Can web3 games dethrone the App Store? Yes—with PWAs

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Apple’s App Store, once celebrated for its convenience and accessibility, has been criticized for stifling innovation with excessive commission fees and ever-changing rules and restrictions. These monopolistic practices have also caught the attention of the US Department of Justice, which sued Apple in March and has led to an additional hearing.

Apple isn’t the only one—Google’s app store continues to face similar unlawful monopoly claims in an ongoing legal battle with Epic Games. Since various app distributors’ payment systems are incompatible with digital currencies, crypto-related apps have been hit particularly hard by these platforms’ high fees and restrictions, forcing developers to disable features or limit functionality.

What if the solution to crypto’s app-store woes lies not in trying to appease the owners of these marketplaces, but in transcending them altogether?

By circumventing traditional app distribution channels, progressive web apps (PWAs) offer developers a chance to reclaim autonomy and reach audiences beyond the App Store. PWAs are apps created with web platform technologies that offer a user experience like that of platform-specific apps.

Developers publish a PWA online, and users can then add the application to their device’s home screen directly from a browser. Once a PWA is installed on a mobile device, it can be launched directly from the operating system—just like an app you would download from an app store.

In short, if developers code their app in a certain way, mobile device browsers will show the app and enable a seamless, app-like experience right within a browser. And in doing so, they bypass app stores entirely.

Apple and Google are troubled by crypto elements in their app stores, particularly features that enable users to sidestep traditional payment systems and reduce the distributors’ control. Thus, app stores don’t typically allow for peer-to-peer trading, dynamic pricing, and wallet connections.

What’s more, Apple’s App Store charges a 27% commission on every transaction—and any NFT utility is forbidden unless purchased in-app. 

If a developer wanted to link to other ways to purchase, they would need to follow the tedious process of submitting a request for the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement. Apple then reviews the app to ensure it complies with the terms and conditions of the entitlement, and each time the app sends traffic to an external link, the App Store displays an in-app system disclosure page for the user.

PWAs can bridge the gap between web3 gaming and web2 mobile platforms by combining the benefits of traditional websites and platform-specific apps. PWAs offer easy access, a uniform experience across operating systems, and an inclusive, decentralized alternative to traditional app marketplaces.

For play-to-earn gaming especially, PWAs offer a way for users to engage beyond the desktop, without arbitrary restrictions that make it nearly impossible for developers to release this style of mobile game successfully.

Moreover, the ability to offer full mobile web3 gaming experiences can enhance connectivity among players, increase user engagement, and allow developers to maintain control over their gaming ecosystems.

Despite the skepticism of some developers regarding the viability of PWAs for web3 gaming, the concerns surrounding performance, user acquisition, and market acceptance are largely unfounded. PWAs support features like Apple Pay and push notifications, enabling seamless payments and user interaction. Moreover, user acquisition for PWAs relies on practical, direct channels such as Facebook, bypassing the restrictions and heavy investment often required for visibility in app stores.

While it is true that few developers have extensive experience building PWAs, pioneers in the web3 gaming space, including Kuroro Beasts, Sui Games, and Pixelverse, are committed to navigating this new territory and demonstrating the potential of PWAs to the community. The adoption of PWA technology will undoubtedly present challenges, but dedicated builders are prepared to overcome these hurdles through optimization and effective marketing strategies.

Now is the time to rethink our approach to mobile gaming app development and explore the untapped potential of PWAs in creating immersive and accessible digital experiences. Developers and players alike can stand against unfair app marketplace restrictions, moving towards a future where decentralized innovation can flourish without constraints.

Because it’s not just the games themselves that should reflect core values of web3 users but the very means by which we access them.

Let’s move beyond the Apple/Google duopoly into a world that allows app developers, and users, to truly thrive.

Tomer Pascal

Tomer Pascal

Tomer Pascal is the CEO of OwnPlay, a creator of the progressive web apps (PWA) game CityVerse Tycoon. 

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