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Gaming the System: Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell on Video Gaming’s Future on the Blockchain

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Atari founder, inventor of Pong and Video Game Hall of Fame honouree Nolan Bushnell explains why Web3 and video gaming are a match made in heaven, and why Hong Kong is the city to watch for blockchain development.

In 1958, physicist William Higinbotham created what’s now considered the first-ever video game, which he named Tennis for Two. More than half a century later, what he started has become
a global industry worth US$242 billion in 2023 – and it’s projected to reach US$583 billion by 2030. So what happens when such a fast-growing industry intersects with another exponentially-growing area of technology: Web3?

To answer this question, we decided there was no one better than Atari founder, Pong inventor and Video Game Hall of Famer himself, Nolan Bushnell, who was visiting Hong Kong to speak at the Digital Entertainment Leadership Forum, while also preparing to set up a new base of operations for his latest venture, Moxy.

“Games are really about puzzles, but they’re also about simulation,” Bushnell says. “Web3 allows you to simulate life, and part of life is ownership. In some ways, without Web3, everything is on loan or rent – you don’t really own anything. If I get some skins on Fortnite, do I really own those? No. So Web3 brings that ownership mechanic into the world in a very real way, and I think that’s bigger and more important than you think.

“But what I think is even more important, is trust. Blockchain makes sure your identity is real. When you wear a mask, you can be a bad actor, but when you’re a real person and have to be verified, it kind of forces you to be civil. So that’s the other part: blockchain doesn’t allow you to lie.”

Indeed, Web3 and blockchain technology is all about decentralisation and the democratisation of the Internet, while enforcing greater accountability and security. Blockchains are essentially ledgers that are distributed across a wide network, meaning everyone on the network has a copy, all of which can be verified against each other. To alter the ledger would mean having to hack into hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of computers and change each record individually. Because that’s virtually impossible, trust and factualness are at the core of the technology, which is why many industries have already begun adopting blockchain technology – especially those for which accuracy and data privacy are crucial, such as finance and healthcare.

But what role does video gaming have in Web3 and how will it help proliferate what’s still considered a quite an unknown and niche concept? “Gaming is constantly growing, and I think it’ll be an important part of education in the future,” Bushnell explains. “Just as stories did historically, games transmit information because you can create simulations. So if I want to teach children financial literacy, why not make a game where they win if they make good financial decisions and they lose if they make bad ones? That’s learning.”

Education aside, however, other good reasons for video games to enter into the world of Web3 include accessibility and financial incentive. Only this year the Saudi Arabian esports tournament organiser Gamers8 announced a US$45 million prize pool for a video game competition, breaking the record previously held by Dota 2’s 2021 International reward of US$40 million. Numbers such as these for simply playing video games may sound impressive – or, to some, even absurd – but the truth is that only a very select handful of professional players have access to that kind of funding. Of course, as with any other sporting event, the best always takes home the most, but as most esports tournaments cater almost exclusively to the same few teams, making money out of playing video games remains an incredibly difficult endeavour for the everyday player. Web3 can change that.

“It’s really about esports for everybody,” Bushnell says. “Right now, if you’re going to play in a League of Legends tournament, it’s only the very top guys that can do anything, whereas I want to play against my friends competitively. I want to be able to place a bet and say I’ve got 10 Moxy that I can beat you. That’s fun! There are games that are fun for bragging rights, but that only takes you
so far. Moxy gives you that ability to take it one step further.”

Says Moxy representative Roni Chik, “We’re more like play-and-earn, not play-to-earn. The latter is when people working in Web3 take it the wrong direction, and it’s no longer fun, forcing you to grind for rewards. Moxy is all about having fun. The beauty of Moxy is that we’re adding value to the platform, so all kinds of Games can receive a piece of the pie. Players can earn, the developers can earn, and the ecosystem is made sustainable.”

Web3 and blockchain development is a global effort, but it turns out that this city is particularly attractive for the industry. “Hong Kong embraces blockchain, which makes it a very attractive location for Web3 development. The government and regulatory infrastructure are very well thought out and incredibly supportive of the industry,” Bushnell says of the government’s recent creation of a Web3 Task Force in a sentiment similar to those recently expressed by Solaar CEO Alex Lee and 9GAG founder Ray Chan. For the Technology to truly find widespread adoption, however, requires a concerted effort not just by users and developers, but also investors.

“What’s it going to be like in 10 years?” Bushnell ponders. “It’ll just get better and more robust through evolution, and more broadly adopted. In marketing, there’s always this concept of the early adopter. But for every early adopter, there are 10 or 20 secondary adopters, so it actually grows because the later guys aren’t quite robust enough to be an early adopter, but they pay attention to what they’re doing, and then they get on board when the costs are affordable. Then the market grows ten-fold, and the snowball goes on. All of a sudden you see this exponential curve. So if you can afford it, the time to get into it is now.”

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