As the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) gets weirder, and more money than ever before gets thrown around the space, increasingly bizarre phenomena keep taking off. The latest NFT craze involves video games. Just ones you can’t play—yet.
It all began with Loot: text-based NFT art for video games that are yet to be released or even designed. Loot exploded last week when Dom Hofmann, the co-creator of Vine who is now working on a concept for NFT-based video games, dropped 8,000 NFTs. The NFTs, called “Loot,” consist of images of text listing common adventuring items you would find in a video game. There are no stats, no game to equip the items within, just a list; on top of that, Loot lists are free to generate, aside from network fees.
Loot took off, and the initially free lists of adventuring items started reselling for big bucks—one was flogged for nearly a million dollars. The project has since inspired a whole ecosystem of projects; for example, Lootmart developers are creating an RPG-like interface to “equip” Loot. The phrase “metaverse” is being thrown around. Now, the question is: Where is all of this going, and will there ever be an actual game at the center of the Loot craze?
A perfect example of this tension is Dope Wars, a Loot offshoot that has teased one day being a fully-functional game. On Wednesday, the Dope Wars account retweeted a call for “game builders and artists” to join the project’s Discord.
Dope Wars is based on the idea of Drugwars—a very basic video game about drug dealing originally for MS-DOS. Drugwars has become somewhat of a cult classic since its 1983 release, and experienced a 90s resurgence in which people would play it on calculators. The concept is that players rush around New York City to sell cocaine, heroin, weed, or speed in order to pay off a loan shark. Think Grand Theft Auto with a hint of Uncut Gems but far more simplistic, as the game was created before pixelated guns could shoot at cops. The game has inspired plenty of spin-offs, and has made it as far as iPhone and Android apps.
Right now, Dope Wars is merely art. Specifically, NFTs of text describing items that could be used in a game, like a drug dealer’s Gucci belt, Porsche, pocket knife, or the weed and coke she is about to sell. Sound weird? People are interested: nearly $9 million has already been spent on Dope Wars NFTs in four days. A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) has also been created to fund future developments. Those who want to get involved can hold Dope Wars Ethereum tokens ($DOPE) and then vote on what steps to take next.
Despite all the chatter around a Dope Wars video game, and the project’s wiki itself teasing a game based on Drugwars, the future is uncertain. One of the developers behind Dope Wars, who in typical crypto fashion uses the pseudonym Tarrence, told Motherboard that the whole thing is an experiment and a fully-functioning game won’t necessarily follow—but it is possible.
“The Dope Wars NFT is artwork,” he said. “People minted it for free and for fun without any expectations of the future. It seems like people would like a game. I think the community is working on various games on top of it.”
If one thing is for sure, it's that it’s popular. Dope Wars already has a big community, with nearly 5,000 members on Discord. Artists are already using the gear lists as inspiration to create their own drug dealing NFT characters, and the community is building a Dope Wars app where users can purchase loot and maybe, one day, play a game.
“People are free to build the future they want on top of it since it is an open ecosystem/metaverse,” added Tarrence. “People might be buying it because they enjoy the artwork or because they are excited about what the community is building, I'm not sure.”
But despite all the talk of playable games justifying the money flying around, not everyone is buying it.
Neeraj Agrawal, communications director for cryptocurrency advocacy organization Coin Center, said on Twitter that “the Loot idea is to allocate every asset in the game to early adopters, then every holder hopes some other holder will fund the actual game development,” adding that it was wrong to talk about Loot as “a game that will ever exist,” and if there is a “game” it’s simply buying loot.
Hofmann, who was talking about NFT games before the release of Loot, is not ready to let the dream die yet, however. On Tuesday, he tweeted ideas for Loot to advance into the gaming world, for example with a free-to-play RPG tied to NFT Loot drops. It’s worth noting that many games today rely on selling loot boxes of gear to make a profit, and the success of Genshin Impact (a free-to-play gacha game that plays more like Breath of the Wild), shows that gamers aren’t exactly averse to mechanics similar to gambling.
Hofmann didn’t respond to Motherboards’ request for comment.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess. Are Loot and its offshoots the greatest creative forum the internet has ever seen, or just one more way for people to gamble on what is essentially thin air?
“I think the @lootproject philosophy has it right,” Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin said in a recent Twitter thread. “Pretty much anything that anyone creates ‘exists’, what matters is to what extent other people build upon it.”