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Why NFTs are Bad for Video Games

And Why You Should Push Back Against Them

By Chris HellerPublished 3 years ago 9 min read
Top Story - January 2022
Why NFTs are Bad for Video Games
Photo by Jakub Sisulak on Unsplash

This article contains a lot of prelude, like an appetizer to the main course. I wouldn't recommend skipping ahead to the entrée, as the first section gives background as to why I think NFTs are bad for gaming. If you do decide to skip ahead, merely scroll down to the "NFTs: What Are They?" section. But first:

Some Background: Why I Care About Games

I am an old-school gamer. While my first console wasn't the NES or the Atari, I am still considered old-school (my first console was the Nintendo 64, by the way). I also consider myself an informed video game consumer. When a new game is released or announced, I always do my best to look for reviews, check performance requirements, and avoid publishers who actively exploit their developers and customers. Because of this, I have become increasingly frustrated with the sickening behaviors of AAA publishers: Activision-Blizzard's 'frat boy culture' of sexism and abuse, Ubisoft's active defense of sexual abusers, and countless other publishers, big and small, who promote and propagate "crunch culture."

As well as being put off by workplace abuse, I also do not support aggressive or exploitative monetization in gaming. EA's Star Wars Battlefront II is the most poignant example, where the game cost $59.99 at release, but then also had paid loot boxes that translated to direct power increases. The game essentially allowed a consumer to buy their way to the top of match leaderboards. Of course, when there was incredible pushback, EA reversed their decision, and hasn't been as scummy with the Star Wars license since then.

However, gaming is becoming ever-more complicated with monetization, and it's not as cut-and-dry as it used to be. Games that used to have all cosmetics earned in-game now almost exlclusively lock them behind paywalls. I personally don't like the idea of paid cosmetics, and I know that's an unpopular opinion. However, I am not universally against them. Generally, I'm much more lenient on games that come from independent or small developers, as opposed to AAA publishers with yearly profits of billions of dollars. An example of fair monetization is the game Warframe, where in-game cosmetics can be bought for premium currency, which can be bought or traded with other players. Not only does the developer, Digital Extremes, design in-game skins, but they also release their art assets and allow the community to design and sell their own skins. Some artists are so successful, they even are able to do it full-time. I wish more games were like Warframe in terms of monetization, but unfortunately, this is not the case.

I hate many things about gaming and monetization. I hate loot boxes and gacha-type systems in general. I would much rather pay $30-40 to get a character or item guaranteed, rather than pay the same amount for the mere chance of getting the same thing. More often than not, I get tons of things that I neither want nor need, and end up regretting my purchases. In the end, it's gambling, and many of us know how destructive gambling can be.

I hate battle passes because they lean heavily into FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which I really hate. It compels the consumer to devote time (and usually more money) to obtain something that will "never be in the game again," only for those items to be brought back again some time later.

I hate publishers recycling old content, chopping up and removing systems, then slapping a $60 price tag on it and calling it a new game. This is directly referencing sports games, like the Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K series. I will never understand how sports games consumers are so ready and willing to shell out money every year when the game could literally just have a yearly roster update for $10 or something. Oh, and now they have microtransactions and in-game gambling too, just in case the yearly $60 re-up wasn't egregious enough. And forget having your purchases from last year carry over to the current version. You'll just have to spend all that money all over again.

I hate publishers releasing "live-service" games, where they essentially release a barebones, minimum-viable-product stuffed to the gills with microtransactions, then release a road map that promises to "flesh out" the game with future content updates and events. Looter games are the worst examples of this. The problem is that the game itself is trash, and if the community doesn't embrace it, it will quickly die out and become completely irrelevant, wasting all the time and money that players and developers have sunk into it. Remember Anthem? Remember how Bioware said they were going to re-vamp the game after its (fully-deserved) disastrous launch? Remember how EA said no to those proposed changes, and completely ceased all further development, leaving players with nothing but an empty, soulless grindfest of a game? Yeah, I remember that too.

Finally, I hate publishers having the gall to charge $60 for a game ($70 now, because we can't have nice things anymore) and then immediately extend their other hand and ask for more money, because their "game" is stuffed with all the exploitative, cash-fleecing systems that you'd expect in a free-to-play mobile game.

Yes, I understand this is quite a lot of ranting, and I agree. But I feel this ranting is justified. I have watched over the course of my life as gaming has evolved from this wonderful, niche hobby and a source of true art to the most lucrative entertainment industry in the world. Video games have gradually turned from an art form to a commodity, and when the industry leans more heavily into the latter, the former suffers massively. I firmly believe that games are art, and when art is more about money than innovation and creativity, I cannot stand idly by and do nothing.

Now, with 2022 ahead of us, and the impending nightmare that is the Metaverse coming in to sink its fangs into our lives (and our wallets), I am very worried with the future of video games. And the primary source of this anxiety comes from something that has risen to popularity in 2021: NFTs.

NFTs: What Are They?

For those who aren't in the know, let me explain. An NFT (or Non-Fungible Token) is essentially a digital serial number tied to a piece of digital content. This serial number is completely unique, and can therefore be sold and re-sold. Most often, NFTs are associated with digital art, but nearly anything can be made into an NFT. Hell, even this article could be made into one or several NFTs.

The piece of digital content tied to the NFT code can be right-clicked and duplicated (which leads to hilarious arguments on Twitter between a guy who paid $400K for a JPEG of a Bored Ape and some memelord who right-clicked and made the same JPEG their profile pic), but it's not quite the same. In art terms, it's the difference between the Mona Lisa and a Mona Lisa print. Anyone can own a print of the Mona Lisa, but only one person (or museum in this case) can own the original. Yes, I ripped that comparison from The Verge's article on NFTs, but I can't think of a better analogy.

NFTs are opening dialogue about whether they're actually useful or just a playground for the mega-rich. As with everything, there are pros and cons to them. I'll be linking articles to The Verge and The Atlantic if you'd like to know more, because I'd like to keep my piece focused on NFTs and their impact on gaming.

NFTs in Gaming: What's the Harm?

With NFTs rising in popularity in 2021, gaming publishers are all-too eager to jump into the deep end of the blockchain technology pool. Ubisoft announced their own NFT system, Ubisoft Quartz. Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda wrote an open letter announcing his full-blown support of NFT tech in games. Konami, who already fleece consumers with their pachinko machines, announced that they're selling Castlevania-themed NFTs for the franchise's 35th anniversary. And it's not just the publishers, either. Scam-artist-disguised-as-game-developer Peter Molyneux already has plans for NFTs in his games too.

So what's the harm? Why is this bad?

Because, despite NFTs being originally designed to help small artists (see The Atlantic article for more), they're just going to become another tool for publishers to nickel and dime the fuck out of their consumers.

Let me offer a hypothetical situation to paint a clearer picture, using a game that millions of people love: Minecraft.

Let's say, for a moment, that Minecraft put NFTs in their game. What would that look like? Imagine, when you log in, you're treated to a gift: a custom, completely unique block design, that only you own. This block design is a little ugly, a brown and light green checkered pattern. This is natural, since the design was randomly generated, and not all blocks are created equal. But because it has a unique serial number, you know that no one else has it, or at least one exactly like it.

Still, you don't really like your brown and light-green checkered block design. So, you decide to sell it. You go to the in-game auction house and put your block up for sale. No one buys it, as the general consensus is that your block is pretty freakin' ugly. Disheartened, you go to see what everyone is bidding on. You find that the most bid-on item is a block design that perfectly replicates Nyan Cat. You look at the latest bid. 4000 Dollars?! For a block design?! On a game that might be shut down in another ten years?!

(Yes, I'm aware that Minecraft will probably be around for another 30 years, but not every game is Minecraft.)

This hypothetical scenario is just a poorly-thought-out example of how NFTs in gaming can impact the industry negatively, but hopefully you get the picture I'm trying to paint. If NFTs in gaming rise in popularity, you can expect to see in-game economies in every game you buy. You could expect to pay $69.99 for it, then find out that people are trading thousands of dollars in real money (or cryptocurrency, whichever sickens you more) for in-game items. Hell, thousands of people don't even play the game, they just buy, flip, and sell in-game items all day for the money, using bot accounts to flood the servers to ensure they win the all-out bidding wars over the top items. And because of those bot accounts, you can't even log in to the game, just waiting for hours and hours as you try in vain to play the game. And the game itself? It's not even good, just an awkward, barebones Skinner Box grindfest that serves as a scaffold for the in-game market. That's the real reason the game was published, so that the publisher can collect royalties on every sale and resale of their worthless digital items. And when they feel the profits no longer outweigh the cost of maintaining servers, they simply shut down the game, and every cent spent by players on their precious in-game items simply vanishes into thin fucking air.

Yes, this is the most cynical, worst-case scenario game I could think of. But this is what the worst in the industry want to publish. Maximum profit for minimum effort.

Thankfully, the gaming community at large seems staunchly opposed to NFTs in their games for now. When Ubisoft announced Ubisoft Quartz, the YouTube video was so immensely disliked that it was unlisted soon after it was uploaded. When Ghost Recon: Breakpoint announced that players would receive an NFT for an in-game helmet with a custom serial number, fan backlash was so great and vocal that the decision was reversed. But still I worry about this new frontier of monetization. This war, the war for fair consumerism in gaming, is a war fought in inches. There may be massive backlash now, but publishers are clever and subtle. They know when to strike and when to pull back. They will push NFTs again, but in less pronounced ways, and I fear that gaming consumers will eventually cave, little by little, until this nightmare vision becomes a reality. Gamers once fought vehemently against microtransactions, but now they're the norm. How long will gamers fight until they finally allow NFTs into their games?

My Final Thoughts:

I understand that I've already asked a lot of you, the reader, by drawing out this article a bit longer than it should be. To those of you who've gotten all the way here, thank you for your patience and your dedication. But I have one final thing to ask of you, the ultimate takeaway from this article.

As it currently stands, NFTs are here to stay, and gaming publishers are hell-bent on implementing them to rake in more cash than ever before. These companies won't halt their rampant monetization of video games if all we do as gamers is make angry posts on Twitter or Reddit. As much as it seems that companies respond to social media backlash, it hurts them even more when we speak, not with our mouths or keyboards, but with our wallets.

Do not support games with NFTs. Do not support publishers who endorse NFTs. Educate yourselves about games, and act as well-informed consumers.

Gamers, rise up.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Chris Heller

A full-time worker in his late 20s with a vibrant passion for writing, mostly sci-fi and fantasy.

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Comments (1)

  • Artien Nadalabout a year ago

    My first ci sole was the NES. The day I opened it by the Xmas tree in 1986 was to this day on my top 5 moments in life. I have witnessed how my favorite thing in the world has degraded into what it is today. Video-game and baseball and basketball, they all have changed for the worse. My gaming now a days is mostly indie games. That's where it's at now a days. AAA games are dead to me. Yes there's a few that are great and whatever. But the sad reality is that all that used to be good is dead... Great article!

Chris HellerWritten by Chris Heller

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