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Devolver Digital somehow sold an NFT that made the world less awful

Now that's how you PR

Somehow, I hadn't seen any of Devolver Digital's E3 presentations until last night. I'd heard them described as "wacky", which usually means "complete mind poison" in the world of PR, and so never bothered to find out what all the fuss was about. Reader, I was a damned fool.

Last night's Devolver show delighted me more than every trailer so far this week put together, quite frankly. It was a brilliant bit of cinema, and an unexpectedly sharp note of satire, too. If you haven't seen it already, then please take this as my stern recommendation to go and watch it immediately. In this year's ever-escalating narrative about the chilling figure of Nina Struthers, Devolver took on NFTs - and not in the way you might expect.

Honestly there's no real need to be up to date on the story of Nina Struthers, such as it is, to experience the full effect of this year's effort, The Devolver MaxPass+ Showcase: Monetisation As A Service. And despite how weird and dark the content is, that effect is one of intense refreshment. In their portrayal of marketing execs with fraying minds, Devolver are absolutely ripping it out of their own industry. And there's always a bit of a thrill when someone on the inside of an industry takes the piss out of the whole edifice around them, isn't there? It feels like they've broken ranks, and crossed the impenetrable wall of embargoes and euphemisms to come and sit on the consumer side of the fence.

This is a PR strategy in itself, of course. As Alice O put it last year, Devolver's "brand shtick is that they're maverick outsiders tweaking the nose of big business". But honestly, that's a shtick that's so monumentally easy to fuck up, I can only respect any company willing to risk it.

"While it's likely that eagle eyes did review MaxPass+ at every stage of production, the key thing is that it doesn't look like it was signed off by anyone."

The way companies most often fuck up in attempting satire of their own industry, is by pulling punches. There are few things more limp, comedically speaking, than satire which has been winnowed to bloody rags by a locust-swarm of concerned stakeholders. And while it's likely that eagle eyes did review MaxPass+ at every stage of production, the key thing is that it doesn't look like it was signed off by anyone.

As a result, despite being a berserk work of fiction with barely any relevance to games Devolver are actually publishing, it feels way more real - way more human, certainly - than any of the tightly managed informational drip feeds hooked into our veins from the rest of the companies participating in E3 & Friends. Don Thacker, the film's writer and director, is a brilliant talent, and it's... well, it's pretty clear he was given a lot of conceptual space to play in.

Metafictional marketing phenomenon Nina Struthers

Even so, the whole thing could easily have stumbled back over the line into "wacky" territory, if it hadn't been so on point with its roasting. You see, timely humour is a tricky thing, these days. In a world as dizzily, sickeningly fast as the one we're lumbered with living in right now, bullshit comes in tsunamis. And more often than not, any attempt to satirise a rising tide lands only once everyone is already inundated, and sick to death of hearing about the thing they're drowning in. But Thacker's timing was spot on. Rather than kicking at the carcasses of long-dead bugbears, MaxPass+ forged right on into the heart of the zeitgeist dungeon, with its sword swinging.

It all ended with a sequence in which Nina Struthers, during a purgatorial boardroom brainstorm, proposed putting the entirety of the presentation (yes, the one we had just watched), onto a single, uncopiable VHS tape, and selling it.

It was an NFT joke, of course. And it was way better than I just made it sound. But what made it brilliant was the fact that, as the film aired, an actual VHS tape, as described by Nina, was made available on the Devolver MaxPass+ website for one thousand dollars. Almost immediately, someone bought it. No hard drives were burned out, and the money was donated to the Scratch Foundation, a free coding resource for children. It was, without a doubt, the only NFT transaction I've ever heard about that made me feel less existentially agitated.

So that felt good. And as for Devolver? Well, if you want confirmation that folks are buying into your marketing, the fact that they're willing to pay $1000 for a VHS recording of it, I would say, sounds like a pretty decent indicator.

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About the Author
Nate Crowley avatar

Nate Crowley


Nate Crowley was created from smokeless flame before the dawn of time. He writes books, and tweets a lot as @frogcroakley. Each October he is replaced by Ghoastus, the Roman Ghost.

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