Ubisoft has announced its first foray into the world of blockchain technology and NFTs. Called Ubisoft Quartz, it will offer limited-edition cosmetic items for Ubisoft games that can then be re-sold on third-party marketplaces for cryptocurrency. It will launch in beta on December 9, starting with items for Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
The NFT items that Ubisoft Quartz offers are called Digits, and each is a limited edition, in-game cosmetic item. Every Digit is made ‘unique’ by a serial number that will be visible on the item. For example, a rifle may have its number on the magazine, or a helmet could be ‘engraved’ across the rim. Furthermore, embedded in the Digit’s metadata is your Ubisoft Connect username. As a Digit is sold to new owners, their usernames are added to the metadata, creating a history of ownership for the NFT. In addition to the in-game cosmetic item, a Digit also comes with a video file showing the item being used in-game.
When Ubisoft Quartz launches on December 9, three Digits will be available for Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s Ubisoft Connect PC version: a ‘Wolves’ skin for the M4A1 Tactical rifle, a helmet, and a pair of pants. These Digits will be provided for free, although must be claimed within a limited time window (drops will occur on December 9, 12, and 15). Additionally, players must fulfil certain criteria to be eligible to claim them: the rifle requires you to have reached XP level 5 in Ghost Recon Breakpoint, while the pants demand you’ve played at least 100 hours, and the helmet at least 600 hours. As Ubisoft’s Blockchain Business and Product Director, Baptiste Chardon, explains, “the idea is to focus on our most engaged players with this first batch.”
This approach aims to ensure Digits are obtained by genuine Ubisoft players and not those just looking to just trade with them on third-party marketplaces. Users are also limited to owning just one of each Digit, further reinforcing scarcity and denying the ability to farm collectibles.
Should all this be of interest, signing up for Ubisoft Quartz comes with a number of requirements. You will need to have a Ubisoft Connect account, open up a crypto-wallet with a third party system (either Kukai or Temple), and be over 18 years of age. The beta is also only available in select territories: Canada, USA, Brazil, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Australia.
Ubisoft Quartz will launch in beta, and while there are plans for further Digits drops in 2022 (I was shown a collection of handguns, helmets, rifles, and even vehicles for Ghost Recon Breakpoint) it’s clear the system is very early in development and experimental in nature. That means, at least for now, the focus is on cosmetics rather than any kind of blockchain-based gameplay systems. “We’re really focused on cosmetics only,” says Chardon. “I doubt it will change an existing game. For what we’re doing now, there will be no impact on the gameplay.”
Ubisoft Quartz – How the blockchain-powered NFT system works
But why exactly does Ubisoft want to get into the blockchain and NFT business? The publishers’ Strategic Innovation Lab says that it’s to do with making players “stakeholders”, and putting value into their hands.
“Our long-term efforts led us to understand how blockchain’s decentralized approach could genuinely make players stakeholders of our games, in a way that is also sustainable for our industry, placing back into their hands the value they generate through the time they spend, the items they buy or the content they create online,” said Nicolas Pouard, VP of Ubisoft’s Strategic Innovation Lab, in a press release. “Ubisoft Quartz is the first building block in our ambitious vision for developing a true metaverse.”
From an outside perspective, it’s initially difficult to see what Ubisoft can gain from this. With the NFTs being given away for free, at least in this first drop, the publisher stands to make no direct money. However, the value for the company may come from beyond the NFTs themselves. Should future Digits also require hundreds of hours of gameplay to unlock, this could be a way to encourage a pro-NFT crowd to play huge amounts of Ubisoft games, which could in turn lead to the purchase of microtransaction items, DLC upgrades, and even other games (the decentralised nature of Digits means they could, theoretically, move from game to game).
An even more pressing question is that of Ubisoft Quartz’s environmental impact, although the publisher’s Strategic Lab assures us that it is doing its due diligence to make the system energy efficient. Quartz has been built on the Tezos blockchain network, which uses a ‘proof-of-stake’ system designed to be more energy efficient than the ‘proof-of-work’ systems used by blockchains such as the Bitcoin network. Ubisoft says that a Quartz transaction uses 1 million times less energy than a Bitcoin transaction; the system is comparable to 30 seconds of video streaming, rather than the one year of video streaming for Bitcoin.
Earlier this year Ubisoft announced its blockchain plans with the term “play-to-earn”, a concept we can see in action with Quartz’s demands for hundreds of hours played to unlock its Digits. While the company’s move into blockchain is the first in the AAA space, the games industry has already been toying with the idea. In response, Valve has stamped down on the concept, with Steam banning blockchain games that issue NFTs. Epic Games, meanwhile, is okay with blockchain games.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.