One of the most persistent cryptocurrency ideas I’ve encountered from crypto proponents like Chris Dixon is that it will let people collaboratively tell stories with non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) and then profit from their creative work. The actual attempts to do this have been underwhelming so far, often seeming to not really require NFTs or collapsing because the operators haven’t thought the details through. So I was intrigued by a new Archie Comics plan to create an NFT-based “writer’s room on the blockchain.” But after reading the details, I hope that’s not what the publisher is actually doing.
Archieverse: Eclipse is a comics tie-in pitched as “a near infinite 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 at a price of $66.66 apiece starting on May 16th. They can then participate in a series of role-playing sessions and puzzle-solving challenges around an “ominous prophecy,” apparently inspired by Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
So, what’s the writing part? Well, at some point in 2022, NFT owners will get access to a “transformative works submission portal” where they can submit stories and artwork about their characters. Some of that work will end up in a crossover comic called Archieverse Collides #1, where fans who participate will receive “credit and royalties” for their contributions.
Archieverse: Eclipse sounds like a version of the puzzle- and role-playing-focused alternate reality games (or ARGs) that media companies have launched — often for free — in years past. Leave aside awkward crypto jargon like “role-play-to-mint,” and you’re basically buying a pass for a closed community where you can hang out with fellow comics fans and participate in activities over the course of several months. With enough support from Archie Comics, that’s a cool idea!
But Archie Comics also refers to this 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 partner Palm NFT Studio explains it:
“Archie Comics is leveraging the blockchain to empower fans to author future series; incorporating fan-generated art and stories into the Archieverse, and directly rewarding contributors for their creativity. Archieverse: Eclipse collectors will be able to create and submit new storylines for their characters; with the opportunity to see their work become canon. The creators of selected submissions will be granted story credits and more from future comic series integration.”
This description makes the project sound like a crypto profile picture series that includes a fan art competition, a situation that lends itself to lopsided deals that amount to cheap or free labor from fans — except that here, fans are also paying $66 (or more on a secondary NFT market) to submit their work.
Archie Comics makes a point of noting that it will reward fans with credit and royalties if their work is featured, which is certainly better than some contest terms. But it declined to offer more information about the terms artists and writers will be given, saying details will be revealed to fans at a later date. So, it’s not clear exactly what participants might expect to receive or how the compensation ties in with the NFTs. If an artist sells their character NFT and loses access to the submission portal, for instance, can they still get compensated?
This all highlights a key confusion point with crypto projects: the idea that they’re simultaneously entertainment services and investment or earnings opportunities. (Also, it’s still not clear whether a lot of them need blockchain tech.) I like the idea of buying into an ARG where the designers actively promote a healthy community and offer an interesting interactive narrative, and some fans getting credit and money for their input 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 — even if a few of them might be rewarded for the work. And the cryptic launch strategy NFT lineups favor makes it hard to tell which experience Archie fans will get.