Why do we play? - editorial

Why do we play? - editorial

Why do we play video games? Why do we watch movies? Why do we read books? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of the answers that can be provided to this kind of questions, questions that are intrinsically devoid of univocal solutions, because they tend to adapt to the definition we decide to apply to art, or more simply to any medium.

Are they recreational or educational activities? Are they products of mere consumption or tools that lead to reflection? It could be said that they represent a set of all these things, or rather, that each work that is created pursues a different purpose and is destined for a different audience, seeking contact sometimes to touch emotional strings, often to bring naked profit, sometimes to tell a story, others to capture hordes of unwary in his network.

But, beware, a lot also depends on the people who use these creations. There are those who play a video game simply to kill time, there are those who do it to get out of it enriched, there are those who hold the pad in search of the digital company, there are those who use interactive works to alienate themselves from everyday life, today there are even those who do it to earn a living - producing content or competing in esports competitions, and yes, there are also those who play because they cannot do without it, having developed a real form of addiction.

Why play video games? For years we have done this for a variety of reasons, and new answers to the question arise every day. What is certain is that the production of interactive works has experienced waves of upheavals in its nature that have led it to distance itself from the philosophy that once guided the hand of the authors and the ambition of publishers, generating irreversible effects on the drive that pushes users to fruition.

If once the aim was to sustain the business activity through the financing of the creative work, today it is aimed at the typical growth margin of the S.p.a. ignoring - and often trampling - ancient concepts such as authorship, replacing what we could define the classic user-satisfaction with a cold and sometimes predatory approach. If you want, investor-satisfaction.

The emergence of live games whose sole purpose is to accumulate and sell the thousands of hours spent by fans in digital worlds, the creation of paid DLCs and the fabric of microtransactions that support the contemporary market, and soon the entry on the stage of Non Fungible Token, have marked or will soon mark the end of the transition period between what was a golden age for creative work and the one that is looks like a potential era of consumption only.

This is where the change in the possible answers to the question "why videogame" that you find in the subtitle enters the scene: once we played for fun, to experience a story, to spend hours of carefree, to compete as in any team sport. Today there is the possibility that it is done for "Fear Of Missing Out", because they are caught in a relationship of expense-addiction such as the one concocted by the oriental Gacha Games, to pursue a digital validation like the one that supports some MMORPGs, or even to earn money, as advocated by NFT's foray into the underworld of bilateral monetization tools.

Ubisoft recently launched Quartz, its proprietary platform dedicated to NFTs called Digits related to individual home video games. And the latter hypothesis is the most discussed at the dawn of 2022, certainly because it has recently been endorsed by some giants of the market such as Square-Enix, whose president Yosuke Matsuda has published an end-of-year letter that increases the dose on the relative projections. in Metaversi and NFT; or from Ubisoft, which launched the Quartz platform at the very beginning of last December, or from Electronic Arts, since the president Andrew Wilson has made it clear that "NFT and blockchain are the future of video games".

It is not surprising that the medium's "founding" companies are suddenly interested in the possibilities offered by NFTs as well as Metaverses. Wow, they've been creating universes and digital assets every month for decades, and now they're forced to watch on the sidelines as the latest arrivals prospect hordes of cash-laden investors to create a new promised land of exposure and marketing. accompanying it with the issue of Tokens and NFTs capable of generating revenues thanks to their very existence.

But what will be the answer to the question "why videogame?" tomorrow. Will there be those who will turn on the PC or the console spending hundreds and hundreds of hours - perhaps carrying out intellectually unprofitable activities - in pursuit of a remuneration paid in the form of tokens? Will there be those who will replace social and work activities with a new form of farming aimed at the production of virtual objects which, while leading to the enrichment of the parent company, do not guarantee the same result to the player? Not to mention that, on the other side of the spectrum, a completely new category of consumers would emerge, willing to invest in this kind of item.

Oblivion's horse armor was one of the first microtransactions to make its way in the video game industry (priced at $ 2.50). Obviously, such a hypothesis represents only one extreme in the spectrum of possibilities. At one time we could have improvised as Nostradamus novels and argue that the introduction of DLCs and microtransactions between the monetization systems of the videogame work would have led to irreversible damage, such as the practice of cutting contents to sell them separately, the over-pricing of the first digital objects. such as the famous "Oblivion horse armor", or the exclusion of those who do not buy an expansion from the social mechanics of a shared experience.

Although all these eventualities have ironically materialized, it has happened that numerous other publishers have launched through these tools contents that are fully worth the price of the ticket and that are configured as genuine appendices to the beloved work, sometimes giving luster to elements cut for more than reasonable reasons and in some cases improving beyond measure the consumer experience.

This is the case, for example, of the famous DLCs of CD Projekt RED, of the expansions of Skyrim or of the cut-content restored in the confines of Dark Souls. In short, not everything is black or white and it is only a wrong method of integrating models such as NFT which - as simple consumers - we should worry about.

Therefore, we are forced to take into consideration the opposite extreme: it is possible, for example, that one day digital artists will be able to create works in the videogame context and attract patrons able to finance their efforts. Which does not represent an absurd distortion of reality, since it has already happened that real exhibitions were hosted by some of the most important museums on the planet in the context of worlds like the one staged by Minecraft, not to mention that the creation of contemporary content is often, but not exclusively, based on relationships of this kind.

It is certain that NFTs also carry with them apparently unsolvable problems, above all that of an environmental nature, since they often rely on a blockchain "proof of work" - that is a validation of blocks that requires the contribution of numerous GPUs in series - which consume incalculable quantities of electricity. And where is electricity cheaper?

New World uses time savers: these are microtransactions designed to remove waste of time that, on the other hand, the developers themselves have included in the title. Obviously in those few countries that opt ​​for coal-fired production. A feature that is difficult to defend, although there is also a less impactful model (and less widespread, at least until the end of the transition that is characterizing Ethereum) defined as "proof of stake".

The next question, which ultimately embodies the core of the question and which Massimiliano Di Marco has already extensively analyzed on the pages of Eurogamer.it, is that of the lack of any practical utility of NFTs in the modern fabric of video games, a question that on the other hand brings us to a further analysis of the concept of necessity applied to the sector. In fact, during all the transition phases of monetization systems in videogame work, the common practice has been to create a new artificial need rather than respond to a pre-existing one, a practice that in the case of NFTs is particularly frightening.

There was once no need to release DLC content, as a result many publishers have decided to cut content from the base experience and then sell it separately. In several multiplayer video games it was not necessary to invest in microtransactions to maintain a competitive status, so whole modes were created to support this model.

In online video games there has never been the desire to skip high impact content, so game design has rewarded tediousness in order to give a reason for being to the so-called "time-savers", items that allow players to save time spent on deliberately uninspiring activities.

Diablo 3 has proven that it is possible to build a 'real' economy in a video game without the help of NFTs. In contemporary video games there is no practical need to insert NFT, not even to create a real economy, since there are several examples of productions - such as Diablo III - that have succeeded in this intent without relying in any way on tokens. So what will be the path chosen to integrate them? What will be the need, the modification to the game system or the new fruition mechanics that will be created to make the purchase or pursuit of NFTs an attractive choice in the eyes of millions of fans?

In the case of Axie Infinity by Sky Mavis, one of the most popular NFT-based titles, that drive was placed in the promise of real gain to the breeders of axie, which are little creatures similar to the much more well-known Pokémon. As stated by Massimiliano: "Many players, especially the 'scholar' who borrow axie, are earning less than the minimum wage in the Philippines (where the game is very popular), even though they have to invest many hours of the day to raise axie. In short, in Axie Infinity, people are getting into debt with the expectation, at some point, to start earning. The "scholars", according to estimates, represent between 60 and 65% of the population of Axie Infinity. " And in all of this, Sky Mavis has today reached a value of three billion dollars.

The recent statements of the big companies in the sector have been accompanied by a backlash from their communities, a reaction that however does not seem sufficient to dissuade them from the analysis and the probable pursuit of what, to be honest, is a very rich and constantly growing market.

On the one hand, then, there are the loyal gamers who try to defend a medium they perceive in danger, while on the other hand crypto-enthusiasts have risen, trying to convince the members of the online community of dozens of hypothetical benefits of the eventual implementation.

Axie Infinity is a video game based on NFT that promises earnings to the Scholar, the breeders of the tender axies. The reality, however, is a bit different. Most read now

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For our part, we do not have enough elements to establish where reason resides, and as happened with other appendices placed on the monetization systems of the medium it will only be time to provide concrete answers , both with regard to the methods of implementation and above all in the merits of the impact on the entire videogame production, which net of financial upheavals has recently reached some of its highest peaks ever, both in the independent undergrowth and in the scope of triple A.

After all, what everyone is waiting for, detractors or supporters, is an author who is able to give NFT a sensible dimension on the other side of the screen without embroidering the experience solely around their integration.

Of one thing, however, we are certain. Why do we play video games? To spend quality time. Some take pleasure in giving their time to the competition, others giving it to the pursuit of art, still others to simple divertissements to clear their minds.

But when the essence of the videogame leaves the confines of the work to pursue external objectives unrelated to the hours that fans choose to reserve them, then only two categories are lost: gamers and real videogame authors.

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