What is Play to Earn?
Decentral Games ICE Poker being played in Decentraland.
Play to earn, often called Play2Earn or P2E, are the most popular web3 buzzwords used to describe digital ownership. There is also Play-and-earn, Play&Earn.
All these names mean the same thing, you own what you make or buy while playing a game. Imagine if every time you purchased something in a mobile game, you could sell it yourself or, once it has served its purpose, give it to a friend because you no longer needed it.
An example I like to use is World of Warcraft. People with the time, and low cost of living, would earn gold or play on accounts until they reached the end game content and sell those accounts to people who had money but no time.
Receiving a ban from a game for selling the items you've earned is philosophically and ethically unjustifiable. If you pay for something, you should own it. If you invest your time to improve it, you should have the option to sell it at a price that considers the value of your time. No one has to buy something just because it's for sale, but the option should be available.
Is Play-To-Earn a scam?
Are mobile games a scam? If spending money on a mobile game isn't considered unethical or predatory, I can not see a reasonable argument against Play2Earn gaming.
I worked at a mobile game company for 5-years. I started in QA (Quality Assurance) and finished as a LiveOps (Live Operations) Designer.
My job as a LiveOps Designer was to be intimately familiar with the economy of the game, understand the intended player journey and find the best way to improve KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
The KPIs I was responsible for speaking to and improving were:
ARPDAU (pronounced Arp-DAO) - Average Return Per Daily Active User
ARPPU (pronounced r-poo-poo)
Conversion (pronounced Conversion)
I'm going to refrain from getting in the weeds on LiveOps strategy but keeping it simple:
Higher Conversion, the number of people spending in-game that day, the lower the ARPPU needed to achieve the desired Average Return Per Daily Active User.
Fewer than 2% of users will spend money on most games. Of that 2%, only a tiny fraction will ever go on to spend more than $10.
I've sat in too many meetings with PMs, POs, and producers asking me to optimize monetization and reduce the "value" proposition of Gacha pools that would require spending close to $1000 to get the advertised "chase prize," that the user won't even own, to hear anyone call Play2Earn a scam.
Corporations are legally required to extract value from consumers and give it to shareholders. There is no foundation to build a valid argument against Play2Earn gaming as predatory when the entire industry is already making optimized Skinner Boxes.
By allowing users of games to own their digital assets and to have a marketplace to sell them, creators of content will no longer have an incentive to only focus their efforts on optimizing cheap psychological tricks to induce spending in a never-ending series of loot boxes and power creep.
How can you get started in Play-To-Earn?
A common argument for why Play2Earn is a scam is that it requires heavy investment before being able to "earn."
While this is true for many projects, this has more to do with the nature of free markets and the fact that the "industry" is new, and we as a community are still working out the best and most sustainable design.
There are lots of new and exciting projects that require little to no upfront investment to start playing.
As I wrote about recently, DiceMasters has a play-first approach and requires no upfront investment to start playing.
What should you look for in your first Play-To-Earn game?
As with any game, find something you enjoy playing. "ROI" should be the last thing on your mind when picking out your first P2E. Creating a great game is challenging, and none of these projects are guaranteed to succeed. You should ensure you enjoy the time you spend playing the game.
Your first P2E game should have minimal to no upfront cost. There are lots of things to learn when you first start interacting with "The Blockchain." If P2E gaming is your first time using a Crypto Wallet, your best strategy is to get comfortable and learn all the pitfalls of the digital frontier without risking anything beyond the time you spend.
If possible, you want to find a newer project with a small but active community and creators who engage and listen to the community.
In traditional game design, vast teams of multiple departments often span dozens of unique skill sets that come together to make something. Some of the Play2Earn games I am most excited about have been created by, usually no more than a handful of people.
The teams that foster welcoming communities willing to help the project grow are going the ones who go on to build the projects that succeed.
Once you've identified a potential game that you want to invest some serious time playing, ask yourself: how can I help this project? There are many ways to provide value to a P2E game and its community, and they don't need to be time-consuming or become a "job."
All of these games are new and have no barrier to entry, and can be found at play.decentraland.org
QAing a game isn't an easy task, and just playing the games and letting the creators know about issues you find along the way is a significant help. Anyone who has played a game for a long time has found bugs or minor errors. When you are early to a Play-to-Earn community, you will be able to get these errors addressed or at least be part of the conversation that decides what to prioritize.
By helping the team identify and prioritize issues, you are helping strengthen the project, directly adding value to the entire community and the time you've spent playing. The more you enjoy the project and the people you are playing with, the easier this is.
Marketing a game can be much harder, not to mention more expensive, than many assume. Just the act of telling people about the fun new game you found is going to go a long way. Word of mouth is the best friend of any independent artist. Don't just shill any old thing, but when you find people you believe in making something you are excited about, shout from the rooftops until at least one person has acknowledged you.
Making things is hard. Self-doubt, in one form or another, is something has had to deal with at some point in life. The greatest joy I get in life is DMing creators how much I love what they are doing and encouraging them in whatever way I can.
The Play-to-earn and Decentraland world is small, and very few of the creators are rich. All of them are taking a chance and betting on themselves and the future of new technology. If you don't think they have moments of doubt or frustration, think again.
Taking an idea to fruition is daunting, and there will be countless obstacles from the moment you put pen to paper until you have something to release to the world. Never hesitate to reach out and tell someone you love what they are doing. That might be the boost they needed to reignite the fire and finish that day strong.
No matter the buzzword, Play-to-Earn means you own your assets within the game.
Your first Play-to-Earn game should have no financial barrier to entry and be something you enjoy playing.
Find a project, community, and creators you want to support and play with.
When you find things you love, tell the person who made them.