Liza Shulyayeva

Mike Shinoda's video game NFT dreams

I’ve been taking a Twitter hiatus for a while and am finally all recharged and social-media-detoxed, so I’ve started going back on there to mostly read. This morning I noticed a bunch of replies on a game dev hot take in my feed, with seemingly mostly polite discourse addressed to someone named “Mike”.

The parent Tweet was basically talking about how NFTs don’t have to be simple images. It was talking about reusing the same NFT skin across Fortnite, CoD, Minecraft, etc. Game developers were responding to this sentiment, including some devs of the aforementioned games, basically with “That’s not how game development works, Mike.” “Have you seen our pipelines, Mike?” “Mike…please.” (I am paraphrasing).

Some replies started with “I respect your music, Mike, but…”

It was all surprisingly civil (from what I saw on my feed, anyway). But who is this Mike guy? I tend to gloss over the usernames, especially usernames talking about NFTs. But then I looked at it again.

Wait…that Mike? “First CD I ever bought” Mike? “I had the band’s poster on my wall for years” Mike?

When did Mike Shinoda get into NFTs?

I’ll be honest: knowing one of the people whose music I basically grew up on as a teenager was having this conversation made me ten times more interested. So I thought about the merit of the tweet as opposed to taking it as just another NFT or game dev hot take.

Ah! So here’s something people aren’t explaining: NFTs don’t have to be jpgs.

Imagine taking your favorite skin from Valorant, and using it Fortnite. And not paying extra, because you own it. Then using it in CoD, Minecraft, even Twitter, IG.

So many possibilities, no?

— Mike Shinoda (@mikeshinoda) January 8, 2022

This was the tweet I saw eveyone replying to, so I’ll start there.

“That’s not how it [currently] works, Mike”

All the game developers replying to this are right: that’s not how game dev works. It can be hard enough to reuse assets between versions of the same game. Some games do make special deals with other developers to incorporate parts of another IP or brand, and some modders create transferrable skins and such themed to other properties. But each of those is custom made. You don’t take an asset from Battlefield and just plop into CoD. Who’s going to be managing this? How will the income from these NFTs be shared across different studios and companies? Will it be an exclusive group, so as to not dilute the profit?

I don’t think that’s what Mike meant, though

But I don’t think that’s really what Mike meant by his tweet. I doubt he was talking about this magically working in current games. He was probably talking about this being a thing in the future, in games that haven’t been made yet. But while it maybe could be some part of a bigger mega-world owned by the same company (think a game creation platform built on the same tech stack that wants to make assets easy to reuse, maybe?), I believe competing developers are highly unlikely to go out of their way to implement support for this very non-trivial thing, even if they could.

Where are these NFTs hosted?

I think I’m still not fully understanding NFTs, so this is likely the source of my confusion. From what I understand (and feel free to correct me), when you buy an NFT you buy a URL to the asset. The asset has to be hosted somewhere. Let’s say a group of game devs get together and decide to make some shareable skins across games. A user buys a skin once as an NFT and can use it in Game A, Game B, and Game C, all developed by different companies, on different engines.

In a realistic world, each of these games will need to design and implement its own version of the asset. It will need to query some central resource and check if the player has purchased an NFT that represents the location of Skin A, then look up what actual game asset Skin A maps to in their game.

In a less realistic world, the asset can just be magically plopped into any game or engine or web stack you wish. Which…would be unfortunate, in my opinion, since it would likely require developers to move toward more common technologies and reduce the variety of engines and pipelines. Different engines are great at different things, and moving to a hyper-homogeneous world in games would kind of suck. There is merit to reusing the same engine within a company, but even that often come with many challenges, debates, and problems for teams integrating an engine that wasn’t necessarily designed to support the type of thing they’re building. Even within developers using a common engine, asset pipelines, styles, etc can look drastically different: and that’s (often) a good thing!

But even if this sad world does come about, the question remains: What location does each game query for relevant NFTs? From what I understand, there is some sort of contract ID that contains ownership details. Does the user manually input their contract ID into the game? Is there some central API that all the games will need to query to retrieve the NFTs owned by that user? I thought decentralization was meant to be an aim for NFTs, though? How would this be implemented in a decentralized way?

Why would this be done with NFTs?

If some game developers get together and go out of their way to try to implement pipelines in which one skin could easily be reused across games (a high feat in itself), why would they want to use NFTs for this? Microtransactions and in-game purchases have been a thing for a very long time, and they work. If game developers decide to get together and make reusable skins, I’m not sure what benefit doing this with NFTs would provide compared to just introducing purchase options with relatively stable, fiat currency. Maybe I’m slow on the NFT uptake, but I don’t see what benefit shoving this grand idea into an NFT-focused ecosystem actually provides over ecommerce options we have today.

“It will take a lot of work to impress them with something great”

A later tweet from Mike elaborated on the discourse:

I think the bottom line is, I urge creators out there: pay attention to the comments in these threads. If you’re going to work with NFTs, you have to give, not take. You are working against a headwind. It will take a lot of work to impress them with something great.

— Mike Shinoda (@mikeshinoda) January 10, 2022

To be honest, I don’t know about that. There are NFTs of stolen art and ugly monkeys being snapped up like hotcakes by people hoping to make money from NFTs. I really don’t think many people are actually buying these for their artistic value. They’re hoping they’ll appreciate, and make the buyer rich. Honestly, I really don’t think it would take a lot of work or greatness to convince someone to buy NFTs tied to game assets: mostly just enthusiastic marketing speak about the grand future of NFTs.

Maybe my skepticism is showing, but I promise I really did try to consider this in a fair and not-dismissive way.

Civil discourse

I will note that Mike seemed to be open and civil about this whole thing. He admits in later tweets that “the devs might be right” (although I really don’t think he believes it), and urges everyone to keep a civil discourse. It’s nice to see people not yelling at each other about crypto and NFTs for once, and I noticed other recent posts about the topic that have managed to keep the discussion respectful and interesting.

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