CoinMarketCap and Naavik analyze the blockchain gaming industry across 2022 — looking at mass adoption, fall of P2E, key funding trends and the path forward for the blockchain gaming space.
- The Road to Mass Adoption: A quick review on where blockchain gaming is on the road to mass adoption + commentary on blockchain gaming’s key macro metrics (UAWs, NFT transaction volumes, and number of blockchain games ).
- The Fall of P2E Gaming and Market Speculation: Analyzing the current state of the P2E market after Axie Infinity’s fall and land assets’ devaluation too, and highlighting how projects are building today.
- A Radically Different Funding Environment: Analyzing key funding trends for the space, and how the pace of deal activity has not only slowed down, but also both teams and VCs are getting smarter + our take on the future of guilds.
- New Frontiers and the Path Forward: Going over the most significant trends that are forging the space’s future, such as wallet infrastructure, game distribution mechanisms, industry-wide talent migration, the evolution of product thinking from P2E to F2O, other key product trends and regulation.
Even though blockchain gaming continues its struggle out of the broader crypto bear market, Q3 2022 was a quarter filled with much game building, market movement, funding corrections, and learnings. This report looks at how blockchain gaming fared over Q3 2022, key trends that emerged, and where the future of the space is headed.
Here is the executive summary:
- The market has generally been stagnant from a pricing perspective, and the old guard of games is waning. At the same time, there were sprinkles of small wins and a lot of steady anticipation for the future of the space.
- Blockchain gaming still has a long way to go for mass adoption. This is seen in stagnating Unique Active Wallets (UAWs, ~1M), NFT transaction volumes (~$500M), and the number of blockchain games (~2,000).
- In terms of blockchain market share (based on secondary market NFT sales), Ethereum still holds the vast majority (~60%). But that is not stopping L1s and L2s (Solana, Polygon, Immutable – some of which are built on top of Ethereum) from actively competing and striving to be the #1 choice for blockchain game developers to build on.
- There’s a strong bifurcation in blockchain gaming right now. Play-to-earn (P2E) gaming has fallen with all once-major projects losing upwards of 90% of their market capitalization over the course of 2022. There is also a similar downtrend across other speculative game-related assets – most notably virtual land NFTs belonging to games that are yet to launch. However, the next era of fun games that are far less focused on earning are steadily being built by many talented teams around the world.
- Blockchain gaming is moving towards its third era of games:
- The first era of blockchain gaming primitives was defined by CryptoKitties, which showcased what NFTs and “player” ownership could mean, but it was fundamentally held back by the Ethereum network’s complete lack of scalability.
- The second era was defined by Axie Infinity, which built a real game and used scalability solutions, but its fatal flaw was economic design — incentivizing unsustainable earning over fun.
- The third era of crypto games will build off of the previous two eras — using various scalability solutions and sidestepping the largest economic flaws while prioritizing fun.
- Q3 2022’s funding environment looks radically different. This is the first quarter in which blockchain gaming has seen negative YoY growth metrics. While the Q3 2022 total deal number was up 2.6x YoY (58 vs. 22), the total deal value was down -19% YoY ($875M vs. $1.1B). The QoQ growth metrics were also down, indicating the continuation of the 2022 market correction that we began to see at the start of 2022.
- The buzzword for almost every guild currently is ‘pivot’. To prevent most guilds from going under, we believe that guilds will need to adapt from their first generation business model (seeking yield from renting out in-game assets) to focus on one or more of 5 key areas to move towards Guild 2.0 – Community, Investment Management, Technology Products, Value-Add Services and Content.
- Overall, it seems like the blockchain gaming deal market continues to mature into its next stage, wherein the companies garnering most of the funding attention are no longer the ones building infrastructure, but rather the blockchain gaming studios that can produce engaging content that makes use of blockchain gaming infrastructure.
- Of all the infrastructure solutions out there, the one that will truly unlock mass adoption of blockchain gaming (besides the blockchains themselves and perhaps marketplaces) will be one that is closest to the players and likely the most cared about: wallets. Sequence by Horizon and Stardust Vault by Stardust will be two to keep an eye on.
- Major platforms are slowly warming up to the idea of distributing blockchain games, or at least finding ways to take a cut. Epic Games Store hosting Blankos Block Party and Apple allowing the sale of NFTs (albeit in a limited fashion) is the start of a movement that will increase the presence of NFTs and web3 with more consumers. Enabling the mass distribution of blockchain games is very much an important catalyst for mass adoption.
- The migration of traditional game developer talent to build the blockchain games of tomorrow has begun. While this migration will be slow and steady (and may upset certain traditional gamers), the curiosity about blockchain gaming and the need to skill up for a potential future of gaming are both high. The impact of this talent migration should result in games that are not only more fun to play, but also are built on the back of traditional gaming best practices (accelerating the quest for economic sustainability).
- Best practices that define the future of blockchain gaming are very much in the making with Free-to-Own (F2O) being the fourth evolution after Play-to-Earn (P2E), Play-and-Earn (P&E), and Play-and-Own (P&O).
- The killer feature of F2O is the simple fact that it dramatically lowers barriers to entry by offering NFTs for free and not gating game access with sometimes exorbitantly high NFT (of multiple NFTs) purchase prices. This could be an important catalyst for accelerating mass market adoption.
- Other important product trends include on-chain gaming, F2P blockchain gaming, evolving tokenomics models, genre and audience expansion across web3 games, the Asian blockchain gaming scene, user-generated content (UGC) and artificial intelligence (AI) in blockchain games.
- While 2020 and 2021 were truly the wild west years in terms of what developers and players could get away with, these years were also fraught by major value destruction hacks and scandals that cannot be turned a blind eye to. Regulation was always coming, but regulatory bodies have clearly started to take notice in 2022, with the SEC’s investigation into Yuga Labs becoming a figurehead.
#1: The Road to Mass Adoption
Source: Dapp Review
To understand where we are today on the road to mass adoption of blockchain gaming, let’s start by looking at how Q3 2022 fared. At a very high level, there has been significant funding, building, and learning from prior mistakes. And while the broader space has been in a slump – and many traditional gamers remain skeptical – there is currently a waiting game for the next wave of new releases to take the market to the next level.
Some key macro highlights from Q3 2022 include:
- Macroeconomic conditions, reduced interest in NFTs, and a lack of high-quality published games kept the market from roaring back, but portions of the ecosystem showed ongoing development that was worth celebrating. There is also a strong sense of pent-up anticipation for the next big wave, but it comes in the face of a weak crypto market, not to mention global macroeconomic risks.
- While none of the months experienced any industry-changing game releases or NFT hype, positive seeds were starting to germinate. Behind the scenes, many teams quietly worked hard to build new web3 games and so-called metaverse projects. It’ll take time to see the fruits of that labor — in many cases, a couple of years — but even as soon as the next few months, we’ll see more new games hit the market.
- Both Bitcoin and Ethereum showed signs of recovery, “the merge” — Ethereum’s switch from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake while making the network more deflationary — is now complete, and even contagion from the previous Luna crash is comfortably in the rear-view mirror. That said, the rising demand for blockspace far outstrips what Ethereum can cheaply supply, and chains like Immutable, Polygon, and Flow are starting to make increased strides forward.
- Casual and hypercasual games have slowly taken over the blockchain gaming charts. This trend will likely continue until more notable games come out with a bang, as Axie Infinity did.
- Fundraising generally dipped as it was down both quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year, which showcased a continued market correction trend amongst eager investors. At the same time, funding is still relatively strong on a broader scale, and there’s lots of dry powder. Those left are nearly all in it for the long-term (not speculators) despite the risks (such as regulatory uncertainty).
Going a layer deeper, let’s try to quantify where the blockchain gaming space stands today by looking at three key mass adoption metrics: Unique Active Wallets (UAWs), NFT Transaction Volumes, and the Number of Blockchain Games.
Unique Active Wallets
- Per DappRadar, blockchain gaming daily unique active wallets (UAWs) has been mostly flat the entire summer, but it’s clearly down quarter-over-quarter (Q3 vs Q2 2022), and it could continue as such throughout the fall. However, given the number of games hitting alpha and beta status, we may see an uptake during 2023.
- While most of the more traditional P2E games have fallen, casual games (like Solitaire Blitz and Trickshot Blitz) and hypercasual games and platforms (like Gameta) have managed to find enough of a user base to make up for the declines elsewhere. Of course, it’s tough to tell if these “casual” players are new blockchain players/wallets — or if existing players are biding their time until more exciting releases occur or are simply bots. Given the number of high-quality casual mobile games that already exist, we assume that most adopters are still in it more for the money than fun. This will need to change if UAWs are to multiply from here.
NFT Transaction Volumes
Total Secondary-Market NFT Transaction Volumes by Month | Source: Cryptoslam
In general, it’s true that most (but not all!) of the speculation has dwindled by now — and hopefully, that means we’re nearing a bottom — but we’re also seeing tremendous improvements across infrastructure, tooling, and platforms that are laying the foundation for the next wave of more justifiable growth.
- As usual, monthly transaction volumes often depend on one or two large projects driving up the entire market, which didn’t happen over Q3 2022. According to Cryptoslam, total NFT transaction volumes on secondary markets (excluding primary sales) fell -30% over September, reversing the small gain experienced in August. Of course, these recent monthly changes look minor when compared to the massive swings experienced earlier this year and last year. We expect some future months with large volume spikes, but it will take some time for breakout hits to bring the masses back and for confidence in higher NFT valuations to return.
- Ethereum — which completed its “Merge” network upgrade — continues to show diminished dominance in total NFT sales as other networks and layers take more market share. Much of it naturally shifts over to Layer 2s on Ethereum (like Polygon and Immutable), which is good for the blockchain. Still, Solana, a competing Layer 1, also experienced some market share gains, especially over September 2022. As Ethereum has faced problems around high gas fees, Solana has continued to be a place for new NFT projects that don’t feel as attached to the Ethereum ecosystem. And while Solana has faced its share of network reliability issues, those may not have a strong impact on the simple minting and trading of NFTs as it does on games or dapps requiring frequent stable transactions.
- Polygon corrected back from the very outsized burst of activity over August 2022, partly due to OpenSea’s Seaport integration with Polygon and a single 65x transaction day for the Uniswap listing on Cryptoslam. It remains a network with huge potential given the technical progress, major business development wins (Starbucks, Meta, Adobe, Stripe, and more), number of games, and other NFT projects.
- Even though Ronin saw a minor bump from Axie Land activity in July 2022, it saw a massive drop from $5.04M to $0.94M over August 2022 as Axie Infinity Classic wound down and Origin Season 0 required recreation of all marketplace listings. It finally dipped to a meager $0.17M in volume over the quarter due to its entire existence depending on the success of Axie Infinity. Sky Mavis certainly has the money to try and turn things around, but despite the attempts at funding other Axie ecosystem projects, it has yet to prove why Ronin has a solid future. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our Axie Infinity deconstructions to learn more.
- Immutable has been displaying notable growth due to increased activity around token staking and Gods Unchained. Its volume went from $5.2M in July 2022 to $28.7M in August 2022, and we expect it to continue growing. While the chain is still primarily home to Gods Unchained, the release of the GameStop NFT marketplace and respective wallet (which leverage the L2) has also helped boost interest. Eventual game launches, such as Illuvium and Guild of Guardians, should also significantly boost activity along with any surprise game or Dapp releases. Further, its gasless nature combined with ZK-rollup technology has the potential to gain market share quickly. The company has raised significant money to fuel growth, and its partnerships team has locked down agreements with upcoming games teams at an accelerated pace, so it will be worth keeping an eye on. As said by Robbie Ferguson (Co-founder / President of Immutable) - “We’ve onboarded more games this quarter (Q3 2022) than the last 2 years combined.”
- Flow is finally starting to build up a base of users beyond just collectibles thanks to the two Blitz games, Dimension X and Chainmonsters. Despite being a somewhat under-discussed blockchain, Flow is already starting to outpace WAX, Polygon, and Immutable in NFT transaction volume, which hit ~$20M by the end of Q3 2022. The Dapper wallet’s ease of use and effective fiat-to-crypto on-ramping can make a big difference as the game library grows.
- As a reminder, Cryptoslam only accounts for NFT volumes in the secondary market. Also, it only includes data on the following blockchains: Ethereum, Solana, Avalanche, Ronin, Flow, WAX, Polygon, Panini, Tezos, BSC, Theta, and Immutable.
Number of Blockchain Games
Source: DappRadar and Naavik estimates
Since a game’s development cycle is typically measured in years, we expect to see many more games released over the next few quarters and years. This will be impacted by the time required to build infrastructure, development tools, distribution channels, and product design best practices. These were critical pieces for the Apple App Store and Google Play Store to get right before seeing explosive growth in the number of apps hosted. Even from this metric’s lens, blockchain gaming has quite a long way to go in actual mass adoption.
#2: The Fall of P2E Gaming and Market Speculation
There’s a strong bifurcation in blockchain gaming right now. The bear market continues to rage, and unsustainable, ponzinomic, and non-fun games (essentially the first era of blockchain games, namely play-to-earn games) continue to deteriorate month after month.
However, the next generation of fun games that are less dramatically play-to-earn is steadily being built by many talented teams worldwide.
Plus, in a bear market, many retail investors/users are less willing to shell out significant money for NFTs than they were 6-12 months ago, and that eventually results in lower dollar volumes being traded across the entire space as exemplified by Axie Infinity and STEPN below:
In a nutshell, it’s a tough time to be a gamer, developer, or investor in the crypto space.
Splinterlands’ Quest for Growth
Even in terms of Splinterlands’ specific moves, the team has not let the current market condition deter them from chasing success. For example, the team began pre-sales for new card packs sold for the game’s core governance token, SPS, instead of the utility token, DEC. The sales profits also went to the DAO instead of the company, creating additional value for SPS holders rather than for Splinterlands. These changes must have been well received as all 500K packs sold out in 96 seconds for over 25M SPS and $500K in vouchers, which whales of the game own. Most interestingly, the bullish behavior didn’t end there, as 500K packs didn’t seem to be enough spend depth, and whales started rapidly buying SPS Validator Node licenses that the remaining 1,300 in the tranche sold out. This created even more value for SPS holders as 80% of the SPS spent were burned, and 20% went to the DAO, another situation where the company wasn’t making a profit.
Sorare’s Sustainable Economy
Source: Google Trends
Looking at the past 30 days of secondary market sales volumes (as of mid-October) among NFT projects, Sorare is ranked #3 with $23.2M, while NBA Top Shot stands at #23 with $3.3M. Of the top 10, it also has the second-highest number of buyers, which points to a relatively healthy ecosystem.
Since Sorare is a F2P game (free to start with the ability to buy or win better player cards), it has approximately 500K users who play the game. Sorare has 150K cumulative on-chain card holders, of which 30K transact monthly. Sorare differs from most fantasy sports products because users need to purchase cards of football players to play the game at a high level. Other fantasy sports usually gate the entry to the game through a dollar-based tournament entry cost or maybe F2P with ads as part of a larger ecosystem. Sorare has a fixed number of player cards to sell in a given year, and that's where it generates almost all of its revenue.
Dark Forest and Innovation in Blockchain Games
When one says a game is entirely “on-chain”, it means that it is a trustless system in which all actions in the game are submitted, verified, and recorded by the smart contract, with no centralized server processing game actions and no centralized database storing the information. There are very few genuinely on-chain games.
Source: Dark Forest
Enjoyed reading the report so far? Download the full CoinMarketCap x Naavik: 2022 Blockchain Gaming Report here.
#3: A Radically Different Funding Environment
To understand the state of today’s blockchain gaming funding environment and where it’s headed, we’d like to provide some commentary on the Q3 2022 numbers. But let’s start by rewinding to Q3 2021 funding numbers.
Blockchain Gaming Funding in Q3 2021
Back then, blockchain gaming funding was indeed on fire. Q3 2021 alone got an outstanding $1B+ deal value across 22 deals, while the cumulative Q1-Q3 2021 deal value of $1.58B represented an overwhelming 34x growth YoY and a total deal count of 50 meant a 4x jump YoY.
There was a heavy concentration in Seed rounds (~55%), but check sizes were usually small (~$3M/deal) and made up 4% of all the Q1-Q3 2021 deal value. That means investors were fine getting in early through private token sale rounds but were also cautiously skeptical. 70% of the total Q1-Q3 2021 deal value was in various Series A/B across a total of 11 deals, with the most notable being Sorare at $728M (Series A + B), Forte at $185M (Series A), Mythical Games at $75M (Series B), and Immutable at $60M (Series B). Other notable Series B+ deals included Dapper Labs’ $250M raise and Animoca Brands' ~$140M raise.
- Small budget, big ambition developers: Rooniverse, Playmint, First Light Games, Blockstars, Village Studio, Genopets, Galaxy Fight Club, Crypto Raiders, Gallium Studios, Heroes of Mavia, Horizon Blockchain Games, Lucky Kat Studios, etc.
- Double A developers: Laguna Games, Xterio, Big Time Studios, Faraway, Azra Games, Metatheory, LavaLabs, Upland, Sipher, Illuvium, Gunzilla Games, Klang Games, Playful Studios, Iskra, Joyride Games, Gameplay Galaxy, etc.
- Triple A developers: Mythical Games, Star Atlas, Immutable, Sky Mavis, Sorare, Yuga Labs, Dapper Labs, The Sandbox, Animoca Brands, Limit Break, etc.
Blockchain Gaming Funding in Q3 2022
Over Q3 2022, ~69% of the deal count and ~36% of the deal value was concentrated in Seed round investments. Series A rounds made up for ~14% of the deal count and ~20% of the deal value. Series B+ rounds made up 5% of the deal count and 38% of the deal value. Overall, these statistics mainly showcase smaller Seed round check sizes over the year ($7M in Q3’22 vs $12M in Q1’22), 2021’s Seed round companies graduating to Series A rounds (with an average check size of $20-25M), and some to Series B/B+, as highlighted previously.
Around 1/3 of all Seed round deals were higher than the ~$7M/deal average, with Animoca Brands Japan, Klang Games, Xterio, and Meta World seeing Seed check sizes ≥$30M. Almost all Series A deals (8) were higher than $10M/deal, with Gunzilla Games, Iskra, and Planetarium Labs seeing Series A check sizes ≥$30M. The remainder deal value of the quarter was in various Series B+ rounds across a total of 3 deals. The biggest Q3 2022 deals were Limit Break’s $200M raise and Animoca Brands’ $110M raise.
All that said, both the deal number and the deal value have further slowed down over the last quarter. And if Q3’22 performance is any indicator, deal activity will continue to normalize to realistic levels over 2022 and going into 2023. Crypto winter continues to perform a massive market cleanup, and investors are getting smarter with their bets while builders continue to build.
A Brief Note on Guilds
Source: Exodus Wallets
That said, guilds existed primarily to earn yield on in-game assets (while sharing the proceeds with participants, usually in developing countries). This theoretically only works in P2E games, but if P2E games are fundamentally broken and unsustainable, so are the guilds that buy-in. For super guilds, such as Yield Guild Games, not only has that led to falling new scholar numbers but also dropping distributable revenue to scholars, as seen below.
Source: YGG Community Update - Q2 2022
Source: Naavik Estimates
In our opinion, the “first generation” of guilds relied on two broad categories to build their businesses:
- Recruiting, educating, and training scholars (who they rent NFTs to in exchange for a cut of earnings) to play blockchain games;
- Building social connectivity between scholars and the broader ecosystem;
- Leveraging a large network of scholars to attract entrepreneurs and gain favorable allocations into the most promising projects’ NFTs/tokens.
- Investment Management:
- Analyzing and identifying the most promising projects;
- Winning allocation of NFTs or tokens or equity at favorable terms;
- Efficiently managing scholars to generate attractive yields on these NFTs/tokens;
- Selling NFTs/tokens when warranted to earn a profitable return on investment.
Source: Blockchain Space
It is important to consider this spread when evaluating the future of guilds because there is a massive difference between the micro-guilds and super guilds (macro guilds) in terms of access to capital, in-house talent, market know-how, and organizational sophistication. And if super guilds themselves are facing a hard time in today’s market conditions, one can imagine the situation the micro and medium guilds are currently in.
Another focus is to review all cost centers to ensure that they serve both the short- and long-term strategies of YGG, with the aim of maintaining a minimum of 20 months of cash flow runway for the guild’s operational costs.
Due to market fluctuation, YGG’s total partnership value dropped 45% in Q2. To mitigate risks around the drop, the guild sold 3% worth of its asset value (US$1.3 million) to spend on operational costs, test new ways to generate funds and make new acquisitions. The decrease in partnership value is consistent with the overall market pullback, with the total market cap of crypto declining by 58% in the same period.”
Source: Merit Circle Treasury Dashboard
So where do guilds go from here? There are two major paths:
- Reusing existing strengths to sustain: This mainly includes guilds doubling down on the Community and Investment Management categories previously discussed and rethinking how they utilize the headway they’ve already made there to build out more sustainable businesses. For example, YGG is increasingly moving toward becoming an esports organization with various initiatives such as the Guild Advancement Program, YGG Esports’ Elite and Rising Stars teams, and the Web3 Metaversity educational platform. YGG also continues to invest their cash balance into interesting opportunities, as previously highlighted.
- Building new strengths to evolve: For the foreseeable future, we see three new categories of activities that will be added up to the previously showcased Guild 1.0 business model. These would be:
- Technology Products: When thinking about building a sustainable business in a gaming vertical as nascent as blockchain gaming, creating the technological picks and shovels layers is a great direction – and investors continue to look for promising opportunities here. For example, Merit Circle is moving forward with its NFT marketplace (Sphere) to compete against the likes of OpenSea. GuildFi is building out its GuildFi ID layer to allow players to access and track their in-game progress across various blockchain games. BreederDAO (although not technically a guild) is also expanding its blockchain gaming data analytics offering Playcore.
- Value-Add Services: These could come in many forms, but the general focus would be to utilize new/existing resources to deliver unique offerings that service various stakeholders in the blockchain gaming value chain and thereby support the growth of the broader blockchain gaming ecosystem. One example would be putting the lower-skilled scholar base to work by forming teams of beta-testers that provide games valuable early feedback during development. Another example would be reinvesting a guild’s blockchain gaming know-how to provide game developers with blockchain best practices, such as smart contract auditing and legal opinions.
- Content: This would include various top-of-the-funnel style content efforts (articles, game guides, podcasts, Twitch streams, TikTok videos etc.) that drive the underlying business in different ways. In the future, though, this could also include developing and publishing game content where guilds reutilise their Community, Technology Products and Value-Add Services to improve chances of success. But this will also be a high-risk strategy that only a few guilds might pursue.
It should be noted that guilds (especially super guilds) can use their cash balances to make “build or buy” decisions when exploring one or more of the abovementioned categories. M&A especially can help guilds go after ideas and verticals they don’t immediately have the talent, knowledge, or infrastructure for.
#4: New Frontiers and the Path Forward
By now, it must be relatively clear that blockchain gaming has come a long way since its first era, despite its ups and downs. Most notably, blockchain gaming is crucial in pushing the entire crypto space forward and to newer heights. Regarding where the future of blockchain gaming is headed, there are five key areas to keep an eye on:
- Games / Products
Wallets as a Key Infrastructure Unlock
Of all the infrastructure solutions out there, the one that will truly unlock mass adoption of blockchain gaming (besides the blockchains themselves and perhaps marketplaces) will be the one that is closest to the players and the one that players care about the most: wallets.
Blockchain wallets were created as a better way to manage private keys and perform blockchain transactions. There are a few different types of wallets, but two relevant types are: Custodial (like Coinbase Wallet and Gemini) and Non-custodial, with Metamask being the main example. While the latter has worked well so far, many issues arise from how Metamask functions:
- First, managing private keys is still complicated and risky. Users need to back up both their private key seed phrases and their Metamask passwords because these are stored only on their computers, and if broken or lost, access to their wallets disappears forever.
- Second, Metamask functions as a browser extension, which works fine on desktop or laptop computers but is problematic when applied to mobile browsers.
- Third, Metamask is not very user-friendly, even though this has slowly improved over time; useful features like token swapping and fiat on-ramps are often severely delayed or never released.
Horizon was formed in 2017 to create Sequence (a wallet that solves many of the problems mentioned above with Metamask) and Skyweaver (a game that uses that wallet). Much like Metamask, Sequence is a multi-chain wallet and is non-custodial but with enhanced security through its multi-key support and functionality for paying gas fees in the user's token of choice. Further, Sequence aims to be user-friendly by being a web app allowing token swaps, network switches, NFT viewing, and supporting multiple fiat on-ramps like Ramp, Moonpay, and Wyre. Finally, Sequence has been working for Skyweaver on mobile for at least a year while in beta. This has set the stage for mobile support and gives it an advantage over other games trying to use external wallet apps like Metamask or forcing players to link and manage wallets on their PCs.
Despite all this, the primary use case for Sequence so far has been as a wallet for Skyweaver to transact in USDC on Polygon. Therefore, it does need to be proven on a larger scale and across many more games. Furthermore, the needs of blockchain game developers and players will change over time, and it will be interesting to see how the wallet experience adapts.
Horizon is taking advantage of the $40M raised by launching several expansions, such as partnering with many games to support Sequence, including Sunflower Land, Metalcore, Cyball, Ethernia, Boomland, and more. This is a critical move on the company’s part, taking its polished system and getting traction as something more than just a “Skyweaver wallet.” Further, they plan to support all major EVM-compatible chains, including newer Layer 2s like Arbitrum and Optimism. It also plans to attract more developers to its platform, which should be especially interesting for mobile games looking to add web3 with fewer wallet headaches. Accelerating support for developers allows them to focus on the game element and lets Horizon handle web3 interactions across any EVM chain (leaving Solana developers a little out of luck for now).
Although both Horizon and Stardust might have originally taken a slow and steady approach by keeping their solutions in beta for a long time, both now show extremely high levels of polish. A frequent hurdle cited by web3 developers, especially on mobile, is the difficulty in onboarding new wallet users. While onboarding into new wallets might be greatly accelerated with the imminent rise of “Free-to-Own” (discussed later), both company wallet solutions have not only been developed to solve many of these early problems, but they are also battle-tested to a good extent. Although it’s a reach to think that every mobile developer is going to jump onto either Sequence or Stardust now immediately, we expect that their recent raises will help them make the choice for blockchain game developers much easier and thereby increasing the number of games using these wallet solutions, while having access to the necessary services and tools to smooth a major transition in mobile gaming.
The A-League Enables Distribution
Source: NFT Insider
Revised 3.1.1: “If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency wallets, etc. Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase, except as set forth in 3.1.3(a).”
Added to 3.1.1: “Apps may use in-app purchase to sell and sell services related to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), such as minting, listing, and transferring. Apps may allow users to view their own NFTs, provided that NFT ownership does not unlock features or functionality within the app. Apps may allow users to browse NFT collections owned by others, provided that the apps may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.”
Source: Metaverse Post
A couple of important callouts here:
- Apple now allows game developers to sell NFTs in apps through the in-app purchasing system using fiat (not cryptocurrencies) and thus pay a 30% fee to Apple. As the system follows the normal rules for in-app purchases (IAPs), the fee is only 15% for apps selling under $1M yearly. But that’s little consolidation for developers looking to web3 as a potential source of growth and a technology that idealistically evades oligopolistic middlemen.
- Ownership of the NFTs cannot unlock in-game features or functionality, which can be seen as a pretty major shot in the knee for a key value proposition of NFTs in the first place. Though it is interesting to note that today’s non-NFT virtual in-game items, when purchased as through IAP, do unlock in-game features and functionality, and it is clear that Apple wants to treat all in-app NFTs in the same way and ensure all NFT-related economic activity is conducted within their ecosystem. The additional clause added to 3.1.1 basically disallows folks from purchasing the NFT outside the Apple ecosystem and then use it in the game for any kind of in-game benefits.
While this increased clarity from a mega-platform should be a huge unlock and tailwind for game developers, it does lessen the ideological wish of no middlemen and end-to-end decentralization. Further, it directly attacks NFT ownership and tries to classify NFTs as just another virtual in-game item, which does reduce the utility of in-game NFT ownership altogether.
Further, developers will need to consider how they will make up for the reduced NFT utility when ownership cannot unlock and expose owners to new in-game content. That said, game developers have a solid track record of finding unique ways to work within Apple’s guidelines and deliver value to players. And Apple is also known to have changed their guidelines to service what’s best for both the customer and the developer.
Financial motivations aside, aspects of this counter to much of the decentralized ethos that blockchain advocates are excited about. It also exposes the real power dynamics at play (unsurprisingly, the platform with all the users gets to set terms in its favor). We expect a continued mixed reception of adopters and haters, a similar policy on Google’s side, and ongoing tweaks to the specific rules over time (perhaps some even due to new regulations). There is still some way to go here.
The Talent Migration has Begun
One of the biggest pet peeves of the traditional gaming industry has been that industry insiders are not building blockchain gaming companies and blockchain games. While this is not necessarily bad (fresh perspectives are always appreciated), it is also no longer true. The talent migration from traditional gaming (PC, Console and F2P) to blockchain gaming is now in effect. This transformation is playing out in four distinct ways:
And here are how the hiring numbers are currently playing out for key companies in the space:
From P2E to F2O
As previously discussed, the fall of the P2E business model is upon us. Even though Axie Infinity is the poster child of the same, the bigger picture that companies like Sky Mavis and projects like Loot, Gods Unchained, and Dark Forest have showcased to the rest of the gaming industry is that there is a kernel of value in blockchain gaming that can be built further upon. And that’s exactly what today’s teams are building towards.
The evolution in product thinking is seen in how business model terminology has evolved since 2021:
- P2E (Play-to-Earn): During this era, “get rich quick” value extraction (in the form of earnings) from the game was the key player motivator while driving long-term player engagement through fun gameplay was a secondary focus. Economically unsustainable design brought these types of games down because people tried to extract more value than they created, and at scale, that led to financial speculation-driven bubbles.
- P&E (Play-and-Earn): This was when developers realized creating fun games that drive long-term player engagement is paramount, and economic value extraction should rather be secondary. Unfortunately, the name change didn’t result in quick design and economic pivots of existing products but achieved a key mindset shift for developers building towards the future of blockchain gaming. That said, P&E was a doomed to fail half-step. What it got right is that playing to earn was wrong, but it didn't quite make the full step that earning itself still shouldn't be a primary motivator on par with playing/fun.
- P&O (Play-and-Own): As the P&E era was short-lived, it was immediately followed by the P&O era when developers realized that economic value extraction should be the third priority and maybe even omitted from the name entirely. It should rather be preceded by fun gameplay first and digital asset ownership second. In other words, the mindset now was “get the first two right, and the third will follow” because provable digital asset ownership is a key and unique value unlock that blockchain brings to games. This was another mindset shift milestone.
- F2O (Free-2-Own): Again, the P&O era was a short-lived one, and we are now amid a new buzzword – F2O – which is spearheaded by none other than Gabriel Leydon’s new company, Limit Break. Developers have realized that mass adoption of blockchain games cannot happen when game access is gated by scarce and costly digital game assets (NFTs). So why not offer NFTs for free to start, upsell to whales later, and then pocket royalties on trading? While F2O is still in the making, and we’d be hesitant to call it an era of its own just yet, the similarities to traditional gaming are strong in that there’ll likely be many different styles/genres, with F2O being one (like F2P). However, other ways can still succeed when done right.
“F2O is a natural evolution in a decades-long power shift from the game developer to the player. The first video games were arcade games where players had to pay every time they played the game. Next came console games where players had to pay a high one-time price (e.g. $60) for a game that they could then play unlimited times. Early mobile games, which followed, continued the console model but with a much lower one-time price (e.g. $1). Mobile games evolved into free-to-play (F2P) where players no longer needed to pay at all to play the game and game devs needed to earn the right over time to get paid – typically by selling in-game assets.
F2O takes this one step further. Game devs give away a portion of the assets they'd otherwise have sold to players. Players co-own the game economy alongside the game devs. F2P is “freemium”; F2O is “less than free”. F2O is still a work in progress but its core mechanism involves offering players of a game (or future game) the opportunity to mint – for free – digital assets of value within a game economy. The assets are built as NFTs so players have true ownership of the digital assets they acquire for free. The NFTs have a creator royalty mechanism where game devs make money as a percentage of the game economy’s “GDP”.”
This model is counter to the current NFT pre-sale culture. Much like with the previous pivot from premium games to F2P on mobile, F2O evolves the idea of free downloads into free NFTs, fully embracing the concept of democratizing digital ownership at scale. Limit Break kicked this off with the stealth and free mint release of its DigiDaigaku NFTs, with 2,022 available, which sold out very quickly and have already done over $13M in secondary market transactions. Suppose you’re still wondering what exactly the innovation here is – with Limit Break, by giving away rather than selling the initial batch of NFTs, Leydon is not only marketing the project successfully but also creating a core advocacy community of players who are much less likely to be disappointed by financial returns as they didn’t pay anything to join.
Although demand has since died down due to no specific utility revealed, the OpenSea floor currently price sits at 11.5 ETH (as of October 21st), or ~$14.8K.
These won’t be the only NFTs from the new brand, especially given the small quantity, so initial demand for future NFTs should be even higher. And just because some NFTs are free to mint doesn’t mean that all NFTs will always be free. Limit Break does intend to reserve some NFT assets to sell later as part of its business model but only after they have good financial traction on peer-to-peer marketplaces. It’s hard to say if this is a sound business tactic, as the price Limit Break sells them for can’t be too high or it will look greedy, or too low and it will look like they are undermining the existing players. There are other revenue sources too, such as market transaction fees, and we imagine more yet to be revealed. While a lot remains unclear at the moment, especially what kind of game Limit Break is building and how the economy of that game is designed for long-term sustainability, Leydon has made his intentions to be the #1 web3 game very clear. These steps are simply one piece of a much larger unannounced project.
Will F2O be the last business model buzzword we see? While that’s hard to say, there are a few important points to keep in mind about how Limit Break specifically views the upside of this model:
- It’s easier to onboard someone to an NFT and then to crypto rather than the other way around.
- One can give away all the free NFTs they want on mobile platforms without paying any fee because 30% of $0 on mobile platforms is $0.
- The games that will truly see mass market success are those that lean into digital asset abundance more so than extreme scarcity. That said, there will likely be a place for digital assets scarcity given its proven economic upside, but not all digital assets need to be or should be scarce.
- As exemplified by Limit Break, F2O teams do have the opportunity to raise large sums of money to pursue massive marketing and user acquisition tactics (like the Super Bowl ad). Take this with a pinch of salt though because Leydon has proven experience running Super Bowl ad campaigns (twice!) during his time at Machine Zone.
Between P2E, P&E, P&O, F2O and all the above-mentioned product trends, the industry will hopefully start converging on an ideal web model for web3. In reality, the ongoing evolution of these ideas is unstoppable! What’s more definite is that best practices that define the future of blockchain gaming are very much in the making. There is some truth to the cliche “these early years of blockchain gaming feel very similar to the early years of F2P”.
Regulation is Coming, Fast
In terms of Yuga-Labs-related projects, BAYC does have some relevant properties. While the art assets don’t necessarily provide dividends just for holding them, they do confer various access benefits around the community and events, as well as IP rights that have already been used commercially for profit. There are other similar NFT projects, such as Bored Ape Kennel Club, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, and The Otherside, with benefits for BAYC holders. This is where NFT projects will need to be careful as there is a push for greater NFT “utility,” which raises the odds of SEC involvement.
Thanks for reading the report! Download a copy of the full CoinMarketCap x Naavik: 2022 Blockchain Gaming Report here.
The #1 Research Portal for Blockchain Games, F2P Mobile and Financial Markets
Our long-term vision with Naavik Pro is to deliver a "Netflix of games research" experience, where in one portal, one subscription and one price, subscribers can research any corner of the games industry they want.
If you’re an investor, game developer or generally interested in the future of the gaming industry, don’t miss out on all the new research Naavik Pro delivers every week. Start leveling up by making us your remote games research department today!