A Case of Mistaken Utility — Did Minecraft Get It Wrong Over NFTs?
At the end of July, Minecraft banned NFT and blockchain technology from its ecosystem — a ban that will almost certainly cause some users and companies in that ecosystem to move to a new platform. This surprise move is confusing for many in the digital world, for the following reasons…
A Case of Mistaken Utility?
The Minecraft team explained NFTs like this — “An NFT can be associated with any form of digital asset such as an MPEG or a GIF, but the most common use case today is digital art like JPEGs.”
This description of NFTs isn’t accurate. NFTs are often linked to image, music and video assets, but the NFT itself is tokenized proof of a relationship. The NFT owner usually enjoys some added value from ownership — e.g. early access to new product releases, preferential access to live events, participating in the creation of new projects or earning revenue shares and rewards. NFTs are a mix of receipt, loyalty card, fan club, member’s club, vouchers, artworks, co-operatives and investments all at the same time.
This added value is what people often call utility. Utility is best explained like this: You can buy a counterfeit Rolex watch, but you can’t take it to Rolex under warranty for repairs or servicing, or sell it legally on a secondary market. Which means the authentic item offers more utility than the counterfeit.
A Case of Mistaken Identity?
Another strange aspect of the Minecraft decision is their argument about NFTs and authenticity, which doesn’t really make sense either.
“The purchase of an NFT provides the token that states the ownership of the original digital file. Yet, with any digital file, that file can be copied, moved, or even deleted.”
Autentica have developed minting technologies that prove the originality of an NFT — making it easy to check if it’s an original or a counterfeit. In fact you could argue that for the very first time in digital history, artists finally have a solution to put an end to digital scams and piracy, full stop. Blockchain technology solves the multi-billion dollar problem of protecting digital asset ownership, something that serial numbers, hardware keys, and digital rights management tools have struggled to do over the last 40 years. You can’t copy, move or delete a blockchain entry, or render an NFT smart contract worthless by copying a JPEG associated with one — and with Autentica’s tools, you can’t even copy the image and re-mint as a new NFT on a different chain. Each image is uniquely identifiable via their tools. No copies. No duplicates. Period. The Minecraft team just got that part completely wrong.
A False Digital Divide?
The Minecraft policy statement states that “NFTs are not inclusive of all our community and create a scenario of the haves and the have-nots.” Again, this doesn’t add-up.
Sadly, there are haves and have-nots when it comes to access to the online world. This digital divide includes issues like physical and cognitive accessibility, language divides, legacy systems, and bandwidth inequality. There are have-not gamers on old PCs, old smartphones and old game consoles that struggle when new updates are released, but banning new technologies won’t help them. Is Minecraft trying to be more inclusive? Well how about this — children of poorer families are have-nots within the Minecraft Market, so that should be banned too. Seriously — it’s an important issue. More important than NFTs.
Is This A PR Stunt?
There has been a backlash within the gaming community against NFTs and blockchain, although it is more accurate to say gamers have been complaining for years about the boom of online platforms that offer free play with in-game purchases. Ironically, NFTs offer gamers the opportunity to sell, trade, swap and gift their paid-for game assets, which gives them a chance to recoup the costs of in-app purchases — the so-called Play to Earn model or P2E. That feels like a positive step forwards to many observers.
Some in the NFT industry have suggested this ban is an indicator that Minecraft is developing its own blockchain plans and this policy is really banning potential 3rd-party blockchain competitors from the Minecraft Market — so they can control any future Minecraft P2E offering. Who doesn’t love a conspiracy theory, eh?
You can’t help but wonder if Minecraft is really better off by banning NFT and blockchain innovation. The answer is almost certainly no — but this is just one of the lively debates we enjoy on the Autentica Twitter feed (join it!) and for more in-depth chat, on the Telegram channel (yes, I’m there). We’d love to hear what you think…
Written by Andrew Keith Walker for Autentica.