Here’s Why Many Gamers (Rightfully) Aren’t so Game on NFTs

BY Langston Thomas

July 18, 2022

For many gamers, animosity toward NFTs has yet to wane. Even as the NFT ecosystem balloons further, branching out into seemingly every sector of the entertainment industry, an array of (very vocal) detractors continue to staunchly oppose digital collectibles.

Across all the industries — music, fashion, film, finance, and so on — NFTs are undoubtedly most abhorred in the gaming industry. From casual players all the way up to e-sports professionals, many have denounced the implementation of NFTs and similar blockchain-based endeavors within the space. And it isn’t just consumers. Prominent game developers and companies alike have opposed NFTs. Even Steam — one of the world’s most popular video game distribution services — has joined the fight, banning all blockchain-related games on the platform.

While this hatred may seem unwarranted, it’s actually pretty understandable that gamers aren’t so game on digital collectibles. And the reasoning goes way beyond NFTs, tracing back to how gaming culture itself has grown and developed in the past two decades. Let’s explore.

Loot boxes: A history of hatred

Overwatch loot boxes. Credit: Blizzard

Digital collectibles have existed for years within the gaming industry. Prominent NFT investors trace interest in digital ownership back to at least the advent of in-game rewards, such as Fortnite skins. But collectibles and rewards that must be purchased, like those introduced via loot boxes, have long been looked down upon.

Essentially the gaming equivalent of a slot machine or grab bag, loot boxes offer users random (and often minimally helpful) virtual items and gameplay upgrades. These loot boxes can typically only be unlocked by completing achievements or by redeeming in-game tokens, which are usually either accrued over a long period of play or purchased using actual money — i.e. through microtransactions.

Microtransactions are small financial transactions conducted online, usually in-game. While they are fantastic money makers for the companies who issue them, for gamers, microtransactions simply mean that their favorite games become more expensive to play without much additional value. At this juncture, microtransactions have become such a fundamental part of gaming that, in some games, it’s nearly impossible to fully level up your character without paying significant sums of money.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how gamers could consider something like NFTs a scam. A fandom that has been preyed on by developers for over a decade is understandably skeptical when the proprietor of their games seemingly attempts to introduce a new way to get you to pay-to-play.

The gaming ecosystem is working just fine without NFTs, so why bother bringing this “shady” tech into the ecosystem if it isn’t likely to add any value from a consumer standpoint anyway?

Gamers might wonder, are developers really that strapped for cash in the first place that they need NFTs to help suck even more capital out of their communities? Especially for those who hold the belief that NFTs are, in totality, a scam: if the gaming industry is on track to reach a value of around $314 billion by 2026, what’s the incentive for developers, aside from taking more of their money?

NFTs for games vs. gamified NFTs

But not all projects deserve the fury. And of course, not all projects get it.

There is a big difference in how NFT gaming is perceived depending on where the endeavor originated. Gaming powerhouses that lean into blockchain technology are quite often publicly lambasted, while Web3-leaning projects that venture into gaming are usually met with a more positive reaction.

For example, let’s take an event involving Valorant, a popular competitive shooter from Riot Games. Towards the start of 2022, the Valorant Twitter account posted a picture of its prominent character Killjoy looking at a work of art in a museum. Although the photo showed an actual physical work of art, it just so happens that Martin Houra, the artist behind the piece, also sells his works as NFTs.

When the Valorant team realized the work was an NFT, they backtracked at a breakneck pace. “We were not aware the selected work was an NFT. In no way did we intend to include NFTs as part of Killjoy’s work and hobbies,” they Tweeted. The tweet earned almost 3,500 likes. In this case, a simple misunderstanding — and one that barely touched the NFT sector at all — prompted widespread backlash from fans, with some remarking how disheartened they were to see the company delve into “such vile scam stuff like NFTs.”

In another event, Yuga Labs, the company behind the ever-popular Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT project, launched a test of its Otherside Metaverse to great fanfare. The server load test hosted over 2,000 gamers concurrently and drew praise from the wide majority of the NFT community, including top-tier gamers like FaZe Banks, who has remained a supporter of NFTs for quite some time.

And this dichotomy goes on and on. Numerous gaming companies have announced plans to launch NFT projects only to backtrack and apologize when their communities voice displeasure. While countless NFT projects have added the creation of a game into their roadmaps, leaving much to the imagination in terms of deliverables, and still received largely positive responses.

So why is each community reacting so differently? It’s all about the industry. Gaming companies are expected to release products that are up to par with previous releases and the overall state of the gaming market. In the world of NFTs though, everything is new and shiny, meaning that the most minimal signs of innovation are celebrated as a triumph.

On another note, the benefits of being a consumer in either fandom are vastly different. Gamers pay their hard-earned money to gaming companies and usually only receive entertainment in return (unless they are paid streamers or competitors, of course). NFT collectors, on the other hand, have a sort of expectation that whatever new and innovative thing comes from the projects they collect will have the potential to make their NFTs more valuable.

NFT gaming for the long term

Maybe NFTs aren’t for gamers, yet. But the promise that the underlying technology behind NFTs presents is undeniable, especially for those in creative industries.

It’s become clear that NFTs give independent creators the ability to sustain themselves. Many artists, especially in digital art and music, are making liveable wages for the first time ever as full-time artists. Lives have been completely changed, for the better, thanks to NFTs. And NFTs themselves have emerged as a promising new advent within the fields of philanthropy, science, healthcare, and more.

In gaming though, with all historical hate aside, the distaste that gamers hold for NFTs might be best summed up by Brazilian game developer Mark Venturelli. When Venturelli virtually took the stage at Brazil’s International Games (BIG) Festival in July 2022, he was ostensibly set to give a talk on his vision for the future of game design.

Instead, Venturelli used his platform to deliver an impassioned speech to the festival’s attendees on why NFTs vis-à-vis play-to-earn (P2E) games are wholly incompatible with his personal vision for how game design should strive to progress in the coming years. A brave move, to say the least, considering that blockchain gaming platform Lakea was among the festival’s corporate partners.

Yet, Venturelli was met with applause and widespread support from the majority of gamers and developers in attendance. Although he definitely gave a bit of a tongue lashing to NFTs, which he called “a brilliant solution to the wrong problem,” he made some remarkable points about blockchain companies attempting to enter the gaming industry.

In an interview with PC Gamer following his presentation, Venturelli called BIG’s sponsors “outsiders,” saying that they needed “to buy their relevance because they have no actual influence over the future of our industry.”

This is a conversation worth having — and one that likely could provide us with the key to soothing tempers between the gaming and NFT industries. If influential gaming companies are looked down upon for NFT endeavors, and blockchain companies are seen as irrelevant to the gaming industry, where lies the middle ground?

This is the intersection that needs to be explored. Blockchain companies know a lot about NFTs, and gaming companies know a lot about gaming, yet there exist few joint ventures between the two that have actually made significant strides throughout either industry.

Education surrounding NFTs has advanced greatly in the past few years (nft now created a comprehensive guide to all things non-fungible!). Yet respected entities becoming involved in NFTs rely on flash and awe rather than an open dialogue with consumers to better convey the utility NFTs might provide.

It’s going to take time and effort for NFTs to bring significant value to games, and probably even longer for gamers to be okay with NFTs entering their coveted gaming ecosystems, but education and communication could be key. In the NFT space, anonymity rules, and trust is limited. Because of this, developers rely on open communication to convey their intentions. If they don’t, suspicion arises quickly.

How, then, might game developers achieve this level of dialogue so that the scam flag might be retired and fans reassured where NFTs are concerned? It’s anyone’s guess, but collaboration is surely the way to start.

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