Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and Web3, “a new iteration of the World Wide Web that incorporates decentralization based on blockchains,” have been hailed as the future of the Internet by swaths of actors in the tech, crypto and VC sectors. Beyond that narrow vein of proponents are vast reams of skeptics. Among gamers, coders and even soccer fans a loud countermovement has taken root. Today, OMR is documenting the culture clash.
In the end, it was more fizzle than sizzle. Last month, former sports betting analyst Preston Johnson and former derivatives trader Eben Smith announced to the Washington Post their plans to purchase a team in the English Football League (the fourth flight of English soccer). Their reign at the helm of the club was also to include a restructuring of the club based on NFTs (check out the OMR primer on NFTs here) and largescale outside investments both with the overriding goal of guiding the club to the Premier League, the highest flight and one of the world’s top leagues. The Washington Post also reported that the club was to be renamed to “WAGMI United” (WAGMI is a common congratulatory battle cry in the NFT space standing for We’re all gonna make it) and that the group of investors includes Daryl Morey of the Philadelphia 76ers, business guru Gary Vaynerchuk and Tiktok celebrity Bryce Hall.
Prominent sports reporter lambastes “Crypto Bros”
Shortly after the article is published, Tariq Panja, New York Times sports reporter, tweets out that the club in question is Bradford City. The revelation sends shockwaves across Britain. To be sure, some club supporters welcome the prospect of new ownership or at the very least were not immediately opposed to the idea—ostensibly because such an influx of cash could stop the club’s freefall into soccer obscurity. Prominent British sports pundits, however, are vocal in their opposition.
Bradford City and the club’s owner, German entrepreneur Stefan Rupp, only confirm in a statement that they have received “an offer to purchase Bradford City AFC” but that “no change of ownership is imminent.” With pressure mounting among supporters and the public at large for additional clarity, Rupp releases a second statement a day later confirming that he received an offer from the Wagmi group two days prior but that “this has been rejected.” The Wagmi group responds with a statement of its own on Twitter according to which Rupp has been in negotiations since November; Rupp hit back saying it contained “glaring inaccuracies” and that he has “instructed my lawyers to explore all possible legal redress forthwith.” Regardless of the outcome in the legal venue, the deal is dead.
In the fans’ crosshairs: token platform Socios
The Bradford City situation was not an outlier. French platform Socios also mobilized British soccer fans, who criticized its plans for a takeover. Socios launched as a platform to sell soccer club “tokens” based on their own cryptocurrency Chiliz. Token owners are then authorized to participate in votes on club decisions (but none that would be considered majorly strategic in nature, more who should be Man of the Match). Socios profited from an unforeseen PR coup, when global superstar Lionel Messi transferred to Paris St. Germain, a Socios partner, and it was announced that he would receive a portion of his contract paid out in “$PSG Fan Tokens.” (Socios recently launched virtual collectibles as NFTs for several clubs.
Clubs that Socios has partnered with include top clubs like the aforementioned PSG, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal and Manchester City. Additional top-flight clubs in England that are partners include Aston Villa, Everton and Leeds United. Supporter groups at West Ham United, Arsenal and Leeds United voiced their opposition to such fan tokens and sought to raise awareness of the incalculable risks involved with cryptocurrencies. On the one hand, many supporters seem put off by the idea of having their club become a crypto experiment or an object of profit-driven investors. On the other hand, there have genuine concerns that fans will be forced to pay more than they already do or that rival club supporters can obtain and misuse the tokens. It all comes to a head, when Socios announces a co-op with Crystal Palace, as supporters unfurl a banner at the next home match decrying the “morally bankrupt parasites unwelcome.”
NFT plans cause gaming scene outrage
NFT backlash is not limited to professional club soccer. Gamers too have been Nintendo thumbing their nose at widespread and speculative adoption of NFTs. Ukrainian developer studio GSC Game World recently announced in a now-deleted tweet that the next installment of its popular first-person shooter Stalker would contain NFTs. While the studio stated that these would have no impact on gameplay, the announcement caused enough of a PR shitstorm that GSC pulled an about-face and canceled their NFT plans a day later.
A similar situation played out with billion-dollar, listed gaming giant Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry among other IPs) and its plans for “Ubisoft Quartz,” an NFT initiative it intended to launch by implementing its NFTs (called “Digits”) in the upcoming title “Ghost Recon Breakpoint.” Industry outlet Kotaku said that Ubisoft is the first major publisher to “befoul its own game with NFTs” and called them “a silly pyramid scheme.” Ubisoft’s Youtube video announcing the launch of Quartz is said to have amassed 40,000 dislikes in a short amount of time. The video is no longer publicly listed on its channel. Despite the fact that the first NFT collection has apparently flopped and Ubisoft staff has criticized the NFT initiative internally, CEO Yves Guillemot has told developers that NFTs in “Ghost Recon” is just the beginning, according to Kotaku.
Crypto projects will “require hazard pay”
The misgivings gamers have lie in not only the volatility and inherent risk in crypto concepts, but they are also mindful of their poor energy efficiency and possible detriment to the environment. Furthermore, NFTs reopen recent wounds as gamers have seen gaming studios introduce a host of “innovative monetization concepts,” such as loot boxes, micropayments and “pay-to-win” games in an effort to increase profits at the expense of game quality. Therefore, it’s only understandable for gamers to see NFTs as a different side of the same coin.
Lars Doucet, a developer at Level Up Labs, a smaller gaming studio best known for Defender’s Quest, published a long Twitter thread on the “crypto culture clash” currently going on in the gaming scene. Crypto proponents “underestimate how deep the distrust and disgust coming from traditional game developers can be. Like friends and colleagues will block you for openly working on these projects. Hiring trad[itional] game dev[eloper]s is going to require hazard pay,” Doucet wrote on Twitter.
NFTs make the furries fly
There are also other subcultures who oppose NFT projects. The Neopets community, for example, who create and care for virtual pets (check out the Wikipedia entry here), is vehemently against the introduction of NFTs into the game. Even so-called “Furries” (Wikipedia), people who have an interest in anthropomorphic animals, or animals with human qualities, were irate that actress Lindsay Lohan released a “Furry NFT.”
One of the main things NFT proponents hang their proverbial hats on is that they provide better prospects for inclusion of everyone who had a significant role in the creation of products, brands or communities. By owning an NFT, community members are said to be able to profit from a spike in value. The reality of the situation is, however, that the skepticism among subculture groups of crypto-based concepts is so widespread that NFT platforms and NFT creators have much to do in the way of assuaging their misgivings.
Jack, Elon and Keanu, standing side by side
It’s gotten to the point that celebs can score virtue points by lampooning and lambasting NFTs. The actor Keanu Reeves chuckled in an interview with The Verge about the ease with which NFTs can be reproduced. Famed producer and musician Brian Eno, who is a groundbreaking and legendary figure thanks to his open embrace of technology in music made it clear in an interview that he is no NFTs fan: “NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a little piece of the action from global capitalism, our own cute little version of financialisation.”
In addition to NFTs, the umbrella term “Web3” has also been heavily criticized recently. Recently, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey implied that Web3 is just a buzzword used by venture capitalists to earn more money. “You don’t own “web3. The VCs and their LPs do. It will never escape their incentives. It’s ultimately a centralized entity with a different label. Know what you’re getting into…,” said Dorsey. Elon Musk chimed in by tweeting “Has anyone seen web3? I can’t find it,” to which Dorsey responded: “It’s somewhere between A and Z”—a dig at VC legend Andreessen Horowitz, who gave himself the moniker a16z and has invested over USD 3b in crypto startups.
“What’s up with all the hate”
Even among software developers there is growing opposition to “Web3.” Berlin-based computer scientist Jürgen Geuter extensively criticized the concept of Web3 in a lengthy blog post: Blockchains, he says, are slow, inefficient and a security disaster, in addition to being harmful to the environment and being at their core a pyramid scheme. The initiative “No to Web3” has also collected a trove of other similar critiques.
On Reddit, anti-NFT posts have become so commonplace on the home page that one user had to innocently ask “What’s up with all the NFT hate?” The post received over 10,000 “upvotes.” The top-rated answer contained a summary of the most common points of criticism, including the fact that someone who buys an NFT does not actually own the work of art or item itself, but merely a receipt that it belongs to them or that digital works of art are oftentimes stolen and then published as NFTs. Another user agreed, saying: “that hit the nail on the head.”