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BGA Blockchain Game Report 2021

BGA Blockchain Game Report 2021 header

The BGA Blockchain Game Report 2021 tells the story and shows the numbers of some of the most remarkable movements in the blockchain industry this year: gaming.

The BGA Blockchain Game Report 2021 tells the story and shows the numbers of some of the most remarkable movements in the blockchain industry this year: gaming. It’s this corner where crypto, play-to-earn, NFTs, GameFi, DeFi and the metaverse all merge into a booming industry.

In 2020, blockchain-based games were still considered a niche. Axie Infinity, the most played blockchain game, had 15,000 Daily Active Users (DAU), and there were several questions whether a blockchain would support full games with the implications of transaction speed and costs. One year later, not only have blockchain games become widely adopted thanks to certain layer-1 networks and scaling solutions, they have created a profound impact in our society. The play-to-earn revolution that allows people to generate income while playing, stole headlines across mainstream media, placing blockchain a step closer towards mass adoption. 

At the time of writing, 1.4 million Unique Active Wallets (UAW) interact daily with game dapps, accounting for 49% of the industry’s total usage. Game dapps like Splinterlands and Alien Worlds attract over 200,000 daily UAW on average, while game NFTs represent 20% of the $23 billion in NFT trading volume of 2021.

The demand and the interest in the blockchain gaming space is increasing from different fronts. Aside from the industry attracting more users, Venture Capital firms (VCs) have invested $4 billion to support the development and creation of blockchain-based games and their underlying infrastructure.

Finally, there’s the trend around the metaverse. Assets supporting this narrative, NFTs and cryptocurrencies, have seen their value soar in 2021, especially since Facebook’s rebranding announcement. With a plethora of enticing play-to-earn options, including AAA games, 2022 is shaping to be an even bigger year for the game category.

Key takeaways

  • Blockchain games became the industry’s dominant category, accounting for 49% of the industry’s usage with over 1.4 million Unique Active Wallets (UAW) interacting daily with game dapps
  • Axie Infinity spearheads the play-to-earn trend with more than 2.5 million daily users based on off-chain activity; also, it became the most traded collection with over $3.8 billion in historical trading volume.
  • Game NFTs have amassed over $4.5 billion in trading volume, accounting for 20% of the total NFT sales in 2021.
  • Splinterlands became the most played blockchain game based on on-chain activity with 350,000 daily UAW.
  • Play-to-earn based tokens have been amongst the best performing cryptocurrencies, with GALA surging 31,500%, and AXS 20,800% from the previous year.
  • The growing interest in the game category lured VCs to invest over $4 billion in blockchain-based games and infrastructure.

Table of Contents

49% of the industry plays blockchain games

49% of the blockchain industry’s usage comes from games. More than 1.4 million UAW connect daily to blockchain games, making it the most used category ahead of DeFi and other verticals. However, it was not like this all the time. The progress of play-to-earn and GameFi dapps increased notably in Q2 after Axie Infinity migrated to Ronin, and Alien Worlds trilium (TLM) mining was fully enabled. Yet, in August, the play-to-earn and GameFi activity exploded, propelling games past DeFi as the most used category in the industry. Overall, game activity has grown 65% since Q2, and a whopping 4,330% when compared to the previous year.

This year, different networks came to light as alternatives to Ethereum, capable enough of hosting fully operational games. Blockchains such as Wax, Ronin, BSC, Hive, and Immutable X, successfully achieved removing the burdens of high transaction fees without hampering processing speeds. This essentially created sustainable ecosystems for several play-to-earn and GameFi dapps.

Without a question, blockchain-based games experienced a meteoric rise this year. A series of events, from inside and outside the industry dictate the pace of the game space.

Axie Infinity: spearhead of the play-to-earn revolution

Axie Infinity is a play-to-earn dapp developed by Vietnamese studio Sky Mavis. The team is also responsible for successfully deploying Ronin, an Ethereum sidechain that enables a highly scalable ecosystem with almost non-existent transaction fees. Axie has an extensive tokenomics framework that allows players to earn (passive) income in AXS (Axie’s governance token) and SLP (native currency) tokens. This constitutes the nature of play-to-earn.

This play-to-earn element significantly impacts emerging economies such as The Philippines. The positive impact generated in our society, coupled with the migration to the Ronin sidechain, caused a massive uprise in the dapp’s usage and value. Axie allows players to earn up to 75 daily SLP tokens by completing daily tasks that include mini games and PvP battles. 

The tokens earned by playing Axie can be used to cash out rewards, but can also be used for game mechanics such as breeding, trading, or more recently, for DeFi purposes within Ronin’s Decentralized Exchange (DEX) Katana. The popularity of the game was clearly visible this year.

Axie accomplished milestones across multiple metrics showing its impressive performance throughout the year. First, the game’s off-chain activity skyrocketed from around 20,000 Daily Active Users (DAU) in March, to more than 2 million. This is understood as off-chain data where a wallet does not necessarily need to be connected to the blockchain to play the game. At the time of writing, it has surpassed 2.5 million. That represents a 12,400% increase of its user base in 9 months.

The dapp’s on-chain activity also showed signs of substantial growth. In Q4, around 105,000 UAW are connecting daily to the game. That’s 59% higher than the Q3 performance and 1,422% up from the numbers recorded in Q2. 

Moreover, Axie Infinity has generated an impact that was deeply felt across the entire industry. In Q3, the NFT space exploded by generating $10.7 billion in trading volume. Interestingly, Game NFTs accounted for 19.5% ($2.08 billion) of that total, with Axie Infinity generating 90% of it respectively. At the time of writing, Axie is the most traded NFT collection surpassing $3.8 billion in all-time trades. 

Even in traditional financial metrics like revenue, Axie’s performance is impressive. According to Token Terminal, the play-to-earn dapp generated more than $1.2 billion in revenue in the second half of the year, surpassing important dapps like OpenSea, Uniswap and PancakeSwap, and even entire blockchains like BSC, Bitcoin, and Solana.

Allowing players to earn (passive) income while playing is a massive catalyzer in the path to mass adoption. The play-to-earn movement was perhaps popularized by the Sky Mavis dapp, still, there are other games besides Axie that achieved serious growth.

Splinterlands played by more than 350,000 daily players

The performance of Splinterlands in 2021 has also been noticeable. Splinterlands is a trading card play-to-earn game where players strategize their NFT cards to defeat other players in PvP (player vs player) battles. By successfully completing the quests presented, players earn Dark Energy Crystals (DEC), the main in-game currency. The game, which requires a one-time $10 payment to unlock the play-to-earn mechanics, is hosted on the Hive network. It became the most played game based on on-chain activity with over 350,000 daily UAW. 

The main driver behind Splinterlands success was the launch of the SPS token in late July. SPS is Splinterland’s governance token and it’s passively earned by holding tokens and game items. In addition the game offers paid tournaments where players can win SPS. As reviewed with Axie, tokenomics design is crucial for play-to-earn, and the case of Splinterlands is not different.  

Since releasing SPS, the player base skyrocketed 1,406%, while the number of transactions jumped 448%, reaching 1.65 million transactions in Q3. Although the game’s growth is related to the token, the team behind the game has done a tremendous job of continuous improvement and development to avoid falling into repetition. In recent months, the game launched a new wave of cards, the Chaos Legion, which besides expanding the current card supply, involves a new token earning ratio, changing the strategy of the game once again. Also, the game will introduce resource gathering on virtual lands, adding another economical layer to their ecosystem. 

Without question, Axie has been an essential contributor to the game space. But play-to-earn and GameFi dapps on other networks also made a noticeable impact. Like Axie, these games have an attractive tokenomics design that incentivizes the passive income factor. Splinterlands on Hive is one of those, but there’s a bigger ecosystem that capitalized on the success of play-to-earn.

Wax confirmed as a blockchain for games

In 2021, the World Asset Exchange (Wax) became one of the most used networks in the industry. Its NFT-oriented structure makes it a perfect place to host games, collectibles, and marketplaces. The most important game dapp hosted on Wax is Alien Worlds, which played an important role in putting blockchain gaming on the map. 

Alien Worlds is a space mining and exploration GameFi dapp that has been amongst the most played blockchain games in 2021. The game quickly attracted thousands of users by offering TLM as a mining reward early in the year. By Q2, the game was already attracting over 100,000 daily UAW. With over 235,000 daily UAW, the GameFi dapp has grown its user base by 2,594% since Q1. In October, Alien Worlds, launched its mini games called Missions on BSC, cementing its place as the third most played game in the industry.

Another game on the Wax blockchain that is attracting thousands of daily users is Farmers World. This farming GameFi dapp uses NFTs as tools and lands to help players improve their resource strategy. Launched in early July, the game gained traction in August, and has attracted almost 18,000 daily UAW on average in 2021.

Finally, Atomic Hub, one of the most popular marketplaces in the industry thanks to game NFTs from dapps like Alien Worlds, Farmers Worlds, or Colonize Mars, as well as several collections that include Funko and Hot Wheels. Atomic Hub has seen over $300 million in traded assets, involving over 870,000 unique traders. It’s among the top 5 marketplaces in the industry, and a proof that Wax is a blockchain where NFTs and games can thrive.

The rise and fall of BSC’s GameFi dapps

In 2021, BSC positioned itself as one of the most relevant blockchains in the industry. Starting with a focused DeFi offering, BSC slowly became the house of GameFi. GameFi or the gamification of DeFi has been critical for BSC’s activity, especially in the second half of the year, months after Alien Worlds and Axie Infinity were consolidated as the top game options. 

The first BSC game to put up high usage numbers in the Binance-branded network was CryptoBlades, a PVE battle game where users earned SKILL, the game’s native currency. Players can use SKILL to buy weapons and warriors, but also to stake, showing the DeFi element in GameFi. In August, CryptoBlades became the most played game measured only by UAW, reaching its peak with 406,000 UAW connected to the game dapp. However, days later, the price of SKILL plummeted almost 90%, and the usage collapsed with it. With the fall in the token’s price, the potential earnings that players received from the token diminished considerably, causing the game to lose engagement within the community. 

Similar scenarios unfolded with other BSC games. CryptoZoon, CryptoBomb, and CryptoMines have all seen their usage increase and importantly, positioned themselves among the most played blockchain games. However, their respective native tokens could not handle the selling pressure of thousands of users and have failed to retain almost all their player base since. 

While the abrupt crashes in several GameFi dapps has created a negative reputation on BSC game dapps, there is one GameFi dapp that stands out – Mobox: NFT Farmer. Mobox is a game dapp where players can stake liquidity provider (LP) tokens or stablecoins to obtain rewards in the form of yield farming tokens called KEYs. KEYs can later be used to unlock NFTs, and thus, be used as playing characters or staking assets in the MOBOX platform. Mobox is the true representative of the GameFi movement.

Mobox has managed to retain its user base and is currently the fifth most played game in the industry attracting over 24,000 daily UAW on average. It remains to be seen whether other BSC GameFi options can retain their player base in the same manner that Mobox does.

Along with Axie, Alien Worlds, and Splinterlands, BSC GameFi dapps were an important reason that games overtook DeFi as the most-used category in the industry. Despite the negative performance of certain GameFi dapps, BSC’s games have played an important role in the adoption of blockchain-based games. 

The metaverse: value of virtual lands and related tokens soar to all-time highs

The play-to-earn and GameFi movements are gradually shifting the traditional gaming paradigm; yet they became part of a bigger narrative, the metaverse. Although the concept has been around us for quite some time, ever since Facebook’s rebranding announcement, dapps and assets that blur the boundaries between the real world and a new virtual reality, have seen their value appraise tremendously.

Starting with blockchain virtual worlds. The demand for NFTs portraying digital parcels of land within these digital spaces has grown considerably, driving their price upwards. In Q4, virtual world dapps have generated more than $402 million in NFT trading volume, increasing 615% the numbers seen in Q3. Plus, the number of unique traders doubled quarter-over-quarter with more than 50,000 unique traders registered in Q4. 

Furthermore, the floor market cap of virtual land NFTs has increased notably too. In October, the floor market cap of virtual lands was estimated at 1.34 billion, accounting for 8% of the floor market cap figure of the top 100 NFT projects. At the time of writing, the market cap for virtual real estate ascends to $4 billion and now represents at least 25% of the top 100 NFT floor market. 

Massive sandbox types of games like Roblox, or Minecraft, where the community can build on top of an infinite virtual space, have been quite popular since the last decade. And blockchain-based virtual worlds are starting to gain the same type of traction. 

The price on average for virtual lands in The Sandbox, a decentralized platform to create immersive 3D worlds and monetizable play-to-earn experiences, surged almost 500% from the end of October. In December, The Sandbox parcels were traded for $14,976 on average, a significant growth from October’s $2,500 average. Important brands and names like Adidas, Atari, The Walking Dead, Snoop Dogg, and Smurfs, have taken part in The Sandbox’s virtual world.

The same trend was observed in other blockchain virtual worlds like Decentraland. Decentraland, a decentralized platform running on Ethereum has been live since 2017 and is one of the most relevant metaverse players. It has hosted relevant events like a four-day music festival headlined by Deadmau5, and has also seen the value of its parcels appraised. Virtual lands in this platform gained 154% in value since October, and have been traded for $26,800 on average during December. For instance, The Fashion Street Estate in Decentraland sold for 618,000 MANA or $2.42 million. In the same timeframe, digital lands inside CryptoVoxels, another blockchain virtual world are being sold for a price 25% higher than the ones registered in October.

Not only did virtual lands appraised by themselves, but cryptocurrencies backing metaverse related projects were amongst the best performing assets in the industry. Despite the latest downward trend in the cryptocurrencies market, metaverse tokens, including those backing up blockchain games, have still yielded excellent results.  

GALA, the native token of the Gala Games ecosystem, has been one of the best performing cryptocurrencies. In 2021, GALA’s price increased 31,500%, making it one of the best performing assets across the whole industry. AXS, Axie Infinity’s governance token, has had another outstanding performance during this year. In 2021, AXS has appraised over 20,800% even after losing some ground in recent weeks.

Besides virtual game assets, native tokens of blockchain virtual worlds were amongst the best performing assets as well. SAND, The Sandbox’s utility and governance token reached an all-time high of $8.40 in November, and has increased its price by 14,000% since the start of the year. The price of CUBE, Somnium Space’s native utility token, surged 4,700%, whereas the price of MANA, Decentraland’s native and governance token, has risen 4,600% in the same timeframe.

The metaverse looks to become the virtual parallel reality where we socialize, play, trade, and even work. This space has grown relevant enough to raise the attention of big fashion brands like Burberry, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and more recently Nike and Adidas. The involvement of these important names in the metaverse, has the potential to transform our current lifestyle to meet the virtual society’s developing digital needs and preferences. Yet, as integrated as the metaverse stands right now, it will undergo constant development. 

The recently launched WorldWide Webb for instance, has laid the foundations for an interoperable virtual world by enabling NFTs from different collections to be used as avatars, and access the game’s functionalities. Something that Gala Games’ Vox NFTs are planning to roll out as well. Play-to-earn virtual worlds will continue to dominate the narrative around our ever-evolving industry. Blockchain-based games like Ember Sword, Treeverse, My Neighbour Alice, Blankos Block Party, and Project Seed, among many others, will open their virtual doors to even more players. 

All in all, decentralized virtual worlds will become the place where people use their favorite avatars while hanging out with friends that they haven’t met in real life. While these virtual spaces are mostly still in development, they have already lured the attention of big corporations, including several VCs.

$4 billion invested in blockchain game projects

2021 saw a record audience engaged with blockchain games. In addition, mainstream media news covering the big brands entering the space, as well as the social impact created by play-to-earn in emerging economies, helped lure the attention of VCs. 

After investing only $80 million in 2020, VCs have invested an important $4 billion in blockchain games during 2021. The capital invested in blockchain games and its underlying infrastructure in 2021 is 5,000% higher than the previous year.

In February, accompanied by the  impressive performance of Flow’s NFT collection NBA Top Shot, a group of angel investors including Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Stefon Diggs, led a $350 million investment in Dapper Labs, the Canadian-based team behind Top Shot, and CryptoKitties, the popular NFT breeding game. In September, Dapper Labs raised an additional $250 million investment, positioning them as the third blockchain group in terms of capital raised in 2021. 

During the same month, Sorare, the French startup behind the fantasy football (soccer) play-to-earn game, secured a $680 million Series B round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, and football stars Gerard Piqué, Rio Ferdinand, and Antoine Griezmann. Meanwhile, layer-2 solution Immutable X received a $77 million funding round days later. 

Animoca Brands, a venture capital type of organization that focuses on digital entertainment, blockchain, and gamification, has found itself on both ends of the investment action. The firm invested an undisclosed amount on Star Atlas, an upcoming play-to-earn game adding to its portfolio that already includes The Sandbox, Revv Racing, and Arc8, along several other traditional game platforms. On the other hand, Animoca has secured more than $220 million in investments in 2021. 

Other relevant fundings include a $161 million investment in Sky Mavis, a $93 million funding round for The Sandbox, and an impressive $750 million investment in Forte, a platform that enables layer-1 and layer-2 solutions that intend to boost the development of blockchain-based games. 

The record capital invested in the space is just another signal of blockchain games’ bright future. The economic flexibility gained by the investments, paired with strategic partnerships and game experts, will offer a massive growth potential to the category in upcoming months. 

2022: the year of blockchain games

After a strong 2021, the future of play-to-earn looks even brighter. The significant amount of capital raised certainly provides teams with additional ammo to continue developing and enhancing their current products. But perhaps more importantly, the masses are starting to realize the power of NFTs and play-to-earn games. 

In 2022, existing play-to-earn games will enable additional play mechanics. Such is the case of Lunacia, Axie Infinity’s virtual land, which will unlock additional playing mechanics and provide landowners with additional benefits within the leading game dapp. The Sandbox, one of the most important virtual worlds, has completed its gameplay Alpha phase, and it’s expected to launch its Beta at some point in 2022. Meanwhile, Treeverse, Continuum, and Splinterlands should have their virtual lands ready sometime next year. 

In addition to the established game dapps, hyped projects are closing their development phases. Some of these will be hosted on Immutable X (IMX), an Ethereum layer-2 scaling solution that relies on Zero-Knowledge (ZK) Rollups as its consensus mechanism. This network allows players to enjoy a fast and gas-free experience, while taking advantage of Ethereum secure infrastructure.

Games on Immutable X (Illuvium, Guild of Guardians, Ember Sword, Gods Unchained)

For instance, Illuvium, an open-world RPG play-to-earn dapp that allows players to capture and breed creatures with different classes and abilities called Illuvials. Illuvium will have a complete tokenomics framework, including DeFi features within its own platform. This game is labeled as an AAA game and will run on Immutable X. Other IMX games worth monitoring include the trading card game Gods Unchained, a dapp that has attracted over 15,000 UAW in the last month; Guild of Guardians, a mobile dungeon crawler; Ember Sword an action MMO blockchain virtual world that has generated over $13 million in land sales; My CryptoHeroes and several others.

As previously mentioned, Animoca Brands announced an investment in Star Atlas. Still under development, Star Atlas aims to become an AAA play-to-earn open world space exploration strategy MMO that will rely on the Unreal Engine 5 developed by Epic Games. Although the entire gameplay will not be available next year, mini-games and virtual world exploration will launch in 2022. Star Atlas will run on Solana, a blockchain expecting enticing games for next year. 

Upcoming games on Solana

Aurory, a play-to-earn RPG featuring PVE and PVP monster battles, will also rely on Solana to launch its gameplay along with its integrated tokenomics. Cryowar, another game that will rely on the Unreal engine, and aims to become a real-time multiplayer PVP arena NFT game. Project Seed, an action RPG play-to-earn battle game will become a virtual world with an interesting tokenomics framework that will become the foundation of the future game’s DAO. Ninja Game, another ARPG, that resembles the classic Diablo gameplay is another example of upcoming games in the Solana ecosystem.

Another network that should be followed closely in 2022 is Gala Games. The startup led by Zynga’s co-founder Eric Schiermeyer allows Gala community members to own nodes, building truly decentralized blockchain games. So far, Gala has only launched Town Star, a play-to-earn farming game that rewards players with GALA, the network’s native utility token, and TOWN, the game’s token. 

Games from the Gala Games ecosystem

In addition, the startup will launch Mirandus, a fantasy RPG that will take place in a massive digital world and also, one of the most anticipated play-to-earn games. Gala will also become home of the battle arena game Spider Tanks, the space adventure Echoes of Empire, the tower defense game Fortified, and the recently announced The Walking Dead play-to-earn game. All of these dapps are in the development phase. 

Play-to-earn games empower people by democratizing the ownership and monetization of the time and capital that players invest in games. Shifting the socioeconomics of entire regions is something that is not seen everyday. And the impact goes deeper when understanding the role blockchain games are playing. 

Closing

Besides Axie Infinity, which has reached stratospheric levels, play-to-earn dapps like Splinterlands, Alien Worlds and Mobox, made huge strides in their game offerings. Networks like BSC, EOS, and Polygon are attracting thousands of users by themselves too. Meanwhile, blockchains like IMX, Solana, and the upcoming Gala Chain will host attractive games in 2022. Making the game ecosystem one of the most competitive categories.

On the other hand, there are certain challenges to tackle. The retention of users will be critical for the space to keep expanding. The gameplay of certain dapps needs to be improved, but AAA games will definitely help. The resistance of traditional gamers is also an obstacle to overcome. The announcement of Ghost Recon NFTs was not taken positively by their player base showing that there is still resistance on that side. 

Blockchain games have catalyzed the usage in the industry overall, accounting for half of the industry’s activity. Furthermore, the amount of capital invested will provide projects with more funding to enhance their products. The inclusion of important names of the traditional industry like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts is a positive sign for the category. 

Without a question 2021 taught us that blockchain games are here to stay. The play-to-earn movement shifts the paradigm of traditional games allowing players to monetize their playing time, and became one of blockchain’s main headlines. Moreover, the narrative around virtual worlds, and thus the metaverse, fuels the impact of the category. In a planet with over 2.4 billion gamers, and an unstoppable road towards a digital society, play-to-earn games will become a key ingredient in blockchain’s mass adoption. All while creating a positive impact in our society.

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