2 min read

Play-to-earn ≠ pay-to-win (+new pod)

Blockchain offers some very interesting enhancements to video games. Even if you operate your own game servers in the traditional, centralized way, you can move your in-game currency and in-game items to a blockchain as fungible and non-fungible tokens, respectively.

There's been a lot of interest from gaming companies to build NFTs into their games, but announcements about blockchain-backed games are often met with outrage from players. When this happens, the game studios usually backpedal and abandon the project.

This deepens the divide between blockchain games and traditional games and keeps the players separate. Many traditional gamers look down on blockchain games because the NFTs and cryptocurrencies make their games inherently pay-to-win (meaning someone with money can start playing at a high level without grinding for hours and days).

This doesn't have to be the way. If you want to build NFTs into your game, you have four options:

1. Only use NFTs for cosmetics

If you're worried about making your game pay-to-win, then the most obvious answer is to ensure NFTs have no impact on player ability. Cosmetic items are valuable to a certain subset of your players who are happy to pay for them. This is a good entry point for your games to get on blockchain without alienating your players.

2. Offer game modes for players who earned their items

If you want to use NFTs for more than just cosmetics, you can keep your players happy by letting them play with others like them. If you earned your items, then you might not want to be matched against someone who spent a bunch of money for theirs. Giving players this freedom to choose will allow you to explore different kinds of NFTs without harming the player experience.

3. Use soulbound NFTs

Alternatively, you can make some or all of your in-game items "soulbound" (aka non-transferable). This can help increase the rarity or cool factor of some items, but it does inhibit some of the natural benefits of using NFTs. It does help with player concerns about pay-to-win, but it also opens up secondary markets for entire accounts instead of just the items themselves. I don't recommend this approach as a solution to pay-to-win, but it might work for your game design.

4. Just let it be pay to win

Lots of games are pay-to-win. There's nothing inherently wrong with this. It's just a question of appealing to your existing players. If your existing games are highly skill-based pvp games, then don't make this decision lightly.


P.S. Unrelated to today's topic, this week's podcast is an interview with Nick Dodson of Fuel Network. They're building the fastest modular execution layer for blockchain, and we go deep into what that means and why it matters. Enjoy!