NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have recently been cited by many enormous developers and publishers as “the future of gaming.” I recently gave some thoughts on the topic during the KeenGamer Podcast. So, as the holiday period beckons and the future of gaming seems to creep closer every second, I thought I’d take some time to remind the community of other money-making schemes this industry has produced.
Keep in mind, I am not an expert, nor do I claim to be. However, there are some recognizable patterns here. While NFTs could revolutionize the industry, it’s much more likely that they’ll be used to wring a few more bucks out of us. Still, I am open to correction and invite you to let me know in the comments.
Before we recall the past, let’s chat a bit about NFTs themselves. A non-fungible token is a tiny unit of data that gives you ownership over something, whether it’s a picture or video, or anything in-between. Like a digital receipt. The reason it’s called non-fungible is that what you own isn’t tradeable. Something like money is fungible, because one dollar is equal to one dollar. However, every NFT token is unique.
Buying an NFT is, in essence, buying the belief that you own something. With only the blockchain acknowledging your proof of ownership. An important factor to note here is that the trading of NFTs is currently an unregulated market. This makes them a breeding ground for shady behaviour and underhanded activity. Now, there is no possible way to know how this will be integrated into gaming at the moment, but the implications are troubling. Especially considering what this industry has done to make money.
Subs, Not Dubs
When MMOs entered the industry, they brought the concept of a subscription service with them. Let’s take a look at maybe the most popular MMO to date, World of Warcraft, in regards to the early days. In the bygone era of 2004, Blizzard released a little project called World of Warcraft, or WoW. The game was a smash hit, but had an interesting payment scheme. In addition to buying the base game, players were obligated to pay a subscription to play. Fast-forwarding to today, subscription models are the go-to for most MMOs, regardless of genre or platform. This could be a glimpse of how NFTs might function in the coming days, as something you need to purchase in order to play.
That’s not to say subscriptions haven’t changed a lot. Final Fantasy XIV Online allows its players to level a character in all the classes to level 60 before they are required to pay. Most phone game and MOBA subscriptions come with premium benefits, like the removal of adverts and access to new cosmetics respectively. Even WoW itself lets you level a character to 20 before asking you to pay. The big question here is, why?
Very simply, most players don’t want to pay for something they aren’t sure they’ll like. The path of subscription services has been molded by the public itself, from a clear scheme to an acceptable cost. Keep this in mind when developers start selling NFTs of accounts or characters. Our purchases will decide the price.
Here it is, the big one. The heavy-hitter, the face of schemes itself. I’m talking about loot boxes. We’ve all seen them, hiding in in-game stores and on marketplaces, singing their siren songs. These little rascals were a plague not too long ago, and it isn’t hard to see why. Offering random rewards, like cosmetics or better in-game gear, players could pay to potentially get something really special. Long story short, it was gambling, no matter what developers and publishers said. It used the same techniques as casinos to lure people in and fleece them of their money with the promise of rare gear.
Now, the usual argument against loot boxes is that they aren’t mandatory. No one was being forced to buy loot boxes, and you didn’t need them to finish a game. But that’s the point of a scheme, right? To give you a choice. Soon enough, the popularity of loot boxes began to affect everything. So many games, like Assassin’s Creed, transitioned into the RPG genre in order to quantify more weapons. So, in turn, the developers could offer essentially the same weapon, but with a higher number.
Here we see again how NFTs might manifest. They offer players quality items in the form of a piece of code, using the allure of exclusivity to entice them. Loot boxes persist to this day, but it does at least seem like most people have wised up to that racket.
This paragraph will be rather brief, I’m afraid, as the Crunch Crisis deserves its own article. The Crunch Crisis refers to the addition of around 20 hours to the usual 40-hour workweek for developers. You may be wondering how this could possibly be a money-making scheme, but consider this. It’s no great leap in logic to say that rushing to meet a schedule is a big cause of crunch in these companies. While that may not affect the gaming public directly, games like E.T. for the Atari 2600 and the more recent Cyberpunk 2077 have shown us that crunch leads to poor quality.
Companies can now just patch a game later instead of recalling the cartridges and burying them in the desert. There is an incentive to rush unfinished products out. Crunch helps developers make money by working their staff to death and releasing a game early. Again, I am nowhere near qualified to get fully into the moral and health ramifications of this, but remember:
These companies are not your friends. They will do anything to stay relevant and make a couple more bucks. It isn’t hard to imagine a developer selling off their game’s assets as NFTs if the product bombs, as a back-up if the crunch doesn’t work.
At the end of the day, where does this leave us? Well, in exactly the same position we’ve always been in. The games industry has been trying to fleece us for money since arcade machines, but the more astute of you may have noticed something. With the exception of the Crunch Crisis, the gaming public has systematically recognized and adapted to these schemes. Gamers are smarter than developers think we are, and we’ve seen things like NFTs come and go time and time again.
The key thing here is vigilance. NFTs may end up helping the gaming industry, and they may end up being a massive scam. It will most likely be the second one, but keep a watchful eye. The market is decided by the consumer, and we have the means and ability to change how companies do their business. So, as November bleeds into December, and another apocalyptic year sputters its last days, take a moment to read up on NFTs. Figure out what they are, and how they can be used. Then, we should really get around to fixing the crunch.