look what you made me do: a lot of people have asked me to make NFT games and I won’t because i’m not a fucking dumbass. now let me tell you why only a dumbass would get into NFT games.

Right, so, you’ve probably read a bunch of great stuff from other people on why NFTs are bad, but I also know how reading things on the internet works, maybe you haven’t. So, here’s the really simple version…

(but first: hey ya’ll, I’m sick! like really sick! I just had a dental surgery the other day, on top of my existing health issues, and I’m trying to keep the pain at bay but it isn’t working. i felt bad not getting an essay out, so here you go. here’s an essay. i got it out. it will be imperfect, but hopefully still useful and well-reasoned. if you like my writing, i will do more if you give me money. you can do so at paypal.me/stompsite or venmo (at)forgetamnesia. i have a ton of medical expenses, like $700 in insurance to pay, so… yeah, it’d be nice to get some help with that. i post all these articles for free in the hope that people find them useful enough to offer me money to keep doing that. i rely on the support of readers like you. thank you to everyone who has helped in the past)

(additionally, I am writing this piece from a largely capitalist perspective, because I am writing this piece for the kind of person who has explicitly told me to make NFT games; I must speak their language. know your audience and all that.)

THE REALLY SIMPLE VERSION

Long time ago, people came up with an idea for something that already exists: a ledger. Like, I buy from you? It’s recorded. You buy from me? It’s recorded. What happens if the computer burns down? Well, like bittorrent, it’s a peer to peer technology, which means that it’ requires help from every participant’s computer (full disclosure: this is the Explain Like I’m Five version; I am simplifying this). Nothing can happen just because one person says so, because the idea behind cryptocurrency is that it’s about trust, or rather, the lack thereof. It doesn’t have the wikipedia problem of “anyone can edit this.” They call this idea “the blockchain” and they wanted to put a currency on it that’s basically banking-free (because libertarians invented this as a way to get out of being taxed). But still, trust has to come from somewhere.

It’s basically a really inefficient way to solve problems the rest of us already solved with currently existing technologies, but because it’s new, a bunch of people in Silicon Valley rushed to tell everyone how great it was — trying to come up with problems blockchain could fix, rather than solving a problem that exists with the blockchain. A big part of the reason they felt it was great was because it would create a currency that wasn’t backed by the government. Generally, these things don’t work out too well (remember Pullman, Illinois? No? Well, it was a city where a guy paid people not in real money, but in fake money he’d created, so they had to buy stuff in his shops and they couldn’t leave their jobs and had to keep working for him. Bad situation. It got shut down.).

Right, so, fast forward a bit.

Some guy gets mad something gets nerfed in World of Warcraft and creates a new fake currency, this one called “ethereum,” and more recently, some people decide to try to prop up its value by creating… artificial scarcity. More on that later.

Anyways, they come up with this idea for selling digital art: every work of art has a ‘non-fungible token,’ or NFT. This token is the only one of its kind in the world, and it points to your entry of ownership on the ledger, the blockchain, that you are buying this NFT with. An artist I used to follow named Beeple makes a ton of money, so it seems, and a lot of people start to get excited about this idea.

All an NFT does is point you to an entry on a ledger saying “you own this.” The concept is unenforcable and imaginary. It’s not like The Mona Lisa, where if I were to somehow buy it and put it on display in my house, I would be the only one who has it. The Mona Lisa is physical — that’s where scarcity comes from.

I just right clicked and copied this image from wikipedia. Then I pasted it onto this blog. This does not mean I own the Mona Lisa — the real painting is elsewhere on the internet. The painting is not actually in my possession.

This is kind of the nature of digital art — we could get into a whole big thing about Walter Benjamin and his idea of ‘cult value,’ which is the awe we feel when standing in an art museum or in a government monument in front of a big statue (and it accounts for why so many people in, say, the ancient Greek world felt awe when looking at idols and assumed idols possessed some kind of power channeled directly from the Olympian gods).

NFTs are a way to pretend that there’s scarcity to an infinitely reproduceable image, to declare “it has cult value” even though we all know being in the presence of an artwork is very different than viewing it on a screen. Paint has texture, the painting takes up space. It has none of this on a screen. Walter Benjamin was worried that films, which could be shown on any movie screen in the world, would not have scarcity which he assumed gave art its value. He was, of course, wrong.

Sorry, sorry, I’m getting lost in the weeds.

The point is, all an NFT is is this: a link, a url, on the internet, that points you to your spot on a ledger and the copy of the image that resides there and says “yeah this is the owner.” You can sell the link to someone else.

That’s all it is. It’s a convoluted, imaginary way to give property rights to a jpg that anybody can save to their computer and do whatever they want with.

But — and this is a bit more sinister — because it’s not using real, traceable cash, the goal is to obfuscate who the owner is. Remember the CSGO gambling scandal, where a bunch of youtubers pretended to win big on CSGO skin trading websites, encouraging children to pay real money to gamble on various weapon cosmetics? Yeahhhh… about that. Those guys all had stake in the websites in question; they manipulated the back end to make it look like anyone could get lucky without disclosing they profited off the websites they were running. The goal was to trick stupid people into going “oh I can make money here” and then finding out that well, no, no you cannot. NFTs are literally the exact same thing.

That’s happening in the NFT space now. Kinda weird how the first ‘big’ NFT buyer is super anonymous, huh?

Well… that kinda thing’s been happening a lot. A lot of the ‘big’ NFT sales going down involve people selling things to themselves, attempting to drive up demand. Like, hey, last week, a guy sold an NFT for the ethereum equivalent of $528 million USD. Only… he sold it to himself. To drive the price up. To convince people his stupid jpg of a lion was worth a lot of money.

Much like real world art sales is often about money laundering, NFTs are money laundering for people who don’t know how to do it. The guy isn’t supposed to let people know he sold it to himself — he was supposed to create a different account and act as if a different buyer wanted to spend $528 million on his stupid little jpg that anyone can just save to their computer.

The goal is to trick you, me, and everyone else into thinking there is demand when it’s really a small group of people artificially driving up prices so they can all profit. This is, by the way, somewhat illegal. Super illegal.

Only, hey, we’re not stupid. We know these shitty, aesthetically displeasing pieces of ‘art’ are basically just made on picrew. While yes, there are real artists doing this, it’s largely because they hear “some guy made money doing it” and they like money so they’re chasing it.

I’ve been seeing stories of social media users getting hijacked and their accounts used to sell NFTs — something you wouldn’t do if you were confident your platform was legitimate. I’ve seen so many heartbreaking stories of artists (and game developers) having their art stolen by NFT sites — again, something you wouldn’t need to do if you actually had a lot of money and could pay artists, which should tell you how fake all of this is — acting as if they have the legal authority to receive money in exchange for work they saved off the internet.

When you’re taking art from somebody else instead of paying for custom art you created, it’s pretty obvious you’re building the equivalent of a Western movie set — there’s no actual art there, you’re just trying to trick people into buying stuff from you that you don’t own.

It’s the fucking Brooklyn Bridge Scam.

What’s Scarcity?

You know why the internet is cool? Because it’s kind of a post-scarcity society, like Star Trek. Ever wanted something that was sold out in stores, like a book or a movie? Hey, that’s not a problem on the internet (except in the case of Digital Rights Management software, or DRM, which attempts to add scarcity to certain games, like Fable 3, which you can’t buy because they ran out of keys to redeem it). The internet doesn’t need shelf space, doesn’t have to move inventory, etc etc. There’s a lot of really big advantages that come with stuff on the internet being just data.

Look at how the shipping shortage we’re experiencing right now has really made it hard to find certain items in stores! Yeah, that’s not nearly as much of a problem on the internet; obviously you can’t send a literal microprocessor over the internet, but you can, say, purchase a digitally downloadable game and access it whenever you want, as opposed to buying a cartridge that costs a lot more money per gigabyte to make (if you’re wondering why the Nintendo Switch has so many games that are download only, it’s because cartridges cost a lot) and you won’t have to worry about wear and tear (like the big pokemon problem that started last summer).

Look, we’re playing this fast and loose, but tl;dr: when it can be data instead of hard copies, that’s often a very good thing. You’re not having to hunt down an out of print copy of a game or movie or whatever, finding that the cartridge or disc, which is deteriorating, now costs hundreds of dollars because it’s out of print because the publisher has decided to stop manufacturing it as the cost doesn’t match up with the profits. Online, I can sell as many of my games as I make until they enter the public domain and the cost for me is a lot better.

So Without Further Ado… here’s some of the arguments NFT proponents have made to me as to why I should include NFTs in my games.

Multiplayer Betting

In theory, this idea actually makes sense, which a lot of future examples won’t, since gambling transactions do use a ledger. Is there any real reason to make a ledger that isn’t trusted by a central authority and requires the consensus of all parties involved to track? Especially when people might welch on their bets, there might be bugs, you can’t enforce it, blah blah blah. Even illegal betting has armbreakers willing to come over to your house and snap your arm if you don’t pay your bookie, you know? Money requires enforcement, and the blockchain is unenforceable.

But while the idea of crypto is that it’s supposed to replace real money, any reasonably intelligent person knows that governments have powers to enforce and private parties do not. People who are really big into crypto are either stupid fuckers that really believe in this libertarian goal of somehow devaluing government money (as if the government’s going to let that happen, lmao. they have an army and you don’t), or they’re slightly less stupid fuckers who are still stupid and believe that trading cryptocurrencies like ethereum is a loophole out of government oversight, and they can simply do the trades in crypto and then sell the crypto for real cash… which you can’t do anymore, because crypto is now classified as a security.

Basically, right now, the government now taxes all crypto — so the libertarians are shit outta luck. The SEC can now step in and go “woah, hey there, I see you’re selling this to yourself to drive up the cost, and you can go to jail for that.” Now that it’s a security, all this stuff has the same value as casino chips, only there’s no central casino to handle it, just a blockchain, so enforcement gets… well… just less efficient than doing all this stuff the way other people were.

Remember when I said silicon valley’s whole thing was basically coming up with problems that their technology could solve, instead of innovating to create solutions to solve existing problems? Yeah. They make the world more complicated so they can cram their technology between you and the thing you want to do so they can pull money out of it. Like, there was a guy who couldn’t get a reservation at a restaurant so he had the bright idea to simply reserve the restaurant’s seats in advance, and then just sell them off to the highest bidder. Imagine a guy who walks up and sits in front of a successful shop you own and starts charging a toll to limit how much business you get. He’s making money off you, just being a middleman, complicating the act of “walking into a store.” If he’s doing it in person, you can simply chase him off as a trespasser. Bit harder to do when it’s online and you don’t even know it’s happening.

So using the blockchain to do what you can do with existing betting technologies is kind of fucking stupid.

But there’s another thing: I do not like gambling. I’ve watched it prey upon people, I myself appear susceptible to it (in video games I play) so I don’t do it in real life with real money… and honestly, more importantly? That’s not why I make games.

If you make a game as a vehicle for making a profit off people who win and lose at gambling, you’re basically just taxing people for fun. It’s less about making a good game and more about making a game that’s compromised to ensure you profit (no one is going to create a service they have to spend money running if there’s no incentive to do it — ever seen a nonprofit casino?).

A casino is a means of greasing someone’s desire to part with their money for temporary value and the hopes of winning it big. It preys on people. It’s not something I feel comfortable supporting ethically.

It’s Going To Happen Anyways/It’s The Future

On Saturday it became taxable lmao. Now it’s just a more complicated (read: expensive) way to do something that we can do better with existing technology. The only real draw was that the government wasn’t paying attention to it. Now it is and they want their cut and you can’t pretend it’s worth more than it is anymore.

I saw the writing on the wall ages ago, and once Elon dropped it, you know something’s up. Look, I don’t want to say you should listen to supposedly successful people for advice — remember that one guy who tweeted that it would be better to get dinner with Jay-Z instead of taking a million dollars or whatever because Jay-Z would give you the secrets to financial success? Remember what Jay-Z’s company (he doesn’t tweet on his own account much) said? Take the money. ’cause why the hell would Jay-Z feel any responsibility to give you financial success secrets? Other people repackage vapid aphorisms they heard at ‘get rich quick’ events in a shitty hotel conference room with a picture of more successful rich people — like, say, twitter accounts that pretend to tell you Warren Buffet said that when he really didn’t.

Generally, rich people don’t want to tell you how they got rich, and the ones who do almost always start out with “have a senator for a dad,” or “be an extremely successful musician who then relies on financial advisors in how to invest his wealth.”

But! You can trust rich people to do one thing: protect themselves. Like, Facebook profited heavily off of anti-vax rhetoric, but they themselves don’t believe it, which is why there were news stories about Facebook pushing heavily for people to continue working from home. What Facebook might be appearing to support is anti-vax rhetoric, but when it comes down to it, they’re pragmatic and they care solely about profit — so if they think work from home and the pandemic is going to continue, you can probably assume they’re right about that.

So, if you were smart, you figured the government was gonna take an interest the second you heard of it, and you knew the writing was on the wall against crypto within weeks of it coming out, because people who were excited for it were suddenly very quiet.

Technologically, crypto was never superior to money. Its sole advantage was that it presumably couldn’t be taxed. Now that it can, it requires way too much tech to do what our existing tech does better. It’s not the future. When someone’s work is stolen, there are no police to recover the item, no financial investigators at their beck and call. There is no recourse. If you’re smart with your money, you’d never get into NFTs because the profit is reliant entirely on something super volatile, and the smart (but evil) people who do investment get into shit like “water,” or very stable stuff. Look at any rich investor; they don’t do volatile.

Now, for games… are you starting to see the problem?

The government will tax you, the game developer, if you’re the mediator of those transactions, but now you’re also the enforcer for those transactions. If someone scams someone else out of an NFT in your game, the sucker is going to come to you and demand you arbitrate. We already saw this with Blizzard’s real money auction house.

Basically, more costs fall on you to enforce… what… gambling? Do you know how many fucking rules there are for running gambling? It’s way too fucking many. That’s why so many people gamble illegally (and employ legbreakers to make a fuckin profit).

“No,” they say, “there are other things to do than gambling…”

Oh no.

Do You Know How Expensive Making Assets Is?!

So, a long time ago, Ubisoft had a cool idea, which was to take the achievement system from the Xbox and apply it to a unique, Ubisoft-wide system. The current iteration is called Ubisoft Connect, but it’s gone by other names in the past, like Uplay.

Originally, you’d do specific, in-game activities and earn a set number of points that would correlate with a set number of rewards. Finish the game, get 40 points, notice a legendary item is worth 40 points, use those 40 points to buy the game.

Now, it’s kind of a nicer system (though points expire; they didn’t used to, and that sucks): earn achievements in the game or complete weekly activities and you’ll keep leveling up. Every time you level, you get uplay points to spend on rewards.

This means that you have more ways to level than just the game’s achievements — it’s no longer finite — and Ubisoft can keep you engaged longer ’cause there’s more stuff to do. It’s essentially a win-win for both.

At its core, it’s just a loyalty rewards system. Stores use things like these to send you additional promotions, Best Buy gives you points that you can convert into gift cards, and on and on it goes. In Ubisoft’s case, it’s game content, but that content isn’t often that special. You might get a charm to dangle off your gun, or you might get a desktop wallpaper. In some cases, you can literally get a car or a new mission to do.

So, consider what you can do with this: imagine you make a game that’s pretty big, something people want every single item in the game for, like, say, Apex Legends. If you’re EA, and you own the platform Origin, you could say “hey, we can detect what games you own on Origin. If you own Apex Legends, and you really want everything, well, people who buy the upcoming game Battlefield 2042 will get a cosmetic in Battlefield.”

We’ve seen this before; often, Blizzard does this for its collectors editions of various games. Preorder Warcraft 3, get a pet in World of Warcraft, that kind of thing.

They cost money, but the profit comes from people who maybe weren’t going to get Warcraft 3 suddenly feeling like “yeah, but you know, I want every pet in World of Warcraft, so I’m gonna get this.” And then, hopefully, they find it fun.

It is, I think, a fairly decent way of making people feel like they got something worthwhile while encouraging them to try other games in the publisher’s portfolio.

In thinking on this, I had a brainwave.

What if I, as an indie developer, did something similar on Steam for other indies? We’d seen something like this with Payday 2 and Hotline Miami 2; somehow, they were able to detect that you owned Hotline Miami 2 and give you stuff for owning it. It was a cool way for players of Payday 2 to get content and a neat way to raise awareness for Hotline Miami 2.

So imagine, like, finding indie games that are cool and deserve more discoverability — like the wonderful Mundaun — and working out a nice little cosmetic deal with Hidden Fields, the developers, where I could, say, put something for owners of Mundaun in my next game. Obviously the game needs to be the kind of game that can support this — for a game like Adios, it wouldn’t make sense, but for my next game, it absolutely would.

Thing is, these all cost money to make. Digital content may not be scarce, but the first time you create anything, it costs something. Time, money, whatever. If I make a mission, cool, what do I need? Well, if the mission doesn’t have any custom assets and it’s all done with existing in-game ones, and I’m an AAA studio, I’m still likely going to have a writer (to write the dialogue), I have to pay the voice actors (to speak it), I’ve got level designers, playtesters, programmers, environment artists, and maybe even animators spending their precious development cycles working on this mission. And this mission isn’t something I get money for — it’s a value add, hopefully, to the service, a way to get players to stick around and spend money on the actual things I’m selling, the way Costco and Sam’s Club get you in the door with free samples, but it could cost me like $50,000–500,000 to make.

So is this something that I, as an indie dev, can afford to do? I’m not really sure. If I’m paying a contract writer a reasonable game writer rate, like $300/day ~alone~ for a couple weeks, that’s suddenly three hundred and fifty full price copies of the game I need to sell (if it’s priced as low as Adios’ $17.99) just to pay that writer, not to mention all the copies I need to pay existing staff, people who implement that writing with art and programming and sound, stuff like that.

What’s the advantage for me to do this? Not really sure. I’m an indie dev and I want to support other indie devs. Sure, there’s always a way to drive sales of my game by requiring anyone I partner with to include stuff from my game in theirs, but that requires that we all have games that are compatible with this kind of game design and that we can afford to take a risk on what’s effectively a means of marketing your game to customers.

It might boost sales of — in this hypothetical — Mundaun, but that doesn’t mean it might be boosting sales of my next game, you know?

So basically, you have to make a ton of decisions based on how expensive everything is to make — because you are making everything from scratch when you make a video game.

When you’re designing a game, as a commercial enterprise, you have to think about how well you’re paying your team, whether you can afford to make content, and so on and so forth. It’s really, really important to understand this because it’s gonna help you understand why the next suggestion I’ve received is a real fuckin problem.

“What If You Were The Only One To Own A Thing…”

So, I’ve heard this from a few NFT types, but I also saw it in Bloomberg, and that’s the example I’m going to use now: “what if you had a game like mario kart but only you owned mario?” Well, imagine how fuckin awful you’d feel if you bought Mario Kart so you could drive Mario and you found out some other guy got Mario before you. Of the 39,000,000 human beings who own Mario Kart, only one guy gets Mario. Sure, he’d feel special, and everyone else would feel like shit.

I actually talked about why this was a bad idea when writing about Destiny, mentioning how Luke Smith’s apparent interest in being one of the only Scarab Lords in Destiny was driving people away from Destiny (because for one person to feel special, a lot of people must NOT feel special). Also I kinda accidentally started a meme on reddit by referencing this lol oops.

Remember how fuckin expensive it is to make shit?

Well, okay, here’s a few questions to ponder:

  1. how do you anticipate the number of unique characters you’ll need to add to your game prior to its launch?
  2. are you placing a cap on your game’s growth by requiring yourself have at least one unique character per player (if the fantasy of your game is “this character is MINE and no one else has it…” how do you this without guaranteeing every player at least one unique character?)
  3. if every single character in the game is unique, and you’re Mario Kart 8, that means you have to come up with 39,000,000 unique characters. Can you actually make a character iconic when they’re one of 39,000,000? Mario’s iconic nature comes from the fact that anyone can play him. If only one player ever could, what’s the likelihood that Mario would ever become famous or iconic — and thus desirable?
  4. how do you balance 39,000,000 unique characters? where would you even start?
  5. if you decide “i’m not going to balance them, the stats are random,” how do you determine how a character rolls? Could players simply create a character over and over again, trying to roll a good one (like people do for good nature shinies in a pokemon game? it’s not fun!)
  6. if you’re not balancing them, has your game become pay to win? Name any game where “pay to win” actually helped the game succeed and players considered it a good thing. I don’t think you can.
  7. how much does it cost to create 39,000,000 cosmetically unique characters?
  8. do you really think players will be satisfied with just one character per game?
  9. part of the reason beanie babies were collectible (that fad died FAST, by the way — just like NFTs will lmao) was because people could collect them all. If you create limited runs of characters, like, say, 100 ultra-rare Olympics 2024 Princess Peaches and 10,000 September 11th Commemorative Never Forget Toads, then you’re creating artificial scarcity that’s more tolerable than “there’s only one” but you’re still gonna have a lot of people disappointed they couldn’t get one.
  10. Why would you want to create negative sentiment around your game?

“It makes me feel good to have a thing because no one else can have it” is, I’d argue, not something many people feel. I do not want to create a game based around haves and have nots — if I am making a game where a core mechanic is about making people feel bad that they don’t have something and can never get it, I think that makes me a bad person and a worse game designer. My job, as a designer, is to create aspiration and desire, to make you excited to engage with my game. If I build my game around an economic model that relies on making thousands of you feel bad so one of you can feel good, I have failed you as a game designer.

The game isn’t worth playing.

This is why fads over limited edition things always fall apart at some point — they’re fundamentally designed to appeal to a small subset of people and rely heavily on a lot of people thinking they are those people until they finally figure out they’re not and lose interest.

They’re get rich quick schemes.

But in this case, they’re also next to impossible to actually manufacture. The volume just cannot be there. You have to cap your growth if you want to create enough scarcity for it to matter.

Very few people are making money in NFTs. Most of the people putting money in are losing it, and the most reliable way to make money is to take as much money as you can and run before people figure out you’re a fraud. That’s not a way to create a sustainable business model.

There are no actual $528,000,000 NFTs, there’s a guy stupidly forgetting to change accounts when he buys an NFT from himself way above his asking price, hoping against hope you didn’t notice that Jake Paul paid like $700,000 for an NFT and is selling it for like $100 now because nobody actually wanted it.

So!

  1. desire is low
  2. which means the money isn’t there
  3. and you need money to build assets
  4. but you need scarcity in order to create desire
  5. but for there to be scarcity you can’t create 39,000,000 unique models with something like 20 different sound effects each and custom animations and all that shit
  6. so you can’t actually have 39,000,000 people spending $60 each to buy Mario Kart
  7. and you’re gonna turn people away because they want Mario — an existing character who has cultural cache. Nobody knows who these NFT characters are and very few people want them. Some guy doing a twitter thread claiming someone offered him $900,000 for his NFT? Yeah, pretty sure he was offering it to himself to create demand.
  8. a pyramid scheme — which is what NFTs are, as they’re reliant on you converting a ton of people into customers who then convert other people into customers — requires tons of people to function, but a pyramid scheme based on scarcity cannot ever get tons of people involved because scarcity means you can’t build an audience.

Okay, so some of you may go “ah, I see a hole in this argument. On one hand, you’re saying you can’t manufacture enough content to sell 39,000,000 copies because it’s too expensive to make, but on the other hand, you’re saying that for scarcity to be effective, you wouldn’t want to make 39,000,000 unique characters to begin with! Checkmate!”

Well, here’s the thing:

The reason none of the Mario Kart clones that exist sell as well as Mario Kart with their knockoff characters is because Mario is a bigger brand. No one wants to buy Mario Kart to find that they can’t get Mario, and no one is going to buy a kart racing game they’ve never heard of where the pitch is that only one of you can ever have Mario and that’s a 1 in 39,000,000 chance that it’s going to be you.

These ideas are at odds with each other. To make a ton of money in NFTs, there has to be a ton of consumers, but to give NFTs value, and NFT has to be scarce. You cannot make a game where there are only 200 unique characters and also 39,000,000 unique customers. This hypothetical Mario Kart With NFTs could literally never exist. It’s at odds with itself.

“Okay well… what if we used NFTs for something else?”

Like what?

“Loot Should Be Your Property”

Some people have suggested all loot should be unique. A friend helped me do the math once for a gun in Destiny and I think we determined that that specific gun could have 900 unique rolls, most of which were absolutely garbage or at least not that distinguishable from each other (like a 1% difference in range vs reload).

Now, look, I like random rolls because they’re surprising (meaning I don’t just see a “Better Devils” in Destiny and sigh because it’s my fifth one of the day and they’re all the same, so why keep it?), and because getting a specific roll that day means it’s mine, so… well, right off the bat, hey, I already get what an NFT does without any kind of real money getting involved. I play the game, I get a gun, I remember when that gun rolled.

In G1, the online co-op shooter I was working on back in 2015–2017, the game in my twitter header as of November 2021, and the game I will go make one day, we had all sorts of crazy ideas for loot, and all of them are things I could do with the blockchain, but it… costs us, the devs, a lot more money to do it that way. It’s just bad business. We can do it better running our own central server.

But some people argue that the blockchain should show that you own specific pieces of loot, which you could then buy and sell.

The question I have is… well, why? I’m gonna break most of that loot down to turn into parts to make my existing weapons better. Why would I want to be like “yeah here’s a trash roll Better Devils in Destiny,” who’s gonna actually buy that? How is the shop not just going to fill up with shit nobody actually wants? Are you saying I’d have to design a storefront that lets people buy and sell video game items and then figure out a way to make sure that people aren’t just flooding it with garbage?

So there’s problem #1.

Here’s problem #2: you motherfuckers ever heard of telesto?

Telesto is a gun in Destiny 2 that keeps fucking breaking. I don’t know why; it never broke in Destiny 1 that I recall, but it keeps breaking in hilarious and insane ways that requires Bungie to literally disable the gun until a fix is found. This has happened like five times.

EDIT: HOLY SHIT IT WAS 26 TIMES

Tell me something, do you want to spend real money on something so the developer might prevent you from having access to? Players already fucking hate Bungie — literally, some of my friends are people I met through playing Bungie games and now they will never buy anything from Bungie again — for denying them access to places and stories they spend upwards of $200 for. Do you want to just… build this fucking bullshit into every game now? You want to make games worse than Bungie’s already fucking boneheaded decision to vault content?

Here’s problem #3: should someone else have the right to impact your property? Like, Teleso breaks the game. It has to be nerfed or people who don’t have it (and in an NFT ecosystem, nobody would have it) will get fucked over. Should someone else be able to reach in and change your property?

The purpose of balance is to ensure everyone is having a fair and fun time. If, in our hypothetical Mario Kart 8 NFT edition situation, your Bowser guarantees that you win every race you’re ever in, you might stop having fun (because the outcome is predictable, like in that one Twilight Zone episode where the guy wins every game so he thinks he’s in heaven until he has no fun because the outcome is known and is then told he’s in “the other place”) and none of the people who race against you have fun (because they have no hope of winning). The game becomes unfun.

Balance isn’t an end state you should chase — too many bad designers I know turn everything into a predictable mush because of their pursuit of some kind of impossible, nonexistent platonic idea of balance (plato famously believed that somehow there was a ‘perfect chair’ in the aether somewhere and all chairs were somehow people just… pulling from that — it’s a stupid idea, and yet tons of game designers seem to think there is a platonic ideal game design they can reach. they are all bad game designers! balance is a case by case tool you employ to ensure that the game results never become predictably boring. it’s a tool. it is not the goal, any more than you do not design a house to be made with and only with the perfect hammer. the house is meant to be lived in, not made!) — but it is something you must use sometimes to make your game playable.

Imagine if you owned a house and some guy came over and was like “your house fucks up the neighborhood visuals. We need you to paint it beige so it fits with our neighborhood’s aesthetic.” You’d probably hate it, right? Well, if someone else has to tune the NFT you own, that’s what that shit’s gonna start feeling like. Do you want that? It’s not a problem in a game where the gun isn’t property, but it becomes a problem when it does.

How many games are gonna die once someone takes the devs to court for nerfing their property? Nobody’s gonna wanna deal with that horse shit.

Here’s problem #4: why the fuck do you think I’d waste my money to maintain your property?

I read a dumb fucker on twitter a few weeks ago that no one could ever nerf or change your items because it’s your property, but I also read a few people (including maybe the same dude, can’t remember) arguing that you could keep that gun forever and bring it forward into sequels.

Woah, hold the fuck up.

Imagine, as the NFT folks would have you imagine, that you can buy a game, get a gun in it, and twenty-two years later, that property is still yours, verified by the blockchain (as opposed to just loading up Medal of Honor on your Playstation 1 and having the gun in your inventory). And, they say, if you get that gun, you can keep it forever. It’s yours to own. And you can even bring it into other games, they say!

How, exactly? Who is going to lay the groundwork to actually… do that?

First, we have to design a game with a system that supports NFTs. What if we want to design a game where you can pick up weapons off the field and use them? We can’t do that in a loot-based game; that’s why you can’t pick up Hive weapons in Destiny. NFTs would complicate this problem; now we have to add a new weapon to the blockchain whenever a new gun exists, and we have to structure the game’s design to make this work. It instantly cuts off a billion different types of games with loot.

Dark Souls? Not possible with NFTs. Its loot system would change. Can’t do all sorts of weird shit to get a specific weapon if all the loot HAS to be randomized and also not like any other weapon on the blockchain. Resident Evil 8? A game about very finely tuned weapons that are laid out in a specific progression pattern that makes playing through the game and uncovering weapons delightful? Yeah, that won’t happen either. You drastically limit the kinds of games you can make with an NFT system.

One person, who I actually really like as a person and a creative in other fields, recently floated the idea of NFTs to me, and kept trying to get me to design multiplayer games. Like… dude, who are you talking to? Come on. I felt kind of insulted, because it’s like… I feel like if you respect me as a creative person, as a peer, then you understand that I’m good at some things and not good at others. I don’t have interest in multiplayer games. I make singleplayer games. My entire focus is on making believable worlds for people to get into, to exist in. My dream games would be ways for you to like, go back in time and talk to Abraham Lincoln and Nefertari Meramut, or travel to worlds that are physically impossible just to take it all in. I do not care about and have rarely enjoyed playing competitive multiplayer games. You might as well ask me to design sidescrolling platformers. I have 0 interest, if not downright antipathy.

You saying “this is the future, every game is going to have this” is you telling me the future is going to be dramatically restricted because every game has to be designed around a model that requires you to spend lots of money in them instead of just… buying the game and some expansions. I don’t care about a future of competitive multiplayer and microtransactions. I’m the guy who buys Cyberpunk, The Witcher, Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m not the guy who plays League. I’m not the sucker who’s going to buy microtransactions in that bad Avengers game. And I never want to be that guy.

So I sure as hell am not going to design League or Avengers. That’s not where my ideas are or where they are going.

But let’s say somehow, miraculously, I actually accepted this and all my games are gonna have the same kind of game design. Cool, now I’ve made this game, it’s run its course, the fanbase is deteriorating. Maybe I’ve decided that I can’t afford to keep it running.

Well, uh, now it’s fucking dead? I guess?

I have no incentive to keep the game running. I’m going to shut the servers down. The blockchain guys have argued that the servers won’t be shut down, actually… because it’s peer to peer and somehow that means the matchmaking server is the same as the loot server?

Like I am just sitting here trying to come up with a system where… somehow all the players can keep the game going if I decide I can’t afford to keep this running. Am I obligated to keep this game alive? What is this doing to my company’s bank account?

Well, the crypto guys don’t have a solution for this, but they do somehow think you could take this between games.

How?

Like, seriously, fucking how?

medal of honor featuring a browning automatic rifle

Games, it must be noted, are technology. This Browning Automatic Rifle — the BAR — from the first (I think that’s where this screenshot is from) Medal of Honor, a game from 1999, looks like shit compared to a modern Browning Automatic Rifle from the just-released Call of Duty: Vanguard.

a browning automatic rifle from call of duty vanguard. it looks newer.

It’s not just polycount that’s changed, it’s animations, textures, materials, everything. Someone actually had to make that. It took the whole team, weeks, if not months, and then, when they were done, they had to tune, bugtest, and balance the gun.

That’s literally tens of thousands of dollars of work to make one gun. We talked about this before, and again, that’s an issue: it would be impossible to make a unique BAR model for every one of the millions of players of Call of Duty (or we make people feel bad by only giving one guy the BAR)…

Who should bear the cost of this?

Well, it’s not gonna be me, because why would I do this — why would I spend literally billions of dollars so you can always keep your loot in future games with absolutely no compensation other than the first time you spend $60 on the first game decades ago?

So are you going to spend literally $50,000 to get your gun moved from one game to the other? If you are, I want you to at least consider how sustainable this business model is — because there are not Call of Duty player numbers with the kind of money to spend updating a gun for a new game.

If it’s your property, then the onus is on you to put it in my future game, and what if I don’t want that? What if I don’t care about that? What if you got it in Medal of Honor and now I’m making a modern military Medal of Honor game — a game where the Browning Automatic Rifle makes no sense.

It’s an idea as stupid as expecting the dealership that sold you a 20 year old used car with no warranty to keep maintaining it. Digital items might not have wear and tear, but technology advances. A gun from 1999 is not visually acceptable in 2021, and its value is only going to deteriorate (the goal of something like NFTs is to assume that the thing will appreciate value over time due to scarcity — this doesn’t work when game tech advances over time).

Someone has to bear the cost of advancing technology, and why would I obligate myself to adhere to one specific design (and creatively come up with reasons to put your wwii era weapon in all my games) so that I can consistently keep maintaining your gun’s value.

What’s the advantage for me? What do I get out of this? I have to assume that the costs of maintaining your property over decades is offset by the amount of transactions that are being made that I’m extracting value from. I have to assume that the cost of paying accountants to make sure all your tax information is good. I have to assume that the cost of maintaining a bunch of people to protect my user database is offset by the profit I make.

In essence, I have to assume more humans than exist in the world will support my product, and I have to feed an endless, increasingly growing need, spending tens of thousands of dollars to keep games in a limited window of possibility space just so your property has enough value that you give me enough to make it worth my while.

It’s never gonna fucking happen.

The people who say “crypto is the future” are either suckers who are repeating someone else or libertarians who want to believe, somehow, that they can actually beat the government and its entire military and all the banks. You really think you can destabilize a government with monopoly funny money? You think they will let you?

If there’s one thing you should know about human nature, it’s this: most people want comfort. The government provides a level of stability and comfort that is considered preferable to not having that, no matter how shitty that government is. American libertarians who want crypto to overthrow that have to consider that there are about 330 million people in the country and something like 99.87% of them think the government, as shitty as it is, is still better and more reliable than you.

And when they watch a guy claim his crypto wallet was compromised and people ‘stole’ his jpgs and he’s reporting them to the police and the FBI — you do understand that those organizations have to spend money (real money, not cryptocurrency) to solve crimes, right? That’s why they don’t come over to arrest you for having a tabletop game with a chaotic evil character who steals from a lawful good. That’s a waste of money; that shit’s imaginary. Meanwhile, the incentive to catch a bunch of bank robbers shooting up a bank the government insures is much higher.

If crypto’s strength is that there are no banks, no central authority, then you can’t also want a central authority to intervene when someone breaks the rules. You can only have one or the other. You cannot have the government, who you destabilized with monopoly money, intervene (with what budget? you ruined their currency somehow!) whenever your monopoly money is in jeopardy.

Money has value because the value is culturally agreed upon. Right now, there’s much less consensus on crypto. For crypto to have value, it must become part of the consensual system — which means it falls under government oversight. But since the advantage of crypto was that it didn’t have government oversight… now it’s just kind of a shitty way to do transactions on a distributed ledger. Shit’s pointless.

All it does is make me a less creative developer and put some weird obligation on me to maintain your property to keep its value up. If the obligation is not on me, then… I’ll do whatever the fuck I want and the value of your property goes down so it’s a sucker’s purchase. Good investments appreciate in value. Bad investments depreciate. And NFTs in a game will always depreciate unless someone maintains them with real money and that’s just fucking stupid.

So let’s get to the real reason they want to have these items in games: greed. After all, if your game item goes from just being a thing you use in a game to actual property. This is all just a shell game to hide money; it’s laundering, creating fake property for the purpose of sending real money around. Well, you should be able to sell your property, right?

NAH, SUCKAS:

The Fall of The House of Real Money

But the thing is, once real money gets involved — and as of a couple days ago, the government now considers crypto to be securities, so real money is involved — you now have to report your taxes. How the fuck you gonna do that? Do you know how much paperwork I have to fill out to make sure that contractors are taken care of as a business? If I somehow managed to get the 39,000,000 customers who own Mario Kart 8 on my Mario Kart With NFTs — if I was somehow magically able to build the cultural value that Mario possesses with an NFT currency — I would have to actually get the personal financial information of 39,000,000 customers, most of whom aren’t even Americans, which means I have to make sure that both the IRS and that person’s tax agency has all that financial information.

(by the by, one of the reasons Star Wars blew up was because there were no tight restrictions on it culturally; a lot of Disney’s success comes from repackaging things you already know, from public domain fairy tales to buying large brands like Marvel and Star Wars, but Star Wars blew up because George Lucas didn’t stop people from celebrating it however they wanted. He didn’t shut people down for cosplaying as Star Wars characters, there were no brand guidelines, he let people do whatever they wanted, which meant people could talk about it and it could flourish through public discourse. he retained the rights, but let it behave almost like public domain works — this is also the reason shakespeare blew up after his death. his work became public domain. he would not have influenced culture nearly as much if his work hadn’t become widely disseminated.)

Ever seen the impacts of a financial hack? Do you really think game development companies should have the personal banking information of every single person who buys copies of their game? Do you want to have to re-enter all this information every time you buy a new NFT game?

Do you really want Bungie to have your social security number, home address, and all that stuff so they can report all the NFTs you buy in Destiny NFT Edition to the IRS? Really? Do you trust them with that information? Because as of a couple days ago, hey, that’s the law lmao.

As a game developer, do you want to have to care or think about that? How much of your overhead is going to turn into tracking all your customers’ financial transactions in your video game? Can you afford that? Do you fucking want to?

(also, isn’t it really interesting how all the “oh my god this sold for $520m” and not how much eth it sold for? — because everybody who’s in this isn’t really about the libertarianism, they’re about the capitalism and the government-backed fiat currency. eth is simply a volatile abstraction layer for real money)

But, perhaps more importantly, when Blizzard tried a real money auction house… it fuckin sucked, dude. The game barely worked, people were playing the game to get loot to sell, rather than to, y’know, have fun and win — the game became a job, and because of that, it had a lot less love from its players. Designed around the real money auction house, Diablo 3 never built the love that Diablo 2 could. Cutting it out just… made the game feel weird. This isn’t the only time it happened, but it is the most brazen “you can actually pay other people money for your loot.”

Everyone rioted and demanded a return to Diablo 2 style of play. Diablo 3’s whole design, built around this idea that loot was something you could sell to real humans, was never as good of a game design as Diablo 2. The loot fuckin sucked.

“Games Should Pay You To Play Them!”

Why? If I spend money on a sandwich so I can eat it, it would be weird for the restaurant to pay me back for me to eat the sandwich, right?

“Well, it’s your time. You’re spending time playing the game so you should be compensated for that time.”

Dude, that’s a job.

But also… why would I, as a game developer, think that’s a good idea? The transaction here is simple: you give me money and I give you a game. The transaction is now complete. I use that money to pay my employees. Why would I give that money back to you? That’s just a delayed refund!

The money has to come from somewhere, and if it’s coming from me, then… why the fuck am I making a video game at all? Why should I pay you to play my game? I’m running a business here — my entire goal is to make a profit that I can use so my employees can send their kids to school, put food on the table, pay their mortgage, and I can make a new game for you to buy.

Even the beanie baby company kept having to make more beanie babies. People have to be compensated for that. You don’t deserve to get paid every time you watch a a blu-ray of Star Wars; you gave them money so you could watch it whenever you wanted.

It’s just so fucking backwards. I don’t know how this is supposed to be a good value proposition for anyone other than the people who run the exchange and take a cut of every transaction, trying to put a transaction in the middle of everything we do just fine without needing transactions. They just want to extract money from us that we don’t have any reason to spend. We’re literally better off not doing it.

They’re no different than the guys who try to set up private toll booths on public roads.

Once, I actually worked on a game where they did that. It was a very, very highly anticipated video game. As a consultant, I played it, and I noticed there was a really unpopular mode in the game. I asked a very simple question in my report: is this mode fun? Because if it’s fun, people should want to play it without compensation. If you’re paying people real money to play this mode… then maybe the mode should be cut and you should put your development resources into the part of the game that seems wildly popular in comparison.

I don’t know what happened after that report, but I do know that mode was killed.

This idea is not a good game model. It’s a sign the game isn’t fun. If you feel a game should be paying you for your time… you should quit playing the game, because it’s clear the experience is not worth the admission to you.

“You should be figuring this out for me.”

I’ve heard this one a few times, including times directed at me. It’s a really shitty kind of attack. Silicon valley types invent a technology without a valid use case. Then they get mad people point out problems, and they try to tell you that, well, you could be helping them figure out a solution to this thing, rather than just sitting there being unhelpful.

Imagine a guy who goes “I know how we can hold back the flooding!” and you’re like “okay?” and he goes “yeah, with this chain link fence!”

In his mind, he is offering you something great: a dam!

In your mind, he’s offering you something with no value: a fence that can’t hold back water.

He thinks you owe him gratitude for this idea he has, but his idea is so worthless that he’s just wasting your time. He feels entitled to your gratitude, and he gets upset with you for saying “this is a waste of my time.” And NFTs are a waste of your time — they’re someone saying he’s got a “lighter” dam that “anyone can implement” that will work just as well as a real dam even though all the fuckin holes mean water’s getting through, which is the thing a dam shouldn’t fucking do. You owe him nothing and he’s mad you aren’t giving it to him.

He thinks ‘well, my idea still has value’ (for him, it’s sunk cost fallacy or a lack of willingness to accept it was a bad idea), and it just has ‘a few holes’ that YOU could help him fix.

Imagine being sold a car that doesn’t use gasoline or lithium and then being told “you’ll have to invent the battery technology on your own.” Motherfucker, you said you were offering me a solution, and instead you’re offering me problems. Get the fuck out of here. You are wasting my time by giving me problems I don’t need and don’t owe you to solve. This is your invention. Make it worth my time or I’m not going to give you money; you owe me for wasting my fucking time, asshole.

You offer me a solution, I expect it to work. Not a shitty idea that barely works that I’m supposed to figure out. Not inventing new battery tech that requires so much labor it’s my invention, not yours. Not buying a ‘dam’ that’s just some chain link fencing with all those fucking holes I have to plug on my own. Fuck you. Figure it out, then present it to me, or shut the absolute fuck up. Do not speak to me. You NFT shills are all the same: beneath every one of us who actually fucking creates shit. You do not get to put the burden of making me, a smart person, figure out how to make your stupid idea work, and you don’t get to try to make me feel bad for rejecting the notion that I owe it to you to figure out how to make your shitty “dam that can’t actually hold back water” into a dam that actually holds back water. You fucked up. This is your problem, you dumb ho.

This shit pisses me off. We deserve better than you. You have nothing of value to add, you have nothing to give. You have no creativity, no drive, no fucking ideas other than “new ways to take money out of a system that doesn’t need me.”

There are two kinds of people into NFTs: crooks and greedy idiots.

Which one are you?

Either way, fuck off.

If you send me 110,000 ethereum I will delete this blog post.

update: hey, i wrote a second part on a consistent complaint i received about this post: https://docseuss.medium.com/look-what-i-made-for-you-apparently-while-i-am-not-a-dumbass-many-cryptobros-are-and-i-am-going-f6468c877acc

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.