Solving the Problems With Play-to-earn Gaming by@metapunk

Solving the Problems With Play-to-earn Gaming

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Affectionately known as the Tony Stark of Web3 by his three cats.

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I’m going to start this blog at the end: if you’ve launched a play-to-earn game with a token linked to an external crypto-exchange then you’ve already failed.

The promise of play-and-earn (we use this term over play-to-earn because the latter is more or less a job and there’s no disconnection from the game and ability to earn from your time) is a new genre of video game or web3/ metaverse economy that allows players to enjoy their time in virtual worlds and have the option of earning from it — whether it be a sole endeavor, being part of a guild or corporation that builds or creates new items in-game, or simply being rewarded for participation.

The CEO of CCP (developers of EvE Online) was recently quoted as saying:

“Gamers hope that the values created from online games can also be used in reality. The online gaming content should have practical values in the real world. The gaming industry should evolve to allow gamers to make retirement plans by using the money they earn from games.”

Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO CCP Games

That’s a holy grail quest indeed, one which at the moment gamers are struggling with. The issue the community is struggling with this idea is that what they’re seeing as examples of this genre are unsophisticated and intrinsically linked to a cryptocurrency they have no interest in.

The reason games exist is to provide entertainment — current play-to-earn games feel more like a job with the worse kind of grind. What’s more troubling is that games designed around a token or NFT-based system are exposed to external market forces that gamers have zero control over — and this is by design. Speculators with no interest in the game pile in early to boost the token value then leave a trail of inflationary destruction in their wake. Suddenly, play-to-earn becomes pay-to-play with the worse kind of effect — if you can’t pay, you get a loan from another player and are now indebted to them to build their own empire before you ever get a chance to enjoy the game.

Developers of P2E games are then forced to introduce ever more elaborate balancing tricks designed to keep the token-based economy afloat rather than build engaging systems for the player. What results will be a catastrophic implosion over the next 12 months of token-based games starting to fail as players leave or find it impossible to eke sustainable income from their play.

And this is fun?

We looked at this problem from a number of angles and decided that the best, and only, way to address this was from the player's perspective and focus on the game. By building in-game economies that are separate and protected from crypto-exchanges or tokens, and based on real economic theory and algorithms — not the spreadsheets that current games are still being designed with today — we saw the opportunity to create a robust, balanced economic infrastructure that developers could use to build the foundations of both offline and online game economies, but also true play-and-earn games.

Ones that focused on gameplay first, then giving the players the choice to participate in player-driven markets to sell and exchange their in-game crafted items.

Protecting both types of economic models from external manipulation not only provides stability and security but also consistency for players and developers. It’s not much fun seeing your time and value wiped out due to token volatility for example, nor your revenue as a developer.

“If synthetic worlds become commercialized completely, the golden goose will be dead.”

~ Edward Castronova

The right to participate and the obligation to participate in a system are two entirely different points. Conflating the two changes the fun of win-win dynamics into miserable zero-sum games.

This is, essentially, the problem we set out to solve at Metanomic; how to empower gamers by giving them the right to share in the proceeds of the value they bring to gaming communities, without forcing them to pay to participate or participate in non-gaming “work”, in order to play.

How, in other words, can the gaming industry move from play to earn (which is just another word for time-based work) to play and earn, or towards a culture of shared value rather than make-work?

In our view, the difference between play to earn and play and earn systems is the difference between rent-seeking dead-loss markets, which transfer value from one person to another on the one hand; and productive open trade that increases net value for all the players involved.

Furthermore, it is critical to understand that “value” is not only monetary, value, in its truest sense, can be (indeed, in a gaming context has to be!) intrinsic too. The intrinsic value in a gaming environment comes from the fun players have from playing the game itself. Indeed, the value that players would happily pay for, in terms of their time, and in terms of “real” money; not the resources players often feel forced to spend to win, but the resources they would commit purely for the joy of playing.

Just about any efforts that game developers make to increase financial utility for players that do so at the expense of reducing the intrinsic utility of the gameplay itself are, as such, inherently long-run unsustainable. This is the Faustian bargain developers are caught in with the current play-to-earn landscape; by opening up their games and their players to speculative open market forces, by inviting the temptations of get-rich-quick tokenonomics into their gaming environments, they find themselves dealing with incompatible incentive structures. On the one hand, the speculators and token holders who aim to maximize short-term token prices have no incentive to protect long-run game utility or invest in improving the intrinsic fun of the game. This means, gradually, players are replaced by workers until the tragedy of the commons takes its course and all the surplus intrinsic utility is stripped from the game and the speculators and their new working class are forced to find new pastures to repeat the same zero-sum game.

This somewhat cynical slash and burn business model, is indeed a strategy, but it is a cynical one, that destroys untold long-run surplus for the pursuit of short-term profits. Over time, as both players and the new working gaming grinder class realize that they can get more fun and more money for their scare attention and time elsewhere (online or offline), the easy money on the table will become harder to extract. This is why we are betting on another model, based on the idea of mutually beneficial trade between peers, which can only come from designing self-sustaining systems with aligned incentives for all the players involved.

As such the Metanomic platform tool suite has been designed to keep and grow value within gaming economy networks. To do this we have embraced the original ethos of the decentralized web, which highlighted that participants in games and networks should share in the ongoing value of those networks they have helped to build.

This is subtly, but significantly distinct from the ethos of the more cynical projects in the space that focus on extracting value from communities rather than creating value with and for communities.

Our solution is unique for a number of reasons -

  • It’s a run-time infrastructure — other tools offer the ability to simulate balancing before you implement your economy, meaning if the economy suffers a shock to the system you’re still going to have to manually adjust and rebalance then patch — all while the community suffers. This is compounded with the introduction of play-and-earn mechanisms because the players suffer financially not just through their in-game currencies.
  • Metanomic is a real-time platform that runs with proprietary, patent-pending algorithms designed by PhD Economists that are self-adjusting, allowing for game economies to rebalance in real-time to provide stability.
  • It’s token and chain agnostic — we built both the Engine and the Hub to be free of token, chain or wallet solutions, meaning that as a developer you are free to choose which one suits your game best. Other tools force you to select particular chains or token models — by using our platform and APIs we take care of the economies leaving you free to develop the game and bridges into the play-and-earn ecosystems.
  • It connects in-game marketplaces to player-driven marketplaces — whether you’re a developer with a number of titles that use game economies, or you want a solution that allows you to connect your players to other game’s economies and markets, we built Metanomic to allow for this. If your game is developed using our set of tools and APIs then the more games that use our infrastructure the bigger the network of games, players and tradable in-game items becomes.
  • It’s a community-driven platform — we want to give the community the ability to design new types of economies using our Engine platform and offer their templated solutions to developers — it’s a long-term vision we believe in and are currently working towards it after launch.
  • It’s modular, it’s your choice — whether you want to have a completely offline economy, an economy with online player markets, a full play-to-earn economy, or you need to fix and rebalance an existing game — our platform is modular to fit your needs.
  • It’s time to move away from the thinking that play-and-earn requires to be designed solely around a token, it’s a narrative that is damaging the games industry and splitting the player community.

Designing for the game first, as it has always been, provides the only reward system that will work for this new genre.

And we’re here to help.

First published here

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