Another NFT gaming venture has collapsed this week, underlining what a tough job NFT evangelists have in persuading gamers to embrace the concept.
The Creator League, which was publicly supported by Mr Beast, among others, has been shut down, mainly due to a backlash from gamers over the game’s employment of blockchain technology. The company that launched the Creator League, eFuse, issued a statement apologizing for not making it
clear that a form of blockchain was being used to validate log-in data for those who purchased ‘Community Passes’ for $20. According to eFuse, the passes were not technically NFTs, but even the suggestion that NFTs might be involved was enough to invoke the anger of gamers.
Such hostility to the concept of the NFT in gaming has not occurred in all sectors. For instance, some casino networks have started to incorporate NFT items ranging from accessories to avatars to online casino users, but the casino sector is very different from the mainstream gaming world.
One of the first games to incorporate NFTs was Axie Infinity. Axies are collectible characters that face off against opposing teams, but each character is also an NFT and can be owned as a digital asset. Success in the game also generates in-game cryptocurrency, which can be exchanged for real-world currency or used to generate new Axies, which can, in turn, be sold to other players.
Axie proved relatively successful, particularly in some Asian nations, but attempts by major games companies to introduce NFTs have not fared well. Ubisoft was the first of the big guns to dabble in NFTs but its integration of the concept into Ghost Recon Breakpoint was overwhelmingly unpopular. The backlash was almost universal across the gaming sector and Ubisoft found that sales of NFTs in the early weeks were virtually non-existent.
The experience of Ubisoft proved a deterrent to other big game companies, despite the fact that the NFT concept is popular among gaming executives. Sega has taken a cautious approach to using NFTs, while Microsoft has been similarly wary, and giant game store Steam has gone further, banning the sale of blockchain-related games from its platform completely.
Why Gamers Hate NFTs
Gamers are not particularly ill-disposed towards cryptocurrency and the blockchain technology that underlies it, so why the hate for NFTs in games?
One of the answers to that question lies in the toxic legacy of microtransactions. In the 2010s, game companies believed that they had cracked the problem of how to extract money from gamers once they had purchased a game. Upgrades and annual cosmetic changes are costly and attract negativity, so they came up with the idea of microtransactions.
Inviting gamers to spend real money on in-game items might have sounded like a cool and lucrative idea in the boardroom, but in the real world, gamers grew to resent the constant pushing of microtransactions during gameplay, particularly when purchasing certain items made the difference between in-game success and failure.
The microtransaction model became ubiquitous but it was the related concept of the loot box that triggered the backlash. Paying for random assortments of in-game items veered too close to gambling for the liking of legislators, and soon the whole concept of microtransactions was under sustained attack, forcing game companies to restrict their use to more marginal cases.
Of course, in-game NFTs need not turn into another version of microtransactions, but that would depend on gamers trusting game companies not to seek to exploit the concept for maximum income and that level of trust simply isn’t there. It doesn’t help that NFTs in general have been associated with a degree of hype and wild speculation, most notably their use in the art world.
Finally, there is the underlying instability of the blockchain and cryptocurrency concept. For example, at the height of its early success, Axie was hit by a huge hacking scandal, in which North Korean hackers stole around $620 million of cryptocurrency from the same network that powered the game’s transactions, leading to the suspension of the Ronin Network, a big transaction processing chain.
Given this open hostility among gamers, you might imagine that game companies have lost interest in NFT technology, but that is unlikely to be the case, given how wedded many senior figures in the technology and gaming sector are to the concept. For the time being, however, gamers remain
sceptical and on high alert for any sign of NFT utilisation in their favorite games.