Company That Sold Fake Shares in Real Companies for NFT ‘Fantasy Startup Investing’ Has Already Pivoted

Company That Sold Fake Shares in Real Companies for NFT ‘Fantasy Startup Investing’ Has Already Pivoted
Photo: Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After considerable criticism, creators of an online game based around “fantasy startup investing” have said they plan to ditch their original plans to charge users for gameplay and will now adopt a “free-to-play” model. The company, Visionrare, had planned to sell users NFT shares in real companies for the purposes of virtual, gamified investing. Now, less than 24 hours after the game’s beta launch, the creators have issued refunds and admitted that they “underestimated the legal complexities” of launching what is clearly a very bad idea.

The company’s plan had been to allow players to build fake financial portfolios made up of real businesses. Users would “virtually invest” (i.e., pretend to invest) in startups by shelling out real money to buy the game’s digital currency, Visionshares, which could then be used to “buy” stakes in companies.

In essence, the idea was to let users design fantasy sports teams but with startups instead of players. The company claimed that users could potentially earn money via this method, if their companies ended up doing well enough in real life (which would somehow translate to virtual — and, therefore, real — earnings in the game).

“Fantasy football meets startup investing. Collect & trade limited-edition fantasy equity of the startups you believe in, compete in tournaments and get return on your investments,” the company’s website says.

But, apparently, this premise ended up being a little too “legally” complicated for Visionrare to pull off. For one thing, the company apparently didn’t get permission from a large number of the businesses that they included in their game, TechCrunch has reported — opening them up to the possibility of a flood of cease-and-desist letters.

On top of that, not long after the game’s launch, observers on Twitter were quick to point out the many legally precarious aspects of the game.

As a result, after less than 24 hours, the company decided to withdraw its initial beta and pivot to a “free-to-play” version — meaning users won’t have to shell out real money to play pretend-investor. In a statement put out Thursday, Visionrare notified its users that it would be shutting down its paid marketplace and pivoting to an unpaid one — for the time being.

“Our goal from the get-go has been to create a game that brings the excitement of startup investing to a wide audience through NFTs. We want Visionrare to be an ode to startups and a fundamentally positive experience for both players and startups,” the company said. “For the last couple of weeks we worked on building the minimal viable product of a game that brings this idea to life. However, during this process we underestimated the legal complexities and decided to hold off on some of the current dynamics.”

RIP, Visionrare beta, RIP — but it’s probably for the best.

I don’t know about you, but, legal issues aside, a video game built around creating a financial portfolio seems pretty bad to me. As far as I can tell, the thrill of gaming comes from doing something that you can’t actually do in real life, like ride a dragon, play guitar like Zeppelin, or be a well-trained psychopath for the U.S. military. Conversely, pretending you’re rich enough to invest in startups seems less like a thrill and more like a recipe for low-grade depression but, hey, that’s just me.

We reached out Visionshare for comment on their recent shift in business plans and will update this story if they get back to us.