How sustainable is the play-to-earn model in metaverse projects?

Lately, metaverse projects have been gaining traction in the crypto and blockchain space, with gaming as one of the most pursued activities. Games like Axie Infinity have made history, having generated roughly US$780 million in sales within 30 days back in June 2021.

This game has since reached US$1.1 billion in sales and a valuation of about US$3 billion. Some of this success can be attributed to its play-to-earn model, which is also partly behind the success of other metaverse games. These include Silk, My Neighbor Alice, Gods Unchained, CryptoKittties, Pirate X Pirate, Forest Knight and Mines of Dalarnia.

Let’s dissect the play-to-earn model and its ability to keep metaverse projects successful:

What is the Play-to-Earn model?

Play-to-Earn is a gaming model in which game players earn something of value each time they accomplish a specific goal within the game. This isn’t something new. Many traditional video, console and mobile games enable you to accumulate in-game points which can unlock more features or make you eligible to win real-world items like branded merchandise.

However, play-to-earn in the metaverse and NFT games enables players to earn a token that usually serves as a currency within the game’s ecosystem. You can also trade it for other crypto or fiat currencies through an exchange. For instance, the average Axie Infinity player can earn US$6 per hour, and some have managed to make as much as $1000 per month.

So, do such games actually enable anyone to have a steady income by playing fun games? Can this go on forever, or does it all sound too good to be true?

What are the threats to the play-to-earn model?

Adoption rates

Since there’s a cost incurred to start playing most of these games, the higher the cost, the more likely it is that many will part with the entry fees to make a profit later. For this to work, the number of people joining in a definite period has to increase with each iteration.

This is the only way demand for the items bought to enter the game can be sustained, meaning that there’s always someone to sell an item to within a fixed period. If the number of new users stagnates, the value of any sellable item in the game’s ecosystem will also fall. Interest in the game will then decrease as more newcomers fail to turn a profit.


In many metaverse projects, the collectible NFTs have a rarity element. Whether through the discovery of hidden in-game items, enrichment of existing ones or other approaches, some NFTs become more valuable than others. For those games where players can amass value in different ways, there will be some level of speculation surrounding valuables.

Some players may withhold NFTs, hoping they’ll be much more valuable soon.

Others may opt to keep earning gradually through gameplay and stake the tokens for rewards or sell them for other tokens they think will gain value shortly. This speculative behavior is partly driven by news cycles and can be sporadic.

This can create an undesirable level of uncertainty regarding the value of any token in the game’s ecosystem. Subsequently, potential players may hesitate to join these game universes since they don’t know whether their earnings will hold their value over a long time.


Some metaverse projects have a cap on the number of governance tokens to be minted, coupled with a fixed minting schedule. For example, up to 270 million AXS tokens will be in supply in 2026. If would-be players feel like other cryptocurrencies inflate much slower or are deflationary, the play-to-earn proposition won’t be enticing to them.

Diminished gameplay incentive

If the prospect of earning money surpasses the intrinsic fun associated with playing the game, the game’s development could suffer. No matter how many new amazing features are brought to the game, the real competition becomes “who’s making more money from it.”

Unlike traditional video game players who invest thousands of dollars in equipment and games to blow off steam and talk to each other about how they reached higher levels without help, metaverse game players soon shift their focus to the game economy.

Therefore, when it comes to actions like voting on proposals that make the game more exciting and attractive, voters may not be very supportive if these same proposals shrink their margins. For example, a move to lower the barrier to entry by reducing the amount of crypto needed to buy NFT characters when starting may not be welcomed.

Introducing a higher level of battles with higher rewards can render certain NFT characters less valuable if their battle qualities are only vital in a lower battle level. As you can see, not all these threats are existential in nature. Nonetheless, there are several measures that different play-to-earn metaverse projects can undertake to remain sustainable. These include:

Trial modes

Just like software vendors offer a free version, metaverse projects can also offer free trials with the option to pay to fortify your NFT characters gradually. This move can help keep adoption rates steady and eventually increase the number of NFT buyers in the ecosystem.


The good thing about advertising is it can be for external brands and existing players. For example, some users can opt for a less costly tier of the game if they are willing to view ads.

In other cases, players can organize events and promote them to pursue more participants who can chip in on the pot. As more of these events pop up, organizers can pay for greater visibility, and some of that money can eventually go back to players.

Capital controls

Voters can develop governance proposals that limit erratic trading activity that involves the project’s tokens. These can help ensure that participants aren’t always in a hurry to liquidate their earnings while also reducing unnecessary hoarding of in-game items.


While the play-to-earn model isn’t totally doomed to fail, many signs point to gameplay becoming less profitable over time. Therefore, innovators in this space should constantly develop in-game propositions that attract new users and keep existing users captivated.

They should also find other ways in which players can commercialize their participation. For example, in-game battles between highly skilled players can be live-streamed or recorded.

Players can sell this content to fan bases directly or to platforms where fans gather, and some of the proceeds can go back to the players. This all depends on how ingeniously the project heads can market these metaverse games and build narrative interest around them.

Gerald Ainomugisha is a freelance Content Solutions Provider (CSP) offering both content and copy writing services for businesses of all kinds, especially in the niches of management, marketing and technology.