Amongst the crypto/NFT/metaverse topics cycling around online, there is a quote from Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, that makes a bold prediction:

“90% of people will not play a game unless they are being properly valued for that time,” Ohanian, who runs venture capital firm Seven Seven Six, said in a recent episode of the “Where It Happens” podcast.

“In five years, you will actually value your time properly,” he said. “And instead of being harvested for advertisements, or being fleeced for dollars to buy stupid hammers you don’t actually own, you will be playing some on-chain equivalent game that will be just as fun, but you’ll actually earn value and you will be the harvester.”

On its face, the prediction is ridiculous. This Forbes article rips it apart. There’s a huge sense of revulsion from many corners of gamedom over this a priori push into NFTs and metaverse to begin with, let alone the notion that “Play-to-Earn” is going to catch on in some kind of major way.

The problem is that we have actually been Playing-to-Earn for years already.

For example, the WoW Token (NFT?!) already exists, and I spent considerable in-game time doing Auction House shenanigans in an attempt to pay for my subscription and purchase expansions. Same with Guild Wars 2, where everyone farms gold that they turn into gems into cash shop purchases, paid for by people spending real dollars to buy gems for said gold. EVE has had similar things in place for years and years. Almost every single mobile game has a way for you to “earn” a cash shop currency that you could otherwise purchase outright. All that is missing is a way to cash out of the ecosystem, which simply means no longer hiding values behind “gems” and “diamonds” and such.

And Diablo 3 did all this in front of the world in 2012.

I’m not saying all of this is a good idea. These companies are throwing around terms when they clearly have no idea what it even means. Game companies spend millions of dollars building custom game engines instead of leveraging existing products all the time, and yet they talk about NFTs and metaverses as if interpolation between games is a solved issue.

But do you know what IS nicely interpolated between radically different games and platforms? Cash. It doesn’t make sense to try and bring a Candy Hammer from Candy Crush into Clash Royale via blockchain or whatever. But if I can sell that same hammer to someone else in Candy Crush, I can bring those dollars over to Clash Royale and purchase something else. METAVERSE!

The elephant in the room, of course, is why any game company would actually want to do this. There is a proven track record that turning cash into funny money (tickets, gems, diamonds, etc) is a technique to obfuscate how much money someone is actually spending. Or playing to earn, for that matter. Earning 30g/hour in GW2? Amazing. Alternate Youtube title: Earn $1.88/hour in GW2. Less impressive. These companies also frequently give out free hits of crack game currency in almost-useful amounts to entice people to purchase more. Can’t quite do that with literal cash equivalents.

On the other hand, Diablo 3 is kind of an example of why companies would want to. Selling a powerful sword in the cash shop for $100 is clearly Pay-to-Win. Letting your customers sell the same sword for $100 to another customer and taking a cut? Totally OK! Nobody blamed Blizzard for introducing a sword worth $100, as that was just the benevolent invisible hand at work, as our lord Adam Smith intended. Nevermind that Blizzard has full control over all the levers that makes a given sword rare and useful enough to be sought-after in the first place. Capitalism, ho!

The Play-to-Earn economy being threatened in the headlines has been a call coming from inside the house this whole time. The “only” difference is that many of the most popular games that have the equivalent mechanisms already in place don’t let you cash out. They could, but they won’t, because why would they? Getting a cut of NFT sales into perpetuity sounds nice and all, but that will only work if your game is popular/successful, in which case you may as well keep all the money in-house. All the other apps will be engaging in a race to the bottom, gumming up the blockchain with NFT trash loot, collapsing whatever ecosystem may exist. Nevermind how all of it perverts the incentive structure for progression-based game mechanics anyway (see: Diablo 3).

Having a terrible idea that won’t work never stopped Blizzard before, so I don’t see why it should stop anyone else. And hey, if I’m wrong, hit me up in the crypto salt mines where we monetize every moment of our free time to afford luxuries like clean air while the planet boils around us.

Posted on January 21, 2022, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Maybe there is a huge population of gamers who want this (younger generation?), but for me and most people I play with, the idea of ‘earning’ money from playing games is idiotic. As you mentioned Diablo 3 already tried this and it was a complete failure, for good reason. You don’t play a game to work, you play to have fun. Plus like you also said, once people see how much they are earning per hour in any game that tries to make this work, they will seriously question it.

    It’s like being a Youtube influencer, unless you are doing it just for fun and a cup of coffee, or you are the one in a few million to get lucky, you aren’t going to make anything close to serious money here.


    • Yeah, once you see the actual dollar signs, the magic disappears.

      …although I do have the Google Opinion Rewards app on my phone. That gives probably $0.10 to $0.40 for literal seconds filling out creepy surveys (“Did you stop by Kroger? Can you scan your receipt?”), but I keep it around for when I want to purchase the occasional game app. I used those funds on Slay the Spire, for example. The app is not a game though, and I have abandoned similar initiatives where you they give you gems or whatever for downloading other games because ain’t nobody got time for that.


  2. It would be great if you stick to what you know/do best, e.g. comment on games and events around them. I really enjoy those for years now.
    But you seem to have no clue about climate change and better stop making remarks making it clear to the world.


    • If my dystopian hyperbole of “hit me up in the crypto salt mines where we monetize every moment of our free time to afford luxuries like clean air while the planet boils around us” is that triggering for you, then you may need to take a break. Preferably outside… while you still can!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you even mention climate change? I must have missed that part.

    Anyhoo… Great post. As SynCaine suggests, it’s very possible there’s a generation of gamers for whom this is going to feel so natural they won’t even raise an eyebrow but I suspect most Gen Z gamers are going to be as unenthusiastic about working for $1.88 an hour in what’s supposed to be their own fun time as the rest of us. Self-evidently, anyone who’s employed even at minimum wage is going to be far better off doing a few extra hours overtime than spending their evenings and weekends grinding away in a video game.

    The only people I could see it making sense for are people who genuinely have no other source of income but who also somehow have relaiable access to the relevant gaming technology to be able to play these games for hour after hour or for gamers whose normal pattern of in-game activity already just happens, fortuitously, to dovetail lneatly with what’s required. There are people who do the same things for fun that other people to do farm gold so it’s possible.

    The thing about earning the cash in Candy Crush to buy a hammer in Clash Royale doesn’t actually fit the crypto/NFT/meta narrative, though. The thing the techbros keep trying to push is that you’ll be able to take the SAME hammer with you from game to game. The weirdest thing about that is not that, as we all know, it’s not going to happen because why would competing game companies want to code for it, but that most players would never want to lug the SAME hammer from game to game. What would be the point in that?

    The whole loot/gear/cosmetics treadmill relies entirely on people constantly changing their look by acquiring different gear. If you could actually take your best stuff with you from game to game, always wearing and weilding the same items, what would be your motivation to play those other games in the first place? The gameplay? How many of these types of game have gameplay sufficiently compelling as to make people want to play them for weeks, months, years? Even in the ones that get close, it’s the constant dripfeed of new, fresh cosmetics or content that keeps people engaged.

    The whole “Get your best stuff and then use it everywhere” , if it worked, would break the entire structure of online gaming as it’s evolved over a quarter of a century. Which might be a good thing, ironically, because it might mean developers would have to focus on content and gameplay rather than acquisition, envy and dopamine hits. Pretty sure that’s not what’s going to happen, though.


    • There was a video I watched, perhaps the Raph Koster one going around, that did provide one use case where NFT-limited cosmetics made sense: licensed superhero outfits. Maybe you really like Batman and thus want to look like Batman everywhere you go. Or perhaps if you built a sort of “brand” and want to take that with you too. The late TotalBiscuit, for example, might have had his iconic top hat as a verifiable piece of equipment on all his toons everywhere. Sort of like how everyone has title cards in their Youtube videos.

      But those scenarios are problematic for everyone else. Can anyone look like Batman, or would the Batman outfit NFT be some sort of super-rare drop worth millions of dollars? Could a Chinese app hand out knock-off Batman NFTs and thereby generate money from people not lucky/rich enough to afford the “real” version?

      Finally, where would the incentive be for new game designers to buy into a mature NFT ecosystem? Unless they get some kind of cut from every Batman customer that logs in, it seems like new entrants to the market are going to be competing with every other game’s cosmetics. There are only so many angel wings that are worth purchasing until that market gets saturated and raced to the bottom.

      I think all of this is the reason why metaverse scenarios revolve around presumed monopolies, like in Ready Player One. If every new game is actually just within some overarching software, then a lot of the challenges go away. Facebook was actually making progress on this front back when they integrated stuff like FarmVille into the browser, but mobile gaming really got away from them. And thank god for that – spamming your own friends with referral links is not even a half-step away from MLM/trying to hock knives or essential oils.


      • Let’s assume you have a FPS, an MMO, and an TBS game that are all in the ‘metaverse’ together and you can bring batman or whatever outfit into all 3. WTF is the theme of all 3 that bringing items from one to the other makes sense or fits? Second Life MMO, a generic outfits shooter, and a ‘silly’ ‘bring whatever you want’ TBS game? Yay, sign me up for zero of those!


    • There age a group or people with access to game system, lot of free time, no easy access to properly paid job, and gullible enough : children!
      Apply NFT to Fortnite cosmetic market and you have a new way to increase online bullying !


  4. That kind of prediction sounds a lot like what I read in Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken”, where she “demonstrated” how wonderful gamification would be for work and teaching, with quests, XP, etc. etc. and how it was causing a revolution. Ever heard about it? No? Normal: it was a total failure….
    Since we’re on completely random predictions, here is mine: this one, too, will fall flat on its face.


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