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Google Play has updated its store policy to allow for new ways to transact blockchain-based digital content within apps and games.
The move comes as a response to the growing interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other tokenized digital assets, which offer unique and engaging experiences for users. Google signaled this was coming earlier this year, and it is now working with Web3 game makers such as Mythical Games, said Joseph Mills, group product manager for Google Play, in a statement.
While NFT games have had safe harbor on the Epic Games Store, others such as Apple, Google and Steam have prevented developers from selling such games, unless they had a very big Web2 component, meaning players could play a free-to-play game and pay for it with a credit card rather than cryptocurrency. With this change, Google Play will expose blockchain games to the masses. In the past, blockchain game companies had to hope for the best distributing their games on the open web — which presented them with considerable distribution problems as the app stores are where the players are.
Mythical Games said its NFL Rivals Web2/Web3 game hit nearly a million downloads in June. The Web2 and Web3 requirements ensure that platform owners such as Google Play can still collect their 30% fee on transactions.
As part of the new policy, developers must be transparent with users about tokenized digital assets, Mills said. If an app or game sells or enables users to earn tokenized digital assets, developers must declare this clearly. Additionally, developers may not promote or glamorize any potential earnings from playing or trading activities.
This will obviously force developers to downplay the “play-to-earn” game descriptions that were popular starting in 2021 when the NFT boom exploded and money poured into blockchain games. With the crypto winter, the NFT price crash and other scams, the notion of making a lot of money as an NFT speculator has become a lot less attractive in recent months.
Now, many Web3 game companies have opted to highlight other benefits, such as fun game play, player ownership and possible voting rights. Google pointed to “creative in-app experiences” that innovations can deliver.
“Like with any emerging technology, we must balance innovation with our responsibility to protect users. So, we’ve spoken with developers about responsibly supporting those opportunities while continuing to provide a safe, transparent, and trusted experience for everyone,” Mills said.
While tokenized assets are meant to build more enriched, immersive experiences, Google Play said it is also emphasizing the importance of maintaining user trust. As such, apps that have not met gambling eligibility requirements cannot accept money for a chance to win assets of unknown real-world monetary value, including NFTs. (Google typically frowns on gambling, which presents various regulatory risks).
In line with Google Play’s Real-Money Gambling, Games, and Contests policy, apps that have not met gambling eligibility requirements cannot accept money for a chance to win assets of unknown real-world monetary value, including NFTs. For example, developers should not offer purchases where the value of the NFT users receive is not clear at the time of purchase. This includes, but is not limited to, offering mechanisms to receive randomized blockchain-based items from a purchase such as “loot boxes,” Mills said.
Working with developers
Google said the policy update was developed in close consultation with app and game developers and incorporates their feedback on how Google Play can continue to support their businesses. The goal is to create a level playing field that promotes user trust and responsible usage of blockchain technology.
“We really appreciate Google’s partnership in this collaborative effort to bring about innovation in this space and move these new economies forward. We think these new policies are steps forward for both players and developers alike and will positively impact the adoption of new technology while also protecting consumers,” said John Linden, CEO of Mythical Games, in a statement.
Reddit also offered a comment on the policy change.
“At Reddit we believe in empowering our users by providing transparency and a responsible approach to blockchain-based digital content – like our Collectible Avatars,” said Matt Williamson, senior engineering manager at Reddit, in a statement. “We partnered with Google to help update their policy, aimed at creating a level playing field that promotes user trust, and responsible usage of blockchain technology. By setting clear guidelines, we can ensure that our users make informed decisions while enjoying immersive experiences.”
Google Play said it expects users to begin seeing these in-app and game experiences later this summer, as a select group of developers will be help test and iterate the new user experience. The policy rolls out in full later this year to all developers on Google Play. Ownership of NFTs can unlock content in-app, whether a user bought the NFT through a Google Play app, or already owned it.
The policy update is just the first step in Google Play’s efforts to support blockchain-based app experiences. The company is also in talks with industry partners to further improve its support in areas such as secondary markets.
Overall, Google Play said the policy update is a positive development for developers looking to create engaging and immersive experiences through blockchain technology. As the technology continues to evolve, it’s important that platforms like Google Play continue to support innovation while maintaining user trust and safety.
“We will continue to engage with developers to understand their challenges and opportunities — and how we can best support them in building sustainable businesses using blockchain technology,” Mills said. “As a next step, we’re talking to industry partners about further improving our support of blockchain-based app experiences, including in areas such as secondary markets.”
I’ve included some of the formal language below:
Formal blockchain-based content policy language
As blockchain technology continues to rapidly evolve, we aim to provide a platform for developers to thrive with innovation and build more enriched, immersive experiences for users. For the purposes of this policy, we consider blockchain-based content to be tokenized digital assets secured on a blockchain. If your app contains blockchain-based content, you must comply with these requirements.
Cryptocurrency Exchanges and Software Wallets
The purchase, holding, or exchange of cryptocurrencies should be conducted through certified services in regulated jurisdictions.
You must also comply with applicable regulations for any region or country that your app targets and avoid publishing your app where your products and services are prohibited. Google Play may request you to provide additional information or documents regarding your compliance with any applicable regulatory or licensing requirements.
[Note: This part of policy is not new / it was moved from the Financial Services section to this newly created Blockchain-based content policy section]
We don’t allow apps that mine cryptocurrency on devices. We permit apps that remotely manage the mining of cryptocurrency.
Transparency Requirements for Distributing Tokenized Digital Assets
If your app sells or enables users to earn Tokenized Digital Assets, you must declare this via the Financial Features declaration form on the App Content page.
When creating an in-app product, you must indicate in the product details that it represents a Tokenized Digital Asset. See “Create an in-app product” for additional guidance.
You may not promote or glamorize any potential earning from playing or trading activities.
Additional Requirements for NFT Gamification
Pursuant to Google Play’s Real-Money Gambling, Games, and Contests policy, Gambling Apps that integrate tokenized digital assets, such as NFTs, should complete the application process.
For all other apps which do not meet the eligibility requirements for gambling apps and are not included in “Other Real-Money Game Pilots,” anything of monetary value should not be accepted in exchange for a chance to obtain an NFT of unknown value. NFTs bought by users should be consumed or used in the game to enhance a user’s experience or aid users in advancing the game. NFTs must not be used to wager or stake in exchange for the opportunity to win prizes of real-world monetary value (including other NFTs).
Examples of violations
Apps that sell bundles of NFTs without disclosing the specific contents and values of the NFTs.
Pay-to-play social casino games, such as slot machines, that reward NFTs.
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