What is play to earn - what does it deliver

- 17 minute read

Play to earn all over the world
Paul Hopmans
Crypto Expert
Paul Hopmans

Play to earn is playing a game based on blockchain technology. Some games are worthwhile, others need a little more time or are an outright scam. In this article, we take a closer look at play to earn games on blockchain.


  • Play to earn stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, from PC game to the X-BOX, free to play and play to earn
  • Usually you play in a Metaverse
  • Revenue models for developers consist of selling in-game assets, advertising and trading fees
  • Players can earn by playing the game, but mostly by speculating with expensive in-game assets at the beginning of the game
  • Play to earn does not seem intended to actually earn anything from it, best just to play for fun
  • Play to earn games have a predictable nature: in the beginning the number of participants and the in-game cryptocurrency increases, as time goes on revenues and interest decrease and at the end hardly anyone plays anymore
  • If you want to participate in games that are expensive to begin with, Yield Guild Games and Merit Circle may be something for you
  • Review of well-known play to earn games
  • Our Final Verdict on play to earn games


  1. Where does play to earn come from?
  2. What is the metaverse?
  3. Earning models in play to earn games
  4. How much money can you earn with play to earn?
  5. The play to earn flywheel
  6. Play to earn earning curve
  7. Yield Guild Games and Merit Circle
  8. How much fun is play to earn?
  9. What successful P2E games are there?
  10. The Last Judgment on play to earn

Where does play to earn come from?

Play to earn (P2E) has a number of forerunners who laid the foundation for this concept.

In "old times," you bought a game and enjoyed gaming. From Civilization to Command and Conquer, you went to the store, paid and sometimes had fun for years. Over time, these games became more and more professional in many ways. Concept: pay to play and have fun.

This was followed by the razorblade model, as introduced by Gilette. You bought the basics roughly at cost and individual things at the premium price. Here you can think of the X-Box and Playstation. The device itself was kept artificially cheap. The games were sold expensively. In terms of concept, it was very similar to its predecessor.

This was followed by the free-to-play concept. You could play games for free, for example the multiplayer battle royale game Fortnite, the revenue model was in selling additional items or games through the app store. Large software distribution platforms like Steam developed a whole connected world.

What is play to earn?

And then there was Web3 . With the arrival of the Metaverse, GameFi and NFT 's (non fungible tokens), a whole new generation of games was introduced to the market, based on the blockchain. In these play to earn games, you can earn money simply by playing the game. Earning models consist of showing advertisements, selling NFTs and transaction fees.

What is the metaverse?

Metaverse characters

The metaverse is a real-time virtual 3D world, created and maintained by a computer, in which you can walk around with a personal avatar. You become a virtual person experiencing virtual things in a virtual world. It is a compound word made up of the parts meta (beyond) and universe. The term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his novel "Snow Crash."

A well-known precursor of the present-day blockchain Metaverse is a game like Second Life. The title of the game already says what it is about: you create a virtual second life, in which, of course, you are very successful and have many fans and an overflowing bank account. Much more fun than your own life if you are not among the winners!

So in the metaverse, you also walk around as another character experiencing all sorts of things in a digital universe and evolving along the way, such as improving your home, hairstyle or upgrading your avatar or whatever you play with, like Axies.

Earning models in play to earn games

Two types of earning models can be named in play to earn games:

  1. Earning model for the developers and partners of a play to earn game. They make money by charging transaction fees for each in-game purchase. Money is also made by selling in-game NFTs, such as a sword, a house, pieces of virtual land or clothing. Money can also be made by showing advertisements.
  2. Earnings model for gamers consists of staking out cryptocurrency inside or outside the game, for which you get additional coins or NFTs. By playing the game, players can earn in-game rewards and crypto belonging to the blockchain. They can also earn money by buying NFTs and selling them at a higher price.

How much money can you earn with play to earn?

Play to earn nickels

This varies greatly. Some games allow you to earn decent amounts of money, while others are more like occupational therapy.

There are even games where you have to pay for items first, only then you can play the crypto game. This is called pay to earn, also called pay to burn (money). Sometimes the payback takes so long that you quit before you get your investment back.

It is difficult to give exact figures on earnings because it is not exactly available anywhere.

In the heyday of Axie Infinity, gamers could earn as much as 1,000 euros a month with this. That did change since the collapse of SLP, which dropped from 30 cents to less than half a cent, more on that later.

Some games still allow you to make your own NFTs and sell them. Artsy and handy people have made quite a bit of money doing this.

Earnings in other P2E games

In other games, you get such low rewards that you get tired of them at some point. In Alien Worlds, for example, you have to play for a long time before you get some together. The gameplay also leaves a lot to be desired.

In Defi Kingdoms, you got a locked token, JEWEL, which was worth quite a bit in the beginning. When the lock was off, this coin was worth very little. You often see this in P2E. In the beginning, the in-game tokens are worth a lot and then the price drops. It may very well be that, for example, the creators of the game were able to sell their JEWEL when it was high.

Merit guidelines play to earn

If you assume that you can't earn anything at all with these games, you're pretty much on your way to settling for a little. Because earning a little is what you get with most games, even if you play a lot. In-game content is often hopeless and often acts outdated or poorly designed.

A game where you earned relatively much, like Axie Infinity, is very rare. Playability and fun should therefore be paramount when playing a game for longer. Even the best play to earn games are subject to devaluation.

Another aspect is the usual story: you can earn much more in the beginning than later in the game, when the rewards have to be divided among too many players and the first players have an unfair advantage over the later players.

Free money pay to earn

Remember that free money does not exist. Everything you get has to be earned somewhere. If the earning model is clear and you still get decent income, then it is a very strong game. In most play to earn games, the economic model is too poorly thought out, so people stop playing because of too low revenue or too high an investment to join.

In some games, big companies also participate. For example, there are games in which Nike sets up a store, where you can buy "real" Nike shoes for your avatar. Casinos are also set up where players can gamble. Part of this revenue goes to the creators of the game, who thus have more funds to pay players.

The play to earn flywheel

This is a circle of a game, with each round adding more developers, players and earnings. As the round runs longer, it becomes harder and harder to find new players, so revenues dry up and fewer developers, players and earnings come in. So it is a double-edged sword.

Almost always a game thrives with many newcomers. Play to earn therefore somewhat resembles a pyramid scheme, with the developers and early birds lining their pockets well, after which the game earns less and less for all who come after them.

There is even a saying about this: "Early birds get the pearls; late birds get the turds." At least, now there is. I admit I made this one up myself.

Play to earn earning curve

This play to earn model consists of a graph, where income is very high in the beginning, followed by a sharp drop within a short period of time. After that, earnings remain roughly the same, although you can see that as time goes on, the line gets closer and closer to zero earnings. How does that work?

The start of a P2E game

So a virtual world has been built in which players can start playing. Very commonly, you have to start buying in-game items for your avatar. These are NFTs. So you can buy an avatar through smart contracts, a name, sunglasses, a motorcycle suit, a house, virtual land, a sword, in short everything you need on your journey through the metaverse. In the beginning of a game, prices are very reasonable and the price of native tokens is not so high yet.

Gamers with experience quickly understand that if you want to make money in a play to earn game you have to buy as soon as possible the expensive items that others have to pay for in order to use them. Obvious is that land. In the beginning you can buy that from the developers for a soft price, but if you have to buy it from other players the price goes up very quickly. Thousands of euros for a piece of land is quite common.

So in a game like Axie Infinity, you should have bought the strongest Axies or lands for a small price in the beginning. You could have easily sold those for much more money after a battery of players joined or you could have rented them out for a lot of money.

Midgame play to earn

After the game is becoming popular and the blockchain cryptocurrency is mooning on the major exchanges, many players who bought in the beginning are getting rid of their expensive items and looking for a new opportunity.

The profit curve will drop like a brick at this time. All items are owned by gamers or can be gotten by playing the game. The items you can get through the game are usually worth very little, unless they are some kind of lotteries in which you can also get rare NFTs. Then you have to be very lucky to get something expensive.

So the big winners here leave the game and the large masses have to buy the in-game items that are expensive from each other. There is much less to be earned with these than if you buy them from the developers, although very popular games can still generate high revenues. In-game NFTs that you have to buy from the developers, such as avatar upgrades, have also become expensive due to the increased price of a popular game's cryptocurrency.

Because there are suddenly so many players, earnings will be shared by more gamers, so you get less and less income from playing. If players are paid with newly monetized tokens, you will get inflation of the price and thus it will go down due to dilution. Developers who have an answer to this economic problem are rare. After all, money has to come from somewhere.

Endgame play to earn

Everyone who had wanted to participate is now participating. Earnings have declined solidly and the revenue line is approaching 0 in the graph. People are starting to quit the game and look for the next challenge.

The prices of cryptocurrency and in-game items are starting to fall. There is more supply and less demand. The game is starting to collapse and the end is approaching. Only hardcore players and gamers who really like the game remain.

By now the masses have found a new base and are not even logging in. During this period, large losses are incurred by people who have bought expensive in-game items, such as land.

Yield Guild Games and Merit Circle

Yield Guild Games is a platform that literally means you can generate revenue in guilds. Thus, guilds can be established that are focused on a particular game. For example, if you want to start Axie Infinity, you need 3 critters. These are NFTs. These often cost hundreds to thousands of dollars combined if you want to have a somewhat decent team.

If you join such a guild you can borrow the critters from players who have them left over, called a scholarship. You can then share the proceeds with these players, making everyone happy. The platform itself also gets a share, allowing them to buy NFTs for all kinds of games and making the pool bigger.

YGG was created to also give novice players a chance to join many games, which you normally have to pay a lot of money for, such as buying land that costs thousands of dollars. You can then buy access to that land or rent the land and do your thing on it.

Merit Circle has a similar structure, although this platform specializes on games that are high quality, such as Axie Infinity and Vulcan Forged. People with enough experience can even become coaches here and earn money.

How much fun is play to earn?

Bored gamer

If you join such a game for fun, you almost always see that it is actually very boring. The actions you have to perform are not exciting, take too long or take too much effort. They yield a few cents per hour and some crypto is even difficult to sell.

The graphics are also often severely underwhelming for gamers used to PC games or a Playstation. Storylines are lacking and you are just clicking or sliding your mouse around.

With any luck, the developers have turned it into a real game, like Axie Infinity or Splinterlands (sort of a Magic the Gathering fork).

What successful P2E games are there?

If you ask people which games they actually know, they will quickly mention Axie Infinity. TheSandbox is also a pretty well-known game. A few will still be able to name Decentraland and after that it becomes increasingly difficult. For example, some will still be able to name platforms, such as Enjin Games, but individual games is already becoming more difficult.

We will discuss some well-known games so you know how they work.

Axie Infinity

This is the most famous play to earn game. It is a turn-based game where you play with so-called Axies, a type of critters, against other players. By its own admission, it is a combination of Pokémon and Tamagotchi. In-game possessions consist of NFTs like land, Axies and specific powers for a critter. At their peak, during corona, millions of people played this game. Especially players from low-wage countries like the Philippines and other countries in Asia populated the statistics (over 70%).

Players can earn two types of in game currency: AXS (Axie Infinity Shards) and SLP (Smooth Love Potion). You can play in Adventure or Arena mode. There are tournaments and you have a chance to win relatively good rewards for fighting in-game creatures from the Axies world, which are called Chimera.

There are fixed returns in both Arena and Adventure modes. Also, when doing daily tasks you already get 25 SLP. The higher the levels you play, the higher your earnings per win. At the highest levels, you can count on about 20-25 SLP per win.

There was a time when SLP was worth more than 25 cents each. Nowadays, it doesn't even come close to 1 cent. So earnings have shrunk violently since 2021, SLP's high.

The revenue model of this game consists of transaction fees and a portion of staking revenues.

Each creature has all kinds of stats that are important in a fight, such as speed, health, skills and morale. You can play Arena battles once you have 3 Axies (purchased). Each creature can create offspring seven times for increasingly higher SLP costs. After you create a offspring, you can go develop it or sell it as an NFT on the Axie Infinity Marketplace.

An example of the gameplay can be found in this video .

As you can see, you may also use cards to support your attack and defense.

You can also purchase land as a home for your Axies. This land can be further developed into a unique place to play the game.

Players use their best Axies to play the game, leaving them with a large pool of Axies that are unprofitable for them to play with. New players often don't have enough money or don't want to spend it on Axies with good stats, which can cost thousands of dollars. The two come together in a marketplace for lending Axies.

New players can get a Scholarship, which allows them to play with good Axies, which they borrow for a fee from established players with many Axies. They pay part of their income for this, so that both players can be satisfied. You see this a lot in P2E: the established players from the early days making the bulk of the revenue and getting richer and richer.

Back in the days when SLP was worth more than 25 cents, you could earn around 1,000 euros a month by playing briskly. The average income of many Filipinos then was around 300 euros. Considering the fact that the price has decreased about 100x we can guess the income today: around a tenner a month.

You can clearly see the drama of play to earn here: in the beginning, players buy Axies that are good for a small price, develop and breed their Axies and perhaps buy lands. They start playing against the best other Axies and earn a lot from both play and loan. The more popular the game becomes, the more there is to earn.

At some point, fewer and fewer new players join and Axies' revenues and prices drop. The native cryptocurrencies begin to decline in value and playing the game begins to look more and more like occupational therapy. Eventually, only the players who really enjoy the game remain. Since the gameplay of many P2E games is poor almost all players quit and start exploring new worlds to hopefully generate decent income.

P2E has a high ponzi scheme content. The early-game players line their pockets, the midgame players barely keep anything, and the last group of players often lose a lot of money. Then it's game over, unless the game is so much fun that a comeback is possible.


This is a metaverse, where you can walk around in different worlds. The usual actions are possible, such as buying land, buying in-game NFTs and paying access to worlds.

If you want to know more about the "gameplay," watching this video very informative and Jauwn, the narrator, is quite funny.

It is quite unclear how many players are actually playing this game. As you can see in the video, there are quite a few problems with the gameplay. You often have no clue what to do and you have to pay gross money to be allowed to do things like play poker, where you are not even playing for real money. Land is priceless and may also prove to be a very bad investment once prices collapse.

Decentraland seems mostly a world where the early players own everything and the later players are allowed to pay these plutocrats money to do things in their world. A few whales have pockets so well-filled that even a DAO means no way out of their clutches. They have far more votes than the crowd.

It is definitely possible with this game to make money, but you have to start making NFTs that others want. So as an artist or with mosaics, you can put things together yourself and charge a price for them that you make up yourself. So playing is not going to get you very far. Play to earn? Pay to run!


If you want to enjoy pre-DOS graphics then this game is especially for you! Even with Paint these days you can make better graphics than this game generates by yourself.

You create an avatar and start walking around in this world. You can choose from many worlds and are given missions that allow you to collect small prizes.

Apparently you have to download each world separately. What is really funny is that you can "play" many worlds only as single player. While the metaverse is the exact opposite: a virtual world where you play with many players together!

A lot of land, on which you should actually be able to play games, have simply been bought up as speculation, making it a pretty empty world. Big companies and famous people are big in the picture, but look more like advertising.

Let your take you into this exciting world by Jauwn, a harbinger of the yawn!

Virtually no one plays this boring "game" apparently, yet it is worth a lot in market cap. Why? You tell me!


When I heard the outline of this game I was moderately excited. Until I saw a review of Jauwn looked at it and it was not a Magic the Gathering variant, but a game where you can use cards to build a deck, then the game's engine automatically plays the cards against each other. So you click on battle and are then told whether you were the winner or loser. Yawn.

To earn rewards, you have to buy a Magic Spell Book for say 10 euros. Pay to earn, in other words. At least they have a good earning model. At least, for themselves. 10 euros per player can quickly become a nice amount of money!

One small thing more: the rewards you earn are in the cryptocurrency of the game itself. With daily volume ranging from a few tens on exchanges to a few thousand on a DEX, it is very unlikely that you can even sell this crypto. If you happen to manage to do so, you'll pay blue in fees to get real money for it.

So Splinterlands is a game that is a bland version of Magic the Gathering, where at least you still control which card you use when, where you have to pay a tenner to join that you will never see again.

Where can I sign?

Gods Unchained

In listening to once again Jauwn on YouTube about Gods Unchained he said true words that stuck: if you take away for a moment the cryptocurrency and blockchain part of these games you will mostly have to admit that these play to earn games are actually worse variants of existing games. Apparently developers consider the "what's in it for me" part more important than "what's in it for you," the player.

In this game, which is quite similar to Magic the Gathering, you play with cards. These cards have similar shapes to Magic. You can put beasts on the table, which attack other beasts at your opponent, or you can directly attack your opponent to take life points from him until he is at 0.

This does differ from Magic, where you can only attack the opponent for his life points if your attack is not blocked with a creature.

You can also cast spells that, for example, increase a creature's power or reduce the opponent's life points and the like. Again, this is similar to MtG, although Jauwn compares this game to Hearthstone, where it is apparently a complete copy of is.

Since without investing $57 you really don't stand a chance at all against other players, it can't really be called a play to earn game. It is rather a pay to earn game, because free players lose almost every game unless they play against other free players. This is because you have to pay $30 for a metadeck and only then do you get better cards and can have in-game NFTs that can possibly be sold.

In fact, free players get a deck with only weak cards that is always beatable for a player who has paid money. Much fun, if you are that paid player. You can possibly go buy some cheap cards from the in-game marketplace, so you don't have to play only with warriors who haven't made a dent in a pack of butter yet and maybe cast the occasional spell that makes a little bit of progress. If you win currency that you can use in game, you have to wait a week for that too. Especially to get people out as soon as possible!

It is possible that you can sell cards on the marketplace, but it is more than likely that they will bring you very little. As usual, players who spend a lot of money have a heavy advantage in both gameplay and in getting NFTs that are decently worth something. After all, you get more crypto if you win more often.

Most of the money here is made selling cards by the developers (up to $2 million per series). They sell starter packs and add-on decks that can contain very rare cards, but also complete junk, just as was the case with Magic. At some point, a given series sells out and the best players probably have some good ones to go with it.

Thus, the flush gets thinner and thinner and you have a handful of cool warriors, opposite an army of pale brats who don't stand a chance. Of course, when the series is sold out, another new series will be released, because the treasure chest can never be filled enough!

When calculating how long it will take (in 2022) before he can decently play along with Gods Unchained and be out of cost (about $57) he comes up with 49 days, with an "hourly wage" of 38 cents and 148 hours of play. Sure it's more fun than crushing burgers at the Mac, but you also only get 1/30th of the pay there. With a total of 4 in-game currencies, the economy is also quite a nightmare.

Another thing to keep in mind: if the player base goes down and popularity drops, developers may start focusing on a new game and simply let this game expire. Then you're stuck with your NFTs, which you can no longer sell anywhere because the game is abandoned. The CEO of Gods Unchained has done this trick before with his previous game, Etherbots. At some point you couldn't do anything with that, no updates, no support, full abandonment. Once you know a trick...

A update from Jauwn from March 2024 reveals that this 2018 game is still in beta in 2024! After 6 years, surely the alpha version may be online!

The gameplay is still full of bugs. Often the game locks up and you just sit and wait for your opponent to do something. The game often crashes and then you lose the match. Although it is one of the most popular and widely played games in cryptoland it is incomparably worse than outside crypto games.

Paying with crypto for cards can be a nightmare, because you have to get crypto in your MetaMask and pay fees along many avenues on the Ethereum blockchain, among others, to finally have the crypto to pay for your cards. Fees on the marketplace are around 10%. New editions bring in big money. So it is somewhat like a bank. They print money for themselves and also charge fees for the privilege of being a member. But wait, crypto and blockchain are supposed to be decentralized, right? Not in this game! Play to earn games tend to make especially the owners rich.

You have to complete ten matches a day to get the maximum rewards. A match, with all that delay, can take 15 minutes... You still have to wait 7 days for your rewards and you can never buy the best cards, the Legendary, with what you earn. It's also choking with playing bots made to farm the daily rewards. The number of players continues to drop every month and the developers have been reduced to a skeleton crew. Earnings have dropped to 5 cents an hour.

If you play long enough you can eventually get enough together to get some nice cards, but the only way to get your investments back is to sell your cards on the marketplace, but with an ever-shrinking player base and lower prices of in-game assets, it is likely that your cards will become worth less and less or even unsellable because no one is interested. You truly own valueless items, aka NFTs!

For one of the most playable play to earn games, it is still a sad result.

The Last Judgment on play to earn

Most games are virtually unplayable, have poor graphics and are mainly designed to let early birds and developers line their pockets. Once the flywheel has spun enough rounds, the game is saturated and the player base and developments stagnate.

We haven't researched all the games, so maybe there's a game among them that is both playable, has good graphics, and that you can also earn decent money from. Have fun on your endless quest through one crappy world after another! If you have found a good game, please report it to us. Then we will also be able to say something positive, for a change. Until then, let's enjoy gaming on our Playstation, our CD-ROM games or games like Forge of Empires, which is free and nice and uncomplicated.

So playing makes almost nothing, but a game that just launched can bring a lot if you buy the expensive in-game assets (especially land) from the developers. Once the masses come you sell the investment for hefty profits and pull the door shut.

Want to have fun with a game? Buy a Playstation or play PC games! At least those games owe their popularity to excellent gameplay and decent graphics.