What Defines a “Web 3 Game,” and Is There a Better Term?

Edward A Thomson
8 min readMay 22, 2024


tl;dr: I dislike the term “web 3 game” and much prefer “decentralized game”.

In common parlance, a “web 3 game” refers to any game that uses blockchain technology. Many people equate this phrase with “blockchain gaming,” but as a long-time advocate for decentralized gaming, I believe we should be more discerning with the term “web 3 gaming.” Too often, “web 3” or “blockchain” games are just traditional online games with NFTs glued on.

That said, I’m still not a fan of the phrase. Games don’t necessarily have anything to do with the web. While I can concede that “blockchain gaming” can include any game that uses a blockchain, if we have to use the phrase “web 3 gaming,” I believe it should be reserved for games that are genuinely decentralized. If a game can’t show a valid path to decentralization, it shouldn’t be called web 3. Of course, anyone can promise decentralization without delivering. Achieving this goal is tough and often requires pragmatic compromises to ensure the game remains fun.

GPT4’s imagination of players owning and trading in-game assets seamlessly on a blockchain, showcasing the transparency and security of decentralized asset ownership.

Creating a fully decentralized game that’s not enjoyable would be pointless. Games should be fun, so it’s okay to make trade-offs. We should strive for our ideals but recognize that strict idealism might stifle enjoyment.

For years, my friends and I at the DGA have struggled to make decentralized gaming appealing, even within the blockchain community that supposedly champions decentralization. Despite facing criticism and ridicule, there’s now a renewed effort to build games that could be decentralized. The latest trends are “on-chain games” and “autonomous worlds” show a shift in sentiment. However, neither phrases necessitate decentralization.

Minimum Requirements for “Web 3 Games”

What should be the minimum requirements or principles for “web 3 games”? It’s the same list I have decentralized games:

  • Decentralized and Verifiable Computation: Computation should be publicly verifiable.
  • Enhanced Transparency: Open source code is essential.
  • Enhanced Asset Ownership: Assets should have on-chain representation.
  • Enhanced Community Governance: Community should have a say in the game’s development.

Why Do We Want This?

Bitcoin was created to mint new currency in a public setting while preventing double-spending. Similarly, we can link the concept of cryptocurrency to in-game currency and go beyond simple transactions to include verifiable computation in a public setting. This approach reduces the risk of developers deploying code that unfairly advantages any group or player. While it may not completely prevent such issues, this new paradigm offers significant improvements over traditional methods.

Traditional games have known problems that decentralized games could address:

  • Weak and Asynchronous Action Verification: Current systems can’t verify actions reliably in real-time.
  • Closed Source Leads to Lock-In: It’s difficult to ensure that games are fair and trustworthy without open source code.
  • Poor Asset Ownership: Current online games do not offer true ownership of in-game assets.
  • Limited Community Influence: Players often lack a say in the game’s development.

While traditional online games will not be wholly replaced, this alternative method of game production will likely find its place in the market. Ultimately, all of the additional hassle in creating such a game would be most beneficial where we are concerned about money and highly valuable in-game assets.

Nine Chronicles (launched 2020) — a decentrazlied idle RPG

Choosing an Appropriate Label for These Games

Given these desirable principles, how can we best convey these ideals in a concise phrase or label? “Web 3 gaming” could be ideal since the paradigm of “web 3” encompasses all these principles. However, we could argue that “web 3” has deviated from its intended meaning.

Web 3: A Misnumbering

In my view, “Web 3” is a misnumbering. Tim Berners-Lee’s drafted an idea for a third web and while it didn’t fully materialize, our blockchain-powered web 3 should probably be “Web 4.” Furthermore, gaming isn’t necessarily related to the World Wide Web, making “web 3 gaming” a misnomer. Plus, the common spelling “web3” looks like a typo outside of naming a code library.

“On-Chain Games”

The buzz around on-chain gaming is among the strongest in the blockchain space. This is an improvement from the days when centralized games with NFTs were the norm. While I may not love the term “on-chain gaming,” this trend should lead to better outcomes for blockchain games.

In my early blogs on blockchain gaming, I suggested putting the game state on chain and entertained the idea of entire games being on-chain. I wasn’t thinking of Ethereum or necessarily smart contracts, but a purpose-built chain. My thinking has evolved since then.

Full decentralization is the goal, not merely putting everything on-chain.

Huntercoin — Day 1 to Day 32 — Time Lapse — the first decentralized and on-chain game

My change in thinking was influenced by the team who built the first on-chain game. Huntercoin was releaesd by the Xaya team in early 2014. The game combined put the game logic built into the blockchain node, making it the first attempt at a decentralized game.

Ten years later, there’s been an explosion of interest in “on-chain games,” particularly within the Ethereum community, where game logic is often embedded in smart contracts. Etherplay, starting in 2016, was among the earliest on-chain game developers for Ethereum.

Although “on-chain” gaming is popular, the Xaya team has shifted from “everything on-chain” to only recording actions on-chain, with rule verification and enforcement handled off-chain. Their games remain decentralized, adhering to the principles of transparency, verifiability, and strong asset ownership. Taking computation off-chain is often confused as making the computation centralized (and opaque). This reflects a misunderstanding of decentralized technology. That said, going off-chain and away from smart contracts makes composability harder.

Furthermore, “on-chain” doesn’t necessarily mean the code is open source, power is decentralized, or asset ownership is strong. Smart contracts can be controlled by a single entity and be upgradable in a malicious way, which we should avoid.

I do think “on-chain” as a phrase is a pretty good match for the principles I outlined above even if it isn’t my favourite phrase. Projects like MUD by Lattice show that it’s possible to build decentralized, open-source games on Ethereum.

ZK Hunt — Built upon Lattice — an on-chain game experimenting with information asymmetry.

“Provable Games”

This is somewhat better than “on-chain gaming”, since it doesn’t force strict adherence to having computation on-chain. It gets to the heart of the matter: that we want our games to be provably fair.

For me, provability is not a term that must strictly use ZK technology. I suspect that many developers in the space may imply a use of ZK technology since it has a natural fit to the problem, but I don’t think that ZK tech is wholly necessary.

“Provable games” sounds less catchy than “on-chain”, so it may struggle to capture the minds of players.

“Autonomous Worlds”

While the term “Autonomous Worlds” is in use by the Xaya team for their business entity, in my mind the phrase does not inherently imply a connection to blockchains. Instead, it suggests a self-sustaining simulation, where the background NPC-verse of a game may operate without requiring human input.

“Autonomous” software might not strictly require blockchain technology, but blockchains do conjure up notions of immutability and persistence. These latter terms have an overlap with the notion of automation, which is why I suspect the phrase “autonomous worlds” has become increasingly popular.

We should ask, why do we want “autonomous worlds?” Full autonomy, with no human input, might not be desirable for gaming. While we want the background world of a game to be persistent and to operate without human input for most of the time; in every online game, we expect human developers to adjust game parameters. So immutability and full independence from human interaction is probably less important for games: i.e. we want something to be quasi-autonomous.

The phrase “autonomous words” sounds cool, but it isn’t the closest match for the principles I outlined above. Even “on-chain” is far more fitting.

A related aside, I understand that Ethereum smart contracts are not self-triggering, raising the question of whether fully on-chain games be truly autonomous. The gate state only updates via an external action. Putting code into storage probably doesn’t remove the human interaction either, but this is a topic for a later blog.

“Infinite Games”

Googling “Infinite Games” brings up various business and leadership books, but “Infinite Games Etherplay” refers to a specific concept introduced by Ronan, the founder of Etherplay. He uses “Infinite Games’’ to describe on-chain games with certain properties. He notes that “Autonomous Worlds” is an appealing phrase, but it sounds too much like simulations.

Conquest by Etherplay

Ronan defines Infinite Games as “programmable, permissionless, persistent, and immutable.” These are compelling concepts that overlap well with the principles I outlined before. This is a design space that’s worth exploring within blockchain gaming.

For me, the phrase “infinite game” implies persistence (infinite time) or unlimited in space (infinite extent). Those are interesting design choices; however, the phrase doesn’t make me think of the other words: “programmable, permissionless, immutable.”

We can argue that decentralized gaming doesn’t necessarily require these terms to be true. They are consistent with, but not a strict requirement. Blockchain certainly makes those ideas possible, more so than the technology found outside of blockchain.

“Decentralized Gaming”

This is still my preferred phrase. Although the term is often badly misused by teams that don’t truly understand decentralization, it is fairly self-defining. Decentralization implies decentralizing power, which is highly suggestive of community governance. From a blockchain perspective, it also implies transparency, verifiability, and strong asset-ownership rights.

This term is the most natural to use, though the current obsession with being “on-chain” might overshadow its adoption. Which is a shame, as the focus should be on the benefits to the players, not adherence to buzzy phrases.


In summary, the landscape of gaming is evolving with the advent of blockchain technology and the principles of decentralization. Terms like “web 3 gaming,” “on-chain games,” “autonomous worlds,” and “infinite games” each bring unique perspectives and ideals to the table.

As we continue to explore and develop these concepts, it’s crucial to maintain a focus on decentralization, transparency, and player ownership. These principles not only enhance the gaming experience but also ensure fairness and trust in the gaming ecosystem. The journey towards fully realizing these ideals is ongoing, but with the growing interest and innovation in this space, the future of decentralized gaming looks promising.

Whether we call them web 3 games, decentralized games, or infinite games, the goal remains the same: to create engaging, fair, and transparent gaming experiences that empower players and communities. As we move forward, let’s embrace these principles and work towards a more decentralized and exciting gaming future.