Streamers are flogging crypto Ponzi schemes, and it seems that Twitch is powerless to stop them...
“This time it’s different” – the catchphrase of every poor fool to ever lose his life savings in a speculative bubble. From Dutch Tulip Mania to Beanie Babies, financial fads have swollen and burst throughout history; repugnant buboes of capital. Even when we know it’s happening, we can’t stop ourselves. Cryptocurrency has all the hallmarks of being just another bubble. But this time, it might really be different. This time it’s a lot worse.
As video game enthusiasts we like to think we can shut out the lunacy of the wider world in our hobby, but Bitcoin and its many imitators have shattered our tranquillity. Video cards once used to lovingly render imaginary worlds are now rendering imaginary money. People who simply want to waste their time are now suffering at the hands of those who want to waste their savings. Crypto speculators gambol, and we pay the price – we’re being digitally violated.
Millennials too young to remember the Tech Wreck have had their first taste of capital gains, and with it the promise of escape. Escape from interminable shifts at the Amazon Fulfilment Centre, escape from the shame of renting for the rest of their lives. Escape from the alt-coin they took a haircut on last week, because there’s a new-and-improved alt-coin that the normies don’t know about yet, where they can get in on the ground floor and make a killing.
There are no limits to crypto. No physical limits, as with a factory mass producing collectable tat like those horrid ‘Funko Pops’. No legal limits, as with shares or bonds or futures. Any joker can create his own coin, and
fuelled by desperation, crypto makes an endless cascade of bubbles
it will have value so long as people believe in it. Crypto has no intrinsic value, but then neither do the metal discs and plastic vouchers in your wallet. Decentralised, operating beyond the reach of the law, and fuelled purely by electricity and desperation, crypto makes possible an endless cascade of bubbles, propagating like the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
In my last column I predicted that a video game company would launch its own crypto, and it was supposed to be a joke. I predicted that Chris Roberts would start selling land in Star Citizen, and a few short weeks after I submitted my copy, it happened. As of this writing there are rumours circulating that Roberts & Co. will start selling shares in Star Citizen itself, offering investors a slice of hypothetical future profits in a manner not unlike Tim Schafer’s Fig. It sounds too stupid to be true, especially given their high stakes legal battle with Crytek. But by the time this column sees print, it may already be reality.
Worst of all, we even have Twitch streamers flogging their own bespoke crypto Ponzi schemes and boasting about how it’s a scam live on stream. Fleecing the isolated and vulnerable; we’re reaching levels of chutzpah that shouldn’t even be possible. It boggles the mind that Twitch management allowed this to happen. Heads must roll!
I would posit that this burgeoning mania for pump-and-dump getrich-quick schemes goes beyond mere greed, and beyond even a dawning awareness of the upcoming era of zero real economic growth. It speaks of a collapse in social trust. Perhaps in an earlier, simpler time, a person might toil his whole life safe in the knowledge that he would be cared for in his old age by a large extended family and/or by a government pension. But now we are socially atomised; reduced to elementary particles. There may well be no pension – there may be no government! Not stopping at Sirius or the Powerhouse Museum, our MPs might flog every last public asset to foreign investors and then sod off to Monaco. Or to space!
It’s all connected. The ghoulish antics of Logan Paul and PewDiePie; calculated publicity stunts perpetrated to earn fame at any price. Infamy equals income – they’re interlinked.
But there is still hope, springing from the most unlikely of places. Loot crates are a very recent trend, but when a AAA game eschews this exploitation it seems like something from another era. Monster Hunter World has DLC emotes and costumes up the wazoo, but no loot crate economy at all – the devs claim they’re completely off limits. Considering that this is Capcom we’re talking about, this demonstrates tremendous restraint. They know better than to strangle their golden goose.
For other publishers, it seems like the chicken-choking will never cease...