GameFi — The Key Driver of Web3 Adoption
There are over 3 billion gamers worldwide. That’s more than the population of North America, Europe, and Africa combined!
These gamers (and their fans) make up the multibillion-dollar gaming industry. Since most video games have operated via pay-to-play and free-to-play business models, most of the profits go to the game publishing companies and their shareholders. Now, wouldn’t it be cool if the players had a chance to profit too?
What is GameFi
GameFi is a portmanteau of the words “game” and “finance.” It combines cryptocurrency, blockchain, NFTs, and game mechanics to create a virtual environment where players participate and earn money in the process.
Blockchain-based games operate on a Play-to-earn (P2E) model, which allows users to earn real money by playing more. This comes to replace the traditional gaming model, in which users with more resources simply sink more money into the game to get ahead. By allowing users to commit resources to liquidity pools and by creating valuable, interchangeable in-game items through NFTs and competitions, P2E games make it worthwhile for players to spend time on their platforms.
Many experts believe the GameFi segment has a promising future. Developers get new tools for distributing and monetizing games, while millions of players worldwide receive the opportunity to play and earn. The financial success of Axie Infinity has inspired hundreds of teams worldwide to release NFT games in various genres, so I expect numerous exciting releases in 2022.
From One Chain to Many
The games created in 2020 and earlier were mainly built on the Ethereum blockchain. However, high fees forced the developers to switch to cheaper and faster blockchains. At the same time, the increasing number of users on the Ethereum network skyrocketed, leading to slow confirmation times of transactions and a poorer user experience. Now, many games built on Polygon, Avalanche, Flow, TRON, and Solana are gaining momentum in the game industry.
This makes me believe that the future of crypto is multi-chain. That is, many Layer 1 blockchains will focus on specific use cases out of necessity. Even further, Layer 2 solutions will play a critical role in the success of GameFi due to scalability issues. These solutions benefit from the security of the Layer 1 chain but optimize for speed and cost.
At Axie Infinity’s peak popularity in November, Ronin, a Layer 2 product (devoted solely to the game) from Axie Infinity developer Sky Mavis, processed 560% more total transactions than the Ethereum blockchain. While that figure has since retreated, the sidechain is still processing more than other Layer 1 networks like Avalanche.
When in doubt, I follow the builders, or in this case, the video game developers. Blockchain technology is accelerating as a go-to foundation for these developers, with the play-to-earn model growing in popularity. According to a November 2021 report, 58% of 197 video-game developers surveyed in the US and UK were beginning to use blockchain technology.
NFTs and Crypto Adoption
”GameFi is going to be the next big thing that makes the DeFi, NFT and the larger crypto space easy to understand and be involved in.” — Justin Sun, Founder of TRON
We are still in the phase where only innovators and early adopters are engaged in Web3, but GameFi has a much higher potential to attract non-crypto users into the crypto market. Looking at Rogers Adoption Curve, I believe 2022 will be the year we cross “The Chasm”
MetaMask, the most popular wallet used by traders in the DeFi (i.e. decentralized finance) ecosystem, offers a sufficient proxy for the rate of crypto adoption. Li Jin, Co-Founder and General Partner of Variant Fund highlighted where web3 is in the technology adoption lifecycle.
Even since Metmask reported 21 Million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) in November, the browser extension now boasts 32 million MAUs, up 52% in only 3 months.
Looking at the usage statistics of other popular crypto products underscores the fact that this growth is not unique to MetaMask.
Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US, reported 8.8 million MAUs in 2021, up 214% from 2.8 million users in 2020.
NBA Top Shot, the project that initially got me interested in NFTs, is also still on the rise. Geared towards people who are not necessarily crypto natives, NBA Top Shot allows users to buy NFTs easily with dollars rather than with cryptocurrency. Despite sliding cryptocurrency prices, the platform grew impressively throughout January, with sales up 72% according to CryptoSlam data.
Cryptocurrencies appear to be near a hyper-adoption phase, similar to that of the internet during the mid-to-late 1990s.
A Global Phenomenon
Many of the early adopters of play-to-earn opportunities are gamers in developing regions of the world, whose normal incomes have been badly hit by the effects of two years of lockdowns. GameFi and play-to-earn are seen as a way to make an income in the virtual world, free from the problems that plague the real world.
“Right now, there is a largely untapped economic opportunity in emerging markets to provide jobs by building a virtual economy in the digital world…The way we define a ‘job’ is quickly evolving because of crypto and gaming, and we think we’re just starting to glimpse what’s possible in this realm.” — Arianna Simpson, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz
At the end of Q2 2020, following a period of little growth, total global adoption stood at 2.5 based on Chainalysis’ summed-up country index scores. At the end of Q2 2021, that total score stood at 24, suggesting that global adoption has grown by over 2300% since Q3 2019 and over 881% in the last year.
Research by Chainalysis suggests that reasons for this increased adoption differ around the world — in emerging markets, many turn to cryptocurrency to preserve their savings in the face of currency devaluation and carry out business transactions, while adoption in North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia over the last year has been powered largely by institutional investment. The variation in the countries contributing to the dramatic increase in cryptocurrency adoption demonstrates that Web3 is a truly global phenomenon.
Blockchain gaming is poised to disrupt the $175 billion global video games market. GameFi has already gained significant traction, with the collective market capitalization of top games breaking $14 billion.
Interest in the space isn’t dying down anytime soon. In fact, competition is heating up! Up from only $88 million in 2020, the sector saw investments worth $4 billion in 2021. In January 2022 alone, blockchain-based games and their infrastructure received over $1 billion in funding! Notably, the Blockchain Games report reveals that the gaming sector accounts for 52% of the blockchain’s activity in 2022 so far. As such, I expect investment in the space to easily exceed $15 billion this year.
Solana Ventures recently launched their second fund to support games being built on Solana. The first, a $100 million fund co-led by FTX and Lightspeed, and the second, a $150 million fund in partnership with Forte and Griffin Gaming Partners. That said, they’re not the only protocol involved. On the heels of hiring former YouTube executive Ryan Wyatt as head of its game studio, Polygon closed a $450 million investment round led by Sequoia Capital.
I believe the focus for investors should be more on the infrastructure of blockchain games rather than the game itself. A single game’s lifetime could be short, but the infrastructure surrounding these games will last much longer. Crypto startups and gaming companies are already racing to capitalize on this explosive trend, so here are some key stakeholders that I’ll be watching:
- Metaverse: Decentraland, Sandbox, and NFT Worlds
- Infrastructure: Forte, OpenSea, Sky Mavis, Dapper Labs, Animoca Brands, and Mythical Games
- Gaming Guilds: Yield Guild Games and BAYZ
- Games: Axie Infinity, DeFi Kingdoms, Pegaxy, Sorare, and Rumble Kong League
My VC Journey is far from over, and I’ll continue to share my learnings. If you’re interested in staying updated, follow me here on medium and on Twitter @darrensvision
Disclaimers: NOT investment advice. Do your own research. Make your own decisions. Darrensvision is a holder of Rumble Kong League NFTs and a co-founder of the BAYZ KONG DAO. The BKD is not affiliated with the Rumble Kong League.