Opinion: Play To Earn Games, A Sleeping Disaster and a Ponzi Scheme?

Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency and Network that supports most of the play-to-earn games
Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency and Network that supports most of the play-to-earn games

Just to make things clear. I am bullish on blockchain technology, and blockchain-based games particularly. As you read this, you’ll probably think I’m biased, or a hater of the technology, but I’m nothing close to that, I just want to see play-to-earn games, and developers of the technology aren’t helping.

I’ve been playing games since I was a kid when the only option I had was Super Mario and Legend of Zelda on Nintendo. And, when I started growing up, I started questioning many things, like I’m I wasting my time by playing these games while developers earn billions of dollars?

After Axie Infinity appeared, the play-to-earn model was introduced. Players have finally become able to claim some profit, and earnings weren’t all going to developers of the game. Gamers were finally able to monetize their in-game skills and it seemed like a very exciting idea — at first.

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But, I don’t think it’s the case. In fact, I believe that play-to-earn games are a sleeping disaster. A Ponzi Scheme of some sort, that is awaiting its doomsday.

To make things clearer, let’s take a look at the economy of Axie Infinity for the sake of the sample, and then take a quick look at other play-to-earn games to see the huge gap in the economy of the industry.

Axie Infinity allows players to earn from playing the game. To be able to earn, players will have to first buy Axie creatures. A team of Axies should consist of at least 3 Axie creatures. When the game was first released, a team of Axie would have cost you around $10. But, as of January 2022, the figure became 20 times higher, and the cheapest price to get an Axie is around $200.

This means that a team of Axies could cost you around $600. It would have been totally normal if the return on investment was big. But that’s not the case.

As you compete against other players, you’ll gain Small Love Potions or SLPs for short. These are in-game tokens that you can use to breed your Axie creatures and give birth to other Axies — which you could sell in the market. Alternatively, you can sell these SLPs and one SLP is around $0.01 as of the moment of writing this article.

Now the game developers argued in their Whitepaper that to keep the economy of the game stable, Axie Infinity will rely on bringing in new players. Of course, this model itself is unstable. First, because no game could keep a stable growth rate, and second, blockchain games are still in their infancy, and the adoption might move at a very slow rate. Which is the case.

The developers know that this model is unstable. So they argued that after amassing many players, they’ll rely on keeping the economy stable by encouraging players to invest in the game. For example, players re-invest what they earned from the game for breeding Axies, and sell them in the marketplace to newcomers.

But here is where Axie Infinity went wrong

First, you should know that 50% of Axie Infinity players are from the Philippines. In fact, most of the game’s players are from low-wage economies. This means that when they play, they want to cash out their money. But let’s suppose that they re-invest in the game as the developers of Axie Infinity “hope”.

Earnings from Axie Infinity aren’t a big deal when we look at the prices of SLP tokens that they earned. Additionally, breeding Axies requires an investment, which gamers from low-wage economies are probably not able to afford. In addition to that, players from strong economies such as the United States, for example, are able to buy NFTs from the marketplace, and these NFTs are stronger and will probably win you more matches. This advantages richer players and encourages the pay-to-win mentality within the ecosystem. But that’s what play-to-earn games are about anyways. Most of the play-to-earn games are play-to-win games.

Now here is the biggest problem. Axie Infinity knew that their players are from low-wage economies and aren’t able to get expensive NFTs. So, they provided them with scholarships. A Scholar is a person who lends his NFT Axie creature to a player and shares profit with him.

For example, John from the U.S. who has money will buy an NFT, and then lend it out to Noah from the Philippines who don’t have money to afford an NFT, but who has time to play. At first, this seems like a win-win deal. But, when Noah plays, he’ll play to cash out his money, and not re-invest it in the game. Meanwhile, John is probably not interested in Axie Infinity at all, so he’ll probably cash out too.

This in return, creates inflation in the economy of the game. Because, as we said earlier, Axie Infinity wanted to stabilize the economy of the game by encouraging players to reinvest in the ecosystem. But Scholarships break this cycle.

This means that Axie Infinity can’t rely on bringing in new players, and will not be able to keep the economy stable because people are cashing out their money.

If you’re wondering why people are cashing out. Well, the answer is simple. They probably aren’t enjoying the game. I mean as a gamer, I care a lot about game skins and perks and brag about what I collected from games in front of my friends. Although classic games don’t pay me anything, I was still happy to invest time in them because I enjoy them. And this is what went above the head of Axie Infinity creators and the heads of several play-to-earn developers.

People don’t just want a play-to-earn game that would earn them money. They want a game that they would enjoy. And instead of promoting a game to people as a “get rich” for playing platform, developers should have focused on promoting their game as a “fun” game that is worth the time, and could earn you some cryptos in addition to that.

Let’s not forget that the entry price to Axie Infinity is extraordinary, and gamers aren’t used to spending $600 to start playing a game, and I don’t think that they’ll be ready to do that anytime soon.

But this isn’t an article about Axie Infinity alone. That’s actually a sample about the largest play-to-earn game out there. So how about other games?

There are different crypto games out there. Some games provide huge crypto gains to early adopters in hope of quickly acquiring new players. This model isn’t only sick and destined to fail, but it is also very similar to Ponzi Schemes.