Ubisoft's dive into the cold, murky waters of NFTs did not go over well with fans, who very quickly expressed overwhelming dislike for the idea. They're not the only ones: The French trade union Solidaires Informatique, which represents some workers at Ubisoft Paris, criticized the decision in a statement calling blockchain technology "a useless, costly, ecologically mortifying technology."
"Ubisoft has recently entered the blockchain and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) market. A decision that has been widely criticized by our players, bringing no improvements or benefits to our games," the union said in a statement. "Many of us in the company feel the same way and say that blockchain is harmful, worthless, and without a future."
It's not just the technological side of NFTs that Solidaires Informatique has a problem with: Sketchy NFT creators and games, which have been rife with scams and rip-offs, also come under fire. "You like dividends, subprimes, financial derivatives, crises, speculation, fast trading, money laundering, etc?" the union said. "This is the assured and unspoken promise of NFT. We are far from the enjoyment of videogames."
As if that isn't enough, Solidaires Informatique also pointed out that the implementation of NFTs as collectible cosmetics in Ubisoft games really isn't anything new: The big innovation of the blockchain, the union said, "is to do the same, but inefficiently."
📢 UBISOFT and NFTBlockchain is a useless, costly, ecologically mortifying tech which doesn't bring anything to videogames. pic.twitter.com/H3LPS94Q5yDecember 14, 2021
It's vitriolic but not entirely unjustified, at least based on what Ubisoft has revealed of its NFT program so far. As Rich noted when it was announced, a hat that you could wear in Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Riders Republic, and For Honor could at least be seen as leveraging the potential of NFT technology. But we're not getting that: We're getting cosmetic items that only work in one game, which is effectively something that game studios have been offering for years.
The union said the NFT strategy has been "questioned and denounced internally" at Ubisoft Paris as well. Management is apparently still trying to sell the plan, but the union rejected the entire premise outright, saying its members understand the technology and don't need explanations because they're opposed to it as a matter of principle.
"We don't have concrete statistics, but in the internal Ubisoft forum, the announcement of NFTs was widely commented on, with something like a 5% ratio of positive comments. The rest were negative," Solidaires Informatique chapter rep Marc Rutschlé, who is also a senior designer on Ghost Recon Breakpoint, told PC Gamer in an email today.
"[Ubisoft CEO] Yves Guillemot made a video conference this morning to support the NFT project. I am not sure how many people attended the meeting ([Ubisoft Paris is] around 700+-plus people). Some friends checked and found four people who were happy. The rest were negative comments/questions. Devs are not happy."
Despite the union's strong stance, the likelihood is that we'll see more of this sort of thing in the future, not less. Ubisoft is the first major publisher to incorporate NFTs into a game, but Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson recently described them as "the future of our industry," while Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said he's a "big believer" in NFTs, although not necessarily as they currently exist. Peter Molyneux, Dead By Daylight, and Funko Pops have also embraced NFTs.
Gamers don't seem inclined to follow their lead just yet. The strong pushback against Ubisoft's NFT plan was matched earlier today by the response to GSC Game World's announcement that Stalker 2 will also incorporate NFTs. And that, more than employee discontent, may be what ultimately convinces game companies to change course. It's one thing for people who make games to be unhappy, after all, but it's something else entirely if that unhappiness spills over to the people who buy them.
Ironically, Nicolas Pouard, the vice president of Ubisoft's Strategic Innovation Lab, recently said something very similar: In a post on VentureBeat about the importance of player buy-in, he wrote, "Blockchain is a game changer, but only if used the right way and with players at its core will we collectively harness the true potential of this innovation."
However that ultimately shakes out, it appears for now that Ubisoft is fully committed to its NFT plan.
"This morning, Guillemot has reaffirmed that Ubisoft will still develop blockchain/NFT," Rutschlé said. "There are more things to come. He mentioned his continuous will and enthusiasm for Web.3, metaverse, and self-regulated virtual worlds. Just to compare, during the whole sexual harassment scandal, he didn't make such a move. It's crazy."
Solidaires Informatique filed a lawsuit against the company over allegations of "institutional sexual harassment" in July.