The ultimate point of playing video games has always been to have fun. Whether it’s Space Invaders or Sonic or Red Dead Redemption, you hit the start button and do your thing until game over – and then you probably wipe the sweat off your hands and do it again.
But a new class of games is emerging where playing is an investment opportunity – and even potentially a way to earn a living. So-called play-to-earn games like Axie Infinity and The Sandbox have been exploding in popularity recently.
What they have in common with many previous classics is that they include complex economic ecosystems. In the 1980s blockbuster Elite, for example, players travelled from planet to planet, trying to increase their credits by buying and selling things like weapons and commodities. Or in life-simulation franchise The Sims, players buy everything from pizzas to houses with Simoleons.
To infinity …
The leader in this new space is Axie Infinity, a Pokémon-style game created by the Vietnamese developer Sky Mavis. It has some 350,000 daily active users, about 40% of whom are in the Philippines, with Venezuela and the US the next two biggest markets.
The game revolves around cute furry creatures called Axies, which players breed, acquire, train, use to complete challenges, and do battle with online. The object of the game is to obtain small love potions (SLPs), which can be used to breed new Axies that can then be deployed within the game.
SLPs double as cryptocurrencies that can be bought and sold on a crypto exchange. Top players are reportedly earning SLP1,500 (US$435/£317) per day from their Axies, though the price of SLPs against the US dollar is constantly changing. It has broadly been rising since 2020, so there is an argument for hanging on to them – or alternatively, selling while the going is good.
Axies themselves can be traded in real life in the likes of the Axie Marketplace as NFTs (non-fungible tokens). NFTs are digital collectables that exist on online ledgers known as blockchains, and are better known for recently taking the art world by storm.
As well as Axies, other in-game items like real estate, flowers, barrels and lamps are all tradeable as NFTs too. These are all bought and sold using ethereum, which is the second biggest cryptocurrency after bitcoin.
This is a welcome improvement on predecessors such as World of Warcraft where trading of gold and in-game assets took place in unaffiliated auction sites, and was grounds for being banned from the game for a long time. By introducing a dedicated marketplace, NFTs and a blockchain, the trading around Axie Infinity and similar games is more secure and means that players actually own the items in question.
To get started on Axie Infinity, players need to buy (or borrow) three Axies. They are available from US$190 (£138), though the current average is about US$350, and higher level, rare or mystic Axies can sell for a lot more.
The most expensive ever Axie, a triple mystic called Angel, sold for ETH300 in late 2020, which was around US$120,000 at the time. Meanwhile, a chunk of in-game real estate went for US$1.5 million earlier in 2021. Monthly trading volumes for all Axie Infinity NFTs currently stand at US$170 million.
Axie Infinity and other play-to-earn games have created a new digital economy that has transformed gaming into money thanks to blockchain technology. I believe that play-to-earn is here to stay and will grow exponentially over the next coming years.
It is helping people all over the world to overcome unemployment and may even replace full-time jobs.