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Danger: NFTs – DLC Has Levelled Up

There’s a very important topic of conversation that is getting buried behind Digital Foundry videos, arguments about whose console loads the fastest and hype for games that probably don’t exist. NFTs are confusing, mysterious and coming to the game industry at a rate of knots. It’s time to be very afraid.

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Why should you be worried? Imagine the early days of DLC – horse armour and the like – and then imagine it was 100 times more exploitative. Imagine that they had a massive impact on the environment for no reason. What if they were actively designed under the pretense of being unique. Imagine the mess that would have been.

Unlike DLC and microtransactions, which had quite a massive blowback until they were more quickly accepted, NFTs aren’t really being discussed. Why? There are two reasons. The first is that they are enormously niche. The second is that nobody really knows what they are or why they exist. I have attempted to look into this subject on multiple times over the last few months, triggered onto the search by the availability of them at the British History Museum of all places. And I still don’t understand them.

Don’t misunderstand, I know what they are. For those who are luckier than me, here it is: it is an ownership system for a digital item. So, say, a piece of art. You buy it and, in theory, nobody else can have it. Unless they screenshot it or the original owner slightly changes it and resells it on again, or any other number of ridiculous workarounds that even a baby could see coming.

This becomes your digital property, to enjoy or resell at your leisure, problems be damned.

NFTs and Gaming

My issue is that I don’t understand the idea here. You don’t own anything that’s digital for a start, and even if you did, the market for NFTs is ripe for no end of issues. There is no market control whatsoever. And yes, it’s dreadful for the environment.

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They’re also increasingly lucrative. Surprise, surprise, uploading a picture or video to the internet and pretending it is a limited run makes money. Who would have guessed?

And that means video game publishers are rushing to the forefront. Square Enix, Sega, Ubisoft and EA are all looking to make money through the sales of NFTs.

What this will allow you to do is actually own the items you buy within a game. In theory. I’ve seen some smile-inducing ideas about being able to buy the actual weapon used to actually beat an online game’s final boss for the first time. What a world-building technique that is. It gives a game an actual player history, passed down along the blockchain for as long as the game exists, and beyond. Imagine a Final Fantasy game that not only has its developer-created world history, but a trackable history within its playerbase as well. Players become legends, and their equipment becomes purchasable at what I’m sure will be an enormously fair price.

Yes, this is the problem, isn’t it? We are creating a new form of capitalism external to the games themselves. We are giving value to things that, really, have none. And, of course, that value will be decided by those that pay the money. But people pay money for the stupidest things.

The Downside

Meanwhile, those are us who enjoy game art or any other object that could be sold uniquely are met with a limited paywall. DLC items will triple or quadruple in price thanks to the idea of digital scarcity. That’s a lowball prediction, by the way.

“This hammer, literally infinite in its availability, can only be bought twice.”

It is ridiculous. It’s happening.

By accepting the notion that any digital item can be limited, we are accepting a world where a physical item has the same value as a digital one. Yes, we’ve already kind of done that. For reasons of keeping brick and mortar shops on side, digital stores are pricier than their physical counterparts. Nintendo will happily release a game for six months for no reason other than that they can.

And yet it is coming very very quickly, and nobody is really talking about it. I think partly because so many people are like me. Most people I’ve asked don’t really get them either, if they’ve heard of them at all. It’s something, like cryptocurrency, that has entered the public conscience as something that other people do. It’s a techy thing, and nothing else much matters.

That’s a dangerous outlook and one that could cost us all dearly. Watch this space – the NFTs will be coming thick and fast.

 

Article By

blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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