Tuesday January 31, 2023

How Twitter could take NFTs mainstream

Twitter today allowed some users to use non-fungible tokens for their profile pictures, just four months after it first announced the idea. Subscribers to the $2.99-per-month Twitter Blue service have the ability to connect a crypto wallet and display any NFTs in their profile. The shape of their avatars is what distinguishes these users from others who are still crypto-pilled. It is a hexagon rather than a traditional circle. Twitter users invented the hashtag, @ mention, and retweet. By using profile photos to display their (unauthenticated NFTs), I argued that owners of CryptoPunks and Bored Apes had created the NFT profile. It is now an official Twitter product.
Twitter’s introduction to NFT profiles was met with considerable disapproval due to the polarizing nature blockchain-based projects generally. Recent criticisms of NFTs have highlighted the extent to which the technology fails to live up to its promises of decentralizing power and verifying ownership. NFTs do not encode owned media on the blockchain today. Instead, what is encoded is essentially an authorization for it. This lens could show that Twitter is legitimizing a technology which can expose people to theft, frauds, and other dangers.
Millions of people will soon start to see those hexagons every single day and wonder why all the fuss. The question is whether Twitter and all other platforms that are racing to build NFT integrations can make digital collectibles popular over the strident objections from critics.
We’ve already had an early test of this question in the gaming industry. Over the past few months, many top developers have announced plans for NFTs to be integrated into their games in the form digital goods. These stories often include the phrase “massive resistance.”
Gamers have simple complaints. The model used to be that you paid a one-time fee for a game, but now you may have to pay multiple times (to get new expansions or to purchase cosmetic items) or monthly (via subscriptions). Loot boxes, which randomly award players items, introduced a highly-prized form of pseudo-gambling to the gaming industry. Developers often treat gamers as if they are being nickeled and dimed, resulting in games that feel less fun.
It’s possible that the future of video games will require you to connect a crypto wallet, pay high fees to transact on the market, purchase rare digital goods, then protect them from thieves. However, it’s not clear how this would make the game more enjoyable. SkillUp, a game critic, has a weekly feature about NFTs in his weekly roundup of games news. It’s called “No Fucking thanks.”
Ubisoft was in hot water after it announced a plan to include NFTs in its shooter Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Square Enix, creator of Final Fantasy and other games, was criticized for suggesting that it could offer crypto tokens in future. Zynga, a mobile gaming company, seems to have managed to avoid much backlash for hiring blockchain chief. However, Zynga games are built on the idea of players making frustrating transactions every day from the beginning.
This backlash is more than just a series negative public relations cycles for potential operators of NFT trading platforms. The collective vision of Silicon Valley of the next internet, which we have taken to calling “the metaverse”, hinges on video games being the thing that will attract the masses to buy virtual and augmented reality headsets. As Mark Zuckerberg explained to me last summer: You’ll be able to buy virtual clothes and other digital goods as NFTs and then take them from VR experience into VR experience, starting with VR games.
If players continue to hate NFTs for all eternity, then the metaverse will be very, very different. Developers who have raised huge amounts of money based on the belief that games will bring billions to web3, like the team behind Axie Infinity will be hurt.
It’s not only players who are skeptical. According to a survey by the Game Developers conference, 70% of studios stated that they have “no interest in” NFTs. Jay Peters from The Verge:

The survey found that when asked about their feelings on the possibility of cryptocurrency or NFTs being used in games, some respondents called it “the future of gaming.” “But, the vast majority of respondents opposed both practices, noting their potential for fraud, overall monetization concerns and the impact on the environment.
Many developers gave scathing quotes. One wrote, “I don’t understand how this hasn’t been identified as an pyramid scheme.” Another said, “I would not endorse burning down a rainforest to confirm someone owns’ a Jpeg.” “Burn them to the ground. They should be banned from all hands. “I work for an NFT company and want to get out of it,” said another.

Another way to read this data is that nearly one-third of current game developers say they are at most interested in NFT integrations. They are, however, in the minority for now.
This brings us back to the question about how these dynamics will play on Twitter. There are important differences between tweets and games: While gamers dislike NFTs, they fear that they will be forced into buying them. On Twitter, however, you can buy and display any digital art purchased. While video games have a huge audience that is difficult to categorize, I believe Twitter may have a wider audience and be able to react to NFTs in the timeline.
Today, I saw two types of reactions: one, crypto skeptics dunking upon hexagons and the other, crypto enthusiasts dunking upon people who are mad about hexagons.
Who will win?
Sometimes technology is so hated that it is thrown out of society. Ask anyone who wore Google Glass to a bar in 2013, how that went.
Sometimes, however — and this is especially true on Twitter — things are ridiculed into legitimized popularity. Irony poisoning is a term used by people who study extremism to describe the way jokes can be used to smuggle ideas into mainstream culture. Crypto enthusiasts are masters at transforming insults into badges or honor. For example, when critics called their art “JPEGs”, the community quickly adopted that term to refer to their collections.
Twitter won’t be the only one trying to make NFTs mainstream if it fails. According to the Financial Times, Meta will allow people to create and sell NFTs through its platforms. Google now has a blockchain team, and YouTube will be included in its plans.
It is too early to predict the future of any of these efforts. They are still in their early stages. We may, however, look back at Twitter’s hexagon launch as the day NFTs became available to a wide, mainstream audience.
Now, we wait to see if the mainstream really wants them.

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