Nintendo NFTs, metaverse, blockchain and Reggie: Complete guide
What are Nintendo's NFT plans? Will we see the blockchain and the metaverse come to Switch? Here is where the Mushroom Kingdom stands.
Whether traditional gamers like it or not, NFTs will impact major consoles and video game franchises in the future. The question is, will your favourite developer or publisher play a role in their adoption? Perhaps they may ignore NFT games and the P2E phenomenon but still utilise blockchain technology in some way.
In a series of articles that examine where each AAA game developer, publisher and console manufacturer stands on NFTs and blockchain technology, I'm going to answer these questions and more. The star of this guide is Nintendo. Perhaps there is no other name as synonymous with gaming as the creators of the Switch, Game Boy, Mario, Pokémon, Zelda and so much more.
Where does Nintendo stand on NFTs and blockchain technology? Let's find out.
What role does Nintendo play in gaming?
Nintendo is arguably the most important force in the video games industry. It's the touchstone between generations. As the longest-running console manufacturer in the industry, it has touched the lives of over 40 years' worth of gamers. It's not just about consoles like the NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and Switch or handhelds like the Game Boy and Nintendo DS. It's the games.
Nintendo's titles have consistently created and defined genres. It's Nintendo's titles that built the foundations on which countless other games have modelled their experiences. Series like Super Mario, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, Pokémon, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, WarioWare and many more are patient zero, so to speak.
Yet Nintendo has constantly been willing to ignore gamer rhetoric and follow its own path, often to incredible success. Think of motion controls; consoles that ignore specifications for functionality; augmented reality; a console that's also a handheld; Virtua Boy. Well, maybe not Virtua Boy. But it means Nintendo is a company that may, should it see the merit, play a defining role in any AAA blockchain game revolution, joining the likes of Epic Games, Square Enix, EA, Sega, Ubisoft and Microsoft.
Nintendo is a trendsetter more than a trend follower. As such, the idea of a Miyamoto NFT or a Mushroom Kingdom metaverse may not be as unlikely as it sounds. In fact, Nintendo already does in a physical space with amiibo much of the proposed utility offered by NFTs in a digital space.
After staying silent on the whole NFT discussion throughout 2021, Nintendo broke its silence in early February 2022. Well, it was broken for them by analyst David Gibson, who was part of a results calling to investors. When asked about its interest in the Metaverse and NFTs, Nintendo responded with the following:
"We do have interest in this area. We feel the potential in this area, but we wonder what joy we can provide and this is difficult to define right now."
Nintendo metaverse stance clarified
Following the leak of this statement, the idea of Nintendo NFTs was clarified in an official post. In it, the company suggests that said "interest" is less about NFTs and more about a Nintendo metaverse. And to be fair, it doesn't read like a burning hot interest, either.
"The Metaverse is attracting the attention of many companies around the world, and we believe that it has great potential. In addition, when the metaverse is mentioned in the media, software such as Animal Crossing is sometimes cited as an example, and in this sense, we are interested in it.
On the other hand, it is not easy to define what kind of surprise and fun the metaverse can provide to customers. As a company that proposes entertainment, we have to think about how to provide fresh surprises and fun."
Looking into the way Nintendo closed out its statement, I'd be more inclined to believe its approach would be to license a brand to a third party. For example, in the same way Nintendo let Niantic off the leash with Pokémon GO. We've also seen the company do this in recent times by bringing its franchises to mobile phones. Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Mario Kart Tour and Pikmin Bloom being the most notable.
"If we can find a way to communicate our 'Nintendo approach' to many people in an easy-to-understand manner, we may be able to consider something [with NFTs and the metaverse]. But we do not believe that this is the case at this time."
Reggie Fils-Aimé backs Animal Crossing NFT
Reggie Fils-Aimé doesn't work for Nintendo anymore, but as the company's former Nintendo of America president and chief operating officer, his name will forever be associated with the Mushroom Kingdom. This was the guy who told us all about the future of Nintendo from stages like E3, after all.
And in March 2022, he voiced his position on blockchain at SXSW.
"So, I'm a believer in blockchain. I think it's a really compelling technology. I'm also a believer in the concept of 'play to own' within video games, and I say this as a player where I may have invested 50 hours, 100 hours or 300 hours in a game. When I'm ready to move on to something else, wouldn't it be great to monetise what I've built? I bet I'd have some takers here today if I wanted to sell my Animal Crossing island; I'd like to be able to monetise that. Blockchain technology embedded in the code would enable me to do that."
Reggie didn't explicitly reference NFTs at this point, however. Perhaps the only indication of what he thinks about that phenomenon is this line: "It needs to make sense for the player. It can't just be an approach by the developer that it's interesting or it's a way for them as a development entity to make more money. In the end, it's got to be good for the player, but I see an opportunity."
Continued NFT support
By the time late May 2022 rolled around, the crypto and NFT space had seen a substantial period of downturn. But this hasn't dissuaded Reggie Fils-Aimé. It's his belief that knee-jerk anti-blockchain reaction from fans is part of the typical life cycle for new technology in the games industry.
"I remember the GDC where Satoru Iwata made comments about free-to-play games and how he saw they were a significant danger for the industry. And yet here we are today where there are great quality free-to-play games. Industries going through change see divisive elements. [And] because the underlying technology isn't completely proven, there are scams and bad actors taking advantage. I'm old enough to remember the earliest days of the Internet and the scams and issues.
"So, I understand the divisiveness, I really do, and certainly the environmental element is something that has to be solved. Not all blockchain is so environmentally disruptive. Certainly, there's a lot to be proven out and the massive loss in value of different platforms in the blockchain environment that we've seen over the past few weeks tells you this technology is still immature. But in my mind, that's not a reason to just completely push it aside and say it can never be anything of substance or value."
Pokémon blockchain game?
Reggie went a bit further, too, providing what he believes is a good scenario for the use of the blockchain and NFTs in Nintendo games.
"I've said myself that there needs to be a use case where you've got a really fun, creative experience that leverages the technology for people to come around. The 'what if?' that I give you is what if there was an experience that blended the best of Pokémon with the best of 5 other genres or game experiences. All of them had this ability for you to play and create your own character, and then exchange them with someone else and get something of value back. Now it goes beyond a singular game or experience, it touches on a variety of experiences and that gets interesting and compelling."
His thoughts are relevant, despite not currently actively working for a games company. Reggie only left Nintendo in 2019, well after both blockchain technology and NFTs had been on the radar of all the major game companies. It's not drawing a long bow to suggest that his thoughts and beliefs would have played a role in Nintendo's overall position during that time.
They could have changed since then, but Reggie was president for 13 years after all.
Niantic looks to NFTs and blockchain
Another name synonymous, but separate, to Nintendo is Niantic. Niantic licensed one of Nintendo's hottest properties in Pokémon and created one of the biggest games of all time in Pokémon GO.
Pokémon GO took an unpopular technology in augmented reality and made it mainstream. While I'm not about to suggest that Pokémon GO is about to use blockchain technology or have NFTs, its developer is certainly heading in that direction.
In May 2022, Niantic bought SpotX Games, a studio innovating in the move-to-earn space. SpotX Games' products use blockchain technology to provide rewards to users who visit specific locations or complete quests in the real world. It's pretty easy to see how such innovation would fit with the developer of Pokémon GO.
Niantic CEO, John Hanke, spoke positively about what blockchain can bring to gaming, although stopped short of referencing NFTs specifically.
"When we met SpotX, they started talking about using blockchain as a way to inspire people to go outside, discover new places, have fun with exercise. It was kind of like we were talking to ourselves. Frankly, it's really easy to dismiss that whole set of technologies, just based on some of the things we read about. I think that would be a huge mistake. I think there's something really important about this technology.
"It's early days here [with blockchain]. But you're going to be hearing more from us on this topic in the future."
Will Nintendo launch NFTs and a metaverse?
With the Switch selling so well, Nintendo has no need to rock the boat with NFTs at the moment. Indeed, while Nintendo is so often a pioneer, it can also be extremely late to the party on technology trends – like an online service or HDMI.
Nintendo hasn't closed the door to NFT-related projects being sold through its online marketplace. This is significant given it's one of the few players in the space that doubles as a retail store. With that in mind, NFT developers should start pitching the "fun surprises" Nintendo is after to the company post haste.
In my opinion, the company is open to the idea of Nintendo NFTs and blockchain tech. Nintendo loves the prospect of interoperability (see amiibo), and the company has been cultivating a metaverse in the Mushroom Kingdom for years. I feel it will be a while, still, before it will get involved with this emerging technology in any serious way. Which is a shame because it could take the genius of a Miyamoto or an Aonuma to find the fun in blockchain gaming.
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