There’s been a lot of jibber-jabber about non-fungible tokens, or “NFTs” as the cool kids say lately.

Musician Grimes made $5.8 million selling her digital art as NFTs (“NFT” will also presumably be the name of her next child). Rock band Kings of Leon could use somebody to buy its new album, which is being released as a digital NFT along with digital goodies like ticket experiences. And NBA Top Shot, a business built on blockchain-based highlight reels that launched in 2019, has already generated $230 million in sales of its NFTs.

That’s a lot of cheddar for things that don’t actually exist in the real world. But it’s good for you to know about NFTs as they could upend the way we experience videogames.

But let’s back up. What is a non-fungible token (NFT).

An NFT is basically a unique digital good that is verifiably scarce (or unique) using blockchain. Here’s a brief explainer from Vox:

Artists and creators can upload and certify, or “mint,” any digital asset — 3D animations, video clips, tweets, music — on the Ethereum blockchain. This process codifies the NFT, establishing a verifiable record of price, ownership, and transference, and prevents the file from being digitally forged or replicated. Once it’s uploaded, the NFT will exist permanently on the blockchain, so long as the chain remains in operation. As a result, no two NFTs are purely identical, since each piece contains unique digital properties. Even if an artist publishes two artworks with no clear physical distinctions, the metadata encoded in each NFT is different. NFTs have yet to fully protect intellectual property, however; artists must still register copyrights for their work if they ever need to take legal action against counterfeiters.

The Verge also has an excellent Q&A on the topic.

OK, so what does this have to do with videogames?

Well, think about the extra bits that accompanies the main action of a videogame. Your character’s uniform/skin, for example. Right now, those skins are a way for videogame companies to make extra money by selling you those skins (or keeping you in the game to grind away until you get them). Adding insult to injury, you don’t really own those skins — in most games you can’t sell them (yes, there are aftermarket ways, that’s a bit more complicated).

But what if you actually did own those extra bits in videogames? The skins, the ornamentation, the weapons. Or better yet, what if you could create those extra bling-y bits on your own and sell them to make some extra scratch on the side?

This is already happening in videogames. Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat had a huge story on NFTs in videogames last week, pointing to examples like Gala Games’ Mirandus, an RPG where you can buy limited deeds to virtual land and build on it. There’s also The Sanbox, which lets you buy a virtual parcel of land and create your own content (the first wave of parcels already sold out).

But it’s not just digital land and goods that you can create and sell. As Takahashi writes:

As with the NBA Top Shot app, you can memorialize the moment with an NFT, which proves that you’re the owner of that moment. Rather than looking at it as an investment, people look at collectibles as a kind of emotional memory, one they’ll cherish. I can see this in how I’ve never brought myself to sell pieces of my Amazing Spider-Man and Star Wars comics (as you might in Animoca Brands’ Quidd digital collectibles app). In a game, I could buy an NFT that memorializes my completion of Red Dead Redemption 2, where it captures everything I did in the game and follows my unique path through it. I could show that to people, maybe, sometime in the future and recount it with pride. I would pay for that.

To be fair, the other reason to not sell your comics is that you won’t get much any money for them. (especially Star Wars comics). I’m also not sure that I would bother creating digital memory of a game, let alone pay for one. But maybe that’s just me.

Like any new market, especially one where people are making millions for really doing nothing (and technically selling nothing), there is a boom and bust risk. The whole crypto craze could crash spectacularly like tulips*. Or there could be bad actors. Also, the Gala Games FAQ feels a little iffy, especially the part where it says (emphasis mine):

The distribution is how we award Gala Gamers for their activities which contribute to the Gala Network. Each day, people earn millions of GALA and 1000’s of items through referring friends or operating a Gala Game Node. The Town Star family is growing every day and we look forward to rewarding all of you for your efforts in the future. Each year, BILLIONS is spent yearly on game advertising…and we see no reason some of it shouldn’t go to you. All you need to do is one or all of the following:

  • Buy and then operate a Gala Game Node
  • Convince a friend to buy a Gala Game Node

I’m neither a blockchain or a crypto-investment expert. I am, however, paying attention to NFTs and what they mean for videogames. They are definitely early stages right now, but pretty soon, NFTs could be a BFD for gamers like you.

*Quick sidenote: In the 80s, Molly Ringwald starred in one of those afterschool specials, I think it was Surviving: A Family in Crisis. Anyway, this one was about teen suicide and we had to watch it in class. If I remember correctly, co-star Zach Galligan (he, of Gremlins fame) always called Ringwald “tulip,” and during the emotional climax, Galligan tearfully explained that he called her “tulip” because she had the most beautiful two-lips he had ever seen. Ugh. Serious subject matter aside, that’s just gross and awful writing and has unfortunately never left my brain for three decades now.

That is all. On to the news.

More Headlines

Sony’s controller tech is literally bananas – Sony has filed a patent to turn just about anything into a controller — including a banana. To which I reminisce:

The Extremely Generous Outriders Demo Is Going Down Well – The shooter is getting good early reviews. I downloaded the demo and will be trying it out this weekend, while listening to The Weeknd.

An ambitious open-world D&D adventure game is in the works – Because LARPing in the real world just isn’t the same since the pandemic.

That’s it for this week. Thank you for reading!

Stay cool. Have a great summer. Class of ’90 rulez.

-Chris @ 40 Bit.

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