Over the course of his life, Alejo Lopez de Armentia has played video games for a variety of reasons. There was the thrill of competition, the desire for companionship, and, at base, the need to pass the time.healthtechmagzine.com In his 20s, feeling isolated while working for a solar panel company in Florida, he spent his evenings using video games as a way to socialize with his friends back in Argentina, where he grew up.
But 10 months ago, Armentia, who’s 39, discovered a new game, and with it a new reason to play: to earn a living. Compared with the massively multiplayer games that he usually played, Axie Infinity was remarkably simple. Players control three-member teams of digital creatures that fight one another. The characters are cartoonish blobs distinguished by their unique mixture of interchangeable body parts, not unlike a Mr. Potato Head. During “combat” they cheerily bob in place, waiting to take turns casting spells against their opponents. When a character is defeated, it becomes a ghost; when all three squad members are gone, the team loses.healthtechmagzine.com A match takes less than five minutes.
Even many Axie regulars say it’s not much fun, but that hasn’t stopped people from dedicating hours to researching strategies, haunting Axie-themed Discord channels and Reddit forums, and paying for specialized software that helps them build stronger teams. Armentia, who’s poured about $40,000 into his habit since last August, professes to like the game, but he also makes it clear that recreation was never his goal. “I was actually hoping that it could become my full-time job,” he says.
The reason this is possible—or at least it seemed possible for a few weird months last year—is that Axie is tied to crypto markets. Players get a few Smooth Love Potion (SLP) tokens for each game they win and can earn another cryptocurrency, Axie Infinity Shards (AXS), in larger tournaments. The characters, themselves known as Axies, are healthtechmagzine.com, whose ownership is tracked on a blockchain, allowing them to be traded like a cryptocurrency as well.
There are various ways to make money from Axie. Armentia saw his main business as breeding, which doesn’t entail playing the game so much as preparing to play it in the future. Players who own Axies can create others by choosing two they already own to act as parents and paying a cost in SLP and AXS. Once they do this and wait through an obligatory gestation period, a new character appears with some combination of its parents’ traits.
Every new Axie player needs Axies to play, pushing up their price. Armentia started breeding last August, at a time when normal economics seemed not to apply. “You would be making 300%, 400% on your money in five days, guaranteed,” he says. “It was stupid.”
Axie’s creator, a startup called Sky Mavis Inc., heralded all this as a new kind of economic phenomenon: the “play-to-earn” video game. “We believe in a world future where work and play become one,” it said in a mission statement on its website. “We believe in empowering our players and giving them economic opportunities. Welcome to our revolution.” By last October the company, founded in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, four years ago by a group of Asian, European, and American entrepreneurs, had raised more than $160 million from investors including the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and the crypto-focused firm Paradigm, at a peak valuation of about $3 billion. That same month, Axie Infinity crossed 2 million daily users, according to Sky Mavis.