The year has just begun, and Square Enix has already killed the fun
It didn't take 24 hours in the new 2022 for another video game affair to echo in the world of video games, which wants to impose "new technologies" like blockchain on players and launch tokenization in games. Ubisoft recently burned with the launch of its NFT initiative, the creators of Stalker regretted the announcement of the Stalker metaverse, and now Square Enix has confirmed the “aggressive investments and research” of blockchain and NFTs for their games.
In his New Year's greetings, Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda put forward a series of worrying views that suggest which way one of Japan's largest record labels could go. Matsuda touched on everything from metaverse, 5G technology to NFTs. You can read his entire "congratulations" on the official Square Enix website if you don't believe what follows. Potentially the strongest statement that has caught the eye of many gamers is the following:
"I realize that some people who “play to have fun” and who currently form the majority of players have voiced their reservations toward these new trends, and understandably so. However, I believe that there will be a certain number of people whose motivation is to “play to contribute,” by which I mean to help make the game more exciting. Traditional gaming has offered no explicit incentive to this latter group of people, who were motivated strictly by such inconsistent personal feelings as goodwill and volunteer spirit. However, with advances in token economies, users will be provided with explicit incentives, thereby resulting not only in greater consistency in their motivation, but also creating a tangible upside to their creative efforts. I believe that this will lead to more people devoting themselves to such efforts and to greater possibilities of games growing in exciting ways. From having fun to earning to contributing, a wide variety of motivations will inspire people to engage with games and connect with one another. It is blockchain-based tokens that will enable this."
The mentioned category of players who "play to contribute" actually refers to different creators: those who create user modes, some of their stories, challenges, fixes, and other game add-ons; sometimes their games within the environment that allows them to do so. This is not a new category of players - modding existed long before creative games like Roblox or Dreams, but the head of Square Enix wants to present it as a limited item to which blockchain and NFTs come as a cure and solution. Namely, Matsuda believes that more people would start creating their content for games if there was an infrastructure that provides them with a financial incentive to do so. Traditional modding according to him has never fulfilled its full potential because only a small part of players decide to contribute to the development of additional content for games since this is done voluntarily, not for a salary.
Of course, this is not the whole truth. Modders and other creators can charge for their creations if they so wish. There is unofficial content for games that are restricted - for example, you must first financially support the creator to get early or full access to his game content. There is already an infrastructure to provide financial incentives to creators, either through Patreon and similar platforms, or direct donations to PayPal. Blockchain technology is not the solution here because the problem doesn't exist… at least not for modders.
The only problem in the current situation is that modders and game content creators do not have to share their earnings with publishers or game creators. In other words, game publishers don’t make money from someone else creating content for their games. I cannot explicitly prohibit the creation of user content (unless it is an online game), nor can I charge a commission from it.
Blockchain is the solution to the publisher problem, not the modder or user-creator problem. From the creator's perspective, the situation is quite the opposite - when the publisher of the game conditions the creator how and how much he can earn, it is not exactly a stimulating situation as seen by the head of Square Enix.
More people will indeed decide to create user content if the publisher promises them some profit from it. However, that doesn't mean that we will see a lot more quality content due to the increase in creators in gaming. He who has a serious desire to create something, will always (but always) find the will to do it, he will always fight for the way and the opportunity to materialize something. One who just sits and waits for someone to pay him to create content most often either doesn’t have a great passion for creating or doesn’t have the slightest bit of artistic spirit in him.
We don't even need blockchain technology to explain why the problem is when a game owner conditions the way his users-creators make money. Roblox is not a blockchain-based game, but it offers most of what is appealing to game publishers with blockchain technology.
Roblox has its virtual economy where the creator can make money by creating games for other players. However, unlike Patreon or PayPal, where the creator gets real money, in Roblox, the creator earns Robuxe - the virtual currency of the game. Robux can indeed be exchanged for real money, but it does not work on the principle of giving you 100 Robuxe, give me my 100 euros. The creators of Robux themselves determine the minimum amount and exchange rate of Robux that can be redeemed for the "real world". And often that minimum amount is so high that most creators have no chance of reaching it. Because just as the gaming industry itself is well aware, it is not the funniest or highest quality games that earn the most, but the ones for which marketing does its thing.
The creators of Roblox are therefore left with a virtual currency that has value only within that game. It comes about as if you work for an employer who agrees to pay you a salary only after you earn a certain amount of money, and when you ask him what you will eat until you get that salary, he will tell you that you can always spend the money on food from his shop. Isn't that the dream of every employer eager to make money?
When I hear the term "self-sustaining game", it sounds to me like a game from which the publisher expects success without having to invest effort, time or money, ie take risks. Players create games for other players, and the game publisher collects a commission by providing them with creative tools. As if it is not enough to already test games that are in development as if it is not enough to pay for content for games on a seasonal basis, buy games before they come out… in the vision of Square Enix we should create games for ourselves. And the step after that, I guess, is that we participate in the development of game development tools, according to the principle of public competition?
I don’t want to sound like an exclusive pessimist about this so I have to emphasize that creative games can be a good thing. I mean, I rated Dreams at 90 and I think it’s an ingenious platform for creating games, with a healthy community and a well-developed moderation system. Dreams is an equally quality game for those who consume entertainment and for those who create it. And such is achieved without a blockchain or any financial bait for the creators.
Was Sony Dreams a cost-effective project? Probably not because Dreams, unlike Roblox, isn't free, but it didn't have to be either - it was more important for Sony to have a diverse range of exclusive games for its hardware. Dreams are also a creation of a studio that wanted players to create simple tools for making games, not a creation commissioned by Sony because such games could be in trend, so it would be good to have something like Roblox.
Square Enix and Ubisoft have the right to chase the trends they want to chase, but if they expect players to accept their ideas for NFTs, the minimum prerequisite for such is to offer a concrete explanation as to why games need it at all. And the concrete explanation is not to offer a solution to an artificially created problem and not a problem for gamers, but the game publisher.
There will probably be someone who will say: if Square Enix has no profit, then how will it finance the increasingly expensive development of games we want and love to play? If games are not produced, isn't the problem of game publishers also the problem of players who will have nothing to play? Let's not fool ourselves - Square Enix is not a company that makes ends meet. We’re talking about a firm that stopped selling Final Fantasy 14 because too many players were interested in it, and that resulted in server congestion.
Almost all major game publishers in 2020 had record-high profits on the wave of the pandemic. If they didn't have the money for increasingly expensive game development, they wouldn't have aggressive investments in blockchain and NFT research at the same time. The only problem with Square Enix and Ubisoft is that they always have to earn more than they’ve ever earned, and that’s hard in the creative industry when every next game is a risk: it may be accepted well, or it may not be. It’s easier, of course, to have a self-sustaining blockchain-based game, so let the players take care of what kind of entertainment they want to consume.
The head of Square Enix tried to blame the problem of his company on the problem for the players. The fact that earnings for game publishers will never be enough on their own because they do not have a monopoly on the market, is not a problem for players looking for fun. We brag that the video game industry is the fastest-growing entertainment industry, and game publishers are whining that their entertainment audience is not enough - they also need an audience that contributes to game development. Specifically, they need a percentage of the commission they will take from the work of creators who don’t have to pay.