Splinterlands seems to be somewhat in a limbo state where limited new players are coming while some of the existing player base is getting out which puts pressure on the prices and earnings causing a downward spiral. in order to turn this around, there needs to be a way to break what I see as the Adoption Paradox
The Adoption Paradox
One of the main differences between Web 3 and Web 2 games is that in Play2Earn Games you actually own your assets and there is a potential to earn real rewards. This seems to bring about some kind of adoption paradox as the regular order of new players coming in pushing up the earnings which makes the game more attractive and brings in more players is reversed.
Prices & Earnings Need To Be Up First For New Players To Come in!
This was seen with Axie Infinity first and Splinterlands followed mainly because the devs made the (Intentional?) mistake of including DEC in the SPS airdrop which made it go way above peg to the point where players were earning ~1$+ for just winning a battle. With no packs available at that time and everyone wanting in all at once (including bot armies), it cost up t 700$+ just to have enough collection power to play in Silver League.
So The big issue is that new players are needed to get prices & earnings up while Prices & Earnings need to go up in order to attract new players putting the ecosystem somewhat in a catch-22.
Splinterlands as a game started very generous with their rewards but in order to make the economy sustainable there was nerf after nerf on the rewards. This along with the combination of SPS & Card Prices being low now makes the earnings for most players more or less neglectable. Recent changes of having Soulbound Reward Cards (which will end up costing players money if the eventually want to make them transferrable) and banning bots from Modern League (which still has to be implemented) along with the proposal to increase the market fee from 5% to 6% all with an eye to get the flywheel potentially in action sooner seem to be putting more fuel on the fire in the short term.
Just looking at the current average rewards from Gold Chests, Potions don't have any value unless you plan to buy a ton of packs on the next expansion. Soulbound Reward cards are a potential cost in the future to unlock and I can see no scenario where they can be used without penalty in the future on earings as bots will just run them exclusively milking as much rewards as they can without cost. This Leaves SPS and Packs as the only "real rewards" and on those you need to get lucky as there is always a chance to open a 500 SPS+ Chest or a pack with a Golden Epic or Legendary which are worth between 6$ and 100$.
At a current SPS price of 0.021$ the average Winning match in Gold brings about 1 SPS and most chests that include SPS are just 0.3 SPS which makes the average earning for grinding 30-60 minutes each day just not worth it even when running a bot.
Total Earnings are Still Great!
This said, the total earning for participating in the Splinterlands Ecosystem are still great mostly thanks to earnings that the game provides aside from actually playing. The majority of the players however don't fully make use of them missing out. Blogging about the game has been and still is one of the more rewarding things to do which also doesn't require a big investment aside from the time to write. These remain my main source of income that I use to re-invest into cards mostly while prices are down.
There are also the Passive SPS earnings for Staking, holding Land & Nightmare Packs, Vouchers that keep accumulating, Some Potential Rental earnings even though they are low now with all the bots leaving, Node Validator and Liquidity Provider Rewards, & The Brawls which right now feel like they are very much worth the participation.
All these combined along with the outlook toward better times which I believe eventually will come keep me engaged with the game even though I at times need to force myself to play.
Existing Player Fatigue!
Right now, it very much looks that many players have somewhat of a fatigue and if it wasn't for them being down a lot on their investment in the game, they would get out. The general trend for a long time has also been that existing players and whales are somewhat being milked with nex sets and the constant printing of new cards or requirements to burn DEC which seems to be a strategy that no longer is that effective. The most recent Zyriel Promo Card simply isn't selling and it remains to be seen how much DEC everyone is going to be willing to burn for the upcoming 5-year Anniversary Big Burning Event. The 150k $ worth of prizes also will likely put some more pressure on asset prices as it will come along with players wanting to sell some of their prizes.
DEC Flywheel Narrative
Right now, the entire economy still is having a major backlash from the extreme DEC printing in the past and the main narrative has been that the devs try to get DEC back to peg so SPS will have to be bough and burned in order to mint DEC which new players need in the game. This in theory should push the price of SPS up increasing the rewards which will help to attract more players since that is what increased earnings do.
While in the long run, this strategy likely will do at least something to get the SPS price up, in the short term this doesn't really do anything and we are still a long way off from Burning the amount of DEC needed to get this into action. Right now there is still over 5 Billion of DEC in circulation of which a lot is held by Splinterlands the company who see it as revenue. This equals over 5 Million in value at the pegged price and I don't see this being depleted anytime soon. Most likely the biggest 'burn' will have to come players having to stake in to their land along with cards and when Rebellion Comes out if the price is not at peg as it will be more favorable to buy with DEC.
Transition from Play2Earn to Play2Own
The way things have been evolving, it very much looks like the entire Play2Earn concept where players in the first place expect a return of their investment is not a scalable model as inflation eventually will catch up as has been the case for Splinterlands with all the card that have been printed. More than ever, I think it's important to offer a game that doesn't focus on the earnings but instead fully on a fun and enjoyable gameplay and the ownership of assets. I would say Splinterlands still has some ways to go for it to be a game that can be adopted by real gamers even though for someone like me who owns a pretty wide collection it has actually become a lot more enjoyable. However, the massive demands of owning a ton of cards (or renting them), having SPS Staked, Being in a guild that has burned a ton of DEC, Poor new user experience, Mandatory daily grind, Too many Pay2Win dynamics, Core Gameplay Graphics which aren't too appealing, ... are all factors that need a lot of improvement still. This said, I really like the core gameplay look of Splinterlands which for sure has potential for a much wider adoption to real gamers who are into Card Games.
Potential Future Adoption
I still see massive potential toward adoption as Splinterlands pretty much has little to no exposure toward real gamers as most of the players now are crypto-native. It's unclear how many 'real individual players' there are in the game and I would not be surprised if it was somewhere around 10k or even less with many playing having a bot playing for them. Knowing that there are still 300k daily active Real Hearthstone Players and 5 Million Monthly (there is no obligation unlike Splinterlands to play Daily), I can't help but still see some potential massive adoption wave for Splinterlands somewhere in the future.
It doesn't look like there is much that can be done to break the adoption paradox aside from the team making sure they can keep going during this bear market which might not turn around anytime soon. Eventually, prices should go up increasing the earnings again while the game will continue to improve making it more into a game more players enjoy aside from the expectation to earn. So right now it's mostly a patience game and I continue to grind and re-invest earnings similar to when I did this in 2019-2020 when I was in total earning around 100$ a month which really paid off in the years after when the adoption wave took place. I'm convinced that future new players will look back at everyone that was able to get SPS at 0.02$ as lucky while right now this by no means feels like that.
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