With their NFT tricks, GameStop has once again shown that an unregulated market built on technology that can destroy the planet is, and this may surprise you, not a very good idea. In a detailed report from Ars Technica, the GameStop NFT marketplace is again in the news because an NFT minter on the platform was caught selling NFT-ified versions of HTML 5 games that he didn’t make and didn’t have any permission to sell. Oh, and here’s something fun: these games will probably live on the blockchain forever now!
GameStop has had a number of struggles in recent years as it has tried to stay competitive and relevant. Its most recent attempt to make a splash in the NFT space was to launch a marketplace for digital assets while still being terrible. A recent NFT had art that looked like a picture of a person falling to their death during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. This caused a lot of controversy. The latest round of nonsense to come out of the store, however, involves a man named Nathan Ello and his NiFTy Arcade NFTs, which aim to provide some interactive fun to an NFT… but he didn’t seem to stop and ask if he had permission to use games that were developed by other people for this project, much less if he had the right to even make money off of them.
NFTs have been stolen and whose property they are for a long time. If it’s not a celebrity’s NFT being stolen, which makes intellectual property a big gray area, it’s someone making NFTs with art that doesn’t belong to them. The alleged security of NFTs has also been blown apart by phishing schemes and clever hackers. The secure and traceable future of commerce via the blockchain has been very unsecure and it’s been super hard to pin down bad actors. And this latest controversy concerning GameStop and the NiFTy Arcade is just yet another example of that messiness. Meanwhile, the industry insists on selling, using, and praising NFTs despite overwhelming negative reaction and humiliating failures.
As Ars Technica first reported today, Ello’s “NiFTy Arcade” NFTs were meant to be “fully playable from an owner’s crypto wallet” or on the GameStop marketplace itself. This at least seems to make a bit more sense than a simple JPEG. Instead of just purchasing a “link” to an image that you apparently “own” some part of, at least you get to play a fun little HTML 5 game while you burn the planet down.
But the fun was even better because the games in the NiFTy Arcade were all made by other people who never gave permission for their work to be used in this way or for money to be made off of it. Many of these games, like Worm Nom Nom, can be found on Itchi.io under a Creative Commons license that makes it clear that they can’t be used for profit.
The backlash was fierce, with several developers stating that they felt ripped off by NiFTy Arcade. In a statement to Ars Technica, Breakout Hero’s creator, Krystian Majewski, said that his work was “sold for profit without my permission.”
Ello has stated on Twitter that in some cases, inconsistencies with licensing language for other titles surely meant that he did no wrong in just taking them.
Ars Technica’s report said that Ello’s ability to mint on GameStop’s marketplace has been taken away, and the NFTs in question have been taken off the platform.
Also, thanks to the magic of NFTs and the power of the blockchain, these newly made games might live on forever and can be bought and sold on other crypto marketplaces. GameStop’s NFTs use something called a “Interplanetary File System” (IPFS), which would be cool if it didn’t let other people continue to buy and sell NFTs without any way to check their content or legality. It’s not clear how GameStop verifies or spot checks the NFTs that come to its marketplace, but their terms of service say that the buyer, not GameStop, is responsible for making sure the NFT is real:
“Before you buy or sell an NFT, it is up to you alone to do research on it and understand the seller’s terms and conditions for the possible purchase or sale of the NFT. This kind of research includes, but is not limited to, making sure that the seller’s claims and descriptions of the NFT are real and accurate. This includes things like ownership, uniqueness, intellectual property, licenses, scarcity, rarity, value, and functionality. None of the GameStop Entities (see below) endorses any NFT or makes any claims about its authenticity, ownership, uniqueness, intellectual property, licenses, scarcity, rarity, value, functionality, and/or other attributes or rights.”
But even if GameStop has a thorough screening process, IPFS file hashes can be accessed on any active node across multiple servers thanks to the blockchain. It opens a whole new world of art theft.
Even though that may be how NFTs work, GameStop isn’t completely off the hook here. Ars Technica found that the unlicensed NiFTy Arcade games can still be played on GameStop’s servers. You can still use these NFTs even if you don’t have the right link. All you need is the right link to. Joseph White, who made the PICO-8 game engine that powers the pixel games that Ello used for his NiFTy Arcade games, has spoken out against GameStop. He told Ars Technica that the video game store doesn’t have a clear way to take down an NFT that violates the copyrights of others. He has sent DMCA requests, but they don’t seem to be going anywhere.