The marriage of NFTs and video games hasn't exactly been a pleasant one, unless you're one of the lucky bootlickers who managed to get on the ground floor of the digital pyramid scheme. Unfortunately for Axie Infinity players, they're discovering exactly what happens when you run out of new people to add to the grind: it disintegrates.
For those blissfully unaware, Axie Infinity is basically a Pokémon clone, except you give Pikachu a pickaxe and throw him down into the crypto mines. You use the delicious Smooth Love Potion (yes, that's what it's called) resource that “Pikachu” pulls out from the mines to breed more "Axies," and the cycle continues. And because it's a crypto game, you can sell both these Axies and the SLP resource online for real money.
Unfortunately, while this could (theoretically?) make for an interesting gameplay loop, as Vice tells it, the game unfortunately recreates existing real-world cycles of financial exploitation to a frankly dystopian extent. Since new players can't afford to buy an Axie unless they're willing to put a bit of their own money into the game, they borrow them from owners for a share of the profits, an arrangement not dissimilar to sharecropping. Recently, however, Axie owners (the game calls them "managers") have been struggling to find new "scholars" to add to its fabulous digital economy.
The really sad truth about these NFT games is that many of the new players hoping to make money off of the digital grind are residents of relatively poor countries like the Philippines. Vice called the business model "digital colonialism" earlier this month, and the label sounds about right to us. Since the blockchain host that handles Axie Infinity transactions was ripped off for $600 million in late March, the game's fortunes have fallen significantly, with many "managers" taking to social media to complain about a lack of interest.
As for the developers of the game, don't worry — they just got $150 million in venture capital money. Who knows how much of that will actually end up in the hands of players, but at least they'll keep the lights on while their playerbase continues to decline into nothingness.