Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Ybarra Says No NFTs
Blizzard Entertainment released a new survey this week, but unlike previous surveys targeting a specific game or franchise, such as asking players opinions on upcoming
Wrath of the Lich King Classic
features, this one covered a range of non-specific gaming interests, including questions regarding cryptocurrency and NFTs in gaming.
Cryptocurrency, play-to-earn gaming, and NFTs are already the subject of significant controversy and debate.
Previously contained to small scale and mostly unheard of games, cryptocurrency, play-to-earn gaming, and NFTs were already the source of debate and controversy before Ubisoft became the first big gaming company to
announce their venture onto the blockchain
. Despite being met with an immediate and overwhelming
, decried by both
fans and industry professionals alike
as an exploitative scam by companies that care about profit above all else, executives maintain that
"gamers don't get what a digital secondary market can bring"
by giving players the opportunity to resell their items once they're finished with them or the game.
In response to an
article about this poll tweeted by VGC
, Blizzard President Mike Ybarra stated "No one is doing NFTs." The somewhat curt response left some even more confused than before, wondering why the poll would go out with those questions in the first place if that were truly the case. Though while there exist several possible reasons, whether miscommunication, backpedaling, or simply
to prove that Blizzard's audience would have a negative reaction to the suggestion, it seems clear that Ybarra is not currently interested in exploring NFTs within Blizzard Entertainment. Although not explicitly stated, we can presume this statement also extends to forays into cryptocurrency and
, as the three often go hand in hand.
interview with Axios
last November, Microsoft Head of Gaming Phil Spencer also commented on the recent experimentation with NFTs in gaming, and although he did not rule out the possibility of their inclusion in future Microsoft games, he expressed his desire to safeguard against exploitation.
Phil Spencer, via Axios
"What I'd say today on NFT, all up, is I think there's a lot of speculation and experimentation that's happening, and that some of the creative that I see today feels more exploitive than about entertainment," Spencer told Axios.
“I don't think it necessitates that every NFT game is exploitive. I just think we're kind of in that journey of people figuring it out. And I can understand that early on you see a lot of things that probably are not things you want to have in your store. I think anything that we looked at in our storefront that we said is exploitive would be something that we would, you know, take action on,” he added. “We don't want that kind of content.”
What Are NFTs?
Despite being an incredibly controversial subject of debate, many people still find the concept of NFTs difficult to understand in the first place. Non-fungible tokens are specialized units of data, used to represent ownership of digital assets such as art, music, or even in-game objects. They're called
because each one is unique and has its own value - unlike a bitcoin or $10 bill, which are generally
due to being worth the same amount as every other individual bitcoin or $10 bill - they are essentially certificates of authenticity, a way to say "I own the rights to this asset", which cannot be duplicated, but can be bought and sold through the same blockchain technology underlying cryptocurrencies. Their importance is still a matter of some debate though; since NFTs are mainly associated with digital art, you might argue whether it really matters who holds the proof of ownership when anyone can copy an image and use it as their own, although that's also kind of the point - in a world where digital assets are so easily duplicated, this kind of secure token serves as that proof of ownership... though whether not not anyone else
that proof is another story.
In gaming, that ownership makes a bit more sense, given that NFTs are usually related to in-game items which cannot be easily replicated. This is what Ubisoft has attempted with their
Ubisoft Quartz Digits
- offering unique collectible items which can be used in games such as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. The concept should also sound kind of familiar, as it's essentially what many games already offer through in-game stores, however the difference is that these are unique (or at least semi-unique, as there are often several variants of similar bases), which means there's only one of each, and the owner gets to decide whether or not to sell them and for how much.
Ubisoft's NFT digits represent serialized cosmetic gear that can be bought and sold between players, rather than a traditional in-game store.
Imagine for a moment if World of Warcraft's cosmetic helms, which were
previously sold through Blizzard's in-game store
, were NFTs: instead of every player being able to buy their own copy of
, there's only one of each, owned both in and outside of the game - if anyone else wants it, they would have to buy it from the player who owns it, rather than from Blizzard. This creates a wholly separate economy for those items, giving players agency over their value, somewhat similar to the
ill-fated Diablo III real money auction house
, but with less influence of duplicate drops affecting supply and demand. However, it also enables that dreaded aspect criticized in many games - real money transactions. While Ubisoft's implementation of Digits may only be cosmetic items similar to
, that's not always the case - for many
, these assets are fully intended to affect player power and capabilities.
This isn't actually a real thing, just a mock up of what a Warcraft NFT listing might look like on a digital marketplace like Opensea.
While this sounds like a terrible idea to some, it can also be of great appeal to collectors or traders, especially those looking to
make their living through working an economy
; not entirely different from people who collect and flip trading cards or other appreciable assets. On the other hand, these types of NFTs are subject to a wide range of criticism - typically associated with high buy-in costs due to their rarity, artificially limited supply, and prey on the fear of missing out - and that's before considering the impact of a game losing interest or shutting down completely, most likely resulting in the item severely depreciating in value. When it comes to developing brand new NFT-driven games, there's greater cause for concern, as many these non-fungible assets are often sold long before the project is released, generating interest and revenue to fund development not totally unlike a Kickstarter campaign, but with no guarantee that the game will ever even be playable, much less enjoyable.
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