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9:14am on Thursday, 26th January, 2023:



I was in London yesterday evening to sit on a panel for an informal group called the Crypto Circle. The members are all people who are interested in crypto-currencies, mainly on the investment side (seed fund investors, hedge fund managers, regulatory bodies, banks) but also including tools creators and commentators. The reason I was on the panel was because of the conflation of blockchain, web3 and metaverse concepts. People seemed to be of the opinion that blockchain tech would be a boon for gamers and that this would extend to the metaverse as a whole. I was invited merely to explain why it wasn't all quite as blissfully rosy as they perhaps thought it was.

In the end, the panel didn't get much to say; members of the audience started asking each other questions. I did explain some of the issues arising from the use of NFTs and play-to-earn for games, but people either ignored them, brushed them aside or doubled down on them.

Example: the psychological phenomenon known as the overjustification effect means that if people are doing something for an intrinsic reward and you start giving them extrinsic rewards for it, they lose their intrinsic motivation. Imagine if you were reading a book and were paid for every page you read: after a while, you'd be reading pages because you wanted paying, not because of the content. It's the same with games. If people are playing your game for fun and you start giving them money for playing, they won't find the game so much fun. If fun is what they seek, they'll play another game. This fact was completely ignored when I brought it up. I may as well have been telling people how much my great aunt liked cats for all the impact it had.

Example: moving objects between games in an isomorphic fashion has been tried before in the text days (when it was much easier to implement) and completely flopped. There is no reason why a game would accept any non-worthless NFT object minted by a different publisher and plenty of reasons why they wouldn't want their own objects to be transportable to competitors. Also, it takes time: if I sell you my NFT sword in-game, there has to be a blockchain check to make sure I haven't already sold it to someone else out-of-game. The longer the blockchain, the more time it takes — it could be seconds; worse, you can't lock the blockchain so that the sword can't be sold in the window between the game's verification that you own the sword and its transference in-game to another player. This objection was brushed aside by saying that non-blockchain databases can handle that. Well yes, they can, easily so — so why the need for a blockchain?

Example: dupe bugs are ruinous. If transactions are recorded on a blockchain and someone finds a way of creating multiple copies of an object then selling them, there's no way of rolling that back. All you can do is remove the objects that the blockchain records point to in the game. The response here was that you don't mint objects in the game (which is expensive anyway), you only do it out of the game; the objects in the game are in a regular database. So, all that rhetoric about empowering players because they "really own" objects is just hot air?

Example: the discussion about regulations was at the level of high finance. I pointed out that for most players and developers, that's not what they'd care about. They'd be more worried about the tax implications. If your World of Warcraft gold is a crypto-currency that can be traded openly (as opposed to its being a game token traded illicitly, as it is at present) then there are tax implications. Every gold piece you acquired would be subject to income tax; every gold piece you spent would be subject to sales tax. Even NPCs could end up having to pay tax! This was doubled-down on by saying that players would be pleased to be paying tax, because that meant they would be getting income. Well in a room full of achievers, that went down well; other player types wouldn't necessarily be quite so happy to be having to submit tax forms for all this.

No-one came up to talk to me after the panel, except someone I've known for years who's currently coding one of these inter-game transfer systems. He's trying to create a kind of markup language to describe objects in a manner that gives a recipient a full enough description to be able to decide how to recreate the object in their own virtual world and whether they want to accept it in the first place. I had already pointed out that we've long had a way of converting an object in one game into one of equal value in another: money. Sell your bow and arrow for cash or crypto-tokens, then use those to buy what you want in the other game. There's no need to decide how to translate it into a space game world where ranged weapons are far more commonplace; you will always get a replacement of the exact same value in the second world as what your bow and arrow gave you in the first world.

I won't be getting any consultancy work out of this event. I wasn't expecting any, to be honest, as I was basically an atheist in a room full of worshipers. Still, at least I was heard if not necessarily listened to.

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Copyright © 2023 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).