Three years ago, virtually nobody had heard of NFTs. In 2022, you can’t go a day without hearing somebody mention the term somewhere. They either mutter it or say it with a shake of the head whenever they do. It was hoped that NFTs would be the next big blockchain sensation after cryptocurrency. NFTs, it was said, would become the new standard of ownership on the internet and the next big-money investment for tech pioneers. In some cases, that’s been proven to be true. Lots of people have made enormous amounts of money from NFTs – but the people who’ve made money are the people who’ve been selling them, not the people who’ve been buying them. Companies and individuals thinking about buying or selling NFTs should protect themselves by talking to a lawyer familiar with the space.
Even though there’s no evidence to support the idea that NFTs will increase in value after being sold, they’re creeping into every area of finance and entertainment. It’s almost become expected that musicians will release NFTs as part of their album or single launches. Video game companies are even more likely to embrace NFTs than musicians are. There are video games in development right now that are little more than NFT minting applications with a threadbare video game built around them. Earth 2 is an excellent example of this. Investors were promised the most cutting-edge MMO in history set in a fully functional metaverse. Instead, they have a bizarre trading platform where people buy and sell jpegs of real estate while trying to convince themselves that they haven’t bought into a scam. Gamers have become increasingly sceptical about NFTs – and that scepticism is turning into a full-on rejection.
The idea of video games is to have fun. That’s been the basis of gaming since the invention of the format. A game where the objective is to make money in the real world is more like a job than a game, and that can take all of the fun out of playing them. Sid Meier, the creator of Civilisation, recently took aim at NFTs and monetisation of games in general, saying that developers had forgotten the principle of putting gameplay first. When it was announced that Final Fantasy 14 wouldn’t feature any NFTs, the online gaming community rejoiced to such an extent that their cheers were almost audible. Gamers don’t mind paying a premium for games they love. The widespread acceptance of DLC has proven that, and for the main part, gamers have even been willing to put up with loot boxes. Based on the angry posts on social media and so many forums worldwide, though, NFTs are seen as a bridge too far. What started as a disgruntled rumble is rapidly turning into an agonised howl.
Wired Magazine recently posted an opinion article in which it said that not everybody wants NFTs involved in the future of video gaming, citing Tim Morten of Frost Giant Studios and his criticism of the concept. The idea that “not everybody” is on board with the idea is probably an understatement. Vice was more accurate when it said the growing inclusion of NFTs in the design of games represents an existential crisis within the industry. The author of the Vice piece said that to force NFTs into games is to commodify the entire experience of playing them, cheapening it in the process. There’s a growing perception that the people who look after the business side of video game companies see NFTs as an enormous pile of easy money. In contrast, game developers know what they represent and want nothing to do with them. If those positions become entrenched, developers are going to end up at war with the people who employ them. Maybe that would result in the rise of new indie studios. On the other hand, perhaps it would result in the end of the video game industry as we currently know it.
NFTs – to a degree – operate according to the same principle as cryptocurrencies. They’re on the blockchain, and their value could rise or fall. The big problem is that the values of NFTs do an awful lot more falling than they do rising. Bitcoin can be volatile, but NFTs are positively unstable. They almost always lose value after they’re minted, and they very rarely regain it. Even if that weren’t true, spending big money on something that could lose value just as easily as gain it doesn’t sound like conventional gaming to us – it sounds like iGaming. There are websites out there like sistersite.co.uk that provide advice on whether casino sister sites can be trusted with your money. We find ourselves wondering what Sister Site and other casino review sites would say about NFT games if they had to review them as a form of iGaming. We strongly suspect that they’d warn players to stay away because the risk of not being paid out was too high. Unfortunately, there isn’t an equivalent of Sister Site for NFTs. The people who are asked to buy them often have no frame of reference other than hype, vague promises, and innocent belief that they could be used to fund a world-class video game in a genre they enjoy. When the game fails to materialise, and the money disappears, it’s referred to as a “rug pull.” There have been dozens of rug pulls in the NFT gaming world recently and a sum total of zero AAA NFT games.
The only reason that NFTs seem viable at all is that people have a fear of missing out after they didn’t heed advice to buy Bitcoin back when it was cheap. They missed the last crypto revolution, and they don’t want to miss the next one. Many of the people who mint, promote, and distribute NFTs are well aware of this and use that information to reel people in. Hardcore video gamers are especially susceptible to this approach because they spend so many hours playing already, so the idea of earning money as they play sounds like a dream to them. By the time they find out that there’s no money coming, they could already be deep in a hole – and that could destroy their love of gaming. NFTs in video games offer almost nothing to players, but they could take away everything they enjoy about the hobby. That’s reason enough to end this trend before it goes any further.