An Ubisoft executive has responded to the backlash against the company's push to add NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to its games. In December, the publisher announced Quartz, an NFT platform that lets people buy and sell unique digital items, which it called Digits. Both employees and consumers criticized the move, with many expressing concern about the environmental impact of NFTs and one Ubisoft developer saying they're "just another way to milk money."
The backlash to Quartz was swift. Within 24 hours of Ubisoft heralding the platform in a YouTube trailer, more than 35,000 people had clicked the dislike button, with just over 1,300 liking it.
Ubisoft’s first foray into NFTs hasn’t exactly gone gangbusters. It gave away some to players who reached certain play time or experience levels in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint. It offered players the chance to buy some NFTs, but sales have reportedly been very sluggish. Someone who bought one, which is a gun skin with a small, unique serial number, told Waypoint that "it didn’t feel different from using any other cosmetic but the custom serial and ability to view it outside of the Ghost Recon experience really added a level of ownership that I appreciate.”
Nevertheless, Nicolas Pouard, vice president of Ubisoft's Strategic Innovations Lab, suggested that players simply aren't understanding the utility of NFTs.
"I think gamers don't get what a digital secondary market can bring to them. For now, because of the current situation and context of NFTs, gamers really believe it's first destroying the planet, and second just a tool for speculation," Pouard told Finder. "But what we [at Ubisoft] are seeing first is the end game. The end game is about giving players the opportunity to resell their items once they're finished with them or they're finished playing the game itself. So, it's really, for them. It's really beneficial. But they don't get it for now."
Pouard also said that Ubisoft considered announcing Quartz without making any reference to the fact that Digits are actually NFTs, but decided against it as players would have recognized what was going on anyway. "So, we decided it would not be very smart to try to hide it," he said. "Our principle is to build a safe place and safe environment with Quartz. So, we need to be transparent on what we are doing."
NFTs are essentially a certificate of authenticity designed to live on the blockchain. The idea is that an NFT is a public record of ownership of a digital asset. In reality, it's a verified link to a file somewhere on the internet that the owner of the URL destination can alter or even delete.
Along with claims that they can be tantamount to a pyramid scheme, many critics have expressed concern about the environmental impact of NFTs. An artist who sold an NFT collection last year said the process used up more than 8,000 kWh of electricity, which is more than his studio's power consumption from the previous two years.
Ubisoft says that the Tezos system it opted for requires less power consumption than other blockchains. It claims a Digits transaction uses around as much energy as 30 seconds of video streaming. In any case, Quartz doesn't seem to offer anything different than say, the Steam marketplace, which has long allowed players to buy and sell virtual goods for real money without the downsides of NFTs.