In the weeks since Ubisoft rolled out non-fungible tokens in one of its video games, critics—particularly those here at Ars Technica—have shot back with questions about their purpose. While Ars is still waiting for a formal response to our December questions, the closest we’re likely to get comes from a Thursday interview with Ubisoft executives that included a bold assertion that players’ “resistance” to NFTs is “based on misunderstanding.” (We hope Ubisoft isn’t saying that to anyone who has read Ars’ lengthy guide to NFTs.)
In the interview, conducted by Australian tech site Finder, two Ubisoft executives (Didier Genevois, head of Ubi’s blockchain team, and Nicolas Pouard, lead on Ubi’s “Quartz” and “Digits” NFT systems) fail to clarify how an online game’s NFT implementation differs on a gameplay basis from existing digital rights management (DRM) solutions, particularly those baked into storefronts like Steam and Ubisoft Connect.
When pressed directly on what benefit a player might expect from engaging with Ubisoft Digits, Pouard first said that “gamers don’t get what a digital secondary market can bring to them.” Eventually, Pouard answered with one potential benefit: “the opportunity to resell their items once they’re finished with them or they’re finished playing the game itself.”
Finder’s reporter then asked whether Ubisoft game license purchases might one day be treated like NFTs so that consumers can freely sell and trade the games they’ve purchased instead of having them locked in their Ubisoft Connect accounts. Pouard implied that such a thing could happen one day. “That’s part of the use case we can explore, but it’s not the focus today,” he said.
A domain of wild contrasts
Pouard also indicated that the greater goal of NFT sales is connecting them to other marketplaces. He responded to a query about whether “play-to-earn” schemes could appear in Ubisoft games, with NFT acquisition as an endpoint, by saying, “Adding a real-world value reward might be the next addition on top of all the value a game already offers.” (Pouard in no way explained how such NFTs or rewards would be doled out, nor what kind of regulatory hot water his team could land in for promoting such a scheme.)
In one head-spinning quote, Pouard all but screamed Ubisoft’s intent for making money from a connected metaverse of some sort:
The interest in decentralization for a centralized company like Ubisoft is to open the gates of our games and to make them bigger by sharing [a stake] with our players. To build new experiences that are on top of what is in each game to date. It’s a new way to see what a game could be. I don’t want to go into numbers, but owning a percentage of a huge ecosystem might be even more interesting than just owning a game today. I’m sorry, as I know it’s difficult to understand right now, as this kind of idea doesn’t really exist yet [in gaming]. But we see that the ecosystem for a game can be much, much bigger than what a game is today in terms of value creation for everyone.
The interview is a domain of wild contrasts. On the one hand, Pouard said Ubisoft customers would have seen through any attempt to hide the NFT-based nature of its Digits system. “We need to be transparent on what we are doing,” he said.
Yet when asked about customers’ negative reaction to Ubisoft Digits, Pouard pivoted to condescension and obfuscation. After saying NFTs are “not an easy concept to grasp,” he boldly asserted that “piece by piece, the puzzle will be revealed and understood by our players.”
Worse, when describing the item-resale potential of Ubisoft Digits, Pouard got pretty blunt. “So, it’s really for [paying Ubisoft customers]. It’s really beneficial. But they don’t get it for now,” he said.
A few questions later, Pouard went back to heaping praise on players, telling Finder, “Players are always right. Because they are our players, and we love them. And so they’re always right.”