How video gamers resist a crypto attack

Blockchain-based play-to-earn games have proved hugely popular in parts of Asia and Latin America

Blockchain-based play-to-earn games have proved hugely popular in parts of Asia and Latin America.

When video game designer Mark Venturelli was asked to speak at Brazil’s largest gaming festival, he submitted a generic-sounding title for his presentation – “The Future of Game Design” – but that was not the speech he delivered.

Instead, he launched a 30-minute diatribe against the blockchain technology underlying cryptocurrencies and the games it spawned, mostly very simple smartphone apps that lure players with the promise of making money.

“Everything that’s being done in this space right now is just bad — actually it’s terrible,” he told AFP.

He is genuinely concerned about the industry he loves, especially since major game studios are also snooping around the technology.

For crypto enthusiasts, blockchain allows players to get back some of the money they spend on games and provide fun with higher stakes.

Critics say the opposite is true: Gamemakers will make more profit while circumventing gambling and trading laws, and the profit motive will destroy all fun.

The battle lines are drawn for what Accenture says could be a long showdown over an industry worth about $300 billion a year.

‘Ecologically degrading’

Gamers like Venturelli may feel like they triumphed in the beginning.

Cryptocurrencies recently crashed and dragged down the in-game tokens that initially attracted players.

Blockchain games became big business with the rise in the value of cryptocurrencies

Blockchain games became big business with the rise in the value of cryptocurrencies.

“Nobody is currently playing blockchain games,” Newzoo’s Mihai Vicol told AFP, saying between 90 and 95 percent of games were affected by the crash.

Ubisoft, one of the world’s largest gaming companies, tried last year to introduce a marketplace for one of its popular games for trading NFTs, the digital tokens that act as receipts for everything from art to video game avatars.

But gamers’ forums, many already littered with anti-crypto sentiments, rose in opposition.

Even the French union IT Solidarity got involved, labeling blockchain as “useless, expensive, environmentally degrading technology” – a reference to the long-held criticism that blockchain networks are hugely hungry for power.

Ubisoft quickly shut down the NFT marketplace in Tom Clancy Ghost Recon Breakpoint.

Last month, Minecraft, a world-building game that is hugely popular with kids and teens, announced that it would not allow blockchain technology.

The company criticized the “speculative pricing and investment mentality” surrounding NFTs, saying their introduction would be “inconsistent with the long-term joy and success of our players”.

The wider industry also has a serious image problem after a spectacular theft earlier this year of nearly $600 million from Axie Infinity, a blockchain game popular in the Philippines.

Analyst firm NonFungible revealed last week that the NFT gaming sector crashed in the second quarter of this year, with sales falling 22 percent.

All of this points to a bleak time for crypto enthusiasts, but blockchain entrepreneurs are not giving up.

Ubisoft was hit by fan reaction over its attempt to leverage NFTs

Ubisoft was hit by a response from fans about its attempt to leverage NFTs.

‘Revolution’ gaming

Sekip Can Gokalp, whose firms Infinite Arcade and Coda are helping developers introduce blockchain into their games, says it’s still “very early”.

He told AFP that some of the standout play-to-earn games were “misguided” and he believed the technology still had the potential to “revolutionize” gaming.

Reports of a culture clash between gamers and crypto fans, he said, were overplayed, and his research suggested there was significant overlap between the two communities.

Gokalp can take heart from recent announcements from gaming giants such as Sega and Roblox, a popular platform mainly used by children, indicating that they are still exploring blockchain.

And Ubisoft, despite abandoning its most high-profile blockchain efforts, still has several crypto-related projects on the way.

One of the many benefits touted by crypto enthusiasts is that the blockchain allows players to move items from one game to another, gives them ownership of those items, and saves their progress across platforms.

However, Vicol believes that blockchain gaming must find other selling points to succeed.

“It could be the future,” he said, “but it will be different from how people see it today”.

Blockchain games have been marketed across Latin America as a way out of poverty

Blockchain games have been marketed throughout Latin America as a way out of poverty.

Brazilian Venturelli, whose games include the award-winning Relic Hunters, used his speech at the BIG Festival in Sao Paulo to dismiss any perks touted by crypto fans as unworkable, undesirable, or already available.

And he told AFP that play-to-earn games in Latin America, a specific target for the industry, caused real harm by luring young people away from professions that bring benefits to society.

He said many people he knows, including venture capitalists and the heads of billion-dollar companies, shared his point of view.

“They came to congratulate me on my speech,” he said.

But with new blockchain games appearing every day, he accepts that the battle is far from over.

Crypto gaming is sold with the promise of convenience and wealth. In practice it is very exploitative

© 2022 AFP

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