When I see news emerge about blockchain gaming, my first move is to research it; what are the details? How reliable is it? Where can I learn more? My first step is to find the source of the news and read it, making notes for my article. Then, on occasion, I read mainstream media posts on the subject — if any exist — to see if there is anything I might have missed. This is the procedure I just completed for an article on Ubisoft’s news and it has left me irritated to the bone.
My original title for this article (or rather the article that prompted it) was, “Ubisoft Further Invests in a Blockchain Gaming Future”. However, after reading a piece on IGN I was too irked to focus on the primarily good news. Nevertheless, let’s cover Ubisoft’s announcement before I return to the ignorant coverage it has got.
Ubisoft Is ‘Exploring Innovative Technology: Blockchain’
The confirmation of Ubisoft’s belief in blockchain technology came in their First-Half FY Earnings & Sales report yesterday. There are two notable passages I am going to directly pull from the full report:
“Ubisoft recently took part in the latest funding round of Animoca Brands, a leading blockchain gaming company. Ubisoft has been exploring blockchain since the early development of the technology, supporting and learning from the ecosystem through initiatives like its Entrepreneurs Lab start-up program and the Blockchain Game Alliance as a founding member. This long-range exploration ties in with Ubisoft’s constant search for innovation and new ways to empower players as true stakeholders of its worlds. It also gives Ubisoft the perspective to reflect on the best ways to overcome blockchain’s initial limitations for gaming around sustainability and scalability.”
The second quote is the one that every news outlet is using, presumably copy and pasting it from each other’s articles, which is:
“Blockchain will enable more play-to-earn that will enable more players to actually earn content, own content, and we think it’s going to grow the industry quite a lot. We’ve been working with lots of small companies going on blockchain and we’re starting to have a good know-how on how it can impact the industry, and we want to be one of the key players here.”
That’s enough news, on with the rant.
Willful Ignorance or Journalistic Apathy
My simple news piece became derailed when I clicked on IGN’s article to see if I could glean any extra information from such a reputable source. Instead, I was met with what has become little more than two tropes of mainstream media on the topic of NFTs or blockchain gaming. The first is at least grounded in legitimacy to a degree: the negative environmental impact. This, however, has been priority number one for every blockchain worth their salt, particularly ones in gaming, who are now either carbon neutral or carbon negative. Two key examples would be Enjin and WAX.
The second trope is regarding how “controversial” blockchain and NFTs are. Below are three quotes from large media outlets, and it’s worth noting, they’re all taken from articles on Ubisoft’s report yesterday, I have done almost no leg work to find examples.
“Blockchain, NFTs, and everything associated with them have been extremely controversial as they’ve gained mainstream attention in recent years.” — Rebekah Valentine, IGN
“As for why NFTs are so controversial, it’s because, just like cryptocurrencies, their creation contributes to the climate crisis.” — Michael Beckwith, Metro
“Ever wanted to pay for a skin with cryptocurrency, for some reason? Well, you may soon be able to! Of course, NFTs and crypto generally is widely derided for its environmental impact, which Duguet did try and address in the earnings call.” — Dom Peppiatt, VG247
This notion that blockchain technology is controversial is merely self-perpetuating. The lazy nod at how apparently divisive crypto is because of environmental impact is so far removed from evidence-based research, it’s tantamount to journalists who are uninterested in the sector, high-fiving each other for their mutual disdain. I have no issue with people not being interested in blockchain technology the way I and many others are, but if you’re tasked with reporting on it for a major media outlet, do your due diligence.
The foundation of NFTs’ impact on the planet while undeniable, is blurry. I am a long way from a climate change denier and blockchain technology must remain carbon neutral or negative. However, even the Ethereum network, which is the source of the environmental concerns along with Bitcoin, is unlikely to be as plainly horrendous as it is made out. A study by the University of Cambridge estimated that 39% of all NFTs made on Ethereum run on renewable energy sources and that number is likely to increase.
Blockchain Gaming Is Far From the Threat It Is Made Out To Be
The overarching problem with NFTs, which are central to blockchain gaming, is when they are on a Proof of Work (PoW) network like Ethereum. However, blockchain gaming is somewhat disconnected from Ethereum in many ways, with the popular gaming blockchains opting for other models (Proof of Stake, etc.) which are usually carbon neutral or close to it.
According to DappRadar’s charts, the majority of games are on the following blockchains: WAX, BSC, and Polygon. WAX’s games have dominated the top spots on the most played and highest volume games, with titles such as Alien Worlds and Splinterlands, and WAX is certifiably carbon neutral. Binance Smart Chain is unlikely to be carbon neutral, but being as it is not truly decentralized, paired with it having a PoS system, means it is a far cry from the energy consumption rate of Ethereum. Finally, Polygon openly provides its research on how it is eco-friendly.
The belief that blockchain gaming is going to be an environmental disaster is unsubstantiated and highly unlikely. Ethereum is not a blockchain well optimized for gaming thanks to its high gas fees and low transactions-per-second ceiling, so it seems improbable that major gaming companies like Ubisoft or Epic Games would use it even if they were indifferent about our planet’s general health.
The knee-jerk cries of controversy and environmental destruction by major media outlets the moment a large company in the gaming sector announces plans for blockchain has to stop. It is at best well-intentioned but misinformed journalism, and at worst, a disinformation campaign against a burgeoning and important technology. I suspect the bulk lay somewhere between the two; uninformed and too lazy to put the necessary effort into fact-checking their stance.
Ubisoft isn’t a perfect company and they have had some troubling allegations raised against them of late. However, the bizarre formulaic vitriol copied and pasted from news outlets at the mere mention of blockchain is unwarranted. The crypto industry, with its many parts across a multitude of industries, is a complicated beast rife with causes for legitimate concerns, but blockchain gaming’s environmental impact is presently not one of them and displays no signs of becoming one.