A recent article on GameRant highlights that Sony has patented a renting mechanism for its gaming ecosystem, providing yet more evidence that NFTs and blockchain technology might be coming to PlayStation.
Sony working on NFTs and blockchain behind the scenes isn’t new information. In fact, if you split Sony into Sony Music and Sony Interactive Entertainment, you’ll find several relevant patents have been filed. Last year, I investigated Sony’s gaming blockchain patent and why it shows so much potential for the technology. That patent was primarily focused on analytics and data about digital items. It is one of the most on-point proposed use cases of blockchain technology in gaming we have seen to date, and by a giant no less. The rise of digital provenance will be the backbone of NFTs’ values to gamers, I believe, and Sony appears to understand that perfectly.
This patent filing last year has been compounded by another, related patent, also filed last year, but uncovered this week: NFT renting.
Sony and NFT Renting
While the integration of NFTs and the harnessing of blockchain technology for digital provenance and analytics made obvious sense, to me at least, this other Web3 patent requires some guesswork and unpacking. Here is how GameRant describes it in their article:
A new patent by Sony suggests the company wants to rent NFTs to PlayStation 5 players and stream spectators. Specifically, the patent describes an interconnected system that gives users an offer to rent a NFT depicting artwork or an asset from popular PlayStation 5 games. This limited-time offer would be displayed in the console’s user interface with terms of ownership for a player or a spectator alike. The Sony patent’s system indicates that different prices for the NFTs will be offered to players and spectators respectively. Once the rental duration expires, the NFT will be returned to the market for others to rent or purchase.
As you can see, the value isn’t quite as clean-cut and would be a significantly harder sell to non-Web3 gamers, especially the suspicious ones. Renting NFTs in Web3 games isn’t unusual, but the why may not be obvious to those outside of it. The first major success story in renting gaming NFTs was Axie Infinity. The reason for this is that the game became a victim of its own success; Axie was suddenly so popular that the demand for its NFTs soared, and with that demand, so did the prices. This created a high barrier of entry to play the game as the NFTs required to play were expensive, and so renting was a cheaper alternative.
The way in which NFT renting works in games is typically similar: someone who owns an NFT for that game makes it available for rent. The renter can earn the game’s token(s), but they will not receive 100% of their earnings as they would if they owned the NFT. Instead, perhaps a 10% or 20% cut will go to the owner who is renting it out. This gives owners of the game’s NFTs passive income and incentive to put their lesser-used game items to work, all while overcoming the high barrier of entry for new players. It does, however, create a similar “land baron” problem with wealthy folk hoovering up desirable NFTs to rent them back.
With Sony’s patent, we are left guessing as to what they might do with this mechanism. It’s hard to imagine that a high barrier of entry to games would be likely and it would be dreadfully received, particularly at the start of rolling out NFTs into their ecosystem. It could be that some players might want to rent a rare skin they cannot afford to buy, but that doesn’t seem like the big picture to me — rather just a small benefit, though perhaps I’m out of touch here.
What seems most likely, though this is purely conjecture, is some utility to the NFTs that are being rented out. I believe the clues are hidden in the mention of “stream spectators”. Perhaps streamers will be given NFTs to rent out to their viewers that will grant access to levels, game modes, tournaments, and other limited-time content.
As for how Sony’s various gaming patents for NFTs and other blockchain technology applications pan out, we will have to see. All we can tell is that Sony is taking this shift in gaming seriously, as many of their competitors are too.