Efforts to integrate NFTs into video games have been largely unsuccessful for a number of reasons, but essentially it can be boiled down to two main points:
And that’s without considering the environmental damage caused by NFTs. But as seen in a new residual world (opens in new tab) report, that doesn’t stop NFT evangelists from coming up with even worse ideas for the future.
Most of the story of the non-profit journalist organization is about a Minecraft-based NFT game called Critterz (opens in new tab), which was so successful in its early days that some players began hiring others to help them build their in-game holdings in exchange for a cut in profits. One of these high rollers, who goes by the moniker Big Chief, had “his team” — made up mostly of kids in the Philippines — collect building materials for a casino, which he then paid $10,000 to “professional Minecraft builders” to build it actually build.
“I have a lot of kids that play for me, and they play because they want to make extra money in a country that’s really just locking them up,” Big Chief explained. People in the Philippines are willing to play the game this way, he added, because “they could make just enough where it was worthwhile.”
However, it wasn’t just play. Big Chief said members of his play-to-earn guild would have to put in eight hours a day, the equivalent of a full-time job, to recoup the cost of NFT purchases — the digital “lots” — to maximize earnings as quickly as possible . Still, he said he was “angered” by the suggestion that his exploitation of disadvantaged people in poor countries, you know exploitation.
“I can’t tell you what the hourly rate is, but I can tell you that people in the Philippines make very little money and the cost of living is very low,” Big Chief said.
But as Critterz grew in popularity, its value began to decline: Big Chief said players were selling their $BLOCK (opens in new tab) Tokens used in-game rather than holding “because they need money to live” which, combined with the increased number of players, resulted in a token glut that drove prices down. Following the trajectory of most cryptocurrencies in 2022, $BLOCK fell from a peak of 85 cents in January to just 3 cents in May. The wheels didn’t really come off, however, until Mojang declared in July that NFT integration in Minecraft “is not something we’re going to support or allow (opens in new tab).” That halved the value of $BLOCK, which had already shrunk dramatically. Revenue fell, player count fell, and at this point, Critterz’s future is uncertain at best.
Big Chief understandably mourned his loss – that is, the loss of his ability to do so much good for others.
“I’ve treated a lot of these kids like they’re my kids, so now it’s kind of sad that I don’t really have much to offer them,” Big Chief said. “Before, I’ve really helped a lot of these kids and given them an opportunity to make some extra money for their families, and it just sucks that I can’t really do that now.”
Luckily, for him at least, new ideas are emerging about how Third World citizens can be productively employed by wealthy Westerners. Mikhai Kossar from Blockchain Gaming Advisor Wolves DAO (opens in new tab)suggested, for example, that they could be inserted into the background of video games for the amusement of other, presumably wealthier, gamers.
“With the cheap labor of a developing country, you could use people in the Philippines as NPCs, real NPCs in your game,” Kossar said, seemingly serious. They would “just populate the world, maybe do whatever job you want or just go back and forth, fish, tell stories, be a shopkeeper, anything really is possible.”
It’s a hideous idea, perfectly typifying the NFT field and literally the dictionary definition of exploitation: “Self-serving use…especially for profit.” As much as I hate to admit it, it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility either. Paying people to do the heavy lifting in a video game of their choice is nothing new – most of us are at least casually familiar with the practice of gold farming (opens in new tab) in MMOs – but introducing real money into these systems only encourages bad behavior. It’s dystopian, but also fundamental: as long as real money is involved, there will always be people willing to pursue it, and there will always be others out to take advantage of them.