It was only a decade ago that buying a game was mostly a physical purchase, one that stays with you no matter what, but the onslaught of digital distribution and live service games has brought ownership into question.
You probably asked the question yourself - how much of the game X do I really own? For many games currently on the market, the answer is none, but most players don't find out until they've learned that the phrase "like getting kicked in the teeth" is more literal than metaphoric.
Live service games brought with them a new way of thinking, where engagement is the name of the game and time is understood as the ultimate currency. The model has long taken hold of the entertainment industry so it clearly works, albeit with a single, glaring downside - ownership, or more precisely, lack thereof.
I know what you're thinking - who cares, right? Well, you do. We do. Humans really like owning stuff. We like it so much, in fact, that we build our identities as well as economies on top of this surprisingly multifaceted concept. Subjectively, it can evoke powerful emotions; objectively, it evolved into a legal category.
We borrow. We also lease. However, the things we really, really like - we end up owning. Far more than just a feeling, ownership means stability. It means purpose. A future.
The possibility that a game, and with it your investment, can be taken away at any time is far more than just a feeling. It's almost at a subconscious level, the sort of knowing that you can't just wish away or shake off.
Surprisingly enough, a potential solution comes from the cryptocurrency sector, which I normally readily ignore with a generous dose of scepticism for flavour. Nevertheless, the solution is available, elegant and consumer friendlier than I would've imagined.
NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS - NFTs
You can check out Nem's in-depth primer on NFT's over here , but in the simplest of terms - Non-Fungible Tokens are unique files on a blockchain, whose uniqueness means they can be tokenised to commodify digital items. In other words, you can bind them to items and track their ownership, or include additional info if you wish.
NFT's are decentralised so they're practically unfakeable, and even if they were, it would still require too much time and processing power to be worth it. Perhaps the best part of it all, though, is that unlike the current crop of copyright mechanisms, getting an NFT of a digital piece of art, for instance, doesn't remove the file or meddle with it in any way.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is auctioning his first tweet via NFT, and the highest bid at the time of writing is $2.5 million. The tweet is still online, which practically makes NFTs a non-destructive copyrighting method.
DIGITAL GOODS AREN'T GOING AWAY
This is not to say that digital distribution or live-service games should be killed off. In best-case scenarios, snapping up a game like the first Destiny would mean years of fun, ample support and even an upgrade path to Destiny 2.
Unfortunately, for every Destiny, there are several Anthems on the market, and you can only get kicked in the teeth so many times. Your investment? Gone. Traces? None. Responsible? Apparently no one. Ironically, at an age when everything can and is getting recorded, a digital record of fun times in a live-service game is not on the menu.
NFTs may not be the ultimate perfect solution, but they're as close to it as I've ever seen. Players could mark important milestones or gain ownership of an in-game asset without disrupting existing structures or gameplay, adding a bit more permanence to games with each use.
Even the worst-case scenarios still provide an opportunity to get some memorabilia, just for keepsakes. Developers could easily have an auction before they pull the plug, and even if they sold assets for a few bucks each, I bet they'd still earn themselves a nice pile of cash. Players get something to remember their time by - everybody wins.
Just in case someone from BioWare reads this - if you make an auction, I'm coming for this bad boy. Oh well, worth a shot.
PICKING OUR POISON, FOR ONCE
It would be great if gamers picked their own solution for once, because those we've been fed by big game publishers over the years have consistently sacrificed user experience for profitability.
Denuvo is a prime example of this, as it reached the point where the in-game performance of paying customers is sacrificed so a publisher could sell a few more copies in the early launch window.
Or, how about loot boxes, another ingenious cash extraction mechanism that almost overtook the industry at one point. I'm no sage, but I can guarantee you that this type of anti-consumer solutions will keep coming.
NFTs open up numerous possibilities for trading digital goods, which could propel the video game industry to new heights, spawning micro-markets all over and creating lucrative opportunities for devs and players.
The art world has already started strong when it comes to cashing in on NFTs, what with Beeple flogging a collage for $69 million, but many other industries are looking at video games to gauge the tech's true potential. So, here's to hoping we finally get to pick our poison.