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How PlayToEarn Has Changed Since the Blockchain Gaming Boom

PlayToEarn was revolutionary for the blockchain gaming space, but a narrative change swithced focus on the ownership and gameplay

PlayToEarn, PlayAndEArn, PlayAndOwn, PlayToOwn

PlayToEarn has evolved since it became the term most associated with the 2021 blockchain gaming boom lead by popular Web3 game, Axie Infinity.

The initial blockchain gaming model featured a token that gamers earn while playing a game, thus the term PlayToEarn. The idea was revolutionary in the sense that regular gamers could now earn a living by playing a game without being a content creator or a pro player. Through $SLP farming during its initial model, Axie Infinity managed to give players in some countries an income that was, at one point, higher than the minimum wage.

However, this model proved to be a bit short-lived as it was exhaustively extractive to the game economy. Value needs to enter the economy in order for value to be extracted. When Axie Infinity became popular in 2021, value entered its economy through new players. But when the supply of its utility token overtook its demand, prices started to go south as economic laws took over.

This wasn’t an isolated case. Games with a similar model all had the same problem. Pegaxy, a horse simulation game on Polygon, saw an influx of players, most of whom came from the Axie ecosystem. Prices of its NFTs and tokens rocketed quickly, but also dropped just as fast. Web3 gaming personalities became critical of the PlayToEarn model, and soon after, games began creating a new narrative.


The narrative shifted from PlayToEarn to PlayAndEarn to try and change the focus of the project from financial gain to enjoyable gameplay. The potential to earn from playing the game is still present and players can still own their assets. The main difference is that developers now focus more on creating a fun game, rather than a project that can generate financial rewards.

Apart from the narrative shift, projects started investing more on the development of their games. Value-adding gameplay, instead of just interacting with the protocol, was the priority when incentivizing players. The competitive nature of games is one aspect that developers look to focus incentives on as more projects try to build a competitive eSports scene to supplement their basic in-game economies.

PlayAndOwn / PlayToOwn

However, attaching the word “Earn” still connotates an extractive mindset which doesn’t really help blockchain gaming economies, especially in their infancy stage. Earning is still equated to the old model where token earnings are seen as salaries for players. From PlayToEarn to PlayToOwn, a new concept called PlayAndOwn or PlayToOwn started forming.

The shift in focus from earning to owning takes away that extractive mentality. This doesn’t inhibit the ability of players to extract tokens from the ecosystem, but it does realign the thought process to reinvesting the tokens in the economy instead of taking them out and creating additional sell pressure for the token. Earnings through this narrative come in the form of value accrual through ownership of game asset Non-Fungible Token (NFTs).

Sunflower Land, a PlayAndOwn blockchain game on the Polygon network, adheres to this narrative quite well. In their protocol, players earn $SFL, the primary in-game currency that is also an on-chain token. However, instead of extracting $SFL from the ecosystem, the team has built desirable and limited-edition NFTs that can only be purchased using $SFL. Once those are all sold out, players looking to acquire the asset have to do so on the secondary market.

PlayToEarn was a revolutionary start to the blockchain gaming philosophy. It is still debatable if the changes in narratives really affects players’ extraction decisions. But one thing is for sure, the ideologies around PlayToEarn have shifted since the 2021 blockchain gaming boom.

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