Yesterday Mojang drew a line in the sand, saying that NFT integration is "generally not something we will support or allow." This was prompted by a slew of unofficial Minecraft-adjacent NFTs alongside the appearance of play-to-earn servers for the game, which Mojang puts down to bad actors exploiting the gaps in official policy.
Given that NFTs generally seem a bit skeezy and that Minecraft's audience remains overwhelmingly young, this has to go down as A Good Thing.
A Twitter user commented on the Minecraft decision, tagging in Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and saying: "hey Epic Games, it’d be really nice to see the same opinion from the Epic Games Store. Please get rid of every last one of those games on the store "
Sweeney is an interesting guy because, alongside his obvious technical brilliance and understanding, he's deeply invested in fighting for certain principles of openness and what the role of platform holders should be (particularly when it comes to revenue splits). You don't have to like Sweeney, and he certainly says some ripe stuff on occasion, but the guy and his company are committed to what they believe and will go to bat for it, as the ongoing legal battle with Apple shows.
Sweeney responded to the call to ban NFTs on the Epic Game Store by re-stating some of the principles he believes should underlie such a store. He has been consistent about where he stands, and it's not the first time he's addressed the topic.
"Developers should be free to decide how to build their games, and you are free to decide whether to play them," Sweeney wrote in response. "I believe stores and operating system makers shouldn’t interfere by forcing their views onto others. We definitely won’t."
Somewhat predictably, this went down like a cup of cold sick. Sweeney's comment was met by a barrage of counter-points alongside more general complaints about the nature of NFTs themselves, such as their environmental impact. He responded to one asking why this stance was different to, for example, banning discriminatory or hateful content.
"These are all editorial and brand judgments," responded Sweeney. "A store could choose to make no such judgments and host anything that's legal, or choose to draw the line at mainstream acceptable norms as we do, or accept only games that conform to the owner's personal beliefs."
The main competitor to the Epic Games Store is of course Steam, which has already banned NFTs. The technology and 'web3' in general remain unpopular with the general online audience, even if there are plenty of ape-loving acolytes, and giving them a bit of a kicking is always going to be a crowd-pleaser (just look at the response to Mojang's announcement).
Sweeney does have a point though, inasmuch as he doesn't see it as Epic's role to go around telling developers not to use blockchain tech, and nor does he believe Epic should use its position to restrict their sale. The counter is that many of these projects are at the moment scammy, and that Mojang was arguably forced into action: to pick one example, the unofficial Minecraft NFT game Blockverse disappeared with more than $1.2 million in January. And there's no shortage of wider examples of NFT-related malfeasance or even outright criminality.
The fact remains that just because this is where the tech is now does not mean that this is how it will be forever. Whether Epic's stance will remain consistent in the face of the general audience disdain for the tech remains to be seen.