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No video game console maker has publicly embraced NFTs to date, but tech giant Sony—the firm behind the massively popular PlayStation brand—continues making moves behind the scenes, as revealed by its latest NFT-related patent application.
The application, submitted in September 2021 in the United States and published last week, outlines Sony’s intentions to create standardized digital infrastructure that would allow gamers to own and transfer digital NFT assets across various video game platforms.
“The standardized format may be readable to insert the digital asset in different computer simulations that may include different video games of different titles,” the application reads. “Additionally, or alternatively, [...] readable via different video game platforms such as, for example, PlayStation and Xbox.”
Sony proposed that these assets could include items such as in-game skins, artwork, avatars, weapons, or even “video game skills.” Additionally, the application proposed that they could be “connected over a network” from PlayStation to consoles from other makers, as well as via VR and AR headsets, smart TVs, and mobile devices.
As of the end of 2022, Sony claimed to have 112 million PlayStation Network users. The network includes online-connected players on the PlayStation 5, as well as older console and handheld hardware.
This isn’t Sony’s first move towards establishing a framework for NFT gaming assets. It was revealed in a patent filing published last November that the Japanese firm has been keen to capitalize on the rising esports sector since 2021 with a range of in-game digital collectables.
In the latest filing, however, Sony claimed that contemporary gaming console systems are “technologically inadequate for the owner to use the asset across different games and/or platforms.”
In the past, Sony has tried to keep its PlayStation Network ecosystem isolated from those of other console makers, but ultimately relented and allowed cross-play following growing pushback from players. Sony’s cross-platform multiplayer move was largely spurred by the success of Epic Games’ popular free-to-play shooter, Fortnite.
Even so, when it comes to traditional video game assets that players purchased and/or earned, closed ecosystems remain the norm. It’s a contentious issue that Web3 advocates say that blockchain technology is well suited to solve.
Currently, in-game assets such as skins or weapons on Fortnite, for example, are tied to a specific centralized account or servers—in that case, Epic Games. Therefore, such assets cannot be transferred or sold by the gamer to other players, or transferred outside of the game world to use in other games and platforms.
In practice, this means gamers may invest their time and money into acquiring prestigious collectable items without the means of withdrawing them from the system—or in the worst case, have them become inaccessible if the game shuts down or faces technical issues.
Despite what some see as potential benefits for players, many gamers have been vocally opposed to NFTs and Web3 technology. Game publishers like Ubisoft and Square Enix have faced considerable pushback for entering the space, with critics citing crypto scams and steep prices for top NFT profile pictures (PFPs) among their complaints.
Sony may be keen on a Web3 future for PlayStation if its growing pile of patent applications is any indication. However, the company has previously pushed back on the notion that it was dabbling in NFTs. In 2022, a company executive forcefully dismissed speculation that its PlayStation Stars loyalty program had anything to do with NFTs.
“It’s definitely not NFTs. Definitely not,” Grace Chen, Sony’s VP of Network Advertising, Loyalty, and Licensed Merchandise told The Washington Post. “You can’t trade them or sell them. It is not leveraging any blockchain technologies and definitely not NFTs.”