On Wednesday, Stalker 2 developer GSC Game World announced it would be auctioning off NFTs—also known as 'expensive receipts'—that granted owners a presence in the game, which really just meant their faces would be pasted onto the heads of NPCs. Now the studio has announced it has cancelled all plans to sell NFTs.
The NFT promo material posted yesterday was full of gibberish about becoming "the first metahumans" in the "Stalker metaverse" which was going to be achieved by way of a "metaversial bridge," a term which sounds like something from a Kojima game. It's actually just face scanning.
GSC clearly expected blowback when it made the announcement, saying right away that Stalker 2 wasn't becoming a "blockchain-based game," that the NFT auction wouldn't affect gameplay (except in the sense that you'd see the faces of NFT owners while playing), and that purchasing NFTs was optional.
Today, the studio posted another message to Twitter intended to soothe irritation caused by the announcement, saying that the in-game representations of NFT owners wouldn't be disruptive to players who wanted to ignore the whole thing. GSC quickly deleted that tweet, and then about an hour later announced on Twitter that "anything NFT-related" has been canceled.
The statement reads:
We hear you.
Based on the feedback we received, we've made a decision to cancel anything NFT-related in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. The interest of our fans and players are the top priority for the team. We're making this game for you to enjoy—whatever the cost is. If you care, we care too.
GSC Game World Team.
Although the initial reaction skewed negative, some fans welcomed the NFT auction, and over 107,000 people signed up for a chance to own a Stalker NFT, according to the DMarket page, which is still live at the time of writing.
Some objections to the Stalker NFT auction cited environmental concerns, but at the heart of it, I think skeptical onlookers see the whole blockchain marketplace as a way to extract cash from suckers, and no one wants to be thought of as a mark. Stories of blockchain scams and heists are frequent—it sounds like stuff out of EVE Online—and those who haven't bought into the narrative that NFTs are the next big thing struggle to see how bad drawings of monkeys are going to hold onto value. When the hustlers at the top have made their money, will those left holding JPGs have anything of value?
Another angle on NFTs is videogame integration: the idea that they can be commodities that stand up 'play-to-earn' game economies. That wasn't the plan for Stalker 2, but the adjacency was mildly uncomfortable. For those whose irises aren't cartoon dollar signs, blockchain videogames sound like a plan to remove the play and recreation from gaming and replace it with work and financial speculation.
In reference to Ubisoft's NFT endeavors, a French trade union recently said: "You like dividends, subprimes, financial derivatives, crises, speculation, fast trading, money laundering, etc? This is the assured and unspoken promise of NFT. We are far from the enjoyment of videogames."
Hey bro - you don’t need NFT’s or blockchain to pre-sell unique customized stuff in your game. I’m not into that sort of thing because it’s, like, kind of a shittier version of ad placement. But it’s been done for years and you don’t need NFT’s to do it. Anyway - Love your work! https://t.co/QyKrsGE4ohDecember 16, 2021
In response to GSC's now deleted clarification tweet (before it announced the total cancellation of its NFT plans), Gearbox founder Randy Pitchford pointed out on Twitter that the studio doesn't actually need to use blockchain technology to run the same promotion. In-game representations have been a staple of Kickstarter backer rewards for years. The claim that something new is happening when it isn't is another theme of 'metaverse' marketing that has become grating—as Wes put it the other day, it's all bullshit.
Ah well, it's all over now. Unless the studio changes its mind again, the Stalker NFT auction has been abandoned, and the metaversial bridge won't be crossed today.