Let’s Break Down Square Enix President’s New Year’s Letter

Square Enix Taipei Game Show 2018

Just last month, video game publisher Ubisoft announced Quartz, its own platform for in-game NFTs which is in turn called Digits. The responses from the gaming community have included phrases like “cynical”, “tone deaf”, and “out of touch”, just to name a few. And just as we enter the new year, fellow game publisher Square Enix posted a letter by the company president saying that it wants to do the same thing.

Of course, the letter contains other buzzwords poured out of the word blender, which sounds just as unappealing in the context of video games. Other things include Facebook changing its name to Meta, and thus hijacking the phrase “metaverse”. But NFTs were by far the main focus of the letter, with the company managing to demean modders while singing praises for blockchain tech.

Whatever the company planned for, it is amazing in its own way that Square Enix decided to go ahead with publishing this letter. This is especially after the massive, but entirely expected, backlash to Ubisoft and its announcement of Quartz. PCGamesN even did a great breakdown detailing why while the publisher’s Digit NFTs are not really NFTs, at least in spirit, and in its current state. It’s as if Square Enix, like Ubisoft, decided to dismiss all criticisms of the tech.

Then comes the spiciest part of the Square Enix letter. In it, company president Yosuke Matsuda says he realises that people who “play to have fun” has reservations about NFT tech. While the use of quotations to indicate a group of people is not inherently wrong, it’s difficult to see the negative connotations that it brings. This is especially so since the letter immediately brings up another group of people who “play to contribute”.

The people who “play to contribute” are described as those who help make the game more exciting via user-generated content. Or in a single word – modders. The letter alleges that modders are motivated by “such inconsistent personal feelings as goodwill and volunteer spirit”, for whom “traditional gaming has offered no explicit incentive to”.

Square Enix
(Image source: GC Images via The Verge.)

This is another strange take by the Square Enix president. After all, one would expect that modders usually only bother making mods for games that they enjoy playing in the first place. And it’s usually that enthusiasm to further improve an already enjoyable game that ensures that a mod is also of good quality. Unless Square Enix intends to release bug-ridden games and expects the modding community to fix them on its behalf, the way the Unofficial Skyrim Patch series of mods did for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

At any rate, the plan here sounds to be using blockchain, or more specifically NFTs, to pay modders. On one hand, the motivation on the surface is laudible. But on the other, the real reason is probably so that the company can take a cut whenever that happens.

Steam Workshop Paid Mods
Source: Steam.

Perhaps Square Enix has forgotten, or just didn’t pay attention to, all the asset flips that came about thanks to Steam Greenlight and its successor Steam Direct. Maybe the company also decided to ignore the whole paid mods fiasco all the way back in 2015. Or maybe because Bethesda doubled down on it, just as Ubisoft doubled down on Quartz despite backlash from its own devs, that Square Enix feels that it is safe to do so too.

At any rate, it paints a very bleak picture of what Square Enix has in store for the year. But as mentioned in the initial report, there’s no specifics as to when and where these NFTs will manifest. Hopefully the pushback against this is strong enough that the company backpedals, the way the S.T.AL.K.E.R. 2 devs did.

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