What’s the Point of Video Game NFTs?

It’s fair to say that NFTs are controversial. Depending on where you stand, they’re either a bold new future, a fad, or a pointless scam. Wherever your position, though, there’s not denying that NFTs are a hot commodity.

With so many tech start-ups jumping on the NFT bandwagon, it’s not surprising that some of the industry’s biggest gaming companies want in on the action. EA CEO Andrew Wilson has said that NFTs are “an important part of the future” and, just today, Ubisoft announced Quartz, an NFT-based cosmetic system for the Ghost Recon series.

I haven’t been shy about my distaste for NFTs, but I at least understand the proposed benefit of owning your own digital art. I can’t say the same about “owning” video game content. As Jason Schreier pointed out in a November newsletter, an NFT-based system doesn’t offer anything that existing video game technology can’t already do. Buying and selling in-game content, while usually frowned upon, has always been possible. Transferring content between games is also easily done through game saves or account linking, provided the developers of each game take the time to program the transferred asset into their game–something that would also be required for an NFT. 

So the question is: what’s the point of involving the blockchain? Schreier argues that “Game companies are investing in blockchain because it sounds like it could be something cool one day, not because it has practical applications right now.” He continues:

“You hear that often from executives preaching blockchain. It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, a tool for something that doesn’t need to be fixed. A cynic (hello!) might suggest that most of these game publishers are cheerleading blockchain because they’re afraid that analysts and shareholders will perceive them as plodding dinosaurs if they don’t.”

Schreier’s assessment raises some great points about how the videogame infrastructure further constrains the (already dubious) benefits of NFTs, but I’d be interested in hearing some counter-arguments from NFT proponents.