Crypto Gaming ‘Landlords’ Upset They Can’t Keep Exploiting All The Players Quitting

Crypto Gaming ‘Landlords’ Upset They Can’t Keep Exploiting All The Players Quitting
Image: Sky Mavis

Axie Infinity is the crypto-backed Pokémon clone in which cute little creatures that double as NFTs battle for fun and profit. It’s also a pyramid scheme that relies on cheap labour from countries like the Philippines to fuel its growth. Now, fictional inflation, combined with a historic crypto heist allegedly committed by North Korea, have plunged the Axie economy into chaos, and its high rollers are freaking out as the ones below them bail on the scam.

Like all things crypto, the story of Axie Infinity is at once very complicated and incredibly simple. Developed by Sky Mavis, the game revolves around collecting, breeding, and battling cartoon characters called Axies, which are NFTs that exist on the Ethereum blockchain. Players can use their Axies to farm a currency called Smooth Love Potion (SLP) which is used to breed and create more Axies. Both the Axies and SLP can be sold on the open market for real money.

As Vice reports, the result is a highly financialized community fuelled by the promise of future riches and predicated on a constant influx of new players. Many of those new players can’t afford to buy Axies directly, so existing owners loan them out for a cut of future earnings. The Axie community charitably calls the bosses “managers,” the workers “scholars,” and the overall arrangement a “guild.” Because many of the low-level players are poor workers from the Philippines and elsewhere, others call this arrangement digital colonialism.

The whole thing is reminiscent of old-school gold farming in MMOs like World of Warcraft. As The Verge points out, it’s also been very profitable for Sky Mavis, but relies on keeping the dream of future growth alive since there’s little of intrinsic worth in the game itself. That dream recently began to unravel thanks to gameplay changes and SLP inflation, and then last month the game got hacked to the tune of over $US600 ($833) million in one of the biggest crypto heists in history. Axie Infinity’s fragile capitalist caste system has continued spiraling ever since.

“The Axie Infinity devs’ mentions are full of digital landlords pissed that their “scholars” (Filipino employees being paid in game scrip) are all quitting the game and no-showing their weekly quotas,” YouTuber Dan Olson tweeted on April 12. As noted by GamesRadar, a quick search of Twitter and Reddit shows players complaining about the state of the game and lack of cheap labour to sustain their investment.

“A busy day at work finally [ends] and it is nice to see $SLP going up slowly,” wrote one. “But then I had a few scholars quit on me last week so time to look for new axie scholars again I guess.”

“I had a fish farm and a plant farm. And 10 scholars,” wrote another. “They have almost all quit. My Axies are worth 10% of what they cost me to breed. I learned a lot in Axie.”

A sampling of recent Axie Infinity player tweets show rising discontent from both 'scholars' and 'managers.' (Image: Sky Mavis / Kotaku)A sampling of recent Axie Infinity player tweets show rising discontent from both ‘scholars’ and ‘managers.’ (Image: Sky Mavis / Kotaku)

Axie Infinity is, among other things, a live-service game, and it turns out even the crypto bros have as much trouble balancing resource economies and character progressions as everyone else. The proliferation of Axies led to the farming of more SLP, and as result the value of SLP started to tank. Currently, the only thing that removes SLP from the game is breeding Axies. To address this, Sky Mavis removed SLP farming from Adventure mode in February, but instead of the supply of SLP contracting, it continued to go up. Players are now calling for new ways to “burn” SLP and stop runaway inflation.

The implementation of player-owned in-game land, also referred to as Project K, has been another big sore spot. Sky Mavis began selling parcels years ago, but the gameplay mechanic is still under construction, and the developer announced more delays this week. Originally set to launch in early 2020, Project K was later pushed to 2021, and now still only has a generic release window of 2022.

“The people who bought Land early basically locked up their assets in a zero return situation when there’s a lot of other things they could’ve done with that money, all because Sky Mavis kept telling us Q4 2021 was going to be the release date and now they seem to be treating current Land owners as an afterthought,” wrote one player on the subreddit.

Other players are now debating whether to get out or hold on to see if Axie Infinity’s economy bounces back. “Lets be real for a second, we are all here because of the earning potential,” wrote one player. “And to discuss this otherwise is wasting time. I’m holding all my axies. I don’t care if it hits zero but i won’t sell for those prices now.”

In the meantime, Sky Mavis is trying to patch the $US600 ($833) million hole in its pocket left by hackers. According to the FBI, the North Korea-based Lazarus Group was responsible for the breach. The U.S. Treasury added the blockchain address where the funds were deposited to the North Korea sanctions list on Thursday, but Bloomberg reports the funds could take years to recover, if they’re recovered at all. It’s ok though, a bunch of crypto and VC firms just announced they would give Sky Mavis another $US150 ($208) million to help reimburse players and keep them from searching for a new grift.

Comments

  • You know things have reached near rock bottom with gaming when “I don’t have enough poor people to exploit for profit” is a consideration for players.

    • I never knew how this game was played, I knew it was bad… but omfg its a digital third world sweatshop that is horrendous.

  • You can call them scholars, but in reality, they are underpaid workers that put in many hours for very little, for the benefit of a few.

    I’ve been reading about the Great Depression, and the attitude of these “managers” is remarkably similar to that of the “captains of industry” at that time. A worker in a textile factory could work a 7 day week, 12 hours a day, and go home with the grand sum of…. 75 US cents. Adjusting for inflation, that’s about 15 US dollars today. When one of these Captains of Industry was asked why his workers were not paid even a wage they could survive on, that Captain of Industry, one J. E Ederton of the National Association of Manufacturers replied “Why, I’ve never thought of paying men on the basis of what they need. I pay for efficiency”. He of course justified paying worse than poverty wages on the basis that he did “church work”. Doubtless the amount he gave to the church was not as much as he would have had to give to his workers, if he paid them properly.

    And yes, this is technically a “game” and not a job -but once you start associating real money with the hours you put in, people will rely on this for income – some because they have no choice. Look at the poor digital gold farmers in Venezuela for instance. So, in effect, it becomes a job – and as ever, the rich will attempt to exploit the poor for whatever they are worth. Due to the lack legislation around these “digital gig economies”, it is essentially open season for “Managers” to exploit “Scholars”.

    Yes you might question the wisdom of someone who decided to earn money through a video game. I’ll remind you that many of these people probably are working other jobs – jobs don’t pay much, and even in places like the Philippines, where the cost of living is comparably lower than in Australia, having a regular job does not guarantee you’ll earn enough to support a family or even a single person.

    And even if they have made a very poor choice, a poor choice is not grounds for exploitation on this scale. Up until mid 19th- century, people out of desperation or lack of common sense, would often take loans from some very bad people – loans that they could not possibly pay back. They were then forced into indentured servitude or thrown in debtors’ jail, reduced basically a slave working for someone who, in all honestly, wanted that exact scenario to occur, because now they have an indentured servant for years. The lender would often justify this by saying that the debtor knew of the risks, knew that the interest rate was high, so it was on them to suffer the consequences. It was still exploitation.

    Now I’m not saying that Sky Mavis’s game is even approaching that level of exploitation – no one is being held in jail or involuntary servitude over SLP or an Axie. The above point is to illustrate that even if someone has made a catastrophically bad choice of deciding to earn money in this game, that does NOT justify their exploitation.

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