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By published 19 February 22
The top play-to-earn and NFT games that are set to take over this year.
NFT games can come in all sorts of styles and genres, which means it can be hard to decide which you want to play. Some are casual monster raising RPGs while others are deep and involving strategy simulations. And they’re not all ‘play-to-earn’, some are just pure ‘play’.
It’s this broad spread of genres coupled with the complexities of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology that can make NFT games a little hard to grasp. You can read more in our guide to NFT gaming or read up on what are NFTs in our broad guide to this new technology.
NFT games are different to mainstream experiences, as items bought or earned can be sold or traded within and perhaps across games for real money. The NFTs themselves can be used as part-ownership in a game.
It’s early days for many games, both visually and technically, however there are some exciting stories being told that intertwine perfectly with some of the broader philosophical and technical aspects of crypto. Let’s take a look at the best NFT games to play now and coming soon.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific financial or investment advice or recommendations for any individual for any investment product. The article is only intended to provide general information and opinions about NFT games. The views reflected in this article are subject to change at any time without notice.
Axie Infinity put NFT gaming on the map. This monster-breeding RPG showed NFT games can work, be rewarding, and above all, fun. The idea is simple: raise a pet Axie and breed it to create generations of creatures, each one inheriting traits from its relatives. You can collect and trade Axies on NFT marketplaces or in-game, with rare breeds earning you large sums of money.
The game features standard modes such as Quest, player-versus-player (PVP) battles, and Adventure – each earns Smooth Love Potion (SLP), the game’s utility token, which is used to pay for breeding Axies. In many ways Axie Infinity is a ‘normal’ game similar to Pokémon or Digimon.
But, as your Axies are registered on a blockchain their rarity and value can earn you real money. This play-to-earn model is what NFT games are known for, and it can be great when values go up but not so good when they decline. To offset the market forces imposed on the game Axie Infinity now has a free-to-play model similar to games such as Elder Scrolls Online, so players can join without needing to pay, but their Axies have limited development.
The Sandbox is one of the most successful NFT games around, because in many ways it’s not a ‘game’ and more of a creator platform. Think of The Sandbox as an NFT-powered Minecraft or Roblox, you can play as well as build games and assets. Only here, in The Sandbox, you own your creations and can sell and trade your digital items on the internal marketplace using the SAND token.
The other side to The Sandbox is Game mode, where you can develop a world of your own, adding games and experiences and building a metaverse inside The Sandbox. You can explore other players’ worlds, play games and export content into your universe. This is governed by the LAND token, and also enables players to vote on new features, tools and the direction of The Sandbox.
The Voxel-visuals look approachable and resemble Minecraft, but there’s so much more you can do in The Sandbox – and you own it. Watching gamers’ land evolve to merge with other users’ plots to create vast expanses of blocky, colourful kingdoms is mesmerising. Just like Fortnite, major brands such as AMC’s The Walking Dead are lining up to partner and feature in The Sandbox.
Gods Unchained is being led by former Magic: The Gathering Arena game director Chris Clay, so it’s no surprise this free-to-play NFT card battle game shares much in common with Wizards of the Coasts’ successful tabletop title.
Like MtG Arena the idea here is to battle other players using cards and combinations of cards, each has unique stats, strengths and weaknesses to understand and harness. It’s a well-designed strategic game where good players can win and it’s not the value of your hand that always matters.
Gods Unchained succeeds because it’s free, rewards skill, and uses NFTs to enhance its traditional ideas. Cards are earned from playing and earning experience points, and these can be bought and sold, earning you real money on the crypto marketplace Immutable X as well as in-game as GODS tokens. GODS tokens are also used to fuse and enhance cards to create rare new versions or buy packs of cards.
Based on Harmony, a sustainable blockchain, DeFi Kingdoms is one of the first games to truly leverage the value of NFTs and intertwine it with nostalgic fantasy pixel art. This is a title that looks like a SNES role-playing game from the 90s or a modern indie, think Harvest Moon.
DeFi Kingdoms shows us how NFTs can be used in games as it marries the underlying utility of NFTs with classic game design. You can play DeFi Kingdoms as you would a retro RPG – questing for XP and items, managing your in-game resources, and developing your hero. But in DeFi Kingdoms it accumulates JEWEL tokens that can be converted to Harmony One cryptocurrency.
The by-product of DeFi Kingdoms approach means it’s possible to explain complicated NFT and decentralised crypto concepts to people using storytelling and lore. DeFi Kingdoms is a gateway to NFTs but sadly this means there’s no free entry to play (as yet).
Splinterlands aim is to offer the collecting and trading mechanics of physical card games such as Magic: The Gathering but digitally. This is a strength of NFTs, they can create verified rarity and enable players to trade and collect digital cards. Every action in Splinterlands is recorded on the Hive blockchain, ensuring everything is provable.
Gameplay is similar to Gods Unchained and other strategic card fighting titles like non-NFT game Hearthstone. Cards have values and stats, and some are rare and worth more. Duplicate cards can be fused to improve their powers.
Unlike Gods Unchained you do have to pay to play Splinterlands, a new card pack must be bought before you can begin. What cards you get is random, so there’s the spectre of gaming’s loot box mechanic hanging over Splinterlands. Once in the game, however, you can earn more cards from battles and quests.
If you love fantasy football and Panini stickers then Sorare – Fantasy Football is the NFT game for you. It mixes both ideas into weekly tournaments where your deck of cards is affected by the real world stats and events of the world’s major football leagues.
Collect cards of real world footballers and choose a deck of five sports stars to enter into the weekly competitions. How these footballers perform in the week determines your points tally, just like fantasy football. There are over 200 licensed clubs in the game, including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich.
While it’s free to enter and receive a starter pack, and you can win and earn rare cards as well as Ethereum from playing, you will need to buy rare, super-rare and unique cards if you want to progress and win more matches.
Treeverse is still in development but aspects of this NFT game are available; you can buy ‘Timeless’ characters that are intended to have utility in the Treeverse universe. The game promises a rich open world to explore that will blend fantasy and sci-fi MMORPG with a MOBA-style combat system – multiplayer online battle arenas.
Treeverse is aiming for Triple-A accessibility; slay beasts, forge rare weapons, form guilds, defeat dungeons… fish. The pitch for Treeverse is it will be less play-to-earn and more play-and-earn. Hype from inside the crypto community is already building. Ric Galbraith known for his work on Cycle of the Shroom and Punks Comic’s has been enlisted as a writer.
While it’s early you can buy plots and characters (and the game has a seed investment fund of $25m), but that aside, one thing is for certain, and that is the art is top tier. Drawing heavily from anime references, the Timeless character illustrations are all hand drawn and beautiful.
Bridgeworld is the first game from TreasureDAO, an exciting eco-system that uses the MAGIC token as it’s currency. Think of TreasureDAO as the decentralised ‘Nintendo of the metaverse’ that hosts and connects a number of games together.
The aim of Bridgeworld is to collect treasures in various ways – from quests, mining, and community features. Owning treasures increases your staking potential in the Atlas Mine. As well as some strategy game design players can join community-based guilds to increase their mining power.
There’s a feeling of early D&D and text adventures to Bridgeworld’s lore and design. It can come across as obtuse but behind the wealth of world-building is the gamification of NFTs and the metaverse – it’s called a ‘bridge world’ for a reason. There’s a lot of innovative game design theory being put into practice with Bridgeworld, and it’s one to watch.
PC gamers are spoilt for strategic space games, but they could have some competition from Star Atlus. This play to earn game mixes space exploration with mining, trading and combat to promise an experience close to Elite; but here you earn from your galactic endeavours.
Star Atlus aims to offer Triple-A gaming visuals and performance, and could set the standard for future NFT games. It’s currently building to launch later this year so the player versus player (PvP) and player versus environment (PvE) missions aren’t yet up and running, but you can invest in a fleet by purchasing ships and items from the in-game marketplace.
It remains to be seen if Star Atlus can match its promise of mainstream gaming meets NFT utility. The game doesn’t appear to offer a free-to-play option, so the play-to-earn model could see many gamers put off. However, there’s a lot of promise in Star Atlus, and you can begin building your fleet now.
Visually Parallel is already one of the most groundbreaking NFT games. This is a science fiction card game akin to Magic: The Gathering (another one). The story revolves around concepts such as different races coming together to find common truths, in order to solve differences and save the universe, which means Parallel has a community-based cooperative aspect its card-collecting.
Whilst the game is yet to launch, the card collections are being released in pack drops. Different collection approaches yield different rewards with the release of the PRIME token. This opens the doorway to the Echelon eco-system which the team and other partners intend to introduce a series of new projects.
The best place to start would be with the Prime Proposal whitepaper, which details the project’s intentions. While card battle games already exist Parallel looks to reinvent the crypto based trading card game genre with great art, storytelling and DEFI (decentralised finance) mechanics – for example, there won’t be reprints of cards, ensuring rarity.
Wizards and Dragons: Reborn has been created from the open source code of another title, called Wool Game, hence the ‘Reborn’ name. The developer saw a way to improve where the previous game had failed and mobilised a community very quickly.
The task at hand is big, like building a bridge at the same time crossing a cavern. In the world of crypto the most promising sign of success is that Wizards and Dragons: Reborn has kept going and the developer has not ‘rugged’ the game’s players (crypto slang for taking all of the money and running). Yet.
The extended periods of development have meant more time for players to accumulate the necessary assets in order to play. The game is an RPG, where players’ Wizards accumulate GP tokens from PvP – Quests and a Job system are also planned but not implemented – while avoiding Dragons, which will steal their GP.
Wizards and Dragons: Reborn is an interesting idea but there’s a sense the NFT side to this game overshadows the gameplay at present. Time will tell if this evolves enough, or if in fact it collapses totally.
NFTs will be treated as assets inside games, this could be in-game items, clothing, skins etc. Anything previously you have to purchase as an item can be an NFT.
Essentially that is the main point of play-to-earn gaming. Your NFT item, land or character has a real world value because it’s linked to a cryptocurrency. Think of them as shares in a game but ones you can affect directly due to rarity, for example if you develop a character with unique traits and only you own them, so the value increases. You can then sell your character on a blockchain and earn real money.
The dangers are values of cryptocurrency tokens and NFTs can down as well as up, leaving some NFT games open to inflationary/deflationary push and pull; a crashing value can see players leave a game. Adding free-to-play modes can encourage new gamers in to offset leaving players.
They are some very interesting economics experiments taking place with their in game currencies. If you view our current world as being based purely on an ‘inflationary currency’- some of these games will show other systems that utilise deflationary mechanics and demonstrate alternative eco-systems.
This is most definitely not investment advice. Never spend anything more than you would be willing to lose. Some of the best games above also require zero financial commitment to play.
Lex Johnson is a creative director and consultant for Web 3.0/NFTs/Crypto/Metaverse at Dazzle Ship. Starting his career in the underground music days of Web1. Lex was the first DJ and web designer to translate grime and underground music culture onto the internet, ready for the mainstream. With a background in art, gaming, advertising and music he is well versed in the wild west nature of punk movements and is ready for Web3.0.
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