Okay we get it. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are the next biggest thing. More exciting than Instagram and certainly more profitable than Pokémon cards, it’s hard not to notice them when 15 year-olds are made millionaires by trading them on virtual auction houses.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you too must have heard about them. Essentially, NFTs are digital assets that have a unique identity attached to them.
So what, you might ask.
Well, here’s one reason. Think of Mona Lisa. There’s only one real Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, currently at the Louvre. There are thousands of fake imitations all over the world, and millions of jpeg files online. But only one original, painted by the Italian genius himself, verified by the people who collect such art.
NFTs are like Mona Lisas. By being able to make digital art unique, the value of such pieces have soared. Here’s one:
Yeah I copied that off the Internet. But the real thing — a tapestry of 5000 digital art pieces made daily by Beeple between 2007 and 2021 — sold for US$68.9 million. Why? Who knows — but the guy who bought it now has rights to the original and can sell it for whatever price it may fetch in the future.
What’s special about this set of rights is that it’s hosted on a blockchain. Think of blockchain as a very long database of entries floating somewhere in the digital universe. Here, whenever you buy or sell something on the blockchain, it gets recorded. Once verified, it’s transparent and everyone will be able to see who bought or sold it and for what price.
This makes authentication simple, which is why digital art is now actually investible. You can’t just right click and copy an image — well you can, but you won’t be getting the actual thing.
NFTs have exploded over the past three to five years. From art, to photos, basketball cards and even digital perfume, you can get anything digitalised and printed on the blockchain nowadays. There is a lot of money sloshing around in the NFT universe and everyone wants to get a piece of the pie.
Drawing a line
Gamers have rebelled and forced Ubisoft to cancel its NFT plans, while Square got bashed for suggesting the idea in the first place.
The visceral reaction is a clear sign that gamers are rejecting NFTs for what corporations want out of them — corporate greed.
It’s easy that there is a short leap between game avatars, costumes and NFTs. Today, players already spend money upgrading their characters to look cool in-game. Why not extend that to make these upgrades tradable with real money outside the game?
The problem is that once you start introducing NFTs, you start to bring non-gamers into the picture. Guys in expensive suits, not really into the game itself but more for what the game can do for them. Remember Ready Player One?
The bars for such NFTs are already set very high — Ubisoft Ghost Recon NFT helmets require you to have 600 hours of playtime — and money will surely sully the situation further.
Another reason: climate change. Bitcoin is one of the fastest growing contributors to carbon emissions. NFTs will only accelerate the problem.
I know that eventually all of these will be moot — money drives demand and with the number of NFT games already rising, it surely is a matter of time before all games have NFTs.
But for now, let gamers enjoy their games. It’s for the love of playing that we do and all we can do is to hope that this will be the way games are made for a long time to come.