Obnoxious NFTs Enthusiasts Won’t Convince Anyone.

“You don’t get it yet”, said the Ubisoft executive once more.

Jean-Baptiste Oger
9 min readFeb 25, 2022

Gamers got triggered by NFTs today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.

I’ve seen this interview on the internet: “It’s really for them. It’s really beneficial. But they don’t get it for now.”

That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

On January 27th 2022, the Australian tech-finance website Finder interviewed Nicolas Pouard, VP of Innovation at Ubisoft, advocating for ‘Quartz’, the first implementation of NFTs by a large-scale game publisher.

The article shines some light on Ubisoft’s strategy and covers how they receive the overwhelmingly negative reception from the community (here’s the announcement trailer, for instance). Unlike other companies in the industry, such as Team 17, he explains that Ubisoft has no intention to retreat and hopes to eventually flip the public’s perception.

The whole interview is quite stellar, and I personally found the clear lack of answers to some questions as informative as the bits he’s responding to. However, if you want the short version, here’s the representative quote which drove a lot of people furious on social media:

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

This superior stance is typical of NFT advocates, especially those in the gaming industry, and it obviously pisses off the very people they aim to convince. So why then continue using this rhetoric?

When I was first exposed to the concept of using blockchain for cosmetics, I was rather curious. Like many gamers of my generation, I have spent money collecting dumb digital items, and I liked it. I also grasp the concept of a secondary market and its benefits for customers: I remember selling some of my most valuable Team Fortress 2 items to purchase Portal 2, which was cool.

Time passed, and, like the rest of the internet, I was exposed more and more to the topic, moving from intrigued to seriously annoyed. Evangelists like Nicolas Pouard try to promote a nebulous utopia, insisting there is more to NFTs than their current form and outsiders are too dumb to see it. In normal cases, such poor argumentation would be a bug, not the norm; but with NFTs, it’s the only decoy they have to obfuscate the ugly truth.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I confess I attempted to write this article twice already. Both times I struggled to explain the point of NFTs concisely, and I eventually gave up. I consider myself reasonably documented on the topic and happy to continue to learn from other people’s perspectives, yet I was paralysed. Why?

However you explain NFTs, it always triggers an adverse reaction. I could already picture the comments mentioning how I omitted some critical details and therefore missed the point entirely. The complexity of the subject isn’t a burden for its advocates; it’s an opportunity to dismiss all criticism, valid or not.

Take environmental concerns, for instance. The blockchain community has identified the issue of Bitcoin electricity consumption for years and worked on actual improvements. The technology indeed evolved to consume a lot less power, which is great, but the general audience doesn’t know it yet; Bitcoin remains their point of reference.

So when people argue that NFTs are a pointless waste of energy, enthusiasts respond, “actually, they don’t use that much energy”, mentioning various relevant studies. What about the pointlessness, you may ask? This aspect is rarely addressed. NFTs enthusiasts have turned redirection into an art.

This new field has so many ramifications now, that anyone aware of the latest development can easily feel a sense of superiority. Some evangelists probably see themselves as generously teaching the ignorant but knowing how the latest innovation addresses the first layer of concerns doesn’t give a free pass to dodge the more profound questions.

Take the interview mentioned above for example, Nicolas Pouard replies to the concerns regarding gaming NFTs being a new layer of microtransaction by saying they are optional and protected from external speculators. Just like current microtransaction. They found a way to avoid creating new issues, and that shouldn’t give them the illusion they covered the whole problem.

Substituting a hard question for an easier one is a strategy we all use intuitively in our daily lives, but when addressing important topics, this rhetoric is quickly spotted and fuels the irritation. We’ve been exposed to far too many political discourses not to notice it.

Photo by Kevin Gonzalez on Unsplash

The high complexity of NFTs doesn’t just divert criticisms: it’s also a useful mechanism to imply nebulous promises. The can of worms is so big; there could be anything inside for all we know.

At first glance, the NFT technology doesn’t add anything new to the game experience itself. Economic loops have existed for a while in games, and trading has been fun since at least Pokemon. Gamers never cared how transactions are registered under the hood, either.

Photo by Thimo Pedersen on Unsplash

So, the prominent argument people bring in favour of NFTs is the ability to give back to the players a part of the money they inject in games. The idea is simple: if your items exist on a blockchain outside of the publisher ecosystem, you could freely trade them. So, instead of getting Steam credits, I could have got real-life money for my Team Fortress 2 inventory (in a secure way, not using the many available black markets).

In-between the lines, the supporters depict a utopia in broad strokes: in the future, players will only purchase an in-game item (or even the game itself) unless it’s an NFT they can cash out once they’re done. Again, this may sound appealing, but it doesn’t hold up once you start to scratch the surface.

Leaving all technicalities and economic questions aside, why would publishers let their players undercut them by selling second-hand digital items? I don’t buy the argument that NFTs are the inevitable future coming with web3, and therefore companies are forced to adjust now. We can all see that this transition, if it ever happens, will take time; there is no reason to put your reputation on the line today to implement NFTs.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Another one of the answers is apparently that the market can only become larger when gamers have the confidence to spend more and not “lose” it all, thus a smaller cut of bigger revenues is still a winning move for publishers. Roblox’s dystopian creator economy is probably one of the benchmarks here, and if you’re not familiar yet, it’s a nightmare.

Who believes companies aim to create fairer systems where everyone wins in the end? Everybody knows a company’s best interest is to make more money. Giving out the first NFTs for free only enhanced the suspicion of a hidden scheme, unlike the quick cash grabs some studios proposed. If they really believed the partial refunds have the potential to drive more spending, it would be implemented in our game already.

The more evangelists demand blind trust, instead of exposing the actual consumer’s benefits and how we get there, the more resistance they receive. So, they answer with more of the “we know what you don’t” narrative. And this triggers angrier reactions still. And the cycle continues.

Photo by Joanjo Pavon on Unsplash

Why don’t they break the cycle of mistrust? Why can’t they?

There are so many people involved in the crypto community, brilliant minds who are educated, build networks and easily share their work: why didn’t they figure out better arguments to onboard people yet? Maybe they could start by telling the world which benefits made them so passionate? The reason probably stems from the core philosophy of NFTs.

In online debates, detractors frequently mention how NFTs promise things that could already exist before blockchain, but they miss one key characteristic: the tokens are tied to the value of cryptocurrencies. You don’t buy & sell Ghost Recon cosmetics with your Uplay account balance but with Tezos coins, which makes all the difference.

Photo by Tezos on Unsplash

The crypto market is unregulated and highly speculative. It attracts lots of investment from those who rightfully see it as an uncharted territory that has and will continue to have considerable growth potential. Whether NFTs supporters admit it or not (some don’t even seem to realise), they appreciate the system mainly because it immensely rewards the first to come.

Investing in high risk / high reward options is the business model of venture capitalists, and it’s certainly helpful in our society as it encourages costly & risky innovations. Cryptocurrencies brought this opportunity to regular people with much less capital, who don’t care about funding start-ups and focus only on the speculative potential. Everywhere we see the stories of unknowns who did nothing special except buy bitcoins or monkey avatars when they were worthless and waiting for their value to explode.

Now, a large company’s goal in this ecosystem isn’t to buy NFTs early and hold onto them though. No, they only need to be the ones who gift (or even sell) the tokens initially, have engaged “customers” rush to grab them because of FOMO and later take a cut at each re-sale. It’s an even better business than sneakers brands who knowingly feed scalpers with limited editions because it generates hype. Attention & engagement are as important as actual spending for video game publishers.

Of course, they can’t flat out admit to their audience, “we need you to care about our NFTs because it will drive first comers profits up, fueling the hype and strengthening a useful group of advocates”. So, instead, all these companies can explicitly sell is the watered-down version of the ‘get rich effortlessly’ argument: buy NFTs to get a (partial) refund on your in-game spending later.

And unlike what the interview seems to apply, this promise isn’t some sort of hidden feature invisible to the mainstream: the trailer for Ghost Recon NFTs explicitly mentions ‘reselling items once you’re done with them’. The gamers just don’t buy into it, and until companies come with actual player-facing innovation, NFTs evangelists will continue to appear obnoxious as they recite the same discourse.

I don’t think this rough start mean much for the future of gaming NFTs. Nobody can predict which place they will hold in the future and the new use cases there might be.

Arguably, the video game industry has experience when it comes to difficult technology adoption cycles. Many consoles struggle at first to convince enough gamers: some eventually failed while others became great successes.

One thing we know for sure from this history: console makers had to come up with new arguments to change the mind of gamers and not to push more commercials advertising their wobbly launch titles.

You can now find all my articles on Substack, I send a new game design analysis every other week.



Jean-Baptiste Oger

Game Director. I write mainly about the design of video & board games. Aspiring to better understand the world around & human psychology.