Game Studios Are Turning Play Into Work

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on the eve of the new year Day, Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda published an open letter, In it, he expressed his love for blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), Ubisoft, Peter Molyneux, and hunter 2 Developer GSC Game World among similar popular interventions. He said he expects the technologies to become “a major trend in gaming going forward.” The letter ended as you expected.

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Commentators have pointed out that Matsuda’s letter is incomprehensible, shrouded in sloppy technical jargon. However, he does make a revealing distinction. In Matsuda’s view, on the one hand, to play is to play, or “‘play to have fun’… ,” and on the other hand, “playing to contribute,” a goal that must be nurtured by “obvious incentives”—namely, money. The first, Matsuda suggests, is incomprehensible and strange; the other is smart, normal, and producer,

Matsuda is comparing sports to work—specifically wages. And framing them this way, in terms of productivity and worker empowerment, is a gamble to get you to accept technologies like NFTs. You’re going to be subject to a lot more of this in the years to come, as some games actually become indistinguishable from jobs.


Since we often describe play as work, leaning toward the fields, using words like grind and reward farming simulator, logging in to complete the “daily search”, and so on, Critics have inevitably questioned Is everything we do in video games is the game itself.

Certainly, play and work reflect that. Their distinction is both pompous and personal: killing Silver Knights all day on Anor Londo’s stairs to get the Darkmoon Blade is work because I hate it. But some lunatics may do it for fun, just as we pursue leisure activities like fishing, for which other people are paid. Academics have labeled modding a form of unpaid labor, It can easily be viewed as a hobby, just like painting. Game designers often differentiate between inner bliss (playing halo for 100 hours because you like the feeling of taking headshots) and external reward (Doing this because you want to level up your battle pass for a camo weapon skin). What the latter taps into anthropologist David Grebere Humans are said to have a “calculating propensity”,And it’s often discredited, but social scoring isn’t inherently bad or anti-play. In fact, I think the average player doesn’t care whether a game is close to working principles. .

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NFTs take this desire for an external reward to its logical conclusion: a financial incentive. The idea is clearly compelling. After all, games have economies, notoriously lucrative. You play all day, paying for Gabby Newell’s extended vacation in New Zealand, yet, unless you’re a lucky streamer, you only get boxes of loot in return. academic often talk about unpaid labor“As for logging into Facebook and mining your preferences for ad dollars. Isn’t gaming the same? You can follow this logic: Developers are unionizing, why not gamers? Developers should be compared to corporations with players. We must ‘play to play contribute.’ We are producers. Just as players demand a better progression system, they should also demand cold cash payments.

axi infinity, a blockchain-based video game where players collect Pokemon-like pets tied to NFTs, demonstrates how these “play-to-earn” systems work. Players pitch their pivot in a battle to win cryptocurrency tokens. In 2020, someone paid $130,000 in a particularly rare cryptocurrency. My colleagues have pointed out that this is, at its heart, a capitalist imitation, and that some individuals have actually pulled themselves out of poverty by playing the game.

But gaming differs from our day jobs in several extremely important ways, and these differences pose serious problems, explains Tom Brock, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan. For starters, game companies don’t have to treat you like workers. “Work is about much more than just getting paid,” he says. “It’s also about various forms of financial, pastoral, and cultural support—being part of a union is part of that, as are certain protections and rights.”

playing in the same order axi infinity strikes me as the extreme version of gig work. there would be a worrying parallel Fall of Football Index, a UK-based online betting firm that marketed itself as a fantasy league stock exchange. The service was originally a pyramid scheme: users were encouraged to turn their expertise into dividends, but lost tens of thousands of pounds when the football index collapsed. (of course, there is already an nft sports card game,

Services like football index set the stage For the merging of NFTs and games, with micro-transactions and loot boxes by associations with gambling. (Crypto assets in the EU are increasingly coming under various forms of regulation, notably Regarding money laundering.) Discussion on NFTs in the context of Worker empowerment There’s an obvious attempt to steer them away from these risky associations: a scam, basically. “Don’t think for a minute, because game companies are mobilizing this language of work, that they’re going to provide the same provision and support that you’d expect from workers,” says Brock. “There’s a conceptual move here, where you’re using the language of the work as an incentive, but you know you’re abdicating the responsibilities of paying people for the work.”

Except for the criticisms that overtake gaming, NFTs don’t offer players anything new. as game designer Max Nichols explains, players receive unique items with an already tracked history—no need for a blockchain. In addition, players can already sell digital goods: check out the FIFA card market on eBay. What NFTs do is let publishers take control of this market, giving you another way for developers to upsell microtransactions, a priority, laments Nichols, who didn’t play games in the ’90s. Was. (It’s also unclear how this would work in practice. in another thread, game engineer Jules Gleig explains that transferring “skin” from one game to another and dropping it into another is a total pipe dream—just think of the havoc that would play with Hitbox!).

Play has rapidly become a platform for commerce, says Brock. “It seems that macroeconomic and cultural structures are emerging that seek to play as a productive economic space, or a more productive economic space, and that this language of empowering gamers is the means to mobilize it.”

Some of it will come to the players. They have to be assertive and organized as they have been about things like pay-to-win systems, while distinguishing what they are. want to by playing. (And what players want varies between gaming communities. Whether players animal Crossing For example want financial remuneration? Actually, don’t answer it.) Writer and journalist Anna Wiener recently Told That the Metaverse would look like a video game: farm Ville, specifically, was just purchased (as with all mobile game behemoth Zynga) For $12.7 billion by Take Two Interactive, (The games, one expert told Wiener, are perfect for “onboarding crypto”.)

Of course, it’s important to remember that many games are nothing like Mark Zuckerberg’s proposal that, in the words of my colleague Cecilia D’Anastasio, “corporate culture will transfer to another life.” Weiner’s proposition can be reversed: The Metaverse may look like a certain type of video game, but a video game doesn’t have to look anything like the Metaverse.

Work, of course, has long been stealing the flashes of drama—as have ping-pong tables and bean bags in Silicon Valley. We’re told to love our jobs, but lie flat movement And r/antiwork Show that, for many people, working under a boss is far from ideal. The best of us can hope is that we hate our jobs only occasionally. With that in mind, do we really want games to be like work?

Play caters to us with or without financial reward. Yet the idea that we should be productive at all times is so ingrained in our culture that we feel bad about it when we engage in a quest for ourselves. I am sorry to say that I am related to this. When I started working at Nerdshala, my first thought was that I could finally play video games guilt-free, because they were now part of my job. (The extension of profit motive to those areas of life which we would not have expected is called anything else,

Matsuda’s proposal was mocked, especially in japan, Games have NFTs not popular, But what seems unpopular at first and turns out to be profitable in the future is often the same thing. (shares in Square Enix bounce after announcement.) It will be interesting to see if the game world splits further. Will it be through indie games that we get the emotional and intellectual benefits of art, while corporate games become digital, dystopian labor camps? (The metaverse, in other words.)

It’s probably not that easy. And what is simple can be equally controversial. if we can contribute And Have fun, in both work and play, the difference between the two will become really academic.

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