You’ve seen it before. An amazingly talented gaming founder teams up with a top-tier studio, promising to create a wondrous game experience built on the industry’s most powerful engines. But then, it happens: It’s paired with a dubious shitcoin that launches well before even a morsel of game content drops.
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In the not-so-distant past, mainstream media may have referred to the hype-fueled crypto bull market — but, with Bored Ape floor prices still in the clouds, we’ll respectfully call it what it is: the monkey run. Market volatility aside, Metaverse evangelists still claim that Web3 finance will revolutionize the way that games monetize. I call BS.
The focus right now is not on new monetization models. The only thing these token raises are challenging is the idea of capital formation — not monetization. However tempting, the monkey run has quickly deluded some of our brightest founders into believing that they should raise a nonsensically large amount of capital from tokens printed out of thin air, as a faulty substitute for a real monetization strategy.
We’re ready for a change of mindset. The critical question is this: how can we make the hyper-capitalized, hyper-hyped Web3 Metaverse project work — for gamers, for founders, and for investors?
Path #1: Shilling is thrilling
Everyone does well in a monkey run, financially speaking. From major smart contract platforms to experimental DeFi protocols to the next Axie Infinity copycat, the monkey market beautifully substantiates the notion that there actually are no shitcoins — only shit prices.
For a clearer picture, journey with me through the deal pipeline into the heart of crypto venture capital, where shiny new metaverse and gaming projects relentlessly flood inboxes. Links to cinematic trailers, Unreal Engine mockups, and convoluted “token economics diagrams” abound, parroting their demands to raise millions on simple agreements for future tokens to adequately prepare their token launch(es) and initial decentralized exchange offering.
The game’s launch date, you ask? Maybe it’s a “mini-game” planned for Q3, or a massive triple-A launch in mid-2023. What about the kind of utilities the token will have on day one? Well, you can stake them for more tokens, and they might even give you access to the game’s first NFT sale. Sometimes they even advertise a utility-less utility token and a governance-less governance token — justifying their existences because the big daddy exchanges agreed to list them in just a few months.
This might read like an exaggeration, and I wish it were. However, these are the most troubling realities facing the current landscape of token launches in the middle of a bull — excuse me, a monkey market. They capture short-term enthusiasm without a sustainable plan for future-building. These pitches capture a moment — but not the right perspective and business model required for the future of gaming.
Path #2: Building to last
The GameFi token landscape is incredibly fragmented. While early liquidity is tempting, a premature token launch has serious risks. The balancing act of creating sticky tokenomics and successful game design actually offers a narrower focus for project tokens: user engagement and retention, not pure monetization.
The final optimization problem? Maximize additional user retention and engagement per project token emitted, subject to some level of existing Web3 revenues and user community.
You do not immediately need your own project token to monetize your application. Tokens are simply forms of exchange for the assets that your virtual world generates and sells. If your Web3 game can’t operate on an already liquid, volatile token or, worse, a well-pegged stable, then your game is in trouble. Try again!
Instead, raise enough private capital to comfortably get through beta launch. In beta, work with your smart contract platform of choice to integrate its native token and your stablecoin of choice into your game. Begin to observe your core game loops and key revenue streams.
Think of yourself as a data scientist! Is there user behavior you know is defensibly fun but still underperforms? Is it such a valuable loop that perhaps a subsidy can kickstart things? Is currency volatility something your users avoid? Where are your most engaged users coming from? How many are underpaid laborers in developing countries? How many are prosumers looking for the next hip social hangout? How many are whales driving auctions through the roof?
Ultimately, you must design your token to incentivize users to stay in your world. For instance, just like with foreign currencies, you could offer a discount to consumption when paid for in your own project token — but you price your digital goods in USD. You could also utilize the layered-risk treasury strategy, whereby you accept USD (and equivalents), the L1 or L2 of your choice, and your project token. This ensures that you have a large, existing audience immediately equipped to engage with your world. It also helps safeguard you during crypto and macro downturns, and the excess can be used to reward investors and users without exerting sell pressure on your token — among other massive benefits.
The most important thing you can do as a gaming founder in Web3 is to stay focused on improving your game. Tokens cannot make your game — but they can break it.
The right priorities for a sustainable GameFi future
The unique value of gaming and metaverse applications is not the token they circulate. Project value is created by revenues which, in the long run, spawn from unique, in-game digital assets. When these NFT-based assets are owned, experienced and understood by a community, value builds and builds — otherwise stated, the community’s unwillingness to sell increases.
I’m excited for the day when this model becomes the status quo — because it means we’ll be closer to the best Web3 games we’ve ever seen. Instead of the market rewarding short-term bag grabs, we’ll see superior gameplay and tokenomics wrapped into one gaming ecosystem built for the long term.
Engagement, retention, then monetization. Optimize for those things, in that order. Choose the right path.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Alex Ye leads Republic Crypto’s early-stage research, investments, and token economics strategy — helping secure and advance cutting-edge projects for Republic Crypto’s advisory portfolio. Before Republic Crypto, Alex drove fintech and blockchain investments at ZZ Capital, crypto fund research at $7 billion venture fund Top Tier Capital Partners, and at the endowment of the University of Chicago, his alma mater.