Axie Infinity is toxic to cryptogaming
Blockchain gaming is only four years old – a toddler compared to the rest of the industry. It has a lot to do with growing up, especially when it comes to games to make money.
I am a 28 year veteran of the gaming industry. I have produced 32 titles in that period on everything from Sega Genesis to Oculus Rift. Some of them were great. Many were forgettable. I didn’t hear much talk about blockchain games from traditional developers and gamers until Axie Infinity started to take off. Cut to the peak of 2021, and the game had nearly 2 million players logging in daily.
Most people outside the crypto community at the time were (and still are) extremely skeptical of blockchain’s ability to add anything meaningful to gaming. They see Axie as an example of the low production values and rampant speculation they want to avoid at all costs. Moreso, they see blockchain as a continuation of publisher overreach. However, in 2021, many believed that Axie would prove blockchain gaming skeptics wrong.
It didn’t. Axie and most other crypto “games” to date have been terrible experiences. They’re not really games. They are more like digital sharecropping, rich NFT owners exploiting low paid players. It is shallow play on layers on a tokenomics model. This was highlighted most recently in October, when Axie’s SLP token fell in value as a result of an impending token unlock.
Related: Cryptogaming has to be fun to succeed — Money doesn’t matter
Most players sell their tokens on the crypto market rather than in-game, which means that token numbers increase and cause a sort of crypto-inflation. The game model relies on a constant influx of new players to sustain it – which this month has proven to be very unlikely.
Axie’s value is primarily driven by this speculation rather than fun. The game, if it can even be called that, is literally a grind. Despite attempts to separate it from reliance on game economics with iterations like Axie Origins, the toxic model of being hyper-dependent on tokenomics prevails. This continues to detract from projects trying to create fun games that use blockchain to improve the player experience.
At the height of its popularity, the team behind Axie arrogantly claimed that they were “liberating” gamers and enabling a world where work and play merge. But the game’s decline after the massive $620 million hack of customer funds in March showed how hollow this language was. Axie creator Sky Mavis turned from the play-to-earn narrative to a play-and-earn ethos, clearly aware that the game was not going to deliver on its mission.
For blockchain games to succeed, developers need to focus on amazing game design instead of trying to prop up tokens. Under an increasingly difficult global economic climate, even mainstream gaming is struggling. But the games that do well despite market sentiment are AAA titles like God of War Ragnarök and the latest Call of Duty, which have exciting lore and fantastic gameplay.
The ability for players to spend time crafting things that people will love in terms of stickers, skins and weapons – while still being able to monetize them – is key. People need an outlet where they can be creative and put together content that generates interest and emotion with a community that loves to play the game.
If we are going to turn the tide on the perception of blockchain gaming, we need to show how it can benefit players. Goes beyond words and actually demonstrates that it improves gameplay and utility. Blockchain can do incredible things as a backend infrastructure, such as enabling players to truly own in-game items, prove the attribution and history of their weapons and loot, and be rewarded for their in-game creations.
Related: The reason bots dominate crypto games? Developers who provide cash incentivize them
Part of Vitalik Buterin’s drive to innovate with blockchain was fueled by his distress when he lost a spell’s abilities in World of Warcraft overnight as a result of centralized control of the game. Blockchain ultimately restores true ownership of in-game features to players, meaning they own them even if changes happen to a game or it crashes.
This ownership can extend to many areas. Right now, Microsoft and Sony let you record video of your in-game activity and then post it on social media, but you don’t really own how it monetizes. You are locked into YouTube monetization. With blockchain, players could capture in-game moments, memorialize them as NFTs, and then let people buy/sell them as they see fit. By updating game infrastructure and enabling new innovation, real-time integration of players in the creative process can also occur, something rarely seen in the industry.
Players want involvement in the creation of the games. They don’t want to be manipulated into paying more. Studios must prioritize gameplay, rich graphics and compelling narratives to get players on board. The blockchain games that will be successful will be the ones where the players don’t even know there is a blockchain operating in the background.
Fraud and speculative frenzy have been the central features of the broader crypto market this year. So it becomes that much harder to get players on board. Studios must go the extra mile to demonstrate to players that blockchain gaming can achieve the security, fun and adrenaline-pumping action that defines the games they love.
Mark Long is the CEO of Shrapnel, a blockchain-enabled moddable AAA first-person shooter. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Computer Science before attending an executive education program at the Wharton School. He previously served as a director in HBO’s digital product group; as Group Program Manager at Microsoft; and as CEO of companies including Aristia, Meteor Entertainment and Zombie Studios.
This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.