As Steam bans games selling NFTs, should music be wary too?


This is not a music story, but it’s one that may give our industry pause for thought in the continued excitement around non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Game downloads store Steam, owned by Valve Software, has recently banned games and applications “built on blockchain technology that issue or allow exchange of cryptocurrencies or NFTs”.

The company has not said why it has taken this step. Indeed, it didn’t announce the ban at all: simply inserted a line to that effect in its guidelines for developers. Steam’s main rival, Fortnite developer Epic Games’s download store, has not followed suit, with its CEO Tim Sweeney announcing that it will “welcome games that make use of blockchain tech provided they follow the relevant laws, disclose their terms, and are age-rated by an appropriate group”.

Just as the music industry has seen a surge in the number of NFTs being launched by artists and music brands, so the games industry has seen an upswing in games exploring the model. For example there’s Axie Infinity, a cross between Pokémon and virtual pet games, where every monster is an NFT that can be bought and sold on a companion market – and where new users in theory need to buy three (for hundreds of dollars) before they can start playing.

If the world’s biggest games downloads store is wary of NFTs, should the music industry take a pause for thought about how we approach them too? Not a blanket ban by any means, just a bit more caution about what’s appropriate; where the benefits AND the potential unhappy experiences are for buyers; and about which partners in the space are good actors (and thus, which are… less so.)

There are still so many things happening around music and NFTs. Today alone, our radar picked up Triller launching an NFT ‘box set’ based on Verzuz livestreams; artist Busta Rhymes questioning the value of NFTs (“Should I buy a house… or.. a link to a picture of a pixellated monkey”) while simultaneously having his own NFT on sale; Taiwanese startup Melos unveiling a platform for people to record and collaborate on music, while minting the results as NFTs; and the launch of an analytics tool called Cryptoscores that aims to analyse the likely success of upcoming NFT drops.

All of this is fascinating, as are the various NFT startups looking to work with artists and the industry who we’ve written about in 2021 (deep breath: Stage11, Opulous, Sturdy, Serenade, Rcrdshp, MakersPlace, Fanaply, Royal, OneOf, NFT Genius, Ikonick, Genies, Autograph, Crypto·com, Async…) There is so much to learn and think about, in a positive way, but Steam calling a timeout for gaming NFTs may be a useful prod for the music industry to make sure we’re lasering in on what’s meaningful and appropriate for fans and artists alike.

Written by: Stuart Dredge