We don’t need or want NFTs in our games, thanks very much

NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens” as their less catchy name has it, are seemingly starting to take off among a certain portion of the Internet community. Supposedly their use of blockchain-based technology allows for true ownership over digital content rather than the simple licensing process that making digital purchases tends to mean today — but their long-term use cases are yet to be proven.

And in the meantime, critics are keen to point out that NFTs, much like other blockchain-based technology such as cryptocurrency, are exceedingly energy inefficient — not to mention the reason you’ve probably been struggling to purchase a new graphics card for the last few years. This is all down to the way that the blockchain works; explaining this is beyond the scope of this article, but this piece from Sonic Stadium provides an excellent layman’s guide.

Sonic says no to NFTs

Despite widespread resistance to the very idea of NFTs from everyone on the Internet except the people with those shitty monkey avatars, it seems that a number of video game companies are interested in the idea of leveraging the technology as a means of monetisation. Because of course they are.

Leading the charge is, naturally, Electronic Arts, purveyor of fine microtransaction-laden filth since the seventh generation of video game consoles. Speaking on a recent investors’ call, EA’s chief executive Andrew Wilson reportedly told the gathered suits that NFTs are “an important part of the future of our industry” but that the technology was “still really, really early” and that there was “a lot of hype” surrounding them.

EA’s desire to get into NFTs ties in with the success of their FIFA Ultimate Team mode, in which players use microtransactions to pay for virtual “card packs” that include various players. The supposedly collectible nature of NFTs would appear ideal for FIFA Ultimate Team, though at present we haven’t heard a convincing argument for making use of them instead of the existing microtransaction process. Both suck, and it’s hard to say which sucks harder.

No NFTs, thanks: FIFA Ultimate Team

A common argument in favour of using NFTs is the fact that they’re tied to a user’s “crypto wallet” means that they are transferable, tradable and able to be sold. In theory, this could mean that an NFT acquired in one game could be used in another, but realistically, what are you going to do with a FIFA player you “own” in any game other than FIFA? The only real benefit that seems apparent is being able to carry it over into the inevitable next year’s FIFA — which will come with a season update anyway, potentially making the old player irrelevant.

Most of you reading this have probably left EA behind a long time ago — I know I certainly have — but they’re by no means the only ones exploring this possibility. Perhaps most worryingly for those of us interested in Japanese games, Sega has announced a partnership with Japanese company Double Jump.Tokyo, with the intention of selling NFTs that relate to its classic IP. The response from fans on Twitter, both western and Japanese, was universally negative, with many pointing out that this is exactly what Eggman would have wanted. And that seems kind of cattywampus to us.

Sega’s announcement actually came back in April of 2021, but the news has become a lot more widespread recently due to the company discussing it further in a recent earnings call.

Exactly what NFTs mean for gaming isn’t entirely clear as yet. There is one potential benefit, highlighted by the upcoming Intellivision Amico’s use of NFTs for its “physical” (and I use the term loosely) releases of its games — and that is the way in which NFTs open up the possibility of being able to loan, trade, gift or sell digital content. Right now, this is impossible on most digital platforms; yes, you can buy gift copies of games on a lot of platforms, but you can’t, say, sell on a game you no longer play in the same way you can with a physical disc or cartridge. So NFTs could be potentially helpful there.

But that’s not how they’re likely to be used for the most part — their current primary use case is for “digital collectibles”, and I’m sure you know what that likely means: they’ll be involved in microtransaction-laden games like the aforementioned FIFA Ultimate Team, and they’ll more than likely end up in free-to-play gacha games, too, since the inherently “collectible” format of those makes them ideal for NFTs.

There are still other questions over NFTs, though. While an NFT supposedly proves ownership over a piece of digital content at a particular URL online, what happens if that URL goes dead, the game goes down or the servers go offline? You now own literally nothing instead of pretending that you own something imaginary, and you may well be thousands of dollars out of pocket at this point. This already happens with traditional microtransactions — and the stronger “gambling” aspect of NFTs that comes with the possibility of making money from them makes this all the more risky.

On top of all this, as soon as you start incorporating increasingly obtrusive monetisation into a game, the game stops being simply something to enjoy; it becomes something you have to consider carefully about “investing” in. Add the prospect of actually earning fake space money that may or may not be worth thousands of dollars and the really important things about game design — the artistry of mechanical design, storytelling, graphics and sound; the overall experience of the game — take a backseat to the commercial aspects.

We already see this in free-to-play games. When’s the last free-to-play game you played that didn’t bombard you with “SPECIAL OFFER!” and “BEST VALUE!” the moment you started it up? Didn’t that seem very much incongruous with the story that game was trying to tell? Now imagine that, but it’s trying to sell you cryptocurrency as well, and force you into an economy which, at present, does not seem at all trustworthy — the amount of crypto-related spam in my inbox even as we speak does not inspire me with confidence.

You know what I’ve been enjoying the most about Blue Reflection: Second Light of late — aside from its excellent LGBT representation? The fact that it has never once asked me for money. It has never once done a single thing to take me out of the immersion of its world by reminding me of the real one. It has never once made me think it is a monetised commercial platform rather than a work of art. And I have no reason to believe it will ever do any of these things. And I’m grateful for that.

The fact these things even cross my mind while playing a new game these days sickens me somewhat. And it seems like a worrying amount of companies out there are keen to make things even worse in the name of making money, rather than actually listening to the players and their extreme resistance to the idea.

Basically, fuck NFTs. We don’t want them in our games. So keep them the fuck out of our games.

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Pete Davison
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