What I really wanted to kick the year off right in the Wisdom of Nym column was to have to push my plans back and alter them based on an incredibly ill-advised letter that Square-Enix president Yosuke Matsuda decided to put out on New Year’s Day. Talk about starting the year off on the right foot! If by “on the right foot” you mean “by inserting your foot into a bear trap while smacking a hornet’s nest with a stick.” Thanks, I hate it.
That having been said, whether I want to or not, this column and my occupation means that a corporate president beclowning himself on the public stage means I have to actually talk about it. I also have to talk about how this relates to Final Fantasy XIV, with the note that… well, anything that has to do with this is by definition provisional. The short version is that I think any freaked-out reactions are more than a little early, even if you are a sensible person who wants nothing to do with NFTs and finds the idea of having them involved with gaming in any form to be appalling.
So, let’s start with the obvious: This letter is dumb. It’s dumb because it’s almost transparently being put out to the wrong audience, it’s dumb because NFTs are dumb, but it’s also dumb because it’s pretty clear that Matsuda does not actually understand what NFTs are in any realistic sense.
I’ve been back through this letter with a fine-toothed comb multiple times at this point. (Anxiety is like that.) Everything that Matsuda is talking about as being part of this bold new future of NFTs is something that can actually be done in a simpler and more straightforward fashion without NFTs in the first place. It kind of drives home the idea that he doesn’t really understand the drawbacks, pushback, or even point of this technology; what he understands is that investors want to hear about this and want to hear about how Square-Enix is capitalizing upon it.
Which makes sense because Square-Enix is actually a big corporation with a lot of very diverse holdings. And it’s here that we have to take a step back because there’s at least one quote from the letter that gets lost amidst all the other intensely stupid stuff within:
If we refer to the one-way relationship where game players and game providers are linked by games that are finished products as “centralized gaming” to contrast it with decentralized gaming, then incorporating decentralized games into our portfolio in addition to centralized games will be a major strategic theme for us starting in 2022.
That quote is dumb. But it also kind of outlines what Matsuda is talking about in a way that a lot of the knee-jerk “NFTs are coming to FFXIV” reactions sort of miss. Matsuda isn’t talking about integration with existing games but talking about diversifying into a totally new thing. This isn’t a hard pivot; this is Square doing what it’s always done, which is trying to diversify into new fields and make something new.
Square’s corporate history provides some interesting context. This approach has resulted in a lot of bad decisions, but it also shows a compelling corporate-level strategy. Square has a tendency to be less about “let’s license out our properties to make X” and more “let’s start a new division to make X.” When that works, you have Square’s Play Arts action figures and the like; when it doesn’t, you get things like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. (Which I kind of liked, but I was also a child and kind of an idiot.)
What Matsuda is doing here isn’t saying that Square is going to start incorporating NFTs into its existing games. What he’s saying is that he wants Square to have a portfolio of games that utilize this and the play-to-earn model in addition to the company’s existing portfolio of… not that. I’d like to note here that I’m using “games” here mostly because I don’t have another word to describe the fetid swamp gas cocktail that is being described in this letter, although they’re arguably not really games in the same way that you wouldn’t describe your job as a game.
Again, I cannot stress enough that monetizing turning play into work is absolute garbage that would lose a contest of aesthetics to dog droppings, but I think it’s important in these contexts to be mad about things that are actually happening instead of things that are possibly going to happen.
Does this mean that FFXIV is totally safe from the scourge of NFTs? Well… yes and no. Yes, insofar as my reading of the letter seems to indicate that we’ve got some time before Square-Enix even rolls out any implementation of this disastrous scam economy. And no, because even though it seems unlikely based on every piece of current evidence, it’s hard to totally rule out someone doing something egregiously stupid beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I want to make my stance here very clear. Based on my reading of the letter and what’s contained therein, it certainly doesn’t sound as if NFTs are coming to Square’s existing portfolio; Matsuda’s choice of words involve a lot of “looking into” and so forth, and based on the verbiage it seems more as if we’re looking at this being a thing in new games rather than existing ones. At the same time, these sorts of pivots can be kind of insidious, and while I have severe doubts of this actually making money in any way (witness Ubisoft’s failed venture), there’s always the slight possibility of these things interfacing in some way.
I don’t think this is something that’s really on the immediate table for Creative Business Unit III and FFXIV (and that’s a relief), both because of the phrasing and because this department needs little to no help being profitable. It’s not even entirely clear how it’d try to incorporate these things. Not to mention that tax laws and such are catching up to the NFT scam, so it’s really likely to collapse before most of this stuff has much hope of really breaking through.
But I also can’t blame anyone who feels the New Year’s announcement casts a pallor over the company and its other projects. It’s a real shame, and it sucks when a team that’s worked hard to make a game that’s fun and well-maintained is being kneecapped by corporate antics at this level. That’s where we’re at, though. And if your reaction to “we’re looking into this” is “I’m not giving you my money any more,” that’s entirely reasonable.
This, you will probably note, is kind of the general place I’ve come down to on this in the past. It’s nice when things are consistent, yes?
If I have a stance that in any way might be unusual here, it’s probably just that my general attitude is one of “this is probably not coming to FFXIV, let’s not panic,” chiefly for both the reasons I’ve already outlined and the fact that… well, right now, it’s reacting to nothing. It’s pushback against a concept rather than anything actually being done. I fully agree that it’s important to reject this wet, suppurating fart of a letter, but going into panic mode at the suggestion is… less useful.
And believe you me, if I’m wrong, I’ll be first in line decrying it and saying that now is the time to cancel your subscription. Again, consistency.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, although I recommend you keep in mind that I will still wish earwigs into your mouth if you’d like to comment with your NFT love. Next week, let’s talk about the future of this expansion.