Meet the Mastermind Behind Stalker 2’s Controversial NFTs

This week was supposed to be a great time for the future of NFTs in mainstream video games, but the celebration was cut short. On Wednesday, GSC Game World announced that it would be partnering with popular gaming blockchain service DMarket, which sells NFT items for games like dota 2 for more than $ 1,000 each, to bring NFT to STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl. Players would have the opportunity to bid on unique items with cryptocurrencies and perhaps even get scanned in-game as NPCs. It was a much more ambitious release than the comparatively conservative Ubisoft Quartz.

One day (and many angry tweets) later, the project was completely canceled. GSC Game World decided to remove any NFTs from the game on Thursday night, just an hour after posting a statement duplicating the technology. It was a shocking 180 that dealt a blow to the future of gaming technology.

pic.twitter.com/mffnmpiQiw

– STALKER OFFICER (@stalker_thegame) December 16, 2021

No one was more disappointed by the decision than DMarket CEO Vlad Panchenko, a champion of technology and fan of the STALKER series. He had been communicating with GSC Game World for years, trying to get the studio to join the technology. After a promising release, he finally got the studio to give him what he was looking for, only to have it removed in less than 48 hours.

“The thing that saddened me the most was STALKER itself, because I love the game,” Panchenko tells Tips Clear. “I have no doubt that we will live in a world with tons of NFT games and, in fact, we will live in a metagame itself. But because the community still does not understand what is happening, STALKER will not be part of that metagame. And that’s what made me sad, because I love them, and now they are out of that network. “

In an interview, Panchenko explains how the project came to be and how quickly it fell apart behind the scenes. Despite such a high-profile misstep for technology, Panchenko still has hope for the future of NFTs in mainstream games. Although gamers who are already skeptical about the prospect of more expensive microtransactions with an environmental cost may not be convinced by their vision of the future.

What Stalker 2 Collaboration originally came together first?

We had a great initial public offering in 2017, so we were pretty well known at the time. GSC Game World were friends of a friend. So, they only asked to talk about blockchain. So I did the first evangelism at that time.

A player looks out onto a barren wasteland in STALKER 2.

Since then, we have been talking every six months about what is happening, because they were developing the game and thinking about what else they could do to improve the experience. So at some point, maybe a year ago, I presented them with a proposal of 100 different things that we could put together, and they really liked it. New technologies like metahumans, that could make it more fun. They are players. I am a gamer and a huge fan. We were building it together.

Part of this project involved players being able to transfer assets between games. How was that going to work?

The idea was that in the next GSC game, which they are developing right now, you could also use that metahuman there…. It is an element that represents the ability of the person to become a better human being.

In addition, an important point from a legal point of view, they grant all intellectual property rights on the articles. They allow any other game to use that IP and put it in the game for free, if some other game was willing to use it. And that was something amazing.

A digital figure stands in front of a text that says

Right now, we have like three more clients and now we are sitting together and developing a common tradition. Then there will be a set of elements that are common for three different games. It’s not going to change the economics of those games, but it will show everyone else that this is important.

DMarket noted that a portion of the money earned through the project would go to charity. What was the plan for that?

We set specific goals, and when we met them, we would buy specific equipment for children’s hospitals. It’s still going to happen. It would be unfair if someone couldn’t get their important equipment because we couldn’t explain what we were doing. So we’ll proceed with that, perhaps at a slower pace.

We discussed that there could be some negative result, but we did it in a very correct way.

What was your reaction when GSC made the plans after working on them for so long?

After the event broke out, we actually got more requests, due to the amount of PR coverage and all. So for us, it’s a great investment in the platform, and that doesn’t worry me, to be honest.

stalker 2 featured

Were you surprised by the backlash the project received?

We discussed that there could be some negative result, but we did it in a very correct way. When they finished running the ad two days ago, they saw the negativity and their first reaction was, let’s post the explanation. Because it is a good thing; we just have to explain it. We help them create that.

Ten minutes later, it seemed that the negative reactions were mounting more and more. So, they decided to remove it. They called me and said: “Vlad, we are going to make it, because emotionally it is too much.” It is physical cyberbullying.

We have to talk more about blockchain and NFT, and we have to establish more positive experiences, because the press was mostly negative. It is called a Ponzi scheme and it is not. Perhaps a month ago, Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, was saying that NFTs are bad for the industry. When they asked me about my main goals for the next 12 months … one was to prove Tim Sweeney wrong and to show him that this is beautiful. You can improve the experience, it will be amazing.

From an outside perspective, it looks like a Ponzi scheme, in which everyone buys and sells to more people. Why is it not one?

I have a master’s in history. I read a lot about the history of the world. Every time there was something new, the first people to arrive were scammers. With Bitcoin itself, it all started with the Silk Road. It started by buying, selling and trading really bad things. But that was the beginning. Right now, a lot of good things and apps are being created. At this time, a person anywhere in the world can have access to capital, use it for their own good, and bring it back. This is freedom.

I’ve been wondering how the business model works for "play to win" The games, which are grossing billions of dollars and being embraced by industry titans from Ubisoft to Will Wright, could possibly be sustainable.

I think I’ve figured it out! pic.twitter.com/7UmKkhZlXi

– Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) December 13, 2021

Sometimes, in the beginning, it starts with a few bad things. It’s okay. Smart people will come, creative people and we will see some beautiful things.

How do you think the failure of this project will affect the future of NFTs in mainstream games?

I think we set a very important example. EA, Square Enix and many others are planning some announcements. Now they see what is right, what is wrong, what works and what doesn’t. You must first evangelize and explain what you are going to do. Hate speech is like 90% and you can’t help it. So I think we really helped a lot with this example. And helping the industry will also help us.

Are these microtransactions? Yes. Is it more money than people are spending? Yes.

What should studios do if they want to show gamers that this technology is good for games?

First of all, we need good examples. For the first few people who are doing something new, it is always difficult. So we are kicking in doors, and that is painful sometimes. As they say, it is a disadvantage of the first to move. Yesterday, I saw a tweet from a journalist saying that every time you see so much hatred and repression, it means that the amount of change to come is staggering. Do you want to keep having buttons on your phone? I’ve seen videos from 1981 where people laughed at the internet.

The home page of the NFT DMarket marketplace.

We will probably need to set expectations up front in more detail. Perhaps we were in a small bubble, understanding much more than the community understands. We should have started explaining things, then building trust, and then building.

Some people just see this technology as more expensive microtransactions with artificial scarcity. What’s your counterargument to that?

They are 100% right. Are these microtransactions? Yes. Is it more money than people are spending? Yes.

But it is only 0.01% of what is actually happening. In real life, if you buy a phone or a keyboard, it is a transaction. But you buy what you want. This is what decides what you want to do or how you want to spend your money. Will you spend more? Probably. Will you have more fun? Yes. We will be able to express ourselves and change everything. So this is inevitable.

Is there a reason these things have to be so expensive?

It’s not like that. When I play Counter-strikeMaybe I have two expensive items. I love them, I love the design. This is just what I want. It’s my decision, no one is shoving that down my throat.

Counter Strike skins appear in the DMarket NFT store.

One of the questions that we talk a lot about with game developers and publishers is “how do we manage all of that from an economic point of view?” Start by not selling any items that will change your game balance. Just give me a chance to make myself, as a human, look different. Connect me with someone else who will really create that outfit for me. That’s it.

It is the same as physical goods. This is what the mindset has to change. It is not like artificial scarcity; it’s just scarcity. If you want to buy a cryptocurrency, do it, if not, don’t.

Why does this have to be done with blockchain?

The only fair answer from my point of view is interoperability. That is a holy grail for everyone. I spoke to the guys at Activision Blizzard. And they couldn’t do interoperability between the different Call of Duty because there are different studios, different databases. But at the moment it is just one item and I as a game developer can decide if I allow it to come into the game or not. And then maybe I decide to allow it, because people will come and maybe sell them other experiences, but they can see themselves however they want. That is the holy grail.

You, me, and all of us will be living in a metagame in maybe five years.

Environmental concerns are the biggest stumbling block for many. How do you face that challenge?

We cannot change that. Bitcoin and the Bitcoin Network will continue to require a lot of energy. All Layer 2 networks, like what Polygon is doing or what we’re doing with DMarket, require as much power as a server on AWS or Google Cloud. So that’s totally fine.

We don’t want to require that much power to trade an item. It’s crazy. From a technology point of view, you can’t trade that many items or have that ease of use if you have to mine all the other transactions. Maybe like 90% of the people who work at DMarket right now, the younger ones, are concerned about the environment, and I’m happy that it’s changing.

What is your big vision of what this technology can do for games?

The perhaps terrifying but true answer is that you, me, and all of us will be living in a metagame in maybe five years. This whole world will become a metagame. The applications built on it, the software, the products, the new connections and creativity is the world we will live in.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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