Games have quickly become a significant sector of the growing non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) industry.
The play-to-earn game on Ethereum Axie Infinity has generated $3.8 billion of trading volume to date while metaverse games like The Sandbox and Decentraland have benefited from the growing hype surrounding digital terrains.
But while crypto-native NFT games are growing and succeeding, there is huge resistance from gamers and fans of the traditional video game industry.
Ubisoft, a major publisher of games behind Assassin's Creed and Just Dance, recently launched an integrated NFTs platform and driven by Tezos called Quartz (and received considerable criticism on social networks.
The studio will go ahead with its efforts, but studio GSC Game World has canceled plans to add NFTs to its upcoming game STALKER 2 and the player chat service Discord (also popular among decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, and crypto communities) has paused plans to integrate crypto wallets after a huge backlash from players.
Sebastien Borget, co-founder and chief operating officer of The Sandbox, told Decrypt that player attrition will be “unavoidable” given the significant changes that NFT items owned by users and tokenized game economies represent.
Building games around NFTs and crypto tokens, he says, can undermine the gameplay experience by providing benefits to players, allowing them to freely buy and sell bundled items and possibly use them across multiple games and platforms online.
“Every [game] studio I know, from the biggest and biggest company to the smallest, will have one, if not many, blockchain product [by 2022],” he said. "What this will create will be the fastest and most adopted business model transition that we will see."
An NFT acts as a governance contract for a digital, individual, and exclusive item. Such tokens are issued on the immutable registry of blockchain platforms such as Ethereum and Solana , providing demonstrable scarcity and the ability to buy, sell and transfer such assets.
For games, an NFT can act as a unique character or avatar, a distinctive weapon design, a virtual land plot, and more. The Sandbox, a metaverse shared world game, uses NFTs to represent terrain, avatars and more.
On the other hand, Axie Infinity presents its colorful little monsters as collectible NFTs, along with lands and other items.
Such NFT assets are truly owned by players and can be sold or traded and can accumulate value over time.
It's a big difference from current games like Fortnite and Roblox, where players pay real money for virtual coins and exchange them for digital items (but these items are locked in the game world and cannot be resold).
Some Web 3 advocates describe them as “rentals” of digital items: they may still technically belong to the game's publisher.
The advent of in-game NFT items and play-to-earn token templates isn't the first business change in the gaming industry to suffer from upheavals: downloadable content (DLC) and free-game templates to-play” were also criticized before becoming industry standards.
It can take a while for them to demonstrate possible benefits to an audience that is apprehensive about change.
“Player attrition – yes, it's to be expected. Sometimes society doesn't evolve as fast as models and technologies evolve,” said Borget.
He suggested that players shouldn't fear a new digital item governance model just because they've “got used to the old model” and have already invested time and money in it.
Borget believes that younger gamers, those who have grown up in an already digital world and are used to games powered by premium content, will welcome NFT-focused games faster.
“It's just going to be the standard that anything they have virtually is valuable because they have it and they can transfer it wherever they want,” he said.
Goal vs. the metaverse
The Sandbox star has risen in recent months, and while this is thanks to great alliances with Snoop Dogg , the “ The Walking Dead ” franchise and other brands and celebrities, another key factor is Facebook's metaverse initiative.
In late October, Facebook demonstrated its vision for the future of the internet: an online metaverse where users play, work and socialize in shared spaces in 3D using avatars.
The company showcased CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a cartoon avatar and suggested a possible integration and sale with NFTs, as well as revamping its parent company's Facebook to Meta in the process.
But as a giant centralized company, many in the crypto community are wary that Facebook will try to own or dominate the metaverse concept, and it remains to be seen how open and interoperable its version will be.
A recent leaked internal memo suggests that Facebook is open to blockchain compatibility, but the company has yet to make that statement official.
Animoca Brands, parent company of The Sandbox and a big investor in crypto startups, is one of the companies that are against Meta.
In October, Yat Siu, co-founder and CEO, said he views Facebook and Chinese technology company Tencent as “a threat” to an open metaverse and that Animoca is “running” to fund its interoperable vision.
In November, Axie Infinity co-founder and growth leader Jeff Zirlin told the NFT BZL conference that Facebook's Meta initiative is “ a battle for the future of the internet ” and that centralized companies want to “buy the soul of the internet”.
Borget told Decrypt that he agrees “very much” with the comments of both colleagues.
“There is a risk that if we don't act and show that there is a way forward where users can be at the center of value production – and be rewarded for their value through true governance and self-sovereignty,” said Borget.
"So the metaverse just becomes the same thing as Web 2, where users are monetized as a product."
Such a centralized version of the metaverse “wouldn't be different from what we saw 20 years ago with Second Life,” he explained, referring to the 2003 Linden Labs virtual world game, generally regarded as a precursor to modern metaverse initiatives.
It will be "a boring, unimaginative place," he added, if Facebook successfully creates a centralized metaverse intrinsic to Web 2 models rather than adopting blockchain technology and user-owned savings.
“The metaverse is a fantastic concept that can shape technology forever – just as we, as human beings, interact,” explained Borget.
"[I want it to benefit] everyone equally and it's a new chance to make things better – not just for profit or short-term vision, but more about: How do we shape the future for the next generation of users?"
*Translated and edited by Daniela Pereira do Nascimento with permission from Decrypt.co .
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