If you think environmentalists dislike crypto, wait till you hear what game developers think of NFTs.
By and large gaming companies are interested in the potential of using non-fungible tokens in their games, as they offer both creative potential and, especially, revenue opportunities.
Game developers, however, see exploitation of gamers that gives the well-off an unfair leg up, using a scam-ridden and environmentally destructive technology.
And as games like Fortnite plan to evolve into broader metaverse platforms, that dislike could move developers away from blockchain technology as the foundation for the immersive virtual reality worlds.
Blockchain based metaverse projects like The Sandbox and Decentraland are built entirely of NFTs, which are cryptocurrency tokens that can hold various types of media that are both immutably recorded on a blockchain as well as unique — that the “non-fungible” part of their name — in that one is unlike any other.
Gaming firms have embraced many of the uses crypto enthusiasts have advanced, ranging from special outfits or “skins” for players’ character avatars to actually usable items — think a magic sword — that could be either given away or sold.
“NFTs change the meaning of what a game is, and that to us is quite worrying,” Minecraft developer Cory Scheviak told Bloomberg. “People can make all of the side arguments they want about giving people jobs and the things they say are positives. But at the end, it’s never really been about players. It’s never really been about helping people. It’s always been about making as much money as possible.”
To this end, Scheviak co-authored a NFT/Digital Ownership Pledge released Tuesday by eco-gaming group Climate Replay and signed by game developers, artists and gaming company staffers that asks game studios to accept a code that drastically limits the use of NFTs.
That would include selling useful items, encouraging players to sell them either in-game or reality and embracing the “play-to-earn” gaming model used so successfully by blockchain-based gaming firm Axie Infinity.
Axie is a play-to-earn game that has built a huge community of players who only play to create resellable NFTs that real gamers need in order to play.
It is by far the No. 1 NFT collection, with sales and resales of more than $4 billion in more than 15 million transactions. And given that the 2.5 million owners only include 1.7 million buyers, its fairly safe to say that it is the basis of a large economy, mostly for people in developing countries.
Eliminate the inevitable
Essentially, the pledge comes down to not creating an economy based on NFT sales, whether those are sales by the game studio or by players to each other.
It also essentially would eliminate blockchain as a gaming development platform, calling for a ban on eco-unfriendly technologies — such as proof-of-work tokens like bitcoin — and requiring that companies “not rely on unregulated, volatile cryptocurrency.”
Which is exactly what NFTs are — a type of cryptocurrency, most built on the polluting ethereum blockchain.
That said, the pledge also recognizes the addition of NFT to many games as inevitable. Indeed the first sentence reads: “We recognize that for many studios, discussing the possibility of NFTs or digital ownership is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when.’”
That inevitability is not necessarily as strong Scheviak and co-author Mariana Salimena, a Minecraft conceptual artist, may believe.
While Minecraft maker Mojang Studios’ owner — Microsoft’s Xbox division — declined to take a position, Bloomberg said, other studios have either said they do not want NFTs or have been forced to backtrack.
In February, the CEO of top gaming studio Electronic Arts, or EA, backtracked while on an earnings call that it “remains to be seen” if it will develop and use NFTs — three months after calling them “the future of our industry.”
In December, another major studio, Ubisoft, went ahead with an NFT pilot project despite a fan-created, anti-NFT campaign, according to Decrypt. But, it emphasized that it would “use the tech responsibly” and “build a safe environment” for players to explore how NFTs work. It also promised to “only leverage energy-efficient proof-of-stake blockchains,” and “focus on meaningful value propositions for players that benefit their gaming experience.”
Most notable among the opponents is Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who tweeted last fall that the company, which is behind popular MMO game Fortnite, isn’t “touching NFTs as the whole field is currently tangled up with an intractable mix of scams, interesting decentralized tech foundations, and scams.”
Fortnite is a big deal in the metaverse segment of gaming, as it pioneered concerts by artists like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande that drew millions of fans — and made millions of dollars. Sweeney has made clear he is developing Fortnite from a massively multiplayer game world into a full metaverse with a very large game.
Now it’s a question of whether their NFT-free tech can win the metaverse battle.