Analyzing Axie Infinity Gameplay & Play-to-Earn Model
This article was originally published on Udonis’ blog.
Axie Infinity is the OG play-to-earn game that was released back in 2018 but became extremely popular in 2021 when many people invested in it.
Since then, a lot has happened in the crypto and blockchain gaming world. Most notably, crypto winter, a market downturn that won’t be ending anytime soon it seems. It halted the growth of many play-to-earn games and caused a significant drop in token values.
Despite that, Axie Infinity still has a loyal community, as well as new updates and developments that point to a bright future. Most notably, the release of Axie Infinity Homeland and news that Axie Infinity Origins will be released on Google Play. Additionally, the game has more than 90k monthly users and is among the top 15 blockchain games according to DappRadar.
The main reason why Axie Infinity is still popular in 2023 is its fun and addictive gameplay, coupled with a well-thought-out economy and play-to-earn system. This seems to be the winning recipe for creating a truly sustainable play-to-earn game.
Here’s a detailed analysis of Axie Infinity’s gameplay and play-to-earn model across its main games and what you can learn from it about creating a successful P2E game.
Released back in 2018 by Sky Mavis, Axie Infinity is known as one of the most popular blockchain games. The best way to describe Axie Infinity is to highlight how versatile it is — it’s a gaming experience, social network, earning platform, and marketplace — all in one.
The Axie Infinity universe consists of several games (Classic, Origin, Homeland, Raylights, and Defenders of Lunacian Land), with Axies, digital collectible pet NFTs, at its core. You can think of it as a blockchain version of Pokémon, but with earning opportunities.
Axie’s claim to fame is that it was one of the first big play-to-earn games and it popularized the concept, as many others soon followed. It was inspired by Crypto Kitties, the very first game on the blockchain, but it set out to make players want to play longer by adding economic incentives.
An important thing to remember about Axie Infinity is that it’s not geared toward players who are in it just for the money and are looking for a second income, especially now when the hype is over and prices are down. In fact, according to the game’s subreddit, most of the people who were playing just for the rewards left.
Sky Mavis works hard on trying to rebrand and change how people view the game, from play-to-earn to play-and-earn, emphasizing that it’s a fun game first, instead of being just a source of income.
That’s reflected in this statement by Philip La, Product and Growth at Sky Mavis, “My goal with Axie Infinity is not to create an impossible world where we can give everyone $6 if they put in $5. The goal is to provide intrinsic value through the game, while sharing the $5 that players might put in back with them, in contrast to traditional games where the developer takes the entire $5 for themselves. “
Axie Infinity Classic is the original 2018 game some players still prefer. However, this turn-based card battler is becoming obsolete. While fans of the classic game can still enjoy playing it for fun, they won’t receive any rewards for it.
The main Axie play-to-earn experience is now Axie Infinity Origins, released in April 2022, and the newly released Homeland, which I’ll cover later on in the article.
Unlike the classic version of the game, Origins is free-to-play, i.e., it doesn’t require the initial Axie NFT investment. That should help Sky Mavis draw in more players.
Furthermore, Origins is more dynamic, fast-paced, and skill-based than Classic, which might appeal to a more mainstream audience.
Here’s an in-depth explanation of its gameplay and play-to-earn model.
Axie Infinity Origins is a turn-based strategy game. Players can collect Axies, breed them, and use them in battle. While fun and competitive gameplay is at the core of Origins, there’s also a monetary incentive. By battling, players can earn rewards, which is the basis of the game’s P2E model.
Here’s more info on Axies, battles, tokens, and rewards, and how it all works together to form an engaging, and sometimes, profitable experience.
Axies are what connects all current and future games in this universe. In Origins, new players get 3 free non-NFT Axies, known as Starter Axies, but they can obtain Personal Axies from Marketplace. Both can be used for battle, but only the former can be used for earning rewards, breeding, and training.
The collectible NFTs come in 9 different categories based on the type of body they have — e.g., plant, beast, aquatic, etc. Each category has its advantages and disadvantages.
Furthermore, each Axie has six possible body parts (eyes, ears, back, mouth, horn, and tail), and each of them corresponds to a Card that represents a unique ability (attacks, curses, summons, etc). Because Axies consist of unique body part combos created from more than 200 randomly selected body parts, there are almost endless possibilities.
By using charms and runes, players can upgrade and customize Axies’ abilities. Additionally, by breeding two Axies, players can create new Axies.
Each of the aforementioned Axie body parts has a dominant, recessive, and minor recessive gene. While each gene has a chance to be passed down, the breeding mechanism is random. It’s not that different from how our genetics work.
To ensure there aren’t too many Axies in circulation, there’s a limit as to how many times an Axie can be bred.
Through the process of breeding, players have the chance to create rare Axies. Naturally, those are very valuable and players can choose to trade them on NFT marketplaces.
Trading Axies represents one of the game’s earning opportunities, but the main one is battling.
There are two main game modes in Origins — Adventure and Arena. While the game mechanics work the same in both, the difference is in the opponent. Adventure is player vs. environment (PvE), while Arena is player vs. player (PvP).
Battling in the Arena mode is one of the main ways players earn SLP tokens. The more they play, the more they earn, which is designed to maximize engagement.
Players can no longer earn in Adventure mode — this change was made to balance out SLP’s tokenomics.
How much players can earn in the Arena is limited and varies on the player’s MMR (Matchmaking rating) and several other factors like Stamina and Ronin Spirit. While there’s a lot of competition, players who put in the time playing and manage to rank high in leaderboards may earn substantial rewards.
Here’s a short explanation of how battle mechanics work in Axie Infinity.
Players need a team of three Axies to play. Each Axie consists of six cards that represent the abilities that can be used in battle. Thus, players get 18 cards in total. There’s one charm slot for each card and a rune slot for each Axie.
Every turn, which lasts for 45 seconds in Arena, each player draws five cards and makes their move, i.e., plays cards and uses certain Axie abilities. Playing cards requires Energy — every turn starts with 3 Energy.
According to Axie’s website, the goal of the game is “to reduce the health of your opponent’s 3 Axies to 0 before they can do the same to you.”
The winner of the battle receives valuable rewards and can climb the ranks by collecting Victory Stars.
Runes and Charms
Runes and charms add an interesting layer not only to Axie Infinity gameplay but to its economy. Both come in two different versions — a non-NFT and an NFT version.
The NFT versions of runes and charms can be used in battle as well as traded on the Marketplace. Furthermore, many runes and charms can be crafted using in-game resources like Moon Shards. That gives players another earning opportunity, as they can craft and sell them.
Axie Infinity is a dual economy, meaning it has two distinct tokens — Axie Infinity Shards (AXS) and Smooth Love Potion (SLP). Both tokens are required for breeding Axies and this is their primary use in the game.
As I mentioned before, players can earn SLP by competing in the Arena.
AXS is a governance token and the game developers make a profit through ownership of this token. Furthermore, Sky Mavis holds about 20% of all AXS tokens. Players earn AXS rewards by playing the game and staking, i.e., locking up their tokens. It also allows users to participate in the game’s voting process and DAO.
When SLP is spent on things like breeding, it is burned. When AXS is spent, a portion of it goes to the Community Treasury.
Both AXS and SLP have real-world value as one can trade them for other tokens and sell them for fiat currency.
Another important aspect of the Axie universe is land NFTs.
Players were able to purchase land, but couldn’t interact with it. That changed with the release of Axie Infinity Homeland — the long-awaited land gameplay experience and the most recent addition to Axie’s arsenal of games.
While it’s still in Alpha, the game has already garnered a lot of attention from fans and new players alike. The feedback has been wildly positive, which brought a lot of fresh energy and excitement to the Axie community.
The Axie Infinity world is called Lunacia — this is where Homeland gameplay takes place. Here’s what you need to know about it.
In this strategy adventure game, players can gather resources, craft items like food, potions, and weapons, build and upgrade structures, and customize land plots. Axies have the role of workers.
It’s very similar to the mechanics of classic strategy and city-building games like Age of Empires where players can go from a small settlement to a huge city or empire.
Homeland also features a combat feature, the Lunacia Adventure, where players can send warriors called Adventurers into battle. There’s the option to equip Adventurers with various items like armor, weapons, food, and accessories, which help them during battle.
Even though it’s still in Alpha, this game has depth and is very complex, especially when compared to other blockchain games, which sets it apart.
Because it has it all, Axie Infinity Homeland satisfies many common player motivations.
For example, the ability to customize and decorate land plots will appeal to players who want to express their creativity in games. Players who are driven by a sense of accomplishment and like to create and make progress will enjoy building and growing their settlement in Homeland. People who play games to escape to a fantasy world will enjoy Lunacia and the wild adventures it offers, and so on.
To ensure players stay engaged long-term, Sky Mavis also added quests to Homeland — as they level up, more quests are unlocked. There are also daily and weekly quests players can complete to earn valuable rewards.
To keep things competitive, Homeland features leaderboards that show which players made the most progress in their land development and the Lunacia Adventure.
It’s important to note that, as of now, Homeland doesn’t offer a monetary incentive to play in terms of earning tokens — it’s all about exploring this new game and having fun.
However, landowners have the option to sell their plots for profit and it seems like there will be more earning opportunities in the next phases of the game.
The final question is — will Axie Infinity stand the test of time?
It might be too early to tell. Also, that depends not only on how the game is set up but on various macroeconomic factors.
However, recent developments such as the completion of hugely important milestones like Axie Infinity Homeland show that this game is constantly growing and has the chance to become one of the most long-standing blockchain games.
With Origins, and especially with Homeland, Sky Mavis has also shown what can be done with NFTs — its use cases go beyond collecting and trading.
Since Homeland is still in Alpha, there are still many exciting features to come, like avatar Axies, NFT Axie gameplay in-app purchases, and app store distribution. All that points to an exciting future for the Axie universe — we’ll keep you posted on the most recent developments.