAS fees, but for those already invested in ETH, it’s a great opportunity.
Splinterlands Has Its Own In-Game Currency
Even more interesting about Splinterlands is that it has its own in-game currency. Many games use their own tokens that can be bought and sold on the marketplace of the blockchain that game belongs to. But, Splinterlands literally has DEC (Dark Energy Crystals), and while they exist as tokens on the Steem blockchain, their value will always remain the same and have no monetary value. Players can earn this currency just by winning ranked matches in the game, or by destroying unused cards, allowing players to earn enough to buy booster packs. .
In its beta, Gods Unchained has a similar play-to-earn system where you can play for free but earn raffle tickets with each win that can then be traded for Ethereum. Of course, these tickets have values that can fluctuate wildly, and of course lose value as more are put into the ecosystem. This can’t happen with DEC, which is Splinterlands’ own stable currency.
Even better, like the game’s cards, Spinterlands DEC can now also be transferred to the Ethereum blockchain and traded as an ERC-20 token. This gives those invested in Ethereum another opportunity to buy into Splinterlands. It’s also now tradeable on the TRON blockchain.
Splinterlands Sold Out 1.2 Million Packs Very Quickly Due to Proven Scarcity
Splinterlands has been wildly successful in selling cards, with 300,000 alpha packs sold out and 900.000 beta packs just recently selling out. How has this little crypto trading card game made over 1 million US dollars in marketplace sales already? First of all, the cards in these packs will never be made available again. Plus, because players can acquire in-game DEC currency from destroying cards they don’t need, many of these cards will be lost forever. Also, rarer cards can be acquired by leveling up other cards of the same type. So, now that these packs are sold out, these Alpha and Beta cards can only be acquired from other players.
Provable scarcity is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to blockchain trading card games. Even if a card is “reprinted” in a game, in that it’s functionally the same, it’s still not the same card. However, it does seem that blockchain trading card games are shying away from reprints - something that has plagued the secondary market value of cards in trading card games such as Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh.
Why Blockchain Trading Card Games Over Traditional Trading Card Games?
With popular trading card games like Magic the Gathering, the secondary market is sometimes hard to gauge. Cards that see substantial play competitively can see crazy price spikes. Then, there’s a lot of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) due to perceived scarcity, leading to wild price swings for certain cards. So, why doesn’t this happen in blockchain trading card games? Here’s why.
Right on the Splinterlands home page is a section entitled “Why Blockchain?” We’ve already mentioned provable scarcity, but what does that mean? Blockchains have ledgers with full transparency, so you can see exactly how many of each different card exist in the game. The comparison that Splinterlands makes is Hearthstone, which is a good example - since in that game you don’t know exactly how rare (or valuable) each of your cards actually is.
Another big upside to blockchain trading cards is true asset ownership. This is the major upside to digital blockchain collectibles in general. In games like Magic the Gathering Online or Hearthstone, your cards actually belong to the game. But on the blockchain, your cards actually belong to you. The only way they can be traded is with private keys, like with any other blockchain asset as with cryptocurrency. Even the game creators can’t take them from you. Like with physical trading cards, you actually own them. The difference is that you actually know the full chain of custody of that exact card and how many exist.
Also, blockchain trading card games have yet another upside that even physical trading card games can’t compete with: absolutely no tampering is possible. Every battle result and cards contained in packs are randomly generated by a published algorithm. That algorithm comes from unpredictable data on the blockchain itself. No one, not even the game creators, can tamper with any battle result or the contents of any pack. That means Splinterlands and other similar blockchain trading card games such as Gods Unchained are 100 percent provably fair.
Can Digital Trading Card Games Survive Without Moving Assets to the Blockchain?
One of the major issues I have with Magic the Gathering Arena, and the reason I don’t currently play it, is that you can’t trade your in-game cards with other players or sell them outside of the game. Even the much-maligned Magic the Gathering Online allows you to trade cards and even sell them in the game for event tickets which can be sold for cash to outside vendors. Hearthstone has a similar problem, in that the cards you acquire are bound to your account.
So, what if you don’t want to play Arena or Hearthstone anymore? Just either leave your cards there or go through the hassle of trying to sell your account. Basically, every dollar you put into the game is a dollar that’s forever gone. Sure, paying for entertainment is fine. But, I’ve never liked the idea of playing for cards that I don’t actually own. What if I lose access to my account? I have to start all over again. But with blockchain trading cards, you own the cards, even if the game ceases to exist!
The reason that MTGO still exists and I’ll still play with it from time to time is that I have successfully made a profit from the cards I’ve used in the game. It’s the main reason people used to play, because if you were good enough at drafting the right cards and really good at winning tournaments, you could actually grind out a ton of event tickets and other prizes. The prize structure makes it a bit harder to profit now, but it’s still possible.
Of course, MTGO’s business model is extremely antiquated. But, you can still trade cards. Still, most digital trading card games bind the cards you acquire to your account. They have no value outside of that particular application. But, blockchain trading cards are not just tradeable, they actually exist independent of the game. That means they remain as collectibles that you own. It’s even possible for those cards to eventually end up in some other game should the original game cease to be active.
The Future of Blockchain Trading Card Games is Bright
Blockchain trading card games are going to eventually unseat these other trading card giants. It would seem to be a prudent step for the owners of Magic the Gathering (Wizards of the Coast & Hasbro), Yu-Gi-Oh (Konami), Pokemon (Nintendo), and other trading card games to consider creating assets on the blockchain that they can introduce to their existing games over time. Gamers would love to own more of the things that they love. I know I’m not the only one who feels like these digital trading card games are just a cash grab for the sake of our entertainment.
Splinterlands, Gods Unchained, and similar crypto trading card games are the future of the genre. Heck, they may even supplant the TCGs of today as crypto gaming becomes more mainstream. I love Magic the Gathering, but their recent behavior of price gouging in the physical card market (no more MSRP) and the cash grab of Arena (cards bound to your individual account), I simply can’t support that game anymore. That’s why my focus has shifted to blockchain gaming, where the power and value really goes into the hands of the gamers and indie developers - where those things truly belong! Big gaming companies have to adapt or be left in the dust wondering why they didn’t see it coming.
Back to Splinterlands, the game does require that you purchase a starter pack (only $10 USD or equivalent crypto or other fiat currency) or have a promo code to get started. After that, it’s very possible to play to earn, just like I have with a Gods Unchained beta key.
Have you played Splinterlands, Gods Unchained, or other blockchain trading card games? What are your experiences with them? Do you think that blockchain TCGs will eventually make physical and other digital TCGs obsolete?
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R.A. Rowell is a collectibles enthusiast who comes from a long history of collecting trading cards in both sports and in Trading Card Games. He is passionate about educating the world about the future promise and benefits of digital collectibles, both on the blockchain and off.