Unlike many traditional online games, which operate on a “pay-to-win” model and allow players to purchase upgrades in order to gain an advantage over others, GameFi introduces a “play-to-earn” model. This concept involves giving players financial incentives to play and progress through games. In some cases, this has allowed gamers to earn a full-time income by doing so.
How it works
All objects in these types of games are expressed as NFTs – digital tokens used to prove ownership of scarce intangible items. Think of things like plots of land, avatars, costumes, weapons, and gold bars. Once players find and accrue these items through gameplay, many have the option to trade these with others in digital marketplaces for different NFTs or sell them in exchange for cryptocurrency.
Depending on which game is played, users can increase their earning potential by dedicating time leveling up and improving their characters, creating monetized structures on their land that other gamers pay to use, or by competing against others in tournaments.
In order to keep track of what every player owns, all NFTs and cryptocurrency transaction data are stored on a public blockchain. This is a type of distributed, digital record-keeping technology maintained by a global network of computers. Leveraging this technology in gaming provides a number of benefits, including:
- Players can easily prove ownership of their in-game items.
- There is no single point of failure, meaning players will no longer be at risk of losing track of what they own if the underlying gaming company experiences technical issues.
- Items accrued during gameplay cannot be counterfeited, removed, or destroyed.
- Game-native cryptocurrencies can be sent and received without the need for intermediary settlement, clearing, or custody.
Some games also include DeFi elements such as staking, where players can lock away certain tokens in order to earn annual interest, and other rewards they can save to purchase other in-game items or unlock new content.
What you need to play
In order to take part in any of these play-to-earn games, users will need to do the following:
- Create a cryptocurrency wallet: To store their virtual currency and NFTs, and make in-game transactions. Which wallet you need will depend on which blockchain the game was built upon. For example, MetaMask – an Ethereum-based crypto wallet service – will work with any GameFi game built on Ethereum.
- Purchase starter items: All GameFi games are free to download. However, many require players to first purchase characters, native crypto tokens, decks of cards, or upgrades in order to begin.
- Pre-funded crypto wallet: You will need to pre-fund your crypto wallet with a particular cryptocurrency in order to purchase starter items and proceed. Cryptoblades, for example, requires users to download MetaMask, purchase Binance coin (BNB) and exchange it for the game’s native cryptocurrency, SKILL.
Where did GameFi come from?
The emergence of GameFi comes from a combination of factors that dates back to 2017 and the emergence of the NFT phenomenon CryptoKitties. The digital collectibles economy proved a viral success, with CryptoKitties amassing over 14,914 users a day at its peak. CryptoPunks, a collection of 10,000 pixelated NFT characters also built on Ethereum, enjoyed similar success, surpassing $1 billion in sales over 2018.
Unfortunately, the success of these NFTs showed both the good and bad sides of the state of blockchain technology at the time. Games like CryptoKitties caused heavy congestion on the Ethereum network, leading to extreme spikes in transaction fees and much slower than normal transaction confirmation times. These technical issues highlighted a clear gap in the market for more efficient and scalable platforms that could handle the rising demand from online gamers and virtual asset collectors.
Since then, a number of new “Ethereum killer” blockchains have emerged that promise faster transaction speeds, greater scalability, and cheaper fees. These include the likes of Solana and Cardano, both of which have recently set new all-time highs as investors bet big on new dapp competitors.
The proliferation of decentralized finance (DeFi) platforms over 2020 was the next critical component enabling GameFi’s growth, introducing a range of blockchain-native financial platforms that run entirely using smart contracts. This provided the infrastructure for decentralized exchanges where in-game cryptocurrencies could be launched from and traded, as well as additional features like lending and staking.
In September 2020, Yearn.finance founder and DeFi developer Andre Conje tweeted about the gamification of monetary policies in a decentralized environment. He recognized the multiple benefits DeFi and NFTs could bring to the online gaming industry, and GameFi applications quickly started to form. Axie Infinity was one of the first play-to-earn games to take off in a big way, surpassing $1 billion in revenue on Aug. 9, 2021.
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