After a lot of hype from game makers in 2021, big publishers have been relatively quiet on the idea of integrating non-fungible tokens into their games since the collapse of Ubisoft’s “Quartz Digits” platform last year. But EA Sports this week is proving the game industry hasn’t completely abandoned the blockchain-based collectible technology, announcing a partnership with Nike’s “.Swoosh” NFT platform to let players “express their personal style through play.”
Details are still scarce, and Nike says that more information will be available “in the coming months.” But the company said in a statement that “select .Swoosh virtual creations” will “unlock brand new levels of customization within the EA SPORTS ecosystem” and provide players with “unique new opportunities for self-expression and creativity through sport and style.”
In other words, it sounds like you’ll soon be able to put your NFT Nike sneakers on your Madden team.
Why this time could be different
As skeptical as we’ve been about previous efforts to integrate NFTs into games, this partnership could avoid some of the field’s most common pitfalls. For one, Nike is already an established brand with legions of sneakerheads that follow its every move. And those fans have already shown at least some willingness to invest in digital swag bearing Nike’s iconic swoosh. The company’s first “Virtual Sneaker Drop”—featuring “digital renditions” of the company’s iconic Air Force 1 line—reached over $1 million in sales to early beta users in less than a week, according to CoinDesk.
Those NFTs might become even more valuable to Nike fans if and when they can be used to unlock digital drip in EA Sports titles. And these kinds of “real-world clothing” cosmetics also seem like items that could be relatively easy for other developers and publishers to integrate into their own games (unlike Ubisoft’s awkward, serial-numbered virtual items). That means other publishers could theoretically follow EA’s lead here, integrating support for Nike’s virtual fashions as a marketing tool targeting fashion-conscious gamers.
— .SWOOSH (@dotSWOOSH) June 1, 2023
That could plausibly create a kind of cycle where support from more games leads to more interest in Nike’s NFTs, which in turn leads more game makers to sign on, and so on. If enough game makers start featuring those Nike collectibles, we could plausibly reach NFT bulls’ dream scenario of digital items that you buy once and use across multiple properties around the Internet.
Of course, for any of that to happen, Nike and EA will first have to get over the deep and longstanding animosity gamers have shown for any game developer that even hints at making NFTs part of its gaming plans (not to mention the wider collapse in NFT interest across multiple markets). And if the prospect of showing off Nike swag in online games can’t break through that inherent hostility, there’s a good chance nothing will.
Regardless, by leaning on Nike’s established brand—and letting it serve as a third party that markets and sells the NFTs themselves—EA Sports could avoid some of the problems other companies have faced in trying to build and sell NFT collections from scratch.