What is Axie Infinity?

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Robert has reported for a variety of international publications including the Associated Press, The Guardian, Vice, and Decrypt. Current areas of interest include the political economy of technology, cryptocurrencies, and privacy. Robert has a Bachelor of Science from UCL, and a Master's degree from the University of Oxford's Internet Institute.

Axie Infinity is a Pokémon-inspired game that runs on cryptocurrency. The game, launched in 2018 by Vietnamese developer Sky Mavis and in August of 2021 became the most popular NFT game when sales surpassed $1 billion dollars. The developers claim that there are more than one million daily active users. Blockchain games use a very different economic model than regular videogames. Take Pokémon, the game that inspired Axie Infinity. You buy the game for $60 on launch day, and then it’s yours to play. When you’re done, you can sell the game to someone else, but your save file—the record of your progress, which holds your high-level, rare Pokémon, doesn’t transfer. If time is money, then you might consider those hours of playing Pokémon wasted.

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Axie Infinity is one of several blockchain-based games to turn that model on its head. You can trade each item and monster on a marketplace and nurture your creatures to increase their value. You can buy virtual land, cultivate it, then sell it for thousands of dollars to other players. And you can earn governance tokens—effectively equity in the game—that let you vote on the future of the videogame’s development. So, 50 hours in Axie Infinity could pay your rent. Some people from developing countries are using the game to do exactly that. Of course, time isn’t just money, and the developers of Pokémon and Axie Infinity try their hardest to make the time they spend with their games as fun as possible. But the prospect of “play to earn” games like Axie Infinity has convinced the internet that the game is worth spending money on. And lots of it. At the end of June, 2021, Axie Infinity's governance token, AXS, started to rise, and as of this writing, it hasn’t stopped. On June 28, a single AXS token was worth $3.83. As of mid-August, it’s worth $57. The only way is not up, and the token may crash if players get bored of the game or the mania subsides. But a lot of money has been pumped into blockchain gaming, a quickly growing industry. Games like Decentraland and The Sandbox use similar crypto mechanics and developers have scored almost half a billion dollars of investment in the first half of 2021 alone—about a tenth of all videogame funding.

How does Axie Infinity work?

As mentioned, Axie Infinity is very similar to Pokémon. The company is open about its inspiration, and manuals often refer to Nintendo’s video game. On Axie Infinity, you buy fantasy monsters, known as Axies, that are very similar to Pokémon monsters. Players duke it out in the virtual world of Lunacia. Monsters have different traits and body parts that affect their role in battles with other monsters. Combinations of parts and traits affect their four stats—health, moral, skill, speed—and determine their effectiveness in battles. Some monsters are better at fighting other monsters; just like water beats fire in Pokémon, birds trump beasts in Axie Infinity. The battles themselves look a lot like, you guessed it, Pokémon. You select up to three Axies to send out to battle and take turns with your opponent to attack and defend. You can apply item cards, speed buffs and effects to help your team win, and similar Axies can work together to string combo attacks against your enemy. These Axies are available for purchase from the Axie Infinity marketplace, and after the game went viral they no longer come cheap. The least expensive one, as of this writing, is a blue bulbous fish that sells for $200. In between fights, you can breed and nurture your Axies. Breeding lets you create new Axie Inifinity monsters, and each monster can be bred up to seven times. You’ll need potions, earned from fights or bought from the marketplace, to breed, plus spend some AXS. It’s far cheaper to breed Axies than buy them, but note that you’ll need to buy more love potions to breed Axies if they have been used for breeding before. There are different tiers of Axie monsters. “Cheap” ones cost a couple of hundred dollars each, but some are rarer than others. There were 4,088 “Origin“ Axies sold during a pre-sale in 2018, of which about 30% possess a ”Mystic“ part, which looks like jewelry. Monsters can have more than one mystic part: There are 1,141 “single mystics,” 213 “double mystics,” 19 “triple mystics,” and 3 “quad mystics.” (A droopy hovering quad mystic worm called “Galadriel” went up for sale for $15.6 million.) You can also buy plots of virtual land on Lunacia. These go for several thousand dollars. Sky Mavis is still developing this feature but they will eventually function as mini-bases or farms that generate income over time. You can pepper your plots with items, like shrubs, jugs and upgrade or craft items. You will also be able to defend your land from “Chimeras” attacking the neighborhood, either alone or in groups. These enemies will drop valuable loot that can improve your Axies’ stats or upgrade your land.

How to get started with Axie Infinity

You’ll need three monsters to start playing, and you’ll have to buy them with ETH, the native currency of Ethereum, the blockchain on which Axie Infinity is based. You can buy ETH from a cryptocurrency exchange like Binance or Coinbase. You’ll then need to send your ETH to Ronin wallet, Axie Infinity’s bespoke cryptocurrency wallet. Users in some countries, including Canada, can buy ETH straight from Ronin wallet. When your Ronin wallet is loaded up with ETH, you can then buy those three Axies. At the time of writing, this will probably cost you at least $1,000, accounting for transaction fees.

What’s next for Axie Infinity?

Aside from the aforementioned Land expansions, Axie Infinity has a number of development events on its roadmap. Sky Mavis will release a map editor, called the Lunacia SDK, for players to use in-game art assets to create other games. These games will be able to be traded among players and placed within plots of land. The developers are set to soon open up more developments to on-chain votes, meaning that holders of its AXS token can determine the future of the game. In September, 2023, the game is set to be decentralized further, and AXS will be used to vote on a governance framework and determine how much is required to vote. Even though it’s decentralized, AXS holders can’t vote on every aspect of the game—some things are irreversibly baked into Axie Infinity by Sky Mavis, like the token supply for AXS tokens. Sky Mavis will continue to develop Ronin, the Ethereum sidechain on which Axie Infinity runs. The Ronin sidechain connects to the Ethereum blockchain but processes some transactions elsewhere to save on transaction fees and speed up the blockchain. In June, 2020, Sky Mavis CEO Trung Nguyen said it is looking into additional technology, like zKSyncs, a privacy-preserving piece of financial technology. If all this sounds too expensive, one thing to note is that because Axie Infinity is based around cryptocurrencies, the price of playing the game could swiftly decrease if the market bottoms out or the developers fail to sustain interest. Just like how a videogame past its prime gets discounted, Axie’s in-game items—the monsters, the land, the shrubs—might not be so expensive in the future. (Equally, they could continue to rise). It’s worth keeping an eye on other blockchain games, too. Decentraland and The Sandbox are racing to become crypto versions of Second Life or Minecraft; decentralized virtual worlds entirely powered by cryptocurrencies. They’ve both sourced millions of dollars of funding. Then there are similar viral NFT projects, like art projects CryptoPunks or basketball crypto collectible game NBA Top Shot, in which investors spend thousands of dollars on collectible items. But for now, Axie Infinity remains top dog. With $1.1 billion in all-time sales, it has soared past the competition. NBA Top Shot, the next best-seller, has managed $677 million in all-time sales.

Last Updated September 7, 2021

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