Bungie Senior Tech Designer Max Nichols has laid out the case for why gaming NFTs and blockchain tech are bad for design and the environment as both of these models gain popularity.
NFTs and blockchain tech are growing in the gaming world. While some games and companies have leaned into the tech -- such as Sega and Behaviour Interactive -- others have turned away from it or banned it outright. Earlier this year, industry organization IGDA called for a halt in gaming NFTs and Valve outright banned any new games that feature cryptocurrency or NFTs from launching on Steam. Now, a Bungie Senior Tech Designer has explained the problem in detail and laid out the case for why gaming NFTs and blockchain tech are bad for the industry.
The Problems With Gaming NFTs and Blockchain
Blockchain and gaming NFTs may be growing in popularity, but that's not necessarily a good thing. As Bungie Senior Tech Designer Max Nichols explains, he believes that they're harmful to game design -- and the environment.
"NFTs are harmful to games," Nichols began in a Twitter thread. "We already know that they're environmentally devastating, extract wealth into the hands of bad actors, and are mostly scams or worse. But I'm a [game designer], and I also believe that they fundamentally harm the player experience."
The first element addressed by Nichols is the implementation of blockchain tech in games. He asserts that using blockchain tech or NFTs to track unique items "provide no specific benefit" to a game.
"'Unique' items are unique because the game has systems to make them unique, usually random generators," Nichols explained. "It doesn't come from the NFT. The ownership or gameplay history that could be tracked could be tracked with a normal database, not requiring an energy-hungry blockchain setup."
As a counterpoint, blockchain does have several security advantages owing to its decentralized nature and public ledger -- it could, in theory, be much more difficult for a third-party hacker to manipulate such a database. However, this all depends on the implementation; as Technology Review reports, MIT researchers have discovered several avenues of attack for weaker blockchain systems. There's also the ever-persistent issue of social engineering -- that is, someone tricking you and getting you to voluntarily give up your digital property.
"Who do we think enjoyed World of Warcraft more? [Gold sellers], or a player who's paying a monthly fee and has no real-life profit motive?" - Bungie Senior Tech Designer Max Nichols
Another serious issue Nichols highlights is the potential for environmental damage. Pinning down exact numbers is difficult, but a recent report from Investopedia notes that worldwide Bitcoin mining alone uses as much electricity as the entire country of Argentina. Those numbers don't include the larger competing players in the market such as Ethereum and Litecoin or the various other smaller cryptocurrencies out there. There are some claims that most crypto is mined using green energy, but finding real-world data on this point is challenging to say the least, in no small part due to the decentralized nature of blockchain and cryptocurrency.
Environmental issues aside, the big bugbear with the issue is how gaming NFTs can change player behavior in a negative way. Simply put, entertainment becomes less fun once you introduce money into the mix.
"Research shows that if someone intrinsically enjoys an activity, and you offer extrinsic motivation (a reward) for it, it will _reduce_ their intrinsic enjoyment," Nichols says. "In other words: If someone pays you to do the thing you enjoy, you will probably enjoy it less."
"You may still enjoy receiving the extrinsic rewards! You might like the feeling of getting money. But you won't enjoy the journey as much."
Max Nichols makes a good case for developers to avoid implementing gaming NFTs and blockchain tech. Unfortunately, both of these things are growing in popularity (and more importantly, price); some game developers may not be able to resist the opportunity to cash in on the hype.
Do you think gaming NFTs or blockchain tech are good or bad for gaming? Do you think the crypto hype will die down anytime soon? Let us know in the comments below!