Gamers Slay NFTs
In a stunning achievement for video games everywhere, the gaming industry has largely abandoned plans to incorporate non-fungible tokens (NFTs). And this is a triumph worth celebrating.
The start of 2022 portended a dark future for games: publishers and developers alike began to salivate with the endless revenue-generating potential of building games with the artificial scarcity marketplaces that blockchain and cryptocurrencies offer. Over nine months later, that future is now dead and the world has gamers to thank for its rescue from this dystopian nightmare. Bloomberg's Businessweek featured a dramatic report outlining how the games industry pushed customers and partners to their limits by attempting to compel players to think of digital in-game purchases as worthwhile investments, but due to the tremendous backlash from gamers and communities at large, almost all large studios have publicly banned blockchain technology from their platforms.
A year ago, the Internet was witnessing the emerging marketing speak of "Web3," an allusion to the prior "Web 1.0" and "Web 2.0" development standards. Web 3.0, analysts predicted, would describe a future Internet built upon decentralized blockchains, the ledgers used by cryptocurrency, and be seen in everything from news sites, to games, and even virtual reality. In the most utopian view, it would empower individuals to have full control over their digital identities and possessions across websites, platforms, and games; but in the dystopian reality, the convergence of blockchain and the web could, theoretically, create a scenario where games would be primarily developed to efficiently extract revenues from consumers, not to entertain. A highly upvoted Reddit post summarized gamers' fears best:
"Resources and time will be invested into making shallow experiences that are conduits for shitty marketplaces and cosmetics instead of focusing on making quality games."
- u/[deleted] from Reddit
Calling this year-long crusade to beat back efforts to incorporate blockchain tokens into new releases "largely successful," Bloomberg's Brian Feldman lauded the campaign "a rare win against the industry's efforts to wring more money from its customers." In his exposé, Feldman chronicled many of the key outcomes this year alone of the public revolt over the rapacious design principles being pushed in many cases by publishers over the objections of some of its developers:
- Microsoft, owner of Minecraft studio Mojang, banned blockchain from its platforms.
- Electronic Arts walked back any plans for leveraging NFTs in games.
- Discord quickly aborted attempts to explore NFTs and crypto on its platform.
- Activision Blizzard publicly tweeted that "no one is doing NFTs," abandoning web3.
- Foreshadowing the fight to come, in 2013, Blizzard Entertainment removed a real-cash Auction House from Diablo III after a similar, but smaller scale, player revolt.
Underneath the much-celebrated trophy case of big name wins that Bloomberg identifies is a community-wide, decentralized, grassroots movement to reject blockchain technology from video games, spanning user groups, media publications, online communities, and even software trade groups fearing radical disruption in their plans. Online gaming publication, Kotaku, regularly reported on players quitting NFT games in droves often times citing greedy mismanagement and poor game quality. Other media sites educated audiences about the scam-ridden and environmentally-destructive nature of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
At the heart of gamers' successes in ending the threat of web3 from their beloved franchises is a basic economic impulse: games publishers and video games developers were losing audiences and investors, exposing their plans as rapacious and uninspired, and ultimately revealing - as Feldman confirms in his feature - that blockchain is not as decentralized, secure, or private as most people think, spelling certain doom for the platform's acceptance.
In a delightful twist of schadenfreude for gamers, many of the underlying promises of blockchain's use in video gaming - such as compelling persistence across the virtual reality "metaverse" and the absurd potential that gamers might have to earn money through the artificial scarcity of their speculative digital goods - fell apart this year with the collapse of cryptocurrencies and the humiliating reveals of Facebook parent company Meta's virtual reality project. At the end, though, it's about where people want to spend their money, and it simply isn't on NFTs in video games. The stats are sobering for the sole publishing holdout, Ubisoft, in its quest to create NFT marketplaces: only 78 sales of Ghost Recon's NFTs between players (or about $3,900 in transactions, with a complete set costing ~$541.24) suggests that, as Blizzard rightly pointed out, "no one is doing NFTs."