It wasn’t that long ago when the term gamification was first bandied about as a new way to get people enthusiastic and participate in all sorts of tasks.
Want kids to get excited about learning? Give them rewards along the way to keep them engaged. Got unmotivated employees? Offer micro incentives, say, small bonuses or sweeteners like shopping vouchers.
While gamification has been criticised for forcing people to be overly competitive, it has also been praised for motivating anyone from kids to adults to get their tasks accomplished more effectively.
So, it’s a little ironic to keep finding headlines about play-to-earn games today. After turning life’s chores into mini games, we now need to incentivise the playing of such games with financial reward.
In play-to-earn game worlds, players grind through levels by hacking endless hordes of monsters or building up their bases, to get paid. Or at least, there’s a promise of being paid.
One of the most talked-about titles, Axie Infinity, has become popular in the Philippines, for example, for folks looking to win virtual battles with more powerful teams and get rewarded with cryptocurrency.
Other game operators promise to pay you for simply engaging in some online activity, with little explanation of how that income is actually generated or how it can be sustainable.
These so-called P2E games that are based on blockchain technology obviously have been divisive.
As with cryptocurrency, volatility is to be expected. Axie Infinity has seen the value of its in-game currency, called Smooth Love Potion, drop to just 3 US cents this month, after wild swings in the past year.
That’s not to mention frequently reported scams where game operators simply pull the rug from under the feet of gamers or investors. After hundreds of hours on the game, they find their virtual currency or items worthless.
Of course, you could say there is risk in anything new. If you ask a crypto bro or a diehard proponent of the decentralised economy, the discussion will likely go back to control.
With a blockchain-based game where players own the in-game items through a non-fungible token (NFT), they will be free to trade these items (like any other NFT) outside the closed economy or game world imposed by these developers, as the argument goes.
However, for many gamers, this brings back the spectre of gold farmers, folks who would spend their entire days grinding through a character, collecting all the fancy loot, to sell it to willing buyers.
Think of all the effort you put into playing a game only to come up against someone who had just bought all the same loot and powers you have from a gold farmer.
No one knows for sure how the future will unfold. It’s true, gaming is no longer just an escape but another social activity, and when an activity has value that can be monetised, a trade will happen.
Yet, this raises the question of value as well. Will every task you take on come with an expectation of a tangible reward or incentive in future, like in a hyper-gamified dystopia?
Will we need some sort of token, tied to a blockchain with some perceived value, before we commit to taking on a task, even ones that we used to enjoy as entertainment?