Abstract game controller with reflections. Retro neon game controller. Gamepad for games. Sci-fi Cyb...

Not Feeling This

PlayStation Stars digital collectibles sound too much like NFTs

My “definitely not NFTs” T-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.

Shutterstock

This console generation, PlayStation seems to be a step behind Xbox.

When Xbox launched its wildly successful Game Pass alongside the Series X/S, PlayStation responded more than a year later with the substantially less interesting PS Plus rework. Now, it’s taking a shot at its own version of the Microsoft Rewards program. And in the vein of PS Plus, it’s a mix of exciting and genuinely baffling features that also bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the worst trend in gaming.

The latest mixed bag from Sony is PlayStation Stars, a loyalty program that offers players rewards for things they’re already doing, like playing games and earning trophies. You can nab even more rewards by winning tournaments or getting the region-first platinum trophy in certain marquee titles. So far, so good.

But halfway through the program’s PlayStation Blog announcement, there’s a troubling bit of language:

“Also, as part of PlayStation Stars, we are unveiling a new type of reward called ‘digital collectibles.’”

The post goes on to say that these digital collectibles include virtual figurines of popular PlayStation characters and consoles. That may sound nice enough, like a natural merging of the existing PSN avatars and trophies. But commenters on Twitter were quick to decry the plan, mistakenly thinking it was yet another blockchain scheme. That’s because recently, the phrase “digital collectible” has had one specific, unsavory meaning: NFTs.

Sony’s answer to Microsoft Rewards is here, and it’s almost all good news.Sony

If you haven’t followed the rapid rise and fall of gaming NFTs, the short version is everyone hates them and companies are finding ways to market them that don’t immediately turn people off. So companies like Take-Two and Ubisoft have started using the less-toxic digital collectible moniker for their own non-fungible nonsense.

That’s not the case with PlayStation Stars, to be clear. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sony’s vice president of network advertising Grace Chen explains that these digital collectibles are not NFTs:

“It’s definitely not NFTs. Definitely not. You can’t trade them or sell them. It is not leveraging any blockchain technologies and definitely not NFTs.”

Chen’s emphatic answer leaves no room for doubt, but makes it even stranger that Sony is adopting language so strongly associated with crypto. Programs like PlayStation Stars don’t come together overnight; plans were likely in the works during the blessedly brief NFT heyday. It’s not hard to imagine that the blockchain had some part in early versions of PlayStation Stars, or that it’ll make it’s way in if the stink around crypto somehow dissipates.

For now, we’re safe from seeing those horrid jpegs all over the PlayStation dashboard. PlayStation Stars overall seems like a win for both Sony and its fans. It’s free to join, offers rewards just for playing games, and even lets you spend points for PSN store credit. In every way that matters, it’s functionally identical to Microsoft Rewards, but haunted by the specter of the blockchain. Trophies are already essentially digital collectibles by another name, so it’s no wonder Sony’s sudden adoption of crypto-adjacent language has people on edge. Conspiracy-minded gamers might even wonder if the choice of language is priming us for a gradual introduction of NFTs in the future.

Even games that should be sure hits, like Ni No Kuni Cross Worlds, have shot themselves in the foot recently with NFTs.Netmarble

One thing the announcement makes clear is just how much crypto peddlers have poisoned the well around any kind of so-called digital scarcity. PlayStation Stars collectibles aren’t going to bankrupt anybody, but they still play into the same logic that drove the rapidly self-destructing NFT boom. As the announcement says, the program includes “ultra rare collectible[s] to strive for,” which probably means spending a lot of effort to fill out your digital display case.

Five or 10 years ago, that wouldn’t have worried people. Rare digital trophies were a cool idea back then, providing reasons to keep coming back to games like Smash Bros. Now, in an era where some companies are working hard to monetize everything they can, it feels like a bad omen.

Even innocent-sounding collectibles like the ones in PlayStation Stars feed on the same impulses that make gacha games a nightmare for people prone to addiction. The rarer a collectible is — even one with no intrinsic value — the greater the lengths some folks will go to add it to their collection, especially when it’s not a generic trophy but a flashy Aloy figurine.

Another noxious crypto buzzword of late is “play-to-earn,” the diametric opposite of “play-to-have-fun.” Trophies are, in a sense, play-to-earn rewards, and Sony’s new digital collectibles are a more potent form of the same thing. With all the NFT grifters infiltrating games lately, it’s no wonder players are worried Sony is just testing the water before unveiling KratosCoin.

Related Tags
Share: