The year in NFT buffoonery: Rug pulls, hacks, and poor choices

Axie Infinity
(Image credit: Sky Mavis)

Has anything good ever come from NFTs? Aside from the Christopher Moltisanti meme, I mean. I really can't think of anything. The functionality they offer games is technically different than what's been available for years through conventional microtransaction sales, but it's practically the same thing for those who don't play games to be financial speculators, and the whole business of making, buying, and selling them is awash in corruption and criminality. "A useless, costly, ecologically mortifying technology," is how French trade union Solidaires Informatique described it, and I have no notes.

Myself, I have a pretty simple approach to the whole thing: No fucking thanks. It's served me well so far, because I haven't been hosed out of any money by fast-talking scammers hawking bad clipart, nor have I missed out on any gaming experiences that could be described as even remotely compelling. Tfue cards? Tiny little numbers on my Tom Clancy helmet? Atari? No thanks. See, it's easy.

Somehow, though, it keeps on happening. Money goes in, and for a variety of reasons—criminality, incompetence, the fact that NFTs are inherently valueless digital ephemera no different than the horse armor that set the gamer world ablaze with outrage in 2006—heartbreak comes out. 2022 was no exception.

Blockverse goes bust

Blockburst, an unofficial play-to-earn Minecraft game sells out its initial NFT offering, then splits

(Image credit: Blockverse)

The year started off with a bang, although it was really more of a poof: In February, Blockverse, an unofficial play-to-earn Minecraft NFT game, disappeared with more than $1.2 million, just a couple days after selling out its initial offering of 10,000 NFTs in under eight minutes. Blockverse founders surfaced a few days later to proclaim that all was well, everything was fine, and there was nothing to worry about, but of course there was plenty to worry about. A promise that development would soon "get back on track" never materialized, and neither did the money.

Axie Infinity forgets to change the code

Hackers affiliated with North Korea take advantage of a security lapse to make off with $617 in crypto

(Image credit: Axie Infinity)

Blockverse's million-dollar rug pull would look like chump change just a month later, when an Axie Infinity techno-botch enabled hackers to make off with more than $617 million in cryptocurrency. It's complicated, but the short analogy version is that after an NFT giveaway promotion, somebody forgot to change access permissions, and shortly thereafter, a shitload of money went out the door. 

It was a screwup, not a rug pull, but the net result was the same: A lot of people lost a lot of money because some unscrupulous d-bag decided he wanted it. The US government eventually pointed the finger at North Korea; some of the stolen funds were reimbursed and Axie Infinity eventually returned to action, but the token price now sits well below where it was prior to the heist. 

F1 Delta Time runs out of gas

F1 Delta Time, one of the first NFT games, loses its license, players lose their cars

(Image credit: Animoca Brands)

F1 Delta Time did not fall victim to either a rug pull or incompetence, but it did demonstrate the inherent worthlessness of NFTs. It launched in 2019 as one of the first-ever licensed NFT games, and actually produced the "most expensive NFT" of that year, a diamond-encrusted F1 car (actually just a fairly low-quality rendering of one) called 1-1-1. But in March 2022, F1 Delta Time closed after losing its F1 license, and those NFTs were basically gone. Developer Animoca offered different sorts of compensation for the now-useless "assets," including "proxy assets" that "will be used in the future to obtain NFTs to products across the REVV Motorsport ecosystem." But given that the whole raison d'être of NFTs is digital permanence, you'd be forgiven for wondering, well, "Dude, where's my car?"

Untamed Isles sinks into the sea

The crypto-crash brings down crowdfunded MMO Untamed Isles, and there's no money left for refunds

(Image credit: Phat Loot Studios)

The crowdfunded MMO Untamed Isles was a major success on Kickstarter, where it pulled in more than four times its goal of NZ$200,000 ($127,000). It had somewhat less success in the real world. In August, developers put the project "on hiatus," blaming the 2022 crypto-crash for their woes. Naturally, there was no money left over for refunds, either, which resulted in some seriously unhappy feedback from backers on Kickstarter. Developer Phat Loot Studios said it was "looking at ways to salvage both the core studio and the game so that it can be completed and released," but there's been no further update since then on the Untamed Isles website, Kickstarter, or Steam page.

CNN closes the Vault

CNN ends its Vault NFT program, abandoning its promise of "exclusive CNN perks" and the ability to mint your own NFTs based on CNN articles

(Image credit: CNN)

CNN's Vault NFT program, launched in June 2021, offered "digital collectibles" that were essentially jpgs of "key historical moments" drawn from its archives. It also offered a built-in system to buy and trade (ie, make money on) its NFTs, through "a variety of selling formats including both open editions and limited editions." But in October, it said goodbye to the whole thing, leading to widespread cries of "rug pull" from NFT owners. It wasn't, in the strictest sense, because the NFTs are still around: You bought an NFT, you got an NFT. But other parts of the shutdown are sketchier: The 2022 roadmap, which is still accessible on the Vault website, teased everything from a new Photography for Change series of NFTs to "exclusive CNN perks for Vault collectors" and the ability to mint NFTs based on any CNN article you want—all of which went away without warning.

Seth Green's apes gone, then home again

Seth Green falls for a scammer and then pays $300,000 to get one of his stupid ugly apes back

(Image credit: Seth Green)

Seth Green, who among other things is known to gamers as Normandy pilot Jeff "Joker" Moreau in the Mass Effect games, pulled his own rug in June when he spent nearly $300,000 to reclaim ownership of a Bored Ape NFT that he'd been scammed out of the previous month. I can't imagine ever being wealthy enough to drop the price of a Ferrari on a low-quality monkey scribble, but if I am, I hope I have enough taste (or basic common sense) not to.

See more

40,000 years in prison

Alleged NFT rug-puller faces a prison sentence long enough to encompass the entire Warhammer 40,000 timeline

Faruk Fatih Özer

(Image credit: Thodex (via Facebook))

The collapse of crypto exchange Thodex in April 2021 resulted in losses of more than $2.5 billion, and its founder, Faruk Fatih Özer, buggered off to Albania with millions of dollars stolen from the company. He was eventually busted and ordered extradited to Turkey to stand trial. If convicted, he's facing up to 40,564 years in prison, which according to my calculations means he might be out just in time to take part in the 14th Black Crusade.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.