One of the most persistent cryptocurrency ideas I’ve come across from crypto proponents like Chris Dixon is that it will allow people to collaboratively tell stories with non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) and then enjoy their creative work. Actual attempts to do this have been disappointing so far, often appearing to not really require NFTs or to fall apart because operators haven’t thought through the details. So I was intrigued by a new plan from Archie Comics to create a “blockchain writer’s room” based on NFT. But after reading the details, I hope it’s do not what the publisher actually does.
Archiverse: Eclipse is a comic book tie-in billed as “an almost endless storyline, created with fans”. Based on a press release and the announcement page, Archie fans can purchase one of 66,666 pre-generated NFT characters for $66.66 each starting May 16. They can then take part in a series of role-playing sessions and puzzle-solving challenges around an “ominous prophecy”, apparently inspired by Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
So what is the writing part? Well, at some point in 2022, NFT owners will have access to a “Transformative Works Submission Portal” where they can submit stories and artwork about their characters. Some of this work will end up in a crossover comic called Archieverse collides #1, where fans who participate will receive “credits and royalties” for their contributions.
Archiverse: Eclipse looks like a version of the puzzle- and role-playing-focused alternate reality (or ARG) games that media companies have released — often for free — in recent years. Leave out clunky crypto jargon like “mint roleplaying,” and you’re essentially buying a pass to a gated community where you can hang out with other comic book fans and engage in activities across several month. With enough support from Archie Comics, it’s a good idea!
But Archie Comics also refers to it as a plan to “establish the biggest writer’s room on the blockchain,” which is a much more problematic claim. Here’s how the press release from Archie Comics and its Palm partner NFT Studio explains it:
“Archie Comics Leverages Blockchain to Enable Fans to Build Future Series; incorporate fan-generated art and stories into the Archiverse, and directly reward contributors for their creativity. Archiverse: Eclipse collectors will be able to create and submit new storylines for their characters; with the opportunity to see their work become canon. Creators of selected submissions will receive story credits and more from future comic book series integration.
This description makes the project sound like a series of crypto profile pictures that includes a fan art contest, a situation that lends itself to lopsided deals that amount to cheap or free labor from fans. – except that here, the fans are also pay $66 (or more on an NFT secondary market) to submit their work.
Archie Comics is keen to point out that it will reward fans with credits and royalties if their work is featured, which is certainly better than certain contest terms. But he declined to offer more information on the terms on which artists and writers will be given, saying details will be revealed to fans at a later date. Thus, it is unclear exactly what participants can expect to receive or how compensation relates to NFTs. If an artist sells their NFT character and loses access to the submission portal, for example, can they still be compensated?
All of this highlights a key point of confusion with crypto projects: the idea that they are both entertainment services and investment or income opportunities. (Also, it is still not clear if many of them need blockchain technology.) I like the idea of buying from an ARG where the designers actively promote a healthy community and provide an interesting interactive narrative, and some fans get credit and money for their contribution sounds like a nice bonus. It’s a lot less fun if Archie Comics expects fans to spend a fair amount of money and then produce most of the content themselves – although a few of them might get rewarded for the work. . And the cryptic launch strategy favored by NFT queues makes it hard to tell which experience Archie fans will get.