The latest in-game event for the popular mobile title Avakin Life, the ‘Epik NFT Challenge’, has caused controversy in the community by seeming to promote NFT artwork to an audience of predominantly underage users.
What is Avakin Life all about?
Developed and published by the UK mobile studio Lockwood Publishing, Avakin Life is a popular life simulation game for mobile platforms, with gameplay similar to titles like Second Life. Boasting over 200 million app store downloads, players create a highly customizable character, called an Avakin, and gain access to a 3D virtual world to explore. Users can communicate with one another using the in-game chat, decorate and show off their virtual homes with furniture and unlock some of almost 30,000 pieces of unique clothing to make their Avakin stand out from the crowd.
The game has a long history of promotional collaborations with real-world companies and celebrity figures. These include the frequent hosting of virtual music events for players to enjoy and the inclusion of recreation of popular clothing items, from big-name brands like Nike and Superdry, in the purchasable clothing catalog. Often, events like these are accompanied by special limited-time in-game items which players can only unlock within a certain promotional period.
How are NFTs involved?
The ‘Solar Sounds Festival’ event, which runs from the 6th of July to the 3rd of August and is expected to reach over 3 million users, is a virtual music festival that occurs annually. This year’s iteration of the event is a little different, however, specifically in regards to the unique promotional item on offer.
Sponsored by Epik, a digital platform for gaming-oriented NFTs, the aptly titled ‘Epik NFT Challenge’ gives players the chance to gain a free piece of digital artwork specially created by the popular crypto artist ‘thisset’. The artwork cannot be viewed in-game and exists tied to an entirely separate Epik Prime account, which players must create. Unfortunately, the communication around this inclusion has been less than ideal.
A message sent via the in-game mail service after players visit a virtual Epik branded festival tent encourages users to set up an account on the Epik Prime site and redeem a unique code. The message is strangely ambiguous, describing the NFT only as a “digital item” and, a little further on, a “high-tech animated digital collectible artwork”. Unless you are already familiar with the official post about the event, which was posted to the Epik Prime page on Medium rather than the usual Avakin blog, it’s not clear to players that they aren’t claiming an in-game item.
Even more worrying, the requirement to be over 18 to create an Epik Prime account is not made apparent. The in-game mail mentions nothing about needing to be over the age of 18 and that information can only be found buried in the terms and conditions on Epik Prime’s site.
In an investigation, we discovered it was possible to complete the initial account creation process without being asked your age. Avakin Life’s official terms and conditions make it clear that players must be over the age of 13 to play, so failing to include a warning for this potentially large segment of their audience is baffling.
Some countries even place legally enforceable age restrictions on the possession of NFTs and the flowery language of Epik Prime’s account creation process does not make it entirely apparent what users are signing up for - especially if that user was a young teen. The resulting confusion has left a number of users worried on official forums
“Anyone else think it’s a little weird that Avakin is giving kids [13+] access to crypto currency? Something about it just doesn’t really sit well with me”
“I don’t think teaming up with this sort of company is appropriate, what next? Betfred, Imperial Tobacco, Gordon’s Gin”
To make matters worse, the free NFT is one of five created for the event, with the subsequent three only obtained through purchase on the Epik Prime platform. Users with four of the NFTs gain access to a final, even more limited edition, token - of which only 500 were minted. An event encouraging users to not only sign up to an NFT platform but also to make purchases on it seems poorly conceived given the game's younger audience.
Lockwood Publishing’s community team has been leaving comments in threads attempting to clarify the situation, but community talk still shows players struggling to understand what the promotion entails. Hopefully, lessons will be learned and NFT related promotions will be handled with far greater clarity in future.
This a small example of the ongoing discussion surrounding the world of gaming and NFTs, which can attract huge amounts of money. The likes of Sega and even Square Enix are apparently considering introducing NFTs into their portfolios. Earlier this year, a game was even sold as an NFT for Nintendo Switch.
What do you think about the rise of NFTs in gaming? Let us know in the comments!