#107: Off the chain

Notes on the supposed NFT onslaught at GDC 2022.

Hello! With GDC now in the rearview, a few themes have emerged. One, with depressing inevitability, is Covid. My timeline this weekend was brimming with photos of lateral flow tests from attendees nervously waiting to find out if they got bit; there was also much umbrage towards (hitherto unnamed) people who tested positive while at the show but just kept on truckin’. Now I know we’ve all learned to think a little less of our fellow human beings over the past couple of years, but it doesn’t make stuff like this any less depressing, does it. And if this happens at GDC — whose attendees I like to think of as being reasonably well-adjusted — then there’s surely no prospect any time soon of an in-person E3, which is typically attended by, well, you know. Anyway, I hope the Hit Points readers who attended are safe and well. Do get tested if you haven’t already.

Another potentially depressing theme from the show was the apparent abundance of NFTs, and their sundry related buzzwords. But I’m struggling to get too downcast about this, honestly. Yes, it seems like the crypto set made a lot of noise at GDC, but there’s a difference between a lot of people talking and a small group screaming at the top of their lungs. OpenSea, the premier NFT trading marketplace, only passed a million users in January. Its DAU count hovers around 60,000. These are not great numbers for a technology that is supposedly about to take over the game industry. If OpenSea was a mobile game they’d be giving serious consideration to cancelling it.

The week began with much concern at the apparent prevalence of sessions at GDC devoted to this stuff; talks with titles like “NFTs: A Sea Change For F2P Games”, “Blockchain Gaming: How Good Tech Empowers Players And Player Communities” and “Ethical Play-To-Earn Businesses For Decent Human Beings”. That last one’s a bit defensive, isn’t it. Very strange.

I understand that seeing this sort of thing at the world’s premiere game-development conference can be a bit unsettling: a harbinger of our bleak blockchain future, a sign that within five years we will be slave labourers in a live-service Assassin’s Creed, that the game-breaking sorcery in the next FromSoftware game will require 60 ETH instead of 60 INT. But look. Search the GDC schedule for ‘NFTs’ and there are 16 results. There were over 750 sessions across the show last week; barely 2% of them were about blockchain guff. Of those 16 talks, seven were ‘sponsored sessions’, i.e. they were paid for. Another couple were only about NFTs tangentially, with framing that was not especially flattering. So we’re left with seven talks, out of 750 total. Less than one percent. I do not believe the sky is falling in just yet.

There was much more on the show floor, by the sounds of it, though The Videogame History Foundation have already made me feel better about that:

And it’s not particularly surprising that there would be a hefty presence for these folks in the exhibition halls. I have never been to GDC — largely because my former employer liked to book travel for it in the first week of January, when my answer to every question was ‘no, I want to go back to bed’ — but I have been to similar events, and I know that the exhibitor floor of a professional conference is built on two things: hot air and money. Two things that blockchain bods have in abundance. GDC knew from its own research that a clear majority of game developers think NFTs are a load of old toss; if a bunch of over-funded startups still wanted to give them money to try and turn that perception around at the show then sure, why not. I doubt many minds were changed in San Francisco last week, however many millions were spent on the attempt.


  • Sony is to unveil its new subscription service this week, it says here. Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller, in full-on Big Tease mode, reckons there could be much more than that from PlayStation in the next few days. That said, Sony has just registered a new Knack trademark, so let’s all try and keep our expectations in check.
  • I enjoyed this look back at nine years of ID@Xbox, penned by the scheme’s head honcho (and former game journo, but let’s not hold that against him) Chris Charla. There’s plenty of trumpet-blowing, much of it justified — given the extent to which Game Pass dominates the conversation it’s often overlooked how successful ID@Xbox has been, and how important to the Xbox ecosystem it has become — but it’s a reflective piece too. I particularly liked the admission that Xbox still has “a long way to go” in solving the discovery problem, and not just because of all that stuff I wrote the other week.
  • Oh, and further to cloud-themed announcements from Google and Ubisoft last week, Microsoft has unveiled its new indie-focused cloud-development platform, ID@Azure, and a new cloud-native publishing operation helmed by Portal creator Kim Swift.
  • The Gran Turismo 7 farrago rumbles on: the latest development is an apology from Polyphony Digital, a hefty in-game cash payment by way of compensation, and a promise of a thorough rebalancing of it all next month. Obviously the studio is framing this as it wanting to do right by its players, but you suspect that it’s all the missed KPIs that has compelled Polyphony into action. There’s a reason mobile games work this stuff out in soft launch, you know. Really saves a lot of fuss.
  • Speaking loosely of which, Rockstar has announced a dedicated subscription for GTA Online. Named GTA+, it comes with a monthly lump sum and various in-game doodads. A very popular monetisation tactic on the app stores that I’m surprised we don’t see more of on consoles.
  • The European Union has proposed new legislation that would force Apple to allow sideloading and thirdparty app stores on its devices.
  • Mike Frazzini is stepping down as head of Amazon Games Studios “to focus on his family”. Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan is also heading for the exit door, once again to spend more time with his family. Where I come from that line is normally deployed by disgraced politicians who’ve been outed in some kind of sex scandal, but I suppose things are different across the pond.
  • Netflix has made its third game-studio acquisition in six months with the purchase of Boss Fight Entertainment.
  • The Elden Ring speedrun record is now under 19 minutes. I have 100 hours on the clock and still haven’t finished the thing. Maybe this week, with a fair wind.
  • Oh! I almost forgot. There’s a review of Elden Ring in the latest issue of Edge that may be of interest to Hit Points readers, for secret reasons I shall of course take to the grave.
  • Seven arrests have been made in relation to the recent spate of Big Tech security failures, perpetuated by the hacking group Lapsus$. One, a 16-year-old from Oxford, apparently has amassed a fortune of $14m from his endeavours. “We’re going to try to stop him from going on computers,” said the boy’s father. Bit late for that, old stick, but sure.

You’re all caught up! Apologies for the lack of updates last week, when I was distracted by Secret Things That Pay The Bills. Hoping to get back onto the standard schedule this week. See you on Wednesday, then.