It's been an entertaining month for crypto and NFT dunks.
(I promise not to turn this into a crypto-dunking blog, but I do want to comment sometimes. I'll try to keep it to game-relevant topics.)
I'm writing in the middle(?) of a serious crypto price crash. I don't want to read too much into that. For all I know prices will recover next week. But the smart commentary condemning this stuff continues to pile up.
We had this Moxie Marlinspike piece on why "web3" and NFTs will never do what their proponents say. (NFTs can be stolen; they can be confiscated; they cannot confer ownership. The value that they do confer -- as witness the big centralized NFT platforms -- would work better and be more profitable if they ditched blockchain entirely. Etc.)
We had Dan Olson's videotalk on "The Problem with NFTs". I admit I haven't watched all of it, but the segment on play-to-earn is good. I trust the rest is equally solid.
This week, we had this long and furious economics essay from Yanis Varoufakis, which draws together everything from old-style digital economies (the Valve marketplace) to China's digital currency to what do to about capitalism. (He has ideas. Blockchain doesn't figure in.) Way too much to summarize, but I must quote the quotable line about play-to-earn games:
[...] the idea that people must now play like robots to earn a living so as to be human in their spare time is, indeed, the apotheosis of misanthropy.
I'm leaving out the bit about armies of UBI robots -- I'm in favor, but I said I'd stick to the game-relevant.
The complete bankruptcy of Axie Infinity as a play-to-earn ideal is well-reported. (See the Olson talk.) (To be clear, the company behind Axie Infinity isn't financially bankrupt. I'm talking ethically. The initial gold rush is a lure that must and will and already has dried up.)
But play-to-earn won't just victimize its late-arriving players. It'll burn us all, and I'm not talking about climate change.
The crypto boom relies on its evangelists. It's been successful because, essentially, it pays its evangelists. In fact it penalizes them for not evangelizing. The value of your stake goes up if you convince more people to buy in. If your bitcoin is going down, you're not boosting bitcoin hard enough -- go bother someone! This is how all pyramid schemes work, but crypto/NFT schemes have a particularly strong feedback loop.
Remember this every time you see a pro-crypto take, by the way. Any pro-crypto take.
The loop applies at every level. One asshole shouting at you on Twitter; a dozen libertarian thinkpieces; crypto VCs pushing "web3 is the future". A bitcoin exchange loaning itself millions of dollars to stay liquid and avoid a bitcoin price crash. (Bitfinex in 2018, if you don't remember that story.)
Now apply this to gamers.