At least in theory, gamers should be an easy demographic for NFT adoption. They’ll proudly display digital game libraries worth thousands of dollars and covet abstract objects like “perfect runs” of their favorite role-playing games. The first time I ever saw the words “digital wallet” was on Steam, a popular gaming platform. Gamers and NFT afficionados share an appreciation for “digital goods” and are willing to spend ludicrous sums of money on stupid trinkets.
But it has been an uphill battle for NFT developers to endear themselves to self-identified gamers. The mere mention of an NFT, or non-fungible token, will immediately earn a harsh rebuke on social media. It doesn’t help that the charge into mainstream NFT-based games is led by Electronic Arts, which has a notorious reputation for ruining beloved franchises, and Activision, which is also known for destroying beloved intellectual properties (to say nothing of the well-documented corporate culture that enabled rampant sexual harrassment).
Despite the odds stacked against it, Skyweaver, the latest play-to-earn NFT gaming phenomenon, might reach an audience beyond crypto. The actual iPhone app runs smoothly. The onboarding process takes you straight to the action, though the tutorial was perhaps a few beats too long. The art is reminiscent of an aged-up Superman: The Animated Series, and looks really good. Most importantly, the game is fun.
Once I had slogged through the tutorial and leveled up enough to unlock all the core identities, I had a good time learning the different types of decks and setting up card combos. It was hours before the game started gently steering me towards its digital marketplace. Horizon, the game’s developer, is invested in selling its player base on the game Skyweaver before they sell them on a shiny new investment opportunity – a winning strategy.
Crypto gaming companies that put their in-game currencies or digital assets before the product are going to struggle to attract people outside of the NFT community. By treating its blockchain elements as a secondary detail, Skyweaver will be able to lure players in with its slick app and smooth gameplay.
Unfortunately, I have a hard time imagining Skyweaver escaping comparisons to Activision-Blizzards’ Hearthstone, the most successful digital card game ever made. While the once-mighty franchise wasn’t the only card game to use a fixed resource economy and focus the player on card interactions – my personal favorite of these kinds of games, Duelyst, used a similar system and was in development long before – it was by far the most successful, and has dominated the collective imagination of trading card games ever since.
From what I’ve seen of Skyweaver, the card effects are much more restrained than Hearthstone, which encouraged players to use and abuse overpowered cards. There is a big upside to Skyweaver’s approach. Since your opponent’s moves are more predictable, it’s easier to set up a counter play. Since your counter-options are pretty narrow, your opponent can account for them and use that against you. Suddenly, both players are thinking three moves ahead. This back and forth was gripping for the first few hours I played, but it wore thin.
As it stands, there is nothing novel about “Skyweaver.” It doesn’t have Netrunner’s asymmetry, the area control of Summoners Wars or the sheer weirdness of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, which for my money does a better job of translating cosmic horror into a game than any other H.P. Lovecraft property. I’m not even mentioning single-player card games like Signs of the Sojourner or Inscryption that reimagine what a card game can be.
Skyweaver is a leaner, meaner Hearthstone, which has been hemorrhaging players for the past two years. Does that mean that people are looking for a leaner, meaner version of Hearthstone, or that players are kind of tired of that particular type of game? For me, it was the latter.
For a casual player, most of the money they can make playing this game will likely go straight back into it. This isn’t a new phenomenon in digital card games. All free-to-play games provide a steady drip of in-game currency to keep their players engaged. Given the small amount of free cards I’ve gotten during my time with the game, Skyweaver is on the stingy side.
See also: NFTs Are Boring; Here's How to Make Them Fun | Opinion
If Skyweaver’s hook is that I can sell my cards for U.S. dollars, then I don’t see them cracking into the mainstream. If I commit myself to the game enough that I put together a decent card collection, I’m not going to want to sell those cards. Collectable cards can be an interesting investment opportunity, but mainstream players will be interested in how they function in-game, and many people will just enjoy them as keepsakes. I sold my Netrunner collection for double what I paid for it, and I still wistfully look at its empty spot in my game collection.
Ultimately, Skyweaver might be the most fun I’ve had mining cryptocurrency, but it’s not even the fifth-best game I can play on my phone.