You can’t have missed all the bad press NFT and blockchain has been getting of late. And while mainstream media and FUD is normal and entirely keeping in line with how crypto is initially viewed in various shades of misunderstanding, those in the industry shouldn’t dismiss this as “expected behaviour”.
This is because most of the criticism has come directly from the heart of many gaming communities -- straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
I’ve written about the bungled NFT attempts of Ubisoft and others and when Steam firmly opted to ban all NFT and blockchain games from its platform, the move was roundly welcomed and applauded by gamers themselves. The only ones left irked, understandably, were the blockchain developers themselves, supported in loud protests only by crypto buyers and NFT speculators themselves.
So when Valve co-founder Gabe Newell fielded media questions about NFTs during his press tour for his company’s new Steam Deck software this month, it should have come as little surprise for him to back the decision.
As reported by Eurogamer, Newell said:
"The things that were being done were super sketchy. And there was some illegal shit that was going on behind the scenes, and you're just like, yeah, this is bad. Blockchains as a technology are a great technology, that the ways in which has been utilised are currently are all pretty sketchy. And you sort of want to stay away from that.”
As a supporter of blockchain gaming and NFT development, I hope that developers everywhere sit up and take note of his comments.
For sure, his words aren’t actually explicitly pointing out what exactly was “pretty sketchy” about the implementation of blockchain elements in gaming, but if you’re truly active in the industry or have yourself played any of the blockchain games out there and participated in the token economy, either by trading NFTs or minting them in games, then you know he’s right.
a. Blockchain games have little playability
Blockchain games in the “Play to Earn” or P2E sector are especially guilty of this. As I wrote in a previous post, it’s hard to imagine a single P2E title that would ever win a gaming award or to ever make it into a gamer’s cherished list of all-time greats. They don’t introduce new ways to play, they are hardly original, they simply don’t engage and enthral the way games are supposed to.
The only incentive, it seems, for anyone to ever pick up the game to play, would be to try and earn some income from it.
b. NFT games are pay-to-win
Never mind that most blockchain games require a huge initial investment just to gain access, typically through the enforced purchase of NFTs to start the game. We’re talking about hundreds of dollars just to be able to play the game.
But when you center an economy around token scarcity, demand, and supply, then you attract all kinds of market manipulation from crypto speculators.
c. They are too many bad actors
Newell said there was too much fraud and bad actors -- and that’s not just words. Valve experiences found half of crypto-related purchases to be fraudulent. And all we need to do as blockchain users is look up every legitimate token there is to find at least one attempted copycat or scam tryiing to fool people into buying your token. We also can’t ignore that the reasons are interlinked -- most P2E games aren’t even playable simply because they’re just copycat code to quickly churn out a new token and rug pulll as soon as investors start pouring in money. This is also related to the next and final point.
d. There aren’t enough gamers
Look, I’ll be the first to say that we can’t let one rotten apple spoil the rest. But if you allow that one drop of ink fall into the tub of milk, it’ll spoil the entire thing (to paraphrase another saying). So there is an urgent need for blockchain game developers to focus on what matters: the game. Build a good game and it’ll do the rest for you. Gamers want to play good games and if they like what they see, you’ve got your own team of marketeers, influencers, promoters, ambassadors. Happily, willingly, organically talking about your game.
So the takeaway I guess I’m trying to elucidate here is that, maybe NFTs and blockcain developers shouldn’t be whining about the FUD from the gaming community. There may be a true case for groundbreaking innovation and disruptive models for blockchain technology in gaming and I truly believe in this myself. But perhaps we all have to earn that right to make our case.
And we do this by making great games and proving blockchain makes games great.
But if blockchain games insist on a crypto-first, token-first, earning-first mentality, then your users will reflect that. And that creates an environment ripe for all the above problems. Demand for earning models rather than playability. A landscape filled more with scams than with real games. A condition that attracts bad actors rather than good ones.