Fun should be fun

Avi Bar-Zeev
3 min readDec 29, 2022

If you’re lucky, your work is both fun and rewarding. But for most people, work is work. Yet everyone needs and deserves time to have fun. So play is different from work. It should be fun. If it isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re doing it for money, it’s probably work again.

I’m talking about play-to-earn or whatever buzzword stands in for turning games into work. This is considered a part of the modern web3 suite of changes, but it has nothing to do with decentralization and everything to do with exploitation. We’ve always been able to “win” things in games. There have usually been secondary markets in which you could sell those things to other eager players who wanted to skip the “win” part. But with NFTs, companies are hoping to exploit the idea of collecting things for speculation and future value. That requires artificial scarcity.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite the major crashes of confidence and value in the more speculative side of thigns, there is some value in crypto. But it’s mainly in tracking creative authorship and mashups, which should be a public immutable record IMO. We’ve barely begin that work so far.

Transferring digital assets among games is matter for open standards, optionally supported by each game or world where it makes sense for the content and the business model. It certanily doesn’t need NFTs. Those are just a stand-in for being able to “own” your digital things independent of the company who crafted them.

I believe the underlying desire here is that digital goods are too often limited to one viable sandbox which can go away when the game is obsoleted or we stop paying. That’s genuinely frustrating for players, who feel they earned the stuff and want to keep it outside the game.

If you win a plushy animal at the carnival games, it shouldn’t dissolve as we exit the carnival, right? But where else do you really want to take that plushy other than home? To a restaurant? To another carnival? Why?

A functional in-game item (with behaviors, rewards) is almost always game-specific and not designed to work elsewhere. Imagine a magic ring in a science-fiction world. What does it do in the SF world? Making it dual-purpose would require a lot of extra programming and collaboration.

Developers don’t want their delicately balanced gameplay and storytelling disrupted by externally-introduced elements that people can buy to get ahead. In the past, we called that cheating. Are we demanding the right to cheat?

The one thing people might really want to take with them between worlds and games is their avatars, fashion and other accoutrements. It’s a pain to keep re-doing these for every game, and they are our identities after all (note: it’s almost always more than one persona).

But even then, our options should first and foremost make sense for the game or world we’re entering. Otherwise it breaks the suspension of disbelief needed for most kinds of gameplay. So how about we work on adapting our alternate personas so they work in more games?

We have to ask ourselves: do we want total freedom to do anything in games along with the negative consequences (more like real life)? Or do we want expert game-makers to craft entertaining worlds and roles for us to play in?

Play should be play. Fun should be fun.

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Avi Bar-Zeev

XR Pioneer (30+ years), started/helped projects at Microsoft (HoloLens), Apple, Amazon, Keyhole (Google Earth), Linden Lab (Second Life), Disney (VR), XR Guild