The Bankless Podcast: Are Play-to-Earn Games Fun?

In this podcast, Gabby Dizon is joined by Kieran Warwick from Illuvium, and streamer Bryce Johnson, to discuss whether play-to-earn games can be as fun as traditional games.

The Bankless Podcast invites builders and founders from the crypto world to provide deeper insight into money and advocate for a bankless financial system. It is hosted by Ryan Sean Adams and David Hoffman, co-founders of Bankless and co-authors of the Bankless newsletter.

Additionally, Ryan is the founder of Mythos Capital, a crypto fund and investment company that holds crypto assets and supports crypto networks. Through his articles, he shares strategies that encourage readers to utilize the full potential of decentralized finance services in order to become bankless.

David Hoffman is the former COO of RealT, the first and largest tokenized real estate platform, as well as the co-host of POV Crypto, a podcast focused on debating and dissecting nuanced conversations between Bitcoiners and Ethereans. David focuses on writing fundamental investment theses for Ethereum and he also looks at the habits of those who choose to adopt crypto as a financial tool.

This episode of the Bankless Podcast features Gabby Dizon, co-founder of Yield Guild Games (YGG), Kieran Warwick, co-founder of Ethereum-based play-to-earn game Illuvium, and Bryce Johnson (@brycent_ on Twitter), co-founder of the blockchain gaming guild, LootSquad.

Gabby talks about blockchain gaming and how it has opened doors for players to engage in a virtual economy which represents more than just fun, as it provides opportunities for players to earn things of value and participate in social groups. Kieran discusses the need to prioritize fun while also maintaining a robust in-game economy, if play-to-earn games are to compete with AAA titles from traditional game studios. 

The following is an excerpt from the discussion. Listen to the full podcast here.  

Crypto Gaming Panel featuring Yield Guild, LootSquad, and Illuvium

David (52:30): If we make these games also the same place as where we work to generate revenue, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of gaming? Doesn’t that suck the fun out of things? Gabby, what say you?

Gabby (52:44): So, I think that this is a very narrow definition of games, where all I do is basically play games to have fun. Narrative games like the ones on PlayStation and Xbox are never going to go away, and honestly, if it is a narrative-based game, it probably doesn’t have an in-game economy.

If I wanted to have fun with a good story, I would fire up my PlayStation and play a game like God of War. But if I want to play a game and be in a social circle where I am earning things of value—which used to be games like World of Warcraft or RuneScape—I would rather own those assets and make money, because I am already working for them in a social environment, paying money, and getting value out of it. So I think that is a lot more fun, being able to win those assets, and actually, NFTs are a lot of fun, even the collectible PFPs (profile pictures) that you buy, trade, and flex on Twitter. It's already a ton of fun. 

Ryan (53:51): I guess part of your point is, like, I remember the days of Diablo and World of Warcraft, people were grinding anyways, they were working hard, it wasn’t always fun, but they were grinding for the flex, or for like legitimacy and credibility, like, “My level 60 Warlock, look at me, how much time I have spent.” So maybe what you are trying to say is that people are doing this anyway, but they don’t actually own the product that they are working for or grinding for in many of these games.

Gabby (54:29): Yeah, that’s right, especially in these games that have rich economies in them, like, “Why can't I own the value that I am creating for the game economy?” So I think that is more fun, and if I wanted to play a story-based game and not think about making money, I could go pick up another game.

David (54:50): Kieran, do you have an opinion on whether adding finance to games ruins the whole point of gaming?

Kieran (54:58): I think if you make that the whole basis of the game, then yes! And I think that is what we are seeing with the games we have right now.

There is a reason why North American and Chinese gamers and all these people that play God of War and World of Warcraft and League of Legends are not coming into the space yet. And the fundamental reason, in my opinion, is I just don’t think the games in blockchain right now are built to be fun.

They are built for people to earn, and while that’s good for developing nations, and it’s building these new economies, and it's super important to still encompass that inside your game, I think you fundamentally have to create a game that is fun. And if you ripped out that economy, they are still going to be there, playing your game. And if you get the balance right, with enough mechanics, strategy, and really high-quality graphics, which is what allures people in the first place to these games. And when you add the fact that you can sell these assets on marketplaces and make money, you can also win a tournament and win a bunch of tokens that are highly valuable, even little achievements throughout your game where you can earn money—that is the cherry on top, and I think that’s what is missing right now, and no doubt, that is coming.

Give it 10 to 15 years, PlayStation 8 is going to be on the blockchain, everyone is going to move because the demand is coming from the players, and as soon as players are playing a game of the quality of a AAA game—which there are many titles to mention—soon as you get that, and then they are sitting there like, “Now I am having heaps of fun like I am normally used to, but I am also earning a whole bunch of money, and I am also having a whole bunch of fun.”

So I think you have to start with the fun factor and sprinkle the DeFi aspect all the way through it and that will open the eyes of the mainstream gamers, which is a very large part of what we are targeting at Illuvium and inadvertently the yield that we are giving is also going to attract the likes of Axie Infinity players from developing nations.

Ryan (58:12): Just to add to that, I was just recalling our conversation with Arianna Simpson where we asked her, “How do you respond to the criticism that all these crypto games are just big, giant Ponzi schemes?” And her response was, “The utility is the attention, the fun, and the fact that people actually want to play the game.” And maybe what you are saying, Kieran, is that if you don’t have that underlying utility, then there is not very much backing the new open gaming economy that you have created. It's kind of hollow, and it could go up and come down, but the baseline value proposition is how many people are here for fun. Does that resonate at all?

Kieran (59:09): Absolutely, the value creation. If it’s just new players coming in, and eventually that stops, and you hit this point where there are no new players coming in, and if that economy doesn’t have that value creation built in it, and the players are happy to buy skins and enhancements—which don’t make them more money but gets them to the point where they are flexing in World of Warcraft—that is why we are here. And I think that is when we are going to see the longevity of games, the five-, 10-year cycle of an MMO in the mainstream. 

David (1:00:05): Bryce, you’re a streamer, so you play these games and then you're also streaming them. Do you have any experience with this whole dynamic that games lose their “funness” when there is money involved?

Bryce (1:00:17): I definitely think that it's important that your game is fun outside of the monetary aspect. I grew up playing Pokémon, and I am very keen on Axie Infinity and Illuvium in terms of the fun factor being there, but in my understanding of where my audience comes from and how it is, explaining this to non-crypto folks about how gaming is, is a lot harder to bridge into American mainstream audiences with gaming just through playing Axie Infinity.

It is something I work on, and I have an entire content and media team where we strategize on how we do this, so that is something to take into account, but I think across the future of NFT gaming, in general, there are going to be tons of opportunities to play games that people enjoy.

I do enjoy playing Axie Infinity, and I am going to enjoy playing Illuvium when it comes out. And there might be someone who doesn’t enjoy these games, but having a wide range of games is important, and understanding that not every game is everyone’s cup of tea and that is privy to understanding how this discussion will go.

You can check out the full podcast on Spotify

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