TTRPGS, Blockchains, and NFTs

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When Kickstarter announced recently that it would be investing in blockchain-based infrastructure, there was widespread backlash. Blockchain technology is environmentally damaging and is of limited use. Creators such as Possum Creek Games (Wanderhome) announced their intentions to move off Kickstarter, while companies such as Chaosium and Wizards of the Coast continue to express interested in non-fungible tokens, digital items which exist on a blockchain.

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While I'm writing this article, I do need to point out that I'm not a great person to do so; my understanding of blockchains, NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and related technologies is very, very limited and my attempts to get a handle on the subject have not been entirely successful. I'm sure more informed people will post in the comments.


Kickstarter is not the only tabletop roleplaying game adjacent company delving into such technologies. Call of Cthulhu publisher Chaosium announced in July 2021 that it was working with an NFT company to bring their Mythos content to a digitally collectible market, with specific plans to sell two different models -- the Necromonicon and a bust of Cthulhu -- from the Cthulhu Mythos; and while things went quiet for a while, last week the company tweeted that 'We have more - lots more -- to drop... when the Stars are Right." A Facebook statement from Chaosium's CEO appeared on Twitter talking more about the decision.

D&D producer Wizards of the Coast said in April 2021 that it was considering NFTs for Magic: The Gathering. More recently, an email from WotC's legal representatives to a company planning to use NFT technology in conjunction with M:tG cards, alleging unlawful infringement of its IP, indicated that WotC was "currently evaluating its future plans regarding NFTs and the MAGIC: THE GATHERING cards" but that "no decision has been made at this time."

On Twitter, ErikTheBearik compiled Hasbro/WotC's involvement with NFTs so far.

Gripnr is a '5e based TTRPG NFT protocol' with Stephen Radney-MacFarland (D&D, Star Wars Saga Edition, Pathfinder) as its lead game designer. OK, so that's about as much of that as I understand!

Some company in the TTRPG sphere have taken a stand. DriveThruRPG stated that "In regard to NFTs – We see no use for this technology in our business ever." Itch.io was a bit more emphatic:

A few have asked about our stance on NFTs: NFTs are a scam. If you think they are legitimately useful for anything other than the exploitation of creators, financial scams, and the destruction of the planet the [sic] we ask that [you] please reevaluate your life choices. Peace. [an emoji of a hand making the “Peace” symbol]

Also [expletive deleted] any company that says they support creators and also endorses NFTs in any way. They only care about their own profit and the opportunity for wealth above anyone else. Especially given the now easily available discourse concerning the problems of NFTs.

How can you be so dense?

NFTs -- non-fungible tokens -- and blockchains have been dominating the news recently, and with individuals and companies taking strong stances against them, it's fair to ask why. The environmental impact of the technology has been widely documented - it's inefficient, and the need for blockchains -- a sort of decentralized ledger -- to have multiple users validate and record transactions makes it very energy intensive. In an era when climate change is having more and more devastating effects around the world, use of such technologies attracts considerable backlash.

Other ethical concerns regarding NFTs specifically is that the purchaser of an NFT is not actually purchasing anything, and the value for the digital 'token' they've purchased is speculative. When you buy the NFT of a piece of art (for example) you don't own the art itself; you only own a digital token associated with the art. The whole concept is likened to a 'house of cards' or a 'scam' by its critics.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


Yora

Legend
Yes, NFTs are all one giant pyramid scheme. And like any good pyramid scheme, the actual scammers let a few regular fools get rich as well, to make it look like normal outsiders with no prior knowledge and connections to insiders really can make a lot of money with the whole thing. Buying NFTs is not investment, it's gambling. Gambling that you might be one of the lucky few who actually walks away with a profit instead of the masses who get left with nothing.

The whole NFT business was set up in the first place by known con men who have already been banned from stock speculation. And given with what ordinary speculators do on a normal day, it really takes quite a lot to get banned. This has nothing to do with improving the economic situations of artists. This was planned as a scam from the very start by a group of criminals.
 

While I get and agree with the concerns about the environmental cost of blockchain, putting emphasis on it as the cause for objection feels like an error. The numbers involved are very big and can get very murky for the typical audience. It's the sort of data that people can play around with. See so called "green" crypto and nfts.

What more sells the danger for me is this: It is all a pyramid scheme. It's selling digital trading cards under the pretense they will appreciate in value because scarcity will convince a future victim to buy it off you at an increased price. They are all scams. What's more, it's the wild west and there is zero regulation to protect customers or the artists who proponents claim this aids. While anecdotal for now, we are seeing increasing reports of IP theft in cypto/nft markets.

Seeing as I love plenty of things that do known harm, like cholate, it would be hypocritical to say I will abandon an RPG company because they partner with an NFT company or offer them directly. But I don't approve of the practice, would never participate in it or Cryptocurrency, and will never endorse its use.
 


Is the power usage really that significant? From what I can see, private data bases of all types pull a tiny fraction of the wattage needed to power street lights.

How are the NFTs going to come into play given a single-tier or at best a double tier system?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Is the power usage really that significant? From what I can see, private data bases of all types pull a tiny fraction of the wattage needed to power street lights.
According to this article, each transaction consumes $100 worth of electricity.


The NYT says bitcoin uses more electricity than some countries do:

 

183231bcb

Explorer
Other ethical concerns regarding NFTs specifically is that the purchaser of an NFT is not actually purchasing anything, and the value for the digital 'token' they've purchased is speculative. When you buy the NFT of a piece of art (for example) you don't
I hope eventually people will start to apply this concern consistently: there ought to also be a massive backlash to any product with DRM.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
It's interesting how upset some folks are getting over the so-called "scam" nature of NFTs.

Upset and concern over the environmental impact, I understand. And NFTs are definitely faddish and do seem a ripe area for scams and for those who would take advantage.

But are NFTs, by nature, all scams or pyramid schemes? No.

The basic idea of digital artwork (and digital currency) isn't going to go away. How it is structured will likely evolve, hopefully into something less environmentally impactful and more regulated. NFTs are the beginning of something new.

We have another thread with folks swearing off Chaosium products until they walk back their foray into NFTs mentioned in the OP. I just don't get the upset. I'm not going to be purchasing any NFTs anytime soon, but I don't have a problem with companies like Chaosium or WotC exploring the market. If folks out there want to buy digital artwork and collectibles, I have no problem with companies and artists catering to those demographics.

NFTs . . . faddish, environmentally irresponsible (in their current form), an area where buyers must exercise caveat emptor (buyer beware), an area that could probably use some regulation . . . but not a secret evil plot to disenfranchise artists, consumers, and bring the world one step closer to armageddon.

Of course, if NFTs bother you on a fundamental level, go ahead and boycott Chaosium, and eventually WotC . . . . but I don't think it will have much of an impact on these companies or the burgeoning NFT market.
 


MGibster

Legend
I feel so out of touch sometimes. I don't really understand NFTs either and the idea of spending real money on one seems unbelievable to me. I didn't know Chaosium was getting into the NFT business until I saw a post on Reddit yesterday with people expressing their disapproval by asking for alternative Cthulhu type games. I'm not going to jump on the NFT wagon mostly because I don't understand it. But then I felt the same about Bitcoin. I was listening to the Freakanomics podcast the other day, and if I had spent $112 for 12 bitcoins a little over a decade ago they would be worth $513,000 today. (Truthfully I would have cashed them out long before today fearing a crash of some kind.)

I still can't help but look at NFTs and think of the Dutch tulip craze.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
They're not buying digital artwork, though, if I understand the technology correctly.
Like you, I'm not fully versed in the realm of NFTs. But from what I've been reading on the Chaosium offerings, that's basically what it is.

I'm open to being educated, but most of the anti-NFT responses so far seem histrionic, so it's hard for me to take them at face value.

For the Chaosium "Necronomicon" and "Cthulhu Statue" NFTs, (if I understand them correctly) they are not investments expected to appreciate, they are digital artworks to show off to your friends digitally. True, you are technically buying a license, not the artwork itself . . . but that's true of most digital media including music, books, video, and even 3D print-files.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Like you, I'm not fully versed in the realm of NFTs. But from what I've been reading on the Chaosium offerings, that's basically what it is.

I'm open to being educated, but most of the anti-NFT responses so far seem histrionic, so it's hard for me to take them at face value.

For the Chaosium "Necronomicon" and "Cthulhu Statue" NFTs, (if I understand them correctly) they are not investments expected to appreciate, they are digital artworks to show off to your friends digitally. True, you are technically buying a license, not the artwork itself . . . but that's true of most digital media including music, books, video, and even 3D print-files.
NFTs aren't artwork, they're 'tokens' associated with artwork. If you were buying digital artwork, you'd just buy digital artwork. You don't even need to own the artwork to sell the NFT. This video (5 mins or so) explains it:


That's the best, easiest to digest explanation I've found.
 

opacitizen

Explorer
If you don't have time for the 2+ hours long video linked above, watch this one:

.

Buying NFTs don't equal buying digital artworks. They equal buying a position in an arbitrary queue to which position something is linked when you buy the position, but it can be replaced later on, and your position gives you no ownership or anything whatsoever regarding the linked item. It does not become yours or anything. As far as I know, and I'm not a lawyer, and so on. Watch the video.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
NFTs aren't artwork, they're 'tokens' associated with artwork. If you were buying digital artwork, you'd just buy digital artwork. You don't even need to own the artwork to sell the NFT. This video (5 mins or so) explains it:


That's the best, easiest to digest explanation I've found.
Thanks for the link, but this video also started off overblown, if humorously. I stopped after the nice old guy called us idiots.

Yes, if you are buying an NFT, you are buying a "token" . . . how is that different from buying a license? Honest question.

People have been trying to sell NFTs of art they don't own or have any rights too, you mentioned the tiff on Magic cards in the OP, but is that a part of the model, or individuals taking advantage of the new model that isn't well understood by most?

There are plenty of scams in the analog art world. Is all art, and the sale thereof, a scam? I'm not going to purchase an NFT anytime soon, but neither will I be purchasing high-end art ("worth" thousands to millions) to hang on my physical walls at home.

And to be clear, I'm not advocating for NFTs . . . . I don't see the value in them, I think they're kinda stupid and faddish, and I do think a lot of folks are going to throw money into them and end up unhappy . . . . but declaring the entire industry as scams and pyramid schemes I don't think is accurate or fair, as many detractors are doing.
 


Ulfgeir

Hero
And blockchains, and NFTs are not needed for purchases of digital content in most cases, as far as I can tell. Only case they would be useful is if the users can then trade the digital content between themselves, and the content is unique, but transfers of ownership could be done through a central database, that your app accessess (and that it then rewokes the licence-code to use the object from the previous user).

Edit: and if the content is NOT unique, or you can not trade it betwen users, then you sure as hell don't need any blockchains.
 


Yes, if you are buying an NFT, you are buying a "token" . . . how is that different from buying a license? Honest question.
Saw this as an analogy:
The best analogy I've seen in regards to the real world would be if you went to an art gallery, asked to buy a painting and instead of getting the painting they gave you a receipt that says "I own this" and put a little plaque in the back of their office that says "whoever has this receipt owns this painting". You can't take it home, anybody can come see it at the gallery, and if the gallery burns down, you're out of luck but you "own" it. If you sell or somebody steals your receipt, they "own" it now. The art gallery also goes and burns down a good chunk of rainforest in your name for good measure because of all the wasted energy required on these.

The chaosium Veve nfts take this further in a way, because you can't cash out afaik. You spend really money to buy their "gem" currency, then can use the gems to purchase artificially-scarce NFTs, like a spider man comic book. This "item" can now increase in value theoretically, but you cannot cash out; the only thing you can do is trade this item for their fake currency to purchase other NFTs.

fwiw, Veve claims to be 100% carbon neutral, though I think that's just through purchasing offset carbon credits.

There are elements here that are similar to the loot box/microtransaction elements in video games, where game companies make money by selling skins or items (or randomized collections of such items). Is this predatory? Does it seek out and exploit "whales" who will spend a lot of money on these items? Is it harmful for children, who sometimes put their parents in debt over such items? A lot of people seem to think so.
 


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