NBA 2K has been building its metaverse for years and it is perfectly positioned to crossover to an open world on a blockchain.
NBA 2K22’s The City on PlayStation 5 and Xbox S/X is a virtual world for gamers to spend real coin and play pickup games with created avatars. Badges, gear, and attributes establish the metaverse social classes.
A great migration of games to a blockchain is inevitable and NBA 2K is positioned brilliantly, representing a mix of RPG and sports.
“I think what the metaverse implies is what we already do…with NBA 2K and what we aim to do with upcoming titles. An opportunity to exist in that fictional world and express yourself in ways that are challenging and new and do things we can’t really do in the real world.” — Take-Two Interactive CEO, Strauss Zelnick
My question for NBA 2K is if it will adopt a blockchain metaverse model as we move into more powerful console generations. And will NFTs make their way into a NBA 2K metaverse? In answering these questions, it is instructive to look at what NFTs are, the potential of what they can be, and whether or not NBA 2K can ease into a play-to-earn model (benefiting gamers) and ease off the pay-to-win models (exploiting gamers) that dominate sports gaming today.
NBA 2K NFTs
Firstly, non-fungible-tokens, at their essence, grant ownership rights. They are grounded in smart contracts or digital contracts. NFTs can come in many shapes and various forms, Ownership rights and usage will vary across a number of platforms but NFTs can exist outside of the art landscape where they have blown up in 2021.
Clearing the Air
It is true that NFTs currently exist in a paradoxical legal landscape. NFTs must demonstrate clear ownership rights to be valuable. If they are not designed with sound legal principles regarding ownership, their value may be misinterpreted and overstated. It follows that they are an experimental technology and a novel legal mechanism.
The idea that a right-click can circumvent the use-case of an NFT completely misses the point. NFTs exist to establish a true owner of a digital piece of property. The NFT ownership rights can be traced back to a blockchain ledger that records all transactions, such as Ethereum. The metadata within the file will also signify ownership and authenticity through the use of encryption. In other words, NFTs will make it easier to determine a copy or a fake from the original asset.
NBA 2K can benefit from Blockchain
Why does this matter to NBA 2K? The series already peddles a massive in-game store in The City where gamers can spend real money on digital assets. These, in essence, are NFTs without the backing of encryption technology. The assets are not stored on a public blockchain, but on privatized 2K server. Nobody can authenticate a purchase but NBA 2K. Reselling your earned and purchased in-game assets is a breach of the NBA 2K code of conduct. And profiting becomes even more difficult without the confidence and backing of public authentication that a blockchain ledger provides (notwithstanding if 2K doesn’t send you a cease-and-desist legal action).
Conversely, in a metaverse built on a more open blockchain, authentication is more clear. The blockchain stores the transaction on a ledger for the public (or for members of the community) to see. Assuming NBA 2K eventually moves its open-world to a blockchain, buying and selling digital assets within the NBA 2K metaverse thus becomes safer and more trustworthy because each transaction is recorded to the aforementioned blockchain’s immutable ledger. This opens up significant marketplace opportunities for gamers to cultivate digital assets by logging many hours of NBA2K to build up their avatars and portfolio of assets.
Still Hating on NFTs and Blockchain?
If gamers are already purchasing digital assets in-game, then why is there backlash on in-game NFTs?
First, an NFT marketplace should be done tactfully. NBA 2K has been the opposite of tactful when it comes to in-game monetization. I understand the concern that NBA 2K’s track record is not strong.
Further, the industry-standard has demonstrated a complete disregard for tact. For an example, look no further than the loot shooter, Destiny. It is an entire game built on gambling principles, where randomized items drop with every kill-shot. These models are psychologically unhealthy as they addict gamers to seek loot drops instead of well, just enjoying the game. And they encourage spending real money to land exclusive items, oftentimes to obtain social status within the game’s online community.
The digital assets gamers currently purchase are a pure sunk cost.
Countering, a tactful NFT system may allow gamers to play to earn assets and unlockables, and to then sell digital artifacts to others gamers within that ecosystem. For NBA 2K, all of the items available for purchase today could instead potentially be re-coded as tradable NFTs.
This brings us to the play-to-earn model.
Gamers are familiar with seasons and battle passes. We spend to have access to new rewards on an exclusive progression track. Play-to-earn models in blockchain gaming can be very comparable. An NBA2K metaverse season pass may require an initial fee upfront to enter the metaverse, boosting and stabilizing the in-game coin and economy – i.e., purchase a pass. As players progress, rewards and rare achievements can be earned, which can then be sold within the metaverse marketplace. Gamers can quite literally make money playing NBA2K with this proposed model. Blockchain games that implement this model in varying fashions already exist.
An NBA 2K move from the gamification, in-game monetization model to a more evenly distributed economic system will require a gradual transition. The revenue from in-game purchases currently drives revenues to unprecedented levels. FIFA Ultimate Teams makes billions.
Continuing, the evidence is clear (Take-Two Interactive earnings reports). NBA 2K practically gives away its game for free after January 1st. Just three months after launch it will be on sale everywhere. The value driver for NBA 2K are the pay-to-play, in-game impulse buys that account for 67 percent of net revenue. It is a proven business model. And it is why industry giant Bungie, without shame, has built an actual “loot shooter.” It is unprecedented how much wallet-spend such game design elements capture.
NBA 2K will not give up that model overnight. Especially when gamers are rejecting NFTs at the moment, largely due to a misunderstanding of what NFTs can embody.
The hate on NFTs is misplaced. A shift to a blockchain metaverse can end the pay-to-win system. This will be a welcome benefit of moving to an NFT ecosystem. And while it is true that digital scarcity is what drives costs on items, an NBA2K NFT marketplace can be designed to mitigate such exploits and “price-fixing.”
While I understand the lack of trust, we can remain cautiously optimistic. These companies must adapt or die, and if the broader consumer sentiment slows its spending or moves to more democratic game design models, NBA 2K will adapt.
NBA 2K PFP Player Builds
If NBA 2K does eventually move to a more democratic meta-ecosystem in The City, new design elements and tools can take root. PFPs could be one such asset to buy and trade within the NBA2K digital landscape.
PFPs can be described as generative, on-chain assets created autonomously by code. In the context of NBA 2K, PFPs can be likened to in-game character builds, but not created by a gamer, but instead, created with NBA 2K’s underlying code or automation parameters.
They are familiar. Sports gamers know them all too well. We’ve seen them in franchise modes. The games add fictional players to the game each season to fill up the annual franchise draft. They were, in essence, the core to the NCAA Football dynasties for many years. NCAA gamers used to scour the country for game-generated 5-star athletes to recruit. We interacted with NCAA PFPs, made our pitches, and hoped they would sign with our schools.
A generative, PFP model on-chain would be one way NBA 2K can enrich its metaverse ecosystem, opening the PFP player builds available to purchase. Doing so stimulates the meta-economy and encourages participation. For example, gamers who enter the metaverse could even be required a one-time player-build purchase, to inject liquidity into the market, stabilizing the coin, pegging it to real-world money. This also would be a financial benefit to NBA2K.
Mint Player Builds
The most critical element to an NBA 2K metaverse is, in fact, user-generated player-builds. Gamers already buy and sell player builds on the web via NBA 2K accounts to gain access to highly-skilled, seasoned player builds. Once the creative flows begin, players could potentially mix PFP builds with their own, producing truly unique outcomes. CryptoKitty does this with its PFP blockchain game.
In theory, for a fee, a gamer could take a couple of builds, put their attributes in the blender, in hopes to create the rarest player build on-chain to either game with or sell in the marketplace. Skill-sets, animations, and attributes can be a driving factor creating unique digital assets in an NBA2K metaverse.
More intriguing is the possibility of players minting NFTs that may be a bit more unrelated to NBA basketball and more akin to world-building. Clothing. Tattoos. Hair designs. Move sets. Animations. Music. Albums. Beats. The metaverse market can and will open up. All of it has the potential to be user-generated, minted by the community, and traded within the metaverse.
It is a lot to think about. I do not wish to see NBA 2K continue to become a loot-drop universe, commoditizing every attribute, every jump shot animation, and more. It already does, and it is one of the reasons I don’t play the game. It is a one-way relationship and a blockchain metaverse can be built in a more democratic fashion.
If NBA 2K can execute the commoditization of avatar creation tactfully, with balanced design elements and key benefits, the NBA 2K metaverse could take 2K Basketball to unprecedented heights.