Arts

The Gaming World Still Doesn't Know How to Feel About Web 3 and NFTs

Game retailer GameStop is diving into NFTs. This image appears on a site that seems to be dedicated to the GameStop-NFT venture.
Game retailer GameStop is diving into NFTs. This image appears on a site that seems to be dedicated to the GameStop-NFT venture. screenshot from nft.gamestop.com screenshot
Web 3 is supposed to be the next great phase in technology. Some think it will change the way we interact as a society, much like what the internet has done already. One of the more popular novelties to come out of this new version of the internet is the NFT, or non-fungible tokens, units of digital data that are changing the way art and music is sold.

But while NFTs are seemingly everywhere, they're not all that popular in the world of video gaming and have caused a stir in some gaming communities in recent months as developers look to capitalize on and venture into the new internet.

The first iteration of the internet, Web 1, mostly comprised single static webpages. It was basic stuff, but people also regard this version of the internet as “decentralized,” where the power belonged to a network of individuals, not a single entity or group of powerful entities.

What we’re used to today is what people call Web 2. As Wired puts it, this version of the internet is considered “the era of centralization, in which a huge share of communication and commerce takes place on closed platforms owned by a handful of super-powerful corporations — think Google, Facebook, Amazon — subject to the nominal control of centralized government regulators.”

Web 3 is supposed to dismantle that centralization. But one of the defining factors of this new internet version is that it’s built on “blockchain” technology. A blockchain is a public ledger that's used across platforms to establish and track digital ownership. If, for example, you were to purchase your favorite artist's latest NFT, that transaction would be documented on one of the existing blockchains.

Instead of being owned and controlled by a select few, the idea is that Web 3 would be owned by its users. That ownership would be earned through developing and contributing to communities in this online space.

Digital ownership is the idea behind NFTs.

In December, the French video game company Ubisoft rolled out NFTs as rewards for its game Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. The NFTs sparked almost instant backlash, which Ubisoft now says was expected. Players complained that they were hard to earn and it would take them hundreds of hours to get to win something they didn't find valuable to begin with. Many wrote off the game's effort as a scam.

The company called its NFT platform Ubisoft Quartz, a blockchain technology that’s tied to in-game accessories.

“How it works is unique serial numbers are attached to items [called Digits] like helmets or gun skins that players can trade with each other for agreed-upon prices,” according to USA Today. “A literal in-game economy.”

The Ubisoft NFTs themselves are called Digits. The company explained them like this at the time of the roll out: “Digits are collectible in-game vehicles, weapons and pieces of equipment that offer players unprecedented ways to connect with and enjoy more value from games they love.”

These NFTs can also be resold on third-party market places for cryptocurrency. But, it can be time-consuming and difficult to obtain these NFTs. Once you do, you might not get a whole lot for them on third-party market places. A month into the launch, people had only made a collective $400 from selling the Ubisoft NFTs, according to Forbes.

"Our belief is that, piece by piece, the puzzle will be revealed and understood by our players." – Nicolas Pouard, Ubisoft Strategic Innovations Lab

tweet this
To get the first limited-edition NFT items on Ubisoft’s platform, you’d have to reach a certain XP level or play a certain amount of hours in the game.

A skin for the M4A1 tactical rifle, for example, required players to reach XP level 5, according to the gaming news site ign.com. One of the other Ubisoft NFTs, a helmet, required 600 hours of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint gameplay. The helmets and the rifle skins look cool, but the only thing distinguishing one skin from another is the serial number that comes with it, which for some isn’t a very valuable selling point.

Some gamers also didn’t like the idea because of the effects blockchain technology can have on the environment. The computing power for this tech leaves a pretty big carbon footprint. But, Ubisoft Quartz is based on the Tezos blockchain which doesn’t use as much power as other blockchains, the gaming company said.

Despite some of the backlash, Ubisoft is pressing forward with its NFTs.

In an interview with the shopping comparison website Finder, Nicolas Pouard, VP at Ubisoft's Strategic Innovations Lab, says gamers just don’t understand what they’re trying to do yet.

“I think gamers don't get what a digital secondary market can bring to them. For now, because of the current situation and context of NFTs, gamers really believe it's first destroying the planet, and second just a tool for speculation,” Pouard says. “But what we [at Ubisoft] are seeing first is the end game. The end game is about giving players the opportunity to resell their items once they're finished with them or they're finished playing the game itself.

"Our belief is that, piece by piece, the puzzle will be revealed and understood by our players. We hope they will better understand the value we offer them."

Others haven’t been so persistent in the face of scrutiny from the gaming community.

Digitaltrends.com, a tech news and lifestyle website, is keeping a running list of canceled NFT gaming projects. The list includes projects from such big players as EA, Sega and Discord.

Discord was one of the first notable companies to backtrack on NFT gaming integration, according to digitaltrends.com. People often use Discord to chat while playing games. In November, the founder and CEO of the company, Jason Citron, posted a photo on social media showing the MetaMask crypto wallet integrated with Discord. Users of the service responded negatively in the comments and just two days later the company announced it wouldn’t move forward with the idea.

“Thanks for all the perspectives everyone,” Citron wrote on Twitter. “We have no current plans to ship this internal concept. For now we’re focused on protecting users from spam, scams and fraud. Web 3 has lots of good, but also lots of problems we need to work through at our scale.”

But one big bet on NFT gaming is coming right out of the Lone Star State.

The Grapevine-based video game retailer GameStop is working on an online hub for buying, selling and trading in-game NFTs. After making the announcement, GameStop shares shot up as much as 32%, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The website URL nft.gamestop.com brings people to a page that says “Change the game.” One link on the page directs people to a form where they can apply for grants, seemingly to fund NFT-building projects. “We are calling on builders and creators to power the future of the Web 3 gaming. Apply for grant consideration,” it reads.

As you scroll down the home page, a portable gaming device appears. As you scroll further, words appear on its screen. It says: “Power to the players. Power to the creators. Power to the collectors.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn