How Axie Infinity is shaking up the game


Last month I wrote about Loot, a viral social project unlike any I’ve seen before. What made it possible were the unique digital items known as Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, that inspired the Loot community to build an entire fictional universe around them from the bottom up. Today I want to talk about another great social experiment that NFTs have enabled and the potentially profound consequences of the resulting platform.

I realize that for many of you, talking about blockchain projects immediately triggers eye rolling and tabs closing. But like Loot, today’s edition is about one of those unconventional startups that seems too interesting to ignore. Mainly because on the surface it may look like a little more than a cheap Pokemon clone.

The name of this thing is Infinite Axis, and it’s made by a Vietnam-based company named Sky Mavis. Last week it was in the news because, just five months after raising a $ 7.5 million round Series A financing, Sky Mavis added an additional $ 152 million for Andreessen Horowitz-led Series B. The company, which was founded in 2018, is now valued at $ 3 billion.

Fundraising is not the interesting part: In 2021, almost any crypto-branded project with decent growth will find itself doused in venture capital. Axis is interesting because it uses cryptocurrency to create a new kind of video game, in which you can earn significant income just by playing. The game is surrounded by a community that has a financial stake in Axis via the two in-game currencies, which they can use to influence its development.

In short, it is a social network where all the participants buy and sell goods with real money. We’ve got a word for it, a word we almost never would apply to a web-based social network: an economy. And if Axis continues to grow at its current rate, which is about to have fascinating implications.

Axis is just the beginning, ”said Arianna Simpson, partner at Andreessen Horowitz who led the Axis investment. “Axis sort of created this model, but i think it’s going to be extremely widely applied … if i can play a game, have so much fun, and also make money – well obviously i prefer to do that , is not it ? And so I think Axis just defines a new category, and that mechanic, in my mind, is going to be built into generations of games to come.

But let’s go back for a moment: what kind of game is Infinite Axis, exactly? In short, it is Pokemon on the blockchain. (It is not available in app stores; you can either download Axis on your desktop or load it on your Android phone.) The game features turn-based battles between teams of three cartoon monsters, called Axies; each Axie has powers derived from its type (insect, bird, plant, etc.) and from its different parts of the body.

Where it differs from Pokemon is that Axies are unique digital objects stored on Axisits own blockchain; to create new ones, existing owners must “raise” them by spending currency earned in-game or purchased in an exchange. By winning in-game battles or selling Axies to other players, owners can earn in-game currency. These winnings can then be sold on the open market for real money, generating income for the players. .

Dedicated gamers now earn thousands of dollars per month playing Axis, and the platform has grown rapidly, reaching 1.8 million users logged into the platform in August. As Rest of the world reported in August, this has been found to be particularly true in the Philippines, where 40 percent of Axis players are based. The combination of existing low wages in the country and lockdowns linked to the pandemic has been a boon for Axisbecause gamers have flocked to the game in search of economic opportunities. (The outlet interviewed a man who doubled his income by selling food by gambling Axis, at $ 2,000 per month; a follow-up story explored how the country’s Bureau of Internal Revenue now harasses gamers to pay their taxes.)

One statistic that struck me: Sky Mavis says 25% of their players have never had a bank before, which means their Axis portfolios are the first financial services they were able to access. Simpson told me that in some places in the Philippines people pay their rent with the in-game SLP token. This helps explain how Axisthe total volume of transactions now exceeds $ 2.4 billion.

I asked Aleksander Larsen, co-founder and COO of Sky Mavis, why he thought Axis had grown so much faster than other crypto projects. Anyway, he said, Axis nailed the financial incentives: they gave players a good monetary reason to play.

“The way crypto works is that you have something to gain from it, right? ” he said. “I think that’s really where it started. And then in the last couple of years more and more people started to believe in our vision. “

The company also made some sound technical decisions: for example, moving game transactions to a “side chain”Which allows the game to use the basic structure of Ethereum without processing transactions there, which can be slow and expensive.

The question is how much bigger Axis can get from here. While economic incentives can be powerful, especially in developing countries, it is clear that playing Axis today is expensive. The eight step process described in the company’s online guide involves downloading not one but two crypto wallets; buy and deposit Ethereum on the company’s own blockchain; and the purchase of at least three Axies, among other tasks.

There are a lot of upfront costs: Rest of the world estimates that it currently costs around $ 1,500 to buy in-game. (I haven’t taken the plunge myself yet.) In the Philippines, companies are now loaning Axies to other players for $ 30. % of their income.

Larsen is the first to admit that the current setup is complicated. He likened it to “swimming to an island” just to play.

Axis is totally isolated there – you have to do all those hard things to get there, ”he said. “And yet people are ready to do it. “

But a change is coming, he told me. The company is currently working on a free version of Axis that, at least theoretically, could go through the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store.

It should be available in three or four months, Larsen said. He said he hopes the app’s growing popularity will give Sky Mavis leverage over Apple as he navigates app store policies. As of today, as far as I know, there is no iOS app for buying and selling NFTs. (Some, like the one from OpenSea, just showcase the ones you own the least.)

The dream is to eliminate all that is difficult to play Axis and welcome to the rest of the world. Larsen hopes that in a future version of the game you can acquire your blockchain assets with just one click and start playing.

“It’s the dream, obviously,” he said. “That’s what I work for. And when that time comes, I think we can reach 2 billion people. “

Waiting for, Axis is developing a way for people to purchase virtual plots of land in its fictional setting, aptly named Lunacia, and eventually hopes to become a platform for games and experiences similar to Roblox.

But let’s fast forward a few years until the point where Apple and the crypto companies find something. What does it mean to live in a world where average people can make a little bit of money – or even a lot of money – playing games? How will this affect the types of games created? Will it gradually siphon off the attention of people who might otherwise have spent their time flipping through the feeds, mindlessly enriching the platform?

It’s too early to tell, of course, but this summer those questions have ceased to sound like science fiction to me. I do not know if Infinite Axis is the next Fortnite. But I think the phenomenon that is unfolding in the Philippines today will spread to other countries – maybe even more developed countries – in the not too distant future.

And when it does, the idea of ​​playing to win could bring a lot of people into crypto with it.


This column was co-edited with Platform, a daily newsletter on Big Tech and democracy.


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