Being in touch with current trends is business 101. It keeps a company in touch with their audience and keeps them relevant in the ever changing consumer landscape. Yet what happens when the popular trend of the day is met with so much scrutiny and criticism? Many people call for the trend’s dismantlement while others champion it as the future of media and the best thing to happen to artists. Do you, as a company, go with the few who say the trend is the inevitable future or stay with the tried and true approach? Well there are 2 companies who have decided to try the new, albeit controversial, trend and a third who’s president wants to throw their hat in. The companies are Atari and Konami with the President of Square Enix waiting in the wings. The trend, being Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and other forms of cryptocurrency.
Before I get comments here or on my social media from both camps let me make something crystal clear. I DO NOT support NFTs or cryptocurrency. I don’t want to be a part of it, nor do I have any stake in it. If you do trade in crypto or NFTs then that’s your prerogative. This writing isn’t about NFTs as a whole and why they’re good or bad. Rather what the companies mentioned above have decided to do or want to do with NFTs and why it’s a poor way of celebrating an anniversary. If you don’t know what a NFT is, here is a video explaining what they are and the history behind it all. Be warned that the video is over 2 hours long, there are no minced words, and the host takes a very clear stance on the issue.
Earlier in January Konami decided to hold a Castlevania Memorial Auction by auctioning off 14 NFTs from the franchise. 14 different images as well as music selections and animations from the games were put up. According to PC Gamer, Konami made over $162,000 and will be receiving royalties if these NFTs are sold again. Atari announced they would go one step further with loot box style NFTs. The idea that Atari is going with is that these “GFTs” (what Atari is calling them) are meant to be gifts for the most die hard of Atari fans. Like any loot box system your chances of getting a rare one is akin to getting a decent payday from the lottery. According to the site that’s hosting this, gftshoppe.com, you have a 0.2% chance of getting what they’re calling an Epic GFT. There is a roadmap saying that those who DO have a GFT can compete in games and other competitions to win certain prizes, but no real details are given. All we have is a roadmap, but as Atari should know, things can change on a dime. Square Enix’s President, Yosuke Matsuda, said in a New Year’s letter that he wants to implement NFTs in games. However with the major backlash Square Enix and Matsuda saw after the letter went public, it’s unclear what will happen next.
So why are these companies selling NFTs a bad way to celebrate milestone anniversaries? For one it alienates a vast majority of fans who are more than willing to give money for merchandise and new game collections. Not everyone has a crypto wallet or is invested in NFTs, so only appealing to a tiny fraction of your fan base seems extremely counterintuitive. Granted Konami did release game collections throughout the years leading up to the big 35th, but it was only digital releases. If you wanted physical copies of these collections you would have to go through Limited Run Games and not. 50 years is nothing to sneeze at and true Atari has classic 2600 game collections available for modern consoles, but just having some t-shirts for sale on your website shouldn’t be where it stops. It’s true, aside from the GFTs and some t-shirts that are mostly sold out, Atari doesn’t have anything else on their site FOR their 50th anniversary. Sure the company never saw popularity like they did with the 2600, but there is so much more history than the 2600. Fans would probably love a collection of Jaguar games, 7800 games or even a collection of Lynx games to play on newer hardware. Personally I’d love a Jaguar collection as I have never owned an Atari Jaguar at all. Those systems are becoming increasingly rare and it would be a shame to let those games vanish into thin air.
What scares me the most is that these sales of NFTs or GFTs won’t be just a passing trend, but a norm within video games as a whole. Ubisoft is already going full steam ahead with their implementation of NFTs in their games. With Matsuda wanting to get in on it and Final Fantasy XVI in development who knows what could happen? As of now NFTs are usually just images or simple animations and sound clips, but there’s no telling what they can become if they stick around. They could be special in-game items, high level weapons, or in the darkest timeline, items you need to beat the main story. Turning a game into a bidding war for the super rich and leaving the rest of us out in the cold. Thankfully we aren’t there yet and hopefully we never will be. I understand most companies who are using NFTs are doing it because it’s a popular buzzword and they are making money off of it, Konami’s auction being a prime example. I also understand marketing is hard and it costs money to put out celebration merchandise and to print physical media. Money that Atari and Konami may not have, but going full force into NFTs or wanting to do NFTs as your main way of celebrating an anniversary is a slap in the face to fans you have been with you for years. The fans who have been with you through thick and thin deserve better than this.