#90: Line goes down

Ubisoft's push into NFTs isn't working, and it's all your fault, dummy.

As I mentioned the other day, the discourse around NFTs has turned a bit of a corner of late. The longstanding defence shield deployed by the crypto brognoscenti — the detractors just don’t get it, man — no longer holds water. Critics are not just growing in number or volume, but in knowledge as well. The counterarguments become better informed, more eloquent and confidently expressed with every passing editorial or video essay. Actually, hexagon guy, people have looked into this! They have taken the time to understand the purposefully obtuse lexicon of technobabble that underpins it all. They have considered the possibilities. And now that they understand it, they like it even less.

Evidently this is yet to dawn on Ubisoft, whose Strategic Innovation Lab VP Nicolas Pouard has this week deployed the ignorance argument in an interview with the Australian website Finder (with thanks to VGC for the spot). You’d be entitled to expect Pouard would be winding his neck in a bit given the miserable results of Ubisoft’s early forays into the NFT space, but no: contrition is a web 2.0 thing, apparently. “It was a reaction we were expecting,” Pouard says of the backlash. “We know it’s not an easy concept to grasp.

“I think gamers don’t get what a digital secondary market can bring to them,” he continues (they do, though!). “For now, because of the current situation and context of NFTs, gamers really believe it’s first destroying the planet, and second just a tool for speculation.

“What we [at Ubisoft] are seeing first is the endgame. The endgame is about giving players the opportunity to resell their items once they’re finished with them, or they’re finished playing the game itself. For them, it’s really beneficial. But they don’t get it for now.”

I am so tired of this. So tired of the apparently widely held belief that the only thing holding 99% of players back from being whales in live-service games is our inability to sell our pirate hats and summer dresses, our dot sights and weed-leaf gun charms, when we move on to another game. Never mind that the whole rickety premise is contingent on there being a steady supply of new players at the bottom of the pyramid to buy the things we want to sell when we cash out. Forget that audiences tend to move between games like this en masse, and so our big gun with its near-invisible serial number is extremely unlikely to hold its value as Game X falls from grace.

The get-rich-quick promise of the speculators is the only interesting thing here; remove it and not much is left. Still Ubisoft speaks of its promise. I know how this story ends; I have seen this ‘endgame’ of which Pouard speaks. It is Steam trading cards that are worth so little I let them sit in my inventory forever, rather than list them for sale. It is trading in last year’s FIFA against the new one, and getting £1.50 off the price.

There is a cautionary tale here for any game developer thinking about following Ubisoft’s lead in incorporating NFTs into their game economies. It shows us the perils of established companies moving in on this nascent, yet already profoundly hateful space. Pitching crypto to people who love crypto is easy. Pitching it to people that hate it is not. If Pouard and his contemporaries are truly convinced that NFTs are the future of gaming, they are doing a spectacularly bad job of explaining why.

It is one thing for some hexagon-avatar Twitter guy, or a VC or founder with an obvious vested interest in web3’s success and an audience largely comprised of nodding dogs, to dismiss the myriad arguments against this technology and its implications as ill-informed bluster. It is another entirely for a vice-president at a major corporation to do it, and in the process insult the intelligence of their customers. That seems… sub-optimal, to me, as a comms strategy, particularly coming from a company with what we might charitably call a bit of an image problem. Carry on like this, Nicolas old stick, and we’ll soon find out who’s the stupid one. And maybe don’t chuck the word ‘endgame’ around so much, lest your bosses decide it’s time you entered yours.


  • Speaking of Ubisoft, the publisher has announced the end of service for its swiftly forgotten battle royale Hyper Scape. There’s probably a lesson in here about companies hitching themselves to bandwagons without considering what their audience is looking for, no? Interesting. The closure was announced in a blog post quite brilliantly titled ‘The Future Of Hyper Scape’. Marvellous work all round.
  • It is with profound sadness that I bring news of Sega selling off its entire Japanese arcade business. Arcades were a fixture of my all-too-infrequent travels to Japan, and for me were a key part of its magic. While it is a high-gloss, futuristic and otherworldly place to visit, it is also weirdly frozen in time (You can buy SNES games! You can smoke indoors!). The endurance of a vital slice of gaming culture, that died in the west before the turn of the millennium, reinforced the sense that visiting Japan was more than mere tourism for people that love videogames. It was a pilgrimage.
  • What better way to celebrate Atari’s 50th birthday than with giftable blind-buy commemorative NFTs? Literally any other way, you say? Righto.
  • Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp got its version 5.0 update yesterday, prompting a certain amount of hand-wringing over how Nintendo has devoted more support to a mobile spin-off than the mainline Switch version, updates for which ended last November with the game at a paltry version 2.0. I disagree that this is a bad thing, and will leave my argument there.
  • The Epic Games Store grew its ranks by 34m users last year. The weekly freebies that are so key to that growth will, predictably, continue through 2022.
  • To end the week on a positive note, here’s this lovely Joe Danger thing. Hello Games’ debut had been rendered unplayable by iOS updates; the studio has now retooled the game to run on current OS versions, after the father of a boy with autism who loved the game emailed the studio to plead for its return. Perhaps there’s hope for humanity yet, eh.

There you go. Friday at last! If you’ve enjoyed this, do please give it a share. The numbers have trended nicely upwards since my return, but much remains to be done. A note for those waiting patiently for the next installment of the subscriber-exclusive series Max HP: after many, many scheduling headaches I finally got the next interview in the can yesterday morning. I will do my very best to get it done next week, and out to subscribers the following Saturday. Apologies for the delay, but life does keep getting the way of things, doesn’t it. Have an excellent weekend, and I’ll see you on the other side.