Is EA Sports’ deal to bring Nike .Swoosh NFTs to its games an exciting step to empower user-generated content or a cynical move to exploit gamers further? You decide, Vikki Blake writes…
The clues are there. The usual buzzwords. A glossy press release promises “immersive experiences” and “unique new opportunities for self-expression and creativity through sport and style” without actually telling us what any of those things are. Too cynical? Maybe. I think I’ve learned the hard way to be cautious when I hear stuff like this, though. Especially when it comes to anything crypto-related. And especially especially when it involves game publishers.
For the uninitiated, NFTs are Non-Fungible Tokens – one-off digital assets which can be bought and traded. Ostensibly, they seem pretty cool; it helps legitimatise digital art and enables people to commercialise virtual items, from artwork to music to cosmetic skins and everything in between. Quite honestly, if you explore what NFTs are and the kinds of digital assets you can buy in in-game stores via microtransactions, they’re not a million miles away from each other. The difference here is that after a player has purchased, say, an in-game hat or weapon or cute emote, they could have the ability to trade or sell it on once they’re finished with it, either getting their money back, more intriguingly still, selling it for a profit. Again: that’s pretty cool.
Consequently, it’s possible you didn’t blink when that acronym trickled into our consciousness a few years back. I know I didn’t. But I know enough to be a little suspicious of the things big game publishers get excited about. The games industry is a hotbed of tech innovation, its development studios working endlessly and collegially to outdo either one, reinventing – or building from scratch – the next best cutting-edge tech to make our games bigger, better, and more immersive than ever.
I’ve still yet to have that initial suspicion quashed, too. The speed at which publishers like Square Enix, Konami, and Ubisoft jumped on the NFT bandwagon was enough to prick my spidey sense, but I’ve spent a lifetime fighting the knee-jerk reactions of peers and elders who made life-long assumptions about gaming on baseless, knee-jerk reactions. I was trying hard not to do the same with NFTs. You know – give them the benefit of the doubt.
Fast-forward to this week. EA has announced it’s partnering with Nike and its new “web3-enabled community experience” Swoosh (well, technically it’s .SWOOSH, but that’s such an aggravating stylisation, I’m going to ignore it). The details were strikingly absent – beyond, yes, the usual buzzwords, there’s been very little substance – but on paper, I guess it makes sense. EA Sports is a multinational company serving a multinational sports gaming audience. Nike is a multinational company serving a multinational sports audience. The parallels are substantive and unmistakable.
— .SWOOSH (@dotSWOOSH) June 1, 2023
“In future EA Sports titles, EA Sports and Nike plan to make select Swoosh virtual creations available, allowing members and players unique new opportunities for self-expression and creativity through sport and style,” EA explained in a press release.
“Nike and EA Sports share a commitment to innovation, creativity, and excellence, and we are thrilled to partner with them,” added Ron Faris, GM of Nike Virtual Studios, a sub-division of Nike I didn’t know existed before this moment. “This partnership will allow us to unlock some incredible new experiences for our Swoosh community and the massive EA Sports fan base.”
“All of us at EA Sports are focused on leading the next evolution in sports fandom, and this new collaboration with our longtime partners at Nike sits directly at the intersection of innovation, sport, and culture,” added Andrea Hopelain, SVP of Brand for EA Sports & Racing. “Working with Swoosh, we’ll bring creativity and self-expression to the forefront for fans as they connect, compete, and share their love for sport.”
Read more: NFTs and video games – no flippin’ thanks?
I’ve read that about sixteen times, and I’m still not sure what it means. The “creativity and self-expression” bit certainly sounds like it’s either some kind of customisation or even user-generated content stuff, but everything’s so strikingly vague, it’s hard to decipher it, even though deciphering what press releases are saying is something I do for a living. Part of my job is to cut through the bluster and deliver the facts, but I fear that if I strip out the bluster here, we’ll be left with nothing else.
The problem – like pretty much everything else in the world, of course – is that the camps both for and against web3 tech and NFTs are so unflinchingly tribal, it’s hard to find the centre ground to ascertain what, exactly, the truth is. And we already know that publishers are keen to maximise “player recurring investment” – the cold, clinical phrase for encouraging players to keep paying and playing way after the initial investment of buying that £50/60/70 game – and with games chopped up into bite-sized components like DLC and season passes and emotes and pretty skins, it’s hard not to give in to the cynicism.
So what, ultimately, could Swoosh and EA offer together? Nike-branded in-game athletic gear for your FIFA player, perhaps? The ability to design, create, and sell your own cosmetic items? Could be all of that. Could be none of it. But until we start getting a tangible sense of how these ventures benefit gamers are well as publishers, I think it’s going to be hard to shake that initial suspicion.
Vikki Blake has a column here every week at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.