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The Future(s)

Thinking about the future is hard. Sometimes because it is difficult to forecast, and other times because it inspires existential dread. If you’re not up for some of the latter, feel free to Abandon Post!

On Reddit I have subscribed to r/Collapse and r/PrepperIntel. I am not a prepper or doomer, per se, but I do find it useful to have an increased awareness of potential hazards. For example, I have rebuffed all casual suggestions that we move to Florida. Besides the fact that it’s Florida, climate change is going to hit there especially hard between extreme weather events and salt water intruding up through the limestone into the aquafers. A sea wall ain’t going to do shit about that. And while it’s possible that I won’t live to see that level of disaster occur – I will be around retirement age at 2050 – why would I want to set down roots somewhere where my son will have to sell the family house to Aquaman?

Then you have the other side of the (Bit)coin with Mark Zuckerberg steering Facebook into spending $10 billion this year on metaverse and VR. Regardless of how you feel about any of those nouns, it’s amusing to see such a commitment towards something entirely dependent on, well, non-collapse scenarios. Europe is going to have a tough time heating homes this winter, but sure, let’s pour some R&D money into beaming ads directly into peoples’ eyeballs. Perhaps Zuckerberg is a fan of Ready Player One? Or perhaps he just wants something to help pass the time in his climate bunker.

OK, maybe I’m further along the doomer scale than I thought.

It’s hard to be optimistic in the current, ahem, climate anyway. We’re days away from a Supreme Court judgment on whether and how the Environmental Protection Agency is able to tackle climate change at all. Within the next two years, we could theocratically theoretically be under conservative rule just in time for them to try tax breaks or repealing healthcare to refill Lake Mead before the Hoover Dam goes offline. Almost makes you want that Great Salt Lake bomb to go off sooner than later, eh?

Also, don’t move to Utah. Or any previously-desert State. That desert is coming back.

It’s reasonable to ask the follow-up question of “WTF, mate?” There’s no particularly satisfying answer. Maybe we get a fusion energy breakthrough that allows us to power through some massive carbon geoengineering moonshot. Maybe they find Hillary’s emails on Hunter’s laptop and it’s revealed the leftist climate agenda purpose is to sell Priuses, and there’s nothing at all to worry about having CO2 at 421ppm like it was back in the Pliocene era, 4 million years and 25m+ higher ocean levels ago. Or maybe, I dunno, the sun stops shining so bright and we can just continue doing whatever we want.

For what it’s worth, I largely continue to behave as though there is a future out there that isn’t too unpleasant. What else can you do, right? As an Absurdist though, it makes me laugh a bit when Todd Howard starts talking about upcoming Bethesda games. Starfield is in 2023, then it is pre-production Elder Scrolls 6, and then Fallout 5 after that. Where does that put a Fallout 5 release, mid-2035?

Something tells me that we may not need Metaverse goggles for that one.

Play-to-Earn

Amongst the crypto/NFT/metaverse topics cycling around online, there is a quote from Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, that makes a bold prediction:

“90% of people will not play a game unless they are being properly valued for that time,” Ohanian, who runs venture capital firm Seven Seven Six, said in a recent episode of the “Where It Happens” podcast.

“In five years, you will actually value your time properly,” he said. “And instead of being harvested for advertisements, or being fleeced for dollars to buy stupid hammers you don’t actually own, you will be playing some on-chain equivalent game that will be just as fun, but you’ll actually earn value and you will be the harvester.”

On its face, the prediction is ridiculous. This Forbes article rips it apart. There’s a huge sense of revulsion from many corners of gamedom over this a priori push into NFTs and metaverse to begin with, let alone the notion that “Play-to-Earn” is going to catch on in some kind of major way.

The problem is that we have actually been Playing-to-Earn for years already.

For example, the WoW Token (NFT?!) already exists, and I spent considerable in-game time doing Auction House shenanigans in an attempt to pay for my subscription and purchase expansions. Same with Guild Wars 2, where everyone farms gold that they turn into gems into cash shop purchases, paid for by people spending real dollars to buy gems for said gold. EVE has had similar things in place for years and years. Almost every single mobile game has a way for you to “earn” a cash shop currency that you could otherwise purchase outright. All that is missing is a way to cash out of the ecosystem, which simply means no longer hiding values behind “gems” and “diamonds” and such.

And Diablo 3 did all this in front of the world in 2012.

I’m not saying all of this is a good idea. These companies are throwing around terms when they clearly have no idea what it even means. Game companies spend millions of dollars building custom game engines instead of leveraging existing products all the time, and yet they talk about NFTs and metaverses as if interpolation between games is a solved issue.

But do you know what IS nicely interpolated between radically different games and platforms? Cash. It doesn’t make sense to try and bring a Candy Hammer from Candy Crush into Clash Royale via blockchain or whatever. But if I can sell that same hammer to someone else in Candy Crush, I can bring those dollars over to Clash Royale and purchase something else. METAVERSE!

The elephant in the room, of course, is why any game company would actually want to do this. There is a proven track record that turning cash into funny money (tickets, gems, diamonds, etc) is a technique to obfuscate how much money someone is actually spending. Or playing to earn, for that matter. Earning 30g/hour in GW2? Amazing. Alternate Youtube title: Earn $1.88/hour in GW2. Less impressive. These companies also frequently give out free hits of crack game currency in almost-useful amounts to entice people to purchase more. Can’t quite do that with literal cash equivalents.

On the other hand, Diablo 3 is kind of an example of why companies would want to. Selling a powerful sword in the cash shop for $100 is clearly Pay-to-Win. Letting your customers sell the same sword for $100 to another customer and taking a cut? Totally OK! Nobody blamed Blizzard for introducing a sword worth $100, as that was just the benevolent invisible hand at work, as our lord Adam Smith intended. Nevermind that Blizzard has full control over all the levers that makes a given sword rare and useful enough to be sought-after in the first place. Capitalism, ho!

The Play-to-Earn economy being threatened in the headlines has been a call coming from inside the house this whole time. The “only” difference is that many of the most popular games that have the equivalent mechanisms already in place don’t let you cash out. They could, but they won’t, because why would they? Getting a cut of NFT sales into perpetuity sounds nice and all, but that will only work if your game is popular/successful, in which case you may as well keep all the money in-house. All the other apps will be engaging in a race to the bottom, gumming up the blockchain with NFT trash loot, collapsing whatever ecosystem may exist. Nevermind how all of it perverts the incentive structure for progression-based game mechanics anyway (see: Diablo 3).

Having a terrible idea that won’t work never stopped Blizzard before, so I don’t see why it should stop anyone else. And hey, if I’m wrong, hit me up in the crypto salt mines where we monetize every moment of our free time to afford luxuries like clean air while the planet boils around us.