The axolotl, also known as the Mexican Walking Fish, is an amphibian—a type of salamander, known for its bizarre translucent skin and smiling, adorable face. Axolotls are now also the inspiration for a blockchain game called Axie Infinity. This CryptoKitty-inspired breeding, battling, and trading game, sees players purchasing and caring for small fantasy creatures called “Axies.”
Puff, a globular sea-foam green creature, is the first Axie and he’s the originator of all others. Each Axie is different—some have antlers, or cat tails, narwhal horns, or even the odd carrot tail. The Axies live in a vibrant and brightly colored world called Lunacia. Masamune, the art director and artist behind Axie Infinity, cites the Chimera, a mythological beast—part goat, part snake, part lion—as another inspiration for the Axies.
As a long time gamer and game reviewer, I was intrigued by the recent explosion of the cryptocurrency game market. I wanted to test out a blockchain game to see why some were calling this the future of gaming. Axie Infinity’s cute creatures and ambitious game mechanics struck me as particularly interesting, so I decided to take the plunge into the world of crypto gaming.
At the outset, I was a little put off by the idea that I needed to purchase each of my new Axies on a marketplace with actual money. Why should I play a game where I had to pay for all transactions with crypto? Any Axie purchased on the Axie Infinity marketplace, however, can be sold on that marketplace for a profit. (Profit isn’t the main point of the game though; collecting, breeding, and battling Axies is.) When you consider the fact that many spend upwards of $60 on a traditional video games that becomes all but useless once your console is out of date, Axie Infinity’s in-game transaction fees start to feel more reasonable.
The problem with traditional games is that none of the in-game assets belong to the player. That’s not the case with Axie Infinity, and the buy-in actually isn’t that high either. Many Axies cost less than .02 ETH (or about $4, at time of publication).
In order to play I had to transfer money into a MetaMask wallet so that I could interact with the game through a series of transactions. Each activity, such as sending your Axies to the battle arena, costs a certain amount of ETH and a gas tax. So assuming I purchased approximately three Axies and sent them into the battle arena each play session, I typically spent around $12-$14 dollars. With Axies already purchased, each time you send your Axies to the battle arena costs approximately three cents. (You can contrast this to competitor games like World of Ether, where you pay ETH per battle move, resulting in a higher price per battle.)
I was excited about battling my Axies against other players’ Axies, but the battles happen offscreen once both individuals send their Axies into the arena. The most interactive part of these battles is the tutorial where the player is taught how to organize their Axie’s battle moves. It’s not the Pokemon battle system I was hoping for, but in theory it’s similar, and players are able to watch their Axies battle after the fact via a replay option.
In the future, Axie Infinity COO Aleksander Larsen says the game will be moving to the Loom network—which uses the Ethereum blockchain as a base layer but operates via sidechains—in order to allow for better player interactivity in battles and a faster transaction speed. Regardless, Axies level up as they battle and become stronger, better breeding stock to create new Axies. (Axies are genderless and breed freely with any other Axie.)
Axie Infinity brings to mind the golden age of Neopets and Tomogatchi—before these were outstripped by more attractive and engaging web-based games. Players may have had an attachment to their Neopet, but they never really owned a Neopet because they weren’t NFTs (non-fungible tokens) like the Axie. The Axie Infinity team says they’re even considering ways to allow the player to own their Axie image file. Larsen calls this transfer of ownership to the player as “being on the same side as the players,”—something he believes traditional game companies lack.
What makes Axie Infinity different than, say, CryptoKitties? Larsen actually met CEO and cofounder Trung Thanh Nguyen, while playing CryptoKitties. Larsen and Trung saw the need for a better game built on the basic premise of CryptoKitties but with more mechanics and avenues for player involvement, and Larsen eventually moved to Vietnam to work on Axie Infinity.
While CryptoKitties is just a marketplace to mine tokens via a breeding mechanic, Axie Infinity introduces an experience point mechanic. “You need experience points to mint new tokens,” says Larsen. “The only way to get these points is to battle players. It costs less money and you need to spend more time in the game. That’s a conscious design choice that allows players to build a more emotional connection.” This connection to the game that has drawn a wide player base—for a blockchain game, anyway. There are some 48,000 Axie tokens in play (in comparison to CryptoKitties’s 74,000) according to Etherscan. A fair number of players are also part of a vibrant Discord community, where new players get help from pros.
The game is popular enough that the Axie Infinity team found that players were creating mini-games outside of the world of Lunacia, and have decided to make the game open to third party development in the future. Players can purchase plots of land for their Axies to live on and will be able to host mini-games and other third-party content that is accessed via wormholes.
Axie Infinity is a vast improvement over simple creature trading games like CryptoKitties, though they have some competition in World of Ether, which provides a more interactive battle system.
“If you are a game developer you can come into Axie Infinity, purchase a plot of land, and then the players can put their games on top of that plot of land and charge people for playing their game and can also issue NFTs and different kinds of rewards,” says Larsen. An SDK (software development kit) for Axie Infinity means players won’t be required to have advanced coding skills to make content for the game.
From a gaming standpoint, Axie Infinity is a vast improvement over simple creature trading games like CryptoKitties, though they have some competition in World of Ether, which provides a more interactive battle system. Axie Infinity’s real stand-out quality is how artfully the world has been created. The Axies are adorable and well-executed, making watching battle replays very enjoyable. The Lunacia world they have built is immersive in its own way, and will become more so once players can interact fully with their land plots.
At the same time, cryptocurrency based games like Axie Infinity are a long way from the interactivity and immersion of your traditional AAA console games like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft—lacking depth of story, for example—but they stand out in their own right for the sheer amount of player ownership over each NFTs. Axie Infinity also has plans to go mobile and its creators are developing an Android app. Until then, you can play Axie Infinity in your browser at Axieinfinity.com.