When it comes to Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) on Ethereum, the first project that comes to mind for the old timers is CryptoKitties or the record breaking Beeple sale for the newer ones. The world of Collectibles and art have been the subject of much ink but there is a sector that has evolved out of sight, it is that of blockchain gaming and more particularly games using the Play to Earn gameplay.
The concept is not new, it already existed on Bitcoin years before the appearance of virtual chats or CryptoPunks, but the appearance of plugins like Metamask offered an infinitely simpler access to the web3 and, in fact, to the development of decentralized applications rewarding players in tokens (fungible or not).
Among the multitude of these applications, Axie Infinity is one of those projects that started small and managed in a few years to build a real universe around gaming, the collection but also (and especially) its community.
From a simple application inspired by CryptoKitties and Pokémon to the development of Scholarships and the creation of their sidechain, what explains the success of this project today?
Presentation of the Axie Infinity universe
Before looking in more detail at the “macro” reasons for Axie’s success, it is important to present and understand the different steps already taken by the game that has practically become a metaverse in its own right.
2017: an idea in the middle of a bull run
It’s December 2017 and work on the ERC-721 standard is in the testing stage thanks to the collaboration of Dapp Labs, which is experimenting with this new type of smart contract with CryptoKitties.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Philippines, a team of developers noticed the spectacular craze for CryptoKitties and Decentraland despite the sky-high transaction fees and decided to put on paper an idea that would change their lives (and those of thousands of players): Axie Infinity.
By the time the Whitepaper was written and the legal structure named Sky Mavis was created, the market had collapsed and the general public had lost interest in the crypto universe, which was too volatile for their taste.
But those who had been closely interested in CryptoKitties understood the potential of the ERC-721 standard that was accepted in early 2018: In addition to actually owning an asset and trading it on a secondary market, it was now possible to get it as a reward for efforts and time spent in a project.
2018: a launch in the middle of the bear market
It is by betting on the support of this community that Sky Mavis will launch the pre-sale of Axies “Origin” in February 2018, allowing to raise 900 ETH (about 700 000 dollars). A month later, the smart contract for exchanging Axies on the secondary market is deployed and then in May, the possibility to mate (breed) one’s Axies is born.
At that time, newly created Axies were traded for a few dollars or distributed through giveaways, simply by interacting with statuses on social networks (like Twitter recently…). It is important to know that this giveaway practice was very common for several reasons:
- Visibility on general marketplaces like Opensea to any web wallet owner3
- Promotion of the project through the community
- Rewarding early adopters for their investment of time and effort in developing the project
This balance was necessary for everyone: on the one hand users were looking for another way to earn cryptos than trading, on the other hand developers needed passionate users to understand their needs and expectations in order to propose a fun experience most adapted to this new market.
Regarding Axie Infinity, we can say that the first need of the users was fulfilled in May 2018, even if we will have to wait until October for the second one to be fulfilled with the possibility of having your monsters beat other players.
Even though the battles were done in an automated way, they still required strategic choices in the creation of monster teams to be able to rise in the rankings of the various seasonal tournaments. Also, it is important to mention that the rewards of these tournaments were the result of partnerships with MakerDAO, Kyber Network and many others, offering different cryptos to the best players.
2019 : The foundations of Lunacia
But the Sky Mavis team is quickly seeing bigger things for all these little Axies. They need a world of their own, where they can have incredible adventures. In January 2019, 17,217 plots of land (LAND) are sold for a total of 3,200 ETH (about $416,000), laying the foundation for Axie Infinity’s metaverse: Lunacia.
Anticipating the scalability of the project, the year 2019 will be marked by the migration of the assets concerning the Lunacia universe (customization objects and terrain) on the second layer of the Loom Network. The Axies will remain on the first layer of Ethereum.
The tournaments and partnerships follow one another, the community grows while consolidating day by day and the Axies are always exchanged for a few handfuls of dollars. The novelty in the game will arrive at the end of the year with an access to the alpha of the gameplay evolution: the automated fights will give way to a choice of skills to use during the fights.
2020: Confinement and expansion
The year 2020 will mark a turning point for humanity with its successive confinements, the accelerated adoption of digital technology, but above all a virtual halt to the traditional global economy. The NFTs and crypto economy, on the other hand, will end up running at full speed.
From the beginning of the year, Sky Mavis will release the Mavis Hub, a platform dedicated to hosting future applications (Marketplace, Lunacia and PvP / PvE games) of the Axie Infinity universe. The objective of the Mavis Hub is to ensure the portability of the game on all types of media: access to the game is now only possible by downloading an application on mobile (IOS and Android) or computers (Windows and Mac).
Another news, not so good this one, Axie is the last project on the Loom sidechain which had declared a few months earlier to stop the support for NFTs games in order to focus on the medical sector. No matter, Sky Mavis will start working on its own sidechain: Ronin.
In March, the national lockdown is declared in the Philippines, slowing down slightly the development of Axie. Slightly, because in May a new milestone is reached for Lunacia: all 73,360 remaining LANDs on the map will bring in more than 4,600 ETH (about $920,000) during this sale.
Then, everything will follow for Sky Mavis. In June, they joined Ubisoft’s incubator program, Entrepreneur Labs, and in July, the Ronin testnet was launched. Like all dApps on Ethereum, Axie Infinity was hit hard by the transaction fees due to the raging DeFi Summer. But it was also a time to think of decentralized finance use cases tailored to their game, including Smooth Love Potion (SLP) and a governance token, the Axie Infinity Shard (AXS).
SLP tokens can be obtained by completing quests and have only one use: to be used to breed between Axies, with the number of SLPs needed depending on how many times the little monsters have participated in the breeding ritual.
At the time, when Binance announced that it had listed the SLP token, the most important thing was not the spike to $0.20 before dropping back to $0.02 but rather the entry of a utility token related to an NFT project on one of the biggest exchanges in the crypto sector. The consequences of this entry on the platform would not only mark a turning point for Sky Mavis, but also change the lives of thousands of people around the world.
When Gaming Can Make a Living
This change is that of a dream that any person who has played a video game has already had: that of being able to earn a living by playing video games. Until now, this dream could only be realized by an elite few in the various E-sport tournaments around the world, but Axie was about to change that with her little monsters and love potions.
It may be hard to see the benefit of earning a few American dollars a day, but in many countries around the world it is enough to feed yourself and your family. And while the second wave of COVID is looming, starting in September 2020, the bull run will accompany a key indicator to know the health of a project: Axie Infinity will experience a peak of 3,544 weekly active wallet!
It becomes difficult to find an Axie below 40 dollars, the SLP stagnates around 0.01 dollars. It is important to know that to play Axie Infinity, you need to have three Axies in your team. With the price of Axies rising to the bottom, this made an entry ticket to the game worth $120 USD but also turned some players who had hundreds of them into Whales.
The reason for this success is not only due to the bull run crypto but also to a community organization: the Scholarships. Taking advantage of the possibility of login and password, these new Whales started to lend their account so that other people could play the game… and win love potions.
The consequences of success
A few months later, it was the turn of DAOs to set up their own Scholarship system like Yield Guild Game or Blackpool.finance, spreading Axie but especially PlayToEarn to other ecosystems.
In the first community newsletter of Blackpool.finance there are several testimonies of what the first SLP payment could do: medical operations, food distribution or purchase of material for schools… These examples are not isolated, regularly the twitter of Axie Infinity shares similar testimonies and not only from the Philippines.
In March 2021, like all the other players in the NFT ecosystem, Axie will experience a peak of activity coming from the hype created by the record sale of Beeple. Although the number of wallets with Axies will not exceed that of September 2020, the sales volume will represent $1,647,920, marking an all-time record for the project. The average price of an Axie is then about $200.
But this hype has not brought only good news. Indeed, the interest in the game is so large that their Discord server is no longer big enough to accommodate new members. Moreover, the Scholarships have led to several perverse effects: Community members are more and more regularly solicited for a place in their team, to the point of leaving personal information as a comment on the statuses…
What future for the little monsters?
Today, Axie Infinity continues to blow away the counters. Their latest update on the rising mating fee (150 SLP minimum and 4 AXS) can easily explain this interest that had already happened when AXS was added to the Breed process. The reason the floor price for an Axie is around $200 is because it now costs $80 in AXS and $45 in SLP to get one.
Although Axie Infinity is not the only NFT game that uses Play To Earn, it is nevertheless the first to be so successful and, more importantly, so visible in the real world. Its business model, while young, will likely be disrupted again when their metaverse is released, but one thing is for sure: the community will respond to shape what could become their salary for years to come.
From simple little monsters practically given to the survivors of the 2018 bear market, Axies are becoming a symbol of economic alternatives in countries where the U.S. dollar has strong purchasing power. Perhaps in the future the dollar will be worthless, but the effort, participation and time spent in the game and the community will always have real value.