Ubisoft Quartz, the name of the giant publisher's new NFT program, became a meme immediately. Ubisoft fans and critics all joined hands to say with one voice, "No, we don't want NFTs in our games, Ubisoft. Go sort out the sexual harassment problems in your company before trying to push more microtransactions down our throats." While a beautiful moment, it's important to understand Quartz failed not because it was an NFT program but because it was Ubisoft's NFT program.
In this article, we'll explain how Ubisoft could have leveraged NFTs to make games actually better, putting value back into the hands of gamers.
Ubisoft Quartz Controversy Explained
Setting aside the outrage and the marketing fluff, Ubisoft Quartz is a pretty simple program with not much to it. Quartz is what Ubisoft is calling their NFT initiative: It involves using real money to buy the cryptocurrency Tezos (off the tez blockchain) which you can use to buy Digits, Ubisoft's NFTs. These NFTs include in-game weapons, skins, and cosmetics that are limited in number and can be resold.
Tezos and its attached blockchain have been around since 2018, and it's a less power-hungry currency than some other coins, so the controversy, in general, hasn't been focused on the particulars of the specific technology. Though, some have been outraged over Quartz's fine print.
Making the rounds on Twitter, many have joked about how, legally speaking, Ubisoft notes they have no control over the tez blockchain and cannot in any way interfere with its inner workings to refund purchases, verify them, or do anything of the kind.
While it sounds right to mock a company saying they have absolutely no control over their own digital shop, this is actually a core feature of blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFT technology: By design, this technology can't be tweaked by third parties, be they companies or governments. This is very much a feature, not a bug. There is no backdoor.
Ubisoft's legal disclosure on the subject, then, is completely standard, doesn't share any new information, and is ultimately just that: a legal disclosure. Just as the vacuum manufacturer notes on their box they aren't responsible for you injuring yourself with the vacuum does Ubisoft note they aren't responsible for what happens if you buy cryptocurrency and NFTs.
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Where most of the outrage comes from is how this whole NFT system actually works in the context of Ubisoft games. Ubisoft opened their NFT program by selling expensive, extremely dull-looking Ghost Recon Breakpoint cosmetics, some of which were gated behind 600 hours of required playtime.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is not and has not been a popular game precisely because of how unfinished the game launched and how greedy its monetization system was, so selling pricey, half-baked cosmetics gated behind playtime for a game people didn't play struck many as a cruel irony.
Not even just many, but most, as it has been reported Ubisoft's introductory NFT offering made almost no money at all, much less than would be necessary to justify the program's continued existence in the face of such intense backlash.
How Ubisoft Could Have Sold NFTs to Gamers Fairly
However you feel about the environmental impact of NFTs, some forms of this technology require more power (and thus have more of an environmental impact) than others, and Quartz is on the greener side of the spectrum. This is about as much as Ubisoft could do.
Ubisoft's terms and conditions, too, while maybe a bad look if you take them out of context are just as good as any other similar terms and conditions pages. This was handled about as well as it could be handled, as well.
All Ubisoft needed to do with Quartz was three simple things. First, launch Quartz with a better game. Ghost Recon Breakpoint isn't just unpopular: A big part of why it's unpopular ties into the game's monetization. Pick a game like The Division 2, or something, where it makes more sense to gamers to sell microtransactions and where gamers might actually do that.
Second, clearly explain why a gamer might want to buy a Ubisoft NFT over a skin off an in-game shop. For example, write a blog post describing how the average price of a skin in whichever game cost about $10, so the team at Quartz targeted $20 for the average NFT price.
To justify that price, the blog post would go on, NFTs unlike normal skins would be usable across Ubisoft games, software, and websites; they could easily be resold and would retain real-world value; and your purchase of one would be secured and verified by an independent body with no financial ties to Ubisoft.
Lastly, Ubisoft needed to try to draw players into what is, at best, a new way for them to make money off microtransactions by making a gesture to their community. Instead of gating an NFT behind tons of playtime, Ubisoft should have offered all Ghost Recon NFTs to players with over 600 hours of playtime for free.
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Heck, Ubisoft could have even tied other digital or physical rewards to the purchase of NFTs, even if just at first, to try and demonstrate that this new program would truly just be an option for gamers rather than a new scheme designed to subtly extract more money without any increase in value.
Ultimately, Ubisoft chose Ghost Recon; they weren't very clear about how NFTs were better for gamers than their microtransactions mostly because they weren't better; and they made no effort to try and meet the community halfway. Unsurprisingly, Quartz is a failure.
Though, these reasons for the program's failure don't have much to do with the nature of blockchain, cryptocurrency, or NFTs. These technologies are tools, as all technologies are, that can be used for good or can be used to try and suck more cash out of whales that spend hundreds of thousands on digital items for their in-game characters.
Let's leave the blame where it belongs: with Ubisoft. While NFTs (and cryptocurrency and blockchain) all have valid criticisms, these technologies have a lot of features from a privacy standpoint, and by all accounts, they are the future. If we don't normalize bad behavior early on, this future might still be bright, but only if we make it that way.