Play-to-Earn (P2E) gaming is a major trend, and Axie Infinity is one of the largest games in the space, recently reaching 2 million daily active players. Some may think creating profitable and entertaining games is a dream come true, but traditional gamers are not happy with blockchain-based renditions of their favorite entertainment. The differences in the incentives used for their favorite games are at least partially thankful for this disagreement.
A college student playing PS5 at home seeks something completely different from the Filipino who puts food on the table playing Axie. While the P2E space is expanding, many of its current design practices are barriers to breaking into the mainstream gaming market.
Work hard or play hard?
The P2E game exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in low-income countries such as the Philippines, which suffer from an ongoing embargo. The Philippines' GDP fell 9.6 percent, the largest drop in more than 70 years, causing many people to lose their jobs and find other ways to support their families.
According to the team behind Axie, more than 29,000 people downloaded Axie Infinity in the Philippines in March 2020 alone, while internationally, the game gained 70,000 users that month. Among other things, this distribution implies that users want their game profits to provide a steady source of income, especially if others dry up. The Axie community even offered scholarships to people in low-income countries: players with a large number of Axie NFTs rented them out to beginners, saving them the upfront cost of getting into the game, but asking for a portion of the revenue.
While a significant portion of P2E gamers use games to augment their revenue stream, traditional gamers are a completely different story. According to Statista, about 66% of gamers play games to relax and de-stress, while 51% want to escape through entertainment.
To put it more bluntly, traditional video game players simply enjoy their hobby of intrinsic experiences that have nothing to do with profit and are extrinsic to the game. If anything, there is even some evidence, though it seems inconclusive, that extrinsic motivation and enjoyment don't often go hand in hand. Thus, the opportunity to make money (the biggest selling point of P2E) itself lacks appeal to players who are not playing for tangible rewards to begin with.
While P2E games are in many ways about trading, the traditional gaming community has had a rocky history with microtransactions since their launch in 2004. Video game fans are not shy about expressing their anger at the option of paying for digital goods. Enhance gameplay or visuals, sometimes in addition to prepayments. Loot boxes containing rare digital items that can't be purchased with cash have been particularly controversial, with opposition from gamers snowballing into multiple class action lawsuits claiming the purchases are "illegal gambling activities" run by gaming companies.
Gamers' disapproval of these monetization tools has led to the complete collapse of several games. Xaviant Games' The Culling shut down its servers after the developer failed to introduce microtransactions and raise enough money. Frustrated players saw this as an "unfinished cash grab" and some called it "the worst 'pay to play' feature ever.
Since then, other games have managed to integrate microtransactions into their gameplay, some of which profit through different stages of the game in the form of paywalls. This has also caused controversy among fans of the game who believe that these interrupt the experience. Some players have embraced other types of in-game purchases, such as League of Legends' in-game currency Riot Points, in order to unlock more digital cosmetics for their characters. Every game is different, and so is every player, but all in all, after some much-needed trial and error, microtransactions have earned game developers huge amounts of revenue, and established and well-received games have played a significant role in that overall revenue.
Traditional gamers are clearly skeptical of developers' efforts to monetize their hobby, especially in the case of P2E games. In order to meet the standards of traditional gamers, game makers must cater to specific incentives that can attract non-cryptocurrency enthusiasts to the P2E space. Or, in layman's terms, make their games more interesting.
Ensure that P2E games are not just a means to an end
P2E is popular primarily because of its ability to generate revenue, unlike non-blockchain video games, which must play on many other factors. Users who play Axie Infinity are usually motivated by financial considerations rather than by enjoyment per se. On the other hand, mainstream gamers do not aim to make a profit, but rather to gain emotional satisfaction from playing the game. Therefore, user experience is the most critical way to bring traditional gamers into the P2E space.
Unlike blockchain-based games, gamers have a large selection of traditional games to choose from, and a competitive market exists for aesthetically pleasing designs with rich storylines. Sandbox games, such as Grand Theft Auto, allow users to escape reality and become completely different people in a new world with very few restrictions. Rather than students, cashiers, or even real-life influential lawyers, video games give people the opportunity to suspend their ordinary lives and become heroes or villains in compelling stories. Players can also socialize through multiplayer, competitive rankings and other features.
Dedicated gamers already spend hours binge playing video games on a regular basis, and the average playtime is growing. P2E developers have an opportunity to usher in this indecisive consumer segment, but they need to cater to the connected and emotionally driven segment and expand their focus beyond the existing P2E gamers who are already sold on the concept. Traditional gamers value escaping their lives and connecting with other gamers without feeling like they are being monetized in the process. Developing compelling graphics, user-friendly game interfaces, engaging narratives and advanced world building will attract traditional gamers to the P2E world. User experience features that inspire an emotional response, such as competitive player scores or memorable gameplay moments, will retain them.
In non-blockchain games, the economy is just one piece of a larger puzzle consisting of story, world-building, combat mechanics, and countless other mechanics that blend into an engaging experience. In order for P2E games to expand their consumer base, developers must consider different game play motivations. Integrating engaging UI and emotionally evocative UX into the P2E ecosystem will provide users with the best of both worlds, bridging the gap between two committed groups of gamers.
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Jaden Lee is the CEO of Monoverse, a blockchain-based game developer founded in 2019 and the creator of Frutti Dino, a money-making NFT game. Jaden has extensive experience in full-stack programming, web and mobile design, blockchain mainnet development, cryptocurrency exchanges, and smart contracts. Prior to leading the Frutti Dino project, he started his career in the gaming industry in 2007 as the lead developer and CEO of Superbee.
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