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After player backlash, video game companies are quietly scrapping their NFT plans

EA and other video game companies said NFTs were an important part of their business strategies. Now, they are changing their tune.

After player backlash, video game companies are quietly scrapping their NFT plans
[Source Images: Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty; Carol Yepes/Getty]

The video game industry has never been shy about embracing a new technology, but the speed with which publishers and developers hopped on board the NFT hype train was dizzying. Seemingly overnight, game makers announced ways they planned to incorporate the tokens into their product, with one eye on the metaverse and another on bigger revenues.

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Players, though, are having none of it. And that pushback may be having an impact.

The trickle of game companies backing away from NFTs that started in January is becoming a steady flow—and threatening to become a flood.

EA is the latest to pump the brakes. In November 2021, CEO Andrew Wilson said NFTs “will be an important part [of] the future of our industry on a go-forward basis.” This week, on an earnings call with analysts, he pulled back from that declaration.

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“Collectability will continue to be an important part of our industry and the games and experiences that we offer our players,” he said. “Whether that is part of NFT and the blockchain, well, that remains to be seen. And I think the way we think about it is we want to deliver the best possible player experience we can, and so we’ll evaluate that over time. But right now, it’s not something that we’re driving hard against.”

That same day, Team17, a well-liked independent developer and publisher, abandoned its plans to create NFT collectibles for its long-running Worms franchise, following an intense round of negative feedback from just about every corner.

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Only one day prior, Team17 had trumpeted a partnership with Reality Gaming Group for MetaWorms, to create NFTs that would give fans “the chance to own a unique piece of video game memorabilia.” Fans hated it—and so did business partners Aggro Crab Games and Playtonic Games, which have used Team17 as a publisher for their games in the past, proclaiming they would no longer work with the company because of the decision.

It’s not just studios backing away. Voice actor Troy Baker, who helped bring The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite to life, had planned on launching an NFT line with VoiceverseNFT, a company that uses software to create and sell AI voiceovers. Seemingly anticipating possible objections, Baker said alongside the announcement, “You can hate. Or you can create. What’ll it be?”

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On Monday, he was forced to eat those words.

Other high-profile game companies are staying out of the battle entirely. Microsoft, Epic Games, and Valve have all said they will not embrace NFTs in games.

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Yet, despite the three recent high-profile reversals, the industry hasn’t fully backed away from NFTs. Ubisoft, for example, is still embracing tokens, with one executive saying, fans “don’t get what a digital secondary market can bring to them.” (Ubisoft, btw, has earned a reputation as the publisher that most eagerly chases and evangelizes any sort of new technology in hopes of becoming a leader in that area.) And GameStop still has plans to launch its own NFT marketplace, partnering with Immutable X to create a fund for game developers valued at “up to $100 million.”

The player objections to NFTs are twofold. The environmental impact is certainly a factor, but mostly gamers feel this is just the latest way for game makers to nickel-and-dime them into paying more to enjoy a title—an extension of microtransactions, loot boxes and other monetized practices that have become part of the modern gaming landscape.

The problem, though, is that (at present) the loudest protests are coming from the most hardcore gamers. That’s enough to get publishers to slow their roll, although it may not be enough to make them abandon NFTs entirely. The mainstream audience is a lot more accepting of inconveniences like microtransactions when they’re framed right—and this could just be Round One of NFTs in gaming. (Ubisoft, for instance, says it has already seen people sign up for 10,000 digital wallets, despite minting just 3,000 NFTs for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint.)

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These early experiments with games and NFTs could be an opportunity for publishers to see where gamers’ boundaries lie. And armed with that knowledge, publishers could resurface the technology in a modified form down the road. (Skeptical? Advertising in games, you might recall, was met with similar outrage . . . and is now commonplace.)

There’s one thing that could forestall that, though: Microsoft is leading an industry charge to transition games to a subscription model—and its acquisition spree of late is forcing Sony to react. Having players pay a monthly fee (which can occasionally be adjusted), instead of a fluctuating per-game amount, could result in a bigger revenue split for publishers and platforms. And maybe, just maybe, that will distract game makers from chasing the siren call of instant riches from NFTs.

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About the author

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience. Learn more at chrismorrisjournalist.com.

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