In my last article I was talking about the concept of Play to Earn and outlined the problems and obstacles faced by developers trying to implement it. I don't intend to only talk about what's not working though. Going forward I'll take a closer look at some games that already offer or at least try to offer a Play to Earn experience. Although so far no single game really nailed it we'll try to understand how their economy is build, what's working and what's holding them back ultimately trying to piece together all the good stuff to finally create the perfect Blockchain Game... or at least the perfect economy, I'm not a game developer after all.
The game we are going to look at today is no other than Splinterlands. In case you really haven't heard about the game I'll start with a short introduction. If you already know about the game feel free to skip to the next paragraph.
Splinterlands is a Trading Card game (TCG) meets Auto Battler. You collect cards representing monsters in 5 different shards (and neutrals (and dragons!)) as well as summoners belonging to to one of those factions thus dictating what cards you can play in any given match. Opposed to most other trading card games there's no back and forth between both players. When a match starts, you learn what elements are legal in that specific fight, how many mana you are allowed to spend and what (if any) special rules do apply. Both players then decide what summoner they want to use and what cards they want to play. Once both players submitted their decks for the round a fully automated battle sequence starts where both parties attack each other until either side lost all its monsters.
Playing a match only takes a couple of minutes and while it looks pretty straight forward it's actually a lot more nuanced than you might think initially. Correctly positioning your monsters and anticipating what your enemy is going to do is key to victory.
If you want to learn more about the games mechanics there are many great articles here on publish0x and elsewhere so I won't get into any more detail and instead take a look at the economical side of things for you.
Splinterlands sports a pretty complex economy with quite some clever decisions that helped the game become a lot more successful and long living than it might have been otherwise.
First things first, in order to play the game in any meaningful way you have to pay 10$ to get the starter pack. There's a free to play mode but without making the initial investment you won't get any rewards for playing and thus you'll be unable to make any progress ingame. I'm usually not too fond of having to spend any money in order to start playing a TCG. On the other hand 10 bucks seems to be reasonable and since you don't have to make any further investments if you don't want to it feels like a fair asking price to me.
Once you bought the starter pack there are no recurring fees. You can buy additional booster packs and potions that increase your chance for certain outcomes when opening those packs. Other than that you do not buy from or sell to the game in any way as the economy is completely focused on encouraging players to trade with each other.
The market works like you'd expect in a trading card game. Players can list their cards for a price of their choosing and other players can buy those cards. Splinterlands takes a 5% fee from both the buyer and the seller which adds up to a total fee of 10% per sale which is a little high but still reasonable compared to other games. Currently you can make purchases in two different ingame currencies and in Steem. While the buyer can choose what currency they'd like to use the buyer always sets an asking price in USD.
If you think about it, this little move is really clever and one of the reasons why the game is as successful as it is. Because buyers always list their cards in fiat the card value is immune to fluctuating crypto prizes. Just search for Splinterlands on publish0x or Google and you'll find quite some articles talking about how amazing it is that the cards retain their value despite Steem tanking heavily. Because of that even Hives hard fork couldn't hurt Splinterlands. Since you don't have to worry about your cards loosing value there's no need to quickly sell of anything you don't currently need thus reducing selling pressure.
I know a lot of crypto purists will be opposed to this idea. But for as long as fiat money dictates the value of everything in this world having ingame prices be attached to the dollar is a very clever move and something that can only help any blockain games economy. It also allows the game to easily add and remove accepted currencies so even if Steem ceases to exist by tomorrow they could just switch to Hive and carry on like nothing happened.
The reward structure
In Splinterlands you are rewarded threefold for playing the game:
- You earn some DEC (the ingame currency) for every game you win
- Every day there is a daily quest that pays out additional rewards
- At the end of every season which is half a month there are even more rewards
All those rewards have one thing in common - the higher your rating the better your rewards. So not only do you get more packs for finishing higher in a season, your current position also determines how much your daily quest pays out and even how much DEC you get for every single win. That's not all though. If you use golden (their version of foil) or promo cards your reward goes up as well. The same is true for using Alpha (their first set) cards. This means that by using more expensive cards you are actually rewarded more.
It's also worth to take a closer look at their ingame currency. DEC can be used to trade on the marketplace and since it's a STEEM token it can also be traded for other tokens or STEEM on corresponding websites. Again this is a very clever concept. Splinterlands is basically paying out money for every win but since you have to trade the DEC to other players that money is basically coming from the player base and not from the game. No matter what happens to the DEC they pay out they never have any real cost attached to it.
Piecing it all together
All things considered Splinterlands really managed to piece together an economy that really encourages its players to collect cards and hold on to them. Due to the fact that individual cards can't lose value because of fluctuations in the crypto market it's always safe to keep them in your account for as long as you enjoy the game. Since better cards equal better rewards there's only a strong incentive to not sell of valuable cards right away. This way the market won't be flooded helping to retain card value even more. Since players will never receive actual cash from the game they can be quite generous with their rewards, giving their players a sense of progression.
So... Splinterlands has the perfect economy, right? Well no... no it doesn't. There's a huge downside to the way the economy is build and that's the fact that it makes the game strictly pay to win. If you combine several copies of the same card you get a stronger version of the same card. To use the stronger version your summoner needs to be of a corresponding level and yes, you need several copies of a summoner to get it to a higher level. If you want to run strong versatile decks in every element you'd have to spend hundreds of dollars and you'd still face players with even stronger cards down the line. So if you don't shell out a lot of additional money you'll only climb the ladder so far.
Pay 2 Win has always been a part of trading card games and it's not a problem per se, but having it be so blatantly obvious is going to drive a lot of players away, especially in the mainstream gaming world. So while Splinterlands economy helps to preserve value and keep players engaged it also is driving a huge portion of potential players away and will definitely limit its potential growth.
Splinterlands economy is well built and it is without doubt one of the most interesting games in the crypto world so far. I'm pretty confident that it will be played for many years to come and entertain a loyal player base. Still its blatantly pay 2 win economy will not only limit its growth in the crypto world but will probably also prevent it from finding mainstream adaptation. If they can find ways to make their pay 2 win nature less obvious without turning away their already heavily invested whales this still might change. We'll have to see if this will be possible (and if they'll even try).
In the meantime our main takeaways for a perfect economy are:
- Listing in USD but paying in crypto is a great way to ensure prize stability
- Players are best rewarded in a tradable ingame currency
- Encouraging spending is important for long term growth but it has to be done gently
Thank you all for reading and as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Disclaimer: I'm using referral links in my articles. While I'd obviously appreciate it very much if you'd use my link I'm not doing any referral rewards program. If you really want to maximize your possible gains I'd strongly advice you to look for a referrer that's offering additional rewards for using his link.