Over the 50-year history of video games, they have been seen as a distraction, something to turn your mind off after a long day at work.
But now, a new generation of video games is using blockchain technologies like non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) to reward players with cryptocurrencies.
In some countries, these “play-to-earn” (or “play to win”) games are already allowing gamers to support themselves by playing video games, with scholarship programs and academies springing up to help players navigate this strange new world.
While some have welcomed the advent of play-to-earn games, arguing that they allow users to receive rewards for an activity they would previously have done for free, many players expressed unease about the unwelcome intrusion of commerce into the escapist world of games.
What are play-to-earn games?
Basically, play-to-earn games are video games where the player can receive rewards with real-world value.
While people have been earning money from playing video games for many years through practices such as “gold farming” (or “gold farming”, in which they purchase fictitious currencies that can be converted into cash) and unofficial markets for games, the emergence of blockchain technology and NFTs has changed the game.
NFTs are cryptographically unique tokens that can be used to prove ownership of content such as images or music. In blockchain games, NFTs allow users to own game items such as clothing or virtual terrain.
Unlike regular games, where game items are stored and isolated on data networks and owned by the company that created the game, NFTs allow players to own the unique assets they’ve acquired.
Also, by owning NFT, you can freely sell it outside the platform where it was created, something that is impossible in regular games.
This means that NFTs representing in-game items can be traded and sold for fiat currencies in any NFT market. Since these NFTs are scarce, they have real-world value.
In traditional games, there is no incentive to play beyond pure fun.
The relationship is one-sided: you pay for the game, and unless you’re a professional esports player or a streamer with a large following, you’ll never be able to monetize the time played.
In contrast, blockchain games offer players the opportunity to earn real money.
Since blockchain technology allows users to transact from anywhere, players can transfer value and get paid for playing, regardless of who they are or where they are in the world.
The rise of the play-to-earn model
The biggest play-to-earn game so far is Axie Infinity, a Pokémon-style monster battle game released in 2018 by independent studio Sky Mavis.
The game has players collect cartoon creatures called Axies, represented by NFTs. Each Axie has unique strengths and weaknesses, and players can adventure, battle, and craft their Axies throughout the game.
Players can earn Smooth Love Potion (SLP) tokens as rewards for battles while Axie Infinity Shard (AXS) tokens are used to vote on decisions related to the game and its future development.
With 2.8 million daily users and a total trading volume of $3.8 billion, Axie Infinity has become one of the dominant play-to-earn games, and in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, people are playing the which is being a breadwinner for their families.
“Axie Scholarships” programs, such as the one offered by Yield Guild Games, have also emerged, allowing Axie owners to lend their NFTs to other players.
Play-to-earn games are also helping cryptocurrency take up. According to Aleksander Leonard Larsen, co-founder of Axie Infinity, half of the players had never used any kind of crypto application before.
However, there are costs to play, and before you get started, you need to acquire three Axie NFTs – and each of them can cost hundreds of dollars. Larsen acknowledges the challenges of onboarding new players: “It’s very difficult to start playing Axie right now.”
To address this issue, Axie plans to release free Axies with limited earning potential to give new players a taste of the game.
Other play-to-earn projects are emerging on the market with elements of Decentralized Finance (or DeFi).
Aavegotchi, an experimental startup funded by the DeFi Aave money market, allows players to stake aTokens inside cartoon creatures represented by NFTs, meaning each Aavegotchi generates income on Aave.
The traditional gaming industry was also drawn to the possibility of NFTs and the play-to-earn model.
French video game giant Ubisoft has already announced plans for Ubisoft Quartz, a platform that will allow players to earn and acquire NFTs, built on the Tezos blockchain.
But other publishers that have dabbled in NFTs have come under furious criticism of games, as GSC Game World, creators of STALKER 2, abandoned its plans to include NFTs in a game after a player-driven Twitter campaign.
Some players, already irritated by the publisher’s monetization of games through “pay-to-win” (or “pay-to-win” models) and “lootboxes” (or “reward boxes”), consider play-to-earn as a step much further.
They argue that the presentation of real-world economic models and incentives will turn games from an escapist quest to an “industry” sector.investment-entertainment“Purely capitalist.
But as investments from big names like FTX and Andresseen-Horowitz (a16z) enter the play-to-earn sector, it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Futuros jogos play-to-earn
A growing number of blockchain projects are looking into the play-to-earn sector. Perhaps most notable is the NFT Bored Ape Yacht Club (or BAYC) avatar series, which announced an upcoming play-to-earn game in its latest development roadmap (or “roadmap”).
Another major NFT collection with plans to release a blockchain game is The Forgotten Rune Wizard Cult, which has announced a partnership with metaverse developer Bisonic.
The project plans to use a “create-to-earn” model, in which the community will generate game lore and customize NFTs in exchange for rewards.
Although the semantics differ a little, there is no doubt that mages will play in a world where they will be able to have land, collect resources, create items, issue NFTs and help develop the virtual world around them.
Loopify is a renowned NFT collector, writer and creator who recently tweeted that 2022 will be “the year of the blockchain gaming industry”.
He is building on this idea, developing the massively multiplayer online play-to-earn role-playing game (or MMORPG) Treeverse.
Similar to classic titles like Runescape, Treeverse will allow players to trade in game assets like NFTs as well as reward them for playing.
Currently, Treeverse is still in the public alpha phase as the team continues to refine the game’s art, inspired by the minimalist design of titles like Jorney, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Valheim.
Recently, Loopify introduced Timeless, a collection of 11,111 characters that will be distributed free on Treeverse for NFTrees holders.
Entering the Metaverse
Developed alongside play-to-earn games is the metaverse, a shared, virtual world where users interact as avatars, gather, work together and, of course, play.
Blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs are well present in the plans of the metaverse, as virtual objects and terrains are represented by NFTs.
Metaverse platforms such as The Sandbox, Decentraland and CryptoVoxels are bringing NFTs into the shared virtual world while traditional companies such as Facebook (now called Meta), Adidas and Samsung have already chased their place in the metaverse.
While we’re still in the early stages of what the metaverse could be, we’re already seeing live shows and reunions happening.
Games come next, and because of the promise of an interoperable metaverse world and NFTs allowing items to be moved between metaverse platforms, they can act as a powerful catalyst for play-to-earn games.
In the future, what can’t be denied is the power of play-to-earn, where anyone from anywhere has the chance to earn a living simply by interacting with games they enjoy.
*Translated and edited by Daniela Pereira do Nascimento with permission from the Decrypt.co.