Well, they've done it. After declaring their desire to be "key players" in blockchain gaming, Ubisoft have announced in-game NFTs on a new platform called Ubisoft Quartz. They're cosmetic items called Digits, and they're coming to Ghost Recon Breakpoint later this week.
Here's Ubisoft's video introduction:
In a Ubisoft news post, they announced that Quartz - the platform - would launch in beta with Ghost Recon Breakpoint on PC via Ubisoft Connect. The first three Digits - the NFT cosmetic items - will apparently be "rewarded" to early adopters for free on December 9th, 12th, and 15th.
Digits are purely cosmetic, conferring no gameplay benefit. From the video above, the first three digits seem to be a mask, a weapon skin, and some trousers. All three come with an "engraved" serial number, which is the element that makes them "unique".
The rest of the announcement is structured as an interview with blockchain product director Baptiste Chardon and blockchain technical director Didier Genevois. They attempt to explain the benefits of NFTs, while downplaying the negatives.
Their answers, particularly when it comes to the benefits, are typically vague. "Blockchain’s decentralized technology enables gaming companies to move beyond current limitations set by more traditional technologies and lay the foundation of an ambitious and exciting new ecosystem that is, by design, truly community driven," says Chardon. What limits, what is that an ecosystem of, and what does "truly community driven" mean? This is a PR blast, not a real interview, so of course there's no followup questions.
"While this can seem trivial at first, it is a totally new approach compared to the walled-garden digital environments we are used to, and it changes the videogame industry by introducing concepts like uniqueness and control, and thus value distribution in our game worlds."
Why is that value distribution a good thing? Why is it urgent that we introduce scarcity and split residents of digital spaces into haves and have nots? Is being "unique" meaningful when all it extends only as far as my trousers having a different serial number than yours?
Likewise, the same answer continues by stating that the decentralised technology "can even, on a longer term, open up new opportunities such as interoperability between games or a never-before-seen level of autonomy for communities within game worlds thanks to the decentralized nature of the technology."
But again, there's no followup question. Does anyone actually desire the right to sell their Ghost Recon trousers outside of the game? Is any of this more fun or engaging, or is it just wringing money from investors and, more troublingly, the percentage of the playerbase susceptible to gambling? And in what way do NFTs magically allow for "interoperability", or make it easier than having items tied to existing Ubisoft accounts? Do NFTs somehow make textures and skins created to fit one 3D model suddenly map cleanly onto another - not to mention resolving issues around different code, engine, art style and more? Isn't the promise of "longer term" interoperability just a hook designed to reel in investors hoping that their deathmask might increase in value when one day it can also be used in Assassin's Creed?
Most prominently, Ubisoft's blockchain gang are keen to explain that Digits are powered by Tezos, a "proof-of-stake" blockchain technology that uses substantially less power than "proof-of-work" technologies like Bitcoin. "This type of blockchain achieves the same results while using significantly less energy than Proof-of-Work protocols," says Genevois. "To give you an idea, a transaction on Tezos is equivalent to 30 seconds of video streaming, while on Bitcoin, it is equivalent to watching one year straight of video streaming!"
Yes, proof-of-stake is substantially less bad than proof-of-work. It's still bad, and for a dumb thing that everyone can do without.
This isn't Ubisoft's first foray into the blockchain. As well as investing in several blockchain companies in recent years, they also released a Rabbids token for charity last year. Ubisoft Quartz is the first time the technology will be included in one of their games, however.
It is also, in many ways, AAA gaming's first big step into the world of the blockchain. The next 18 months are going to be exhausting.
Meanwhile, Ubisoft employee group ABetterUbisoft continue to protest the company's response to allegations of workplace harassment and abuse.