No one needs this cryptocurrency-powered Steam Deck competitor

15 views 11:42 am 0 Comments April 12, 2024

Remember when “web3 gaming” was the hot new thing in the game industry? In 2022, it seemed like every other game maker was flirting with “NFT integration” or “blockchain support” or some other crypto-adjacent buzzword in one form or another. Then, throughout 2023, the whole idea quickly faded away as generative AI became the latest Silicon Valley obsession.

But some are apparently not willing to give up on the crypto gaming dream. Playtron and Mysten Labs have announced the SuiPlay0X1, a new Steam Deck-alike that is being billed as “the world’s first blockchain native handheld games console.”

Currently, the device seems to exist only as a few concept renders and vague promises about finally making “web3 gaming” accessible to the ignorant masses who don’t even know how much they need crypto features integrated into their gaming portable. But even if those promises all pan out (a very big if), it’s hard to see any real value that the 0X1 would provide over the current slate of gaming handhelds.

We can already do that

Very briefly, for those who have blessedly been able to ignore it, “web3 gaming” is an amorphous concept that captures pretty much any game that has some sort of connection to blockchain technology and/or cryptocurrency. For the SuiPlay 0X1, that means tight integration with the Sui blockchain, which claims lower fees, faster transaction speeds, and easier scalability than some other crypto coins.

By using Sui, the 0X1’s makers promise the portable will have “the simplicity of being able to set up a [crypto] wallet like signing up with your Google account,” a comparison that makes us wonder why they didn’t just make an Android-based system that integrates with our existing Google accounts.

The creators of the 0X1 claim that blockchain integration allows for “asset ownership directly connected to a device’s account system for the first time in gaming history.” While that might be technically true for the crypto-maximalist version of “own,” it’s important to note that the Steam account tied to your Steam Deck will already let you easily buy and sell items from the Steam community market in your local fiat currency. The makers also promise that “users can transfer assets freely between each other without ever thinking about crypto or wallet addresses,” something that has been possible on a centralized platform like Magic the Gathering: Online for decades, to name just one example.
Device-linked account systems aside, games like Eve Online have long shown that you don’t need a blockchain to have a robust in-game economy that involves buying and selling in-game items. On the other side, games like Axie Infinity—once the poster child for Web3 gaming—show how crypto game economies that seem robust can crumble quite quickly.

Web3 gaming advocates would claim that having these in-game assets tracked on a blockchain, rather than through some centralized game publisher’s database, means you have fuller control over your “unique” gaming items. But any continuing value of these items still relies on them being usable in a gaming context, as owners of Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint NFTs found once Ubisoft quickly ended support for the game itself.

Who is this for?

In an interview with Decrypt, Mysten Labs Chief Product Officer Adeniyi Abiodun said that the 0X1’s crypto integration will let game makers offer free tokens, assets, and other on-chain rewards and discounts to lure players to try out new games. They also nodded toward the possibility for some sort of token drop for all 0X1 owners that would help “subsidize” the cost of the device itself.

Daytime running lights.
Enlarge / Daytime running lights.
Playtron

While that sounds like a fun marketing idea, keep in mind that Epic has literally spent hundreds of millions of dollars giving away dozens of free games in an effort to get users to try out its Epic Games Store. The result is a platform that has barely made a market share dent in Steam’s near-monopoly in PC gaming.

Speaking of games store, Playtron boldly claims that the 0X1 will be able to “play everything from every store” through a “single launcher” in the upcoming Linux-based PlaytronOS. Playtron is “attempting to extract the PC gaming ecosystem from Windows and recontextualize in our own operating system,” CEO Kirt McMaster told VentureBeat.

It’s an admirable goal but one that’s not going to be trivial to accomplish, given the very different backend details inherent to Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, itch.io, and the rest. Previous attempts integrating multiple PC game launchers into one, like Asus’ Armoury Crate software on the ROG Ally, have proven to be more trouble than they’re worth.

A bold promise, but the proof will be in the execution.
Enlarge / A bold promise, but the proof will be in the execution.
PlayTron

As for Playtron’s promise that 0X1 users can “buy any game with your digital currency” using “payments that aren’t encumbered with traditional payment rails,” we’ll just note that Valve stopped accepting bitcoin for payments in 2017 because price volatility and transaction fees made it unworkable. Maybe Sui has fixed these problems, but so far, evidence suggests that cryptocurrency is still more useful as a speculative asset than an everyday payment option.

Without even vague gestures toward key details like specs, price, or planned release date (beyond “2025”), it’s hard to even evaluate how the 0X1 would work as a gaming device. When it comes to the supposedly revolutionary promise of web3 gaming, though, it’s very hard to see the new features appealing to anyone but the most diehard of crypto fanatics.