Solana was designed to be an entertainment ecosystem first and foremost. The jovial little brother to Ethereum. It’s not that you can’t do the same serious things on Solana as Ethereum: the former hosts its fair share of DeFi primitives, synths, options, and indices. But more than that, Solana was meant to be a playground where the masses would flock to be entertained, amused, and immersed.
So far, Solana has lived up to that promise for the most part. NFTs exploded into life on the network last year while sprawling sci-fi games such as Star Atlas were conceived. And the network itself, save for the occasional hiccup, has met the increased demands placed upon it. For Solana to justify its claim to be the industry’s most exciting and innovative smart contract chain, however, it needs to evolve. This means doing more than hosting 10K PFP mints and basic games.
One project that suggests the path of Solana projects to come is DeFi Land. Its team has been quietly shipping all year, deploying a number of novel features that capitalize on Solana’s inherent strengths: low latency, low fees, and a ready-made retail community that favors fun over funding. If play-to-earn (P2E) gets invited back for a second season of the bull market, there’s a good chance it will look like DeFi Land.
The Evolution of P2E
Play-to-earn was one of the great trends that fueled the final leg up of last year’s bull market. As a slew of startups launched governance tokens and NFTs designed to capitalize on the latest gaming craze, there was unironic talk about new paradigms being discovered. For years, gamers have been treated as second-class citizens by the very companies and games stores who are reliant on their dollars.
P2E promises a player-centric revolution in which gamers not only own their characters and other assets, but where they can make money for doing what they love. No more investing hours in a game only to have it delisted from the store without warning or deprecated by devs who’ve moved on to other things. Utilizing web3 mechanics, crypto games allow players to choose their own adventure through participating in governance, and to own it too by possessing the assets that are inherent to character creation and evolution.
While the P2E thesis is compelling, the results have been patchy so far. For every triple-A production (e.g. Illuvium) there have been a dozen that resemble retro 8-bit games of yore: fun for five minutes but hardly the future of gaming. Crypto developers are nothing if not dogged, however, and following a few false starts, play-to-earn games are starting to bear fruit. DeFi Land is one of them.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
It’s easy to get eyeballs on your project around launch time; with a token to ape into, rare NFTs to simp over, and an alpha release to play, the fomo is palpable. Once that initial wave of euphoria has subsided, however, retaining user attention is tricky. Particularly in an industry as overloaded with shiny new things and cursed with high time preference as crypto. When DeFi Land launched nine months ago, it was one of the first games of its kind on Solana.
Since then, its team has steadily rolled out new features that have extended the game’s utility while presaging the path that P2E must take to secure long-term adoption. There’s been the release of a second token, GOLDY, that has seen strong demand, even with only 3 of its 10 envisioned use cases currently active. The DeFi Land team appears to have learned from the mistakes of Axie Infinity, and adjusted its earnable in-game token accordingly to balance supply and demand.
In addition, DeFi Land has launched the first Solana NFT renaming program, enabling users to name their NFTs on-chain, integrated a fiat gateway to support in-game purchases, and constructed the first chapters of DeFi Land Lore and comics with visually impressive art. With PvP, co-op, and mobile versions of DeFi Land in the works, there are lots of reasons for the project’s community to stick around. And so far they’ve done just that: with 10,000 daily active users, DeFi Land is the leading Solana game by some distance. The PvP alpha, expected in September, should cement its position at the top.
Ultimately, the fate of the play-to-earn movement will be dictated by that which shapes all movements: community sentiment. If users genuinely enjoy a game, and want to play it for entertainment first and foremost, everything else will slot into place. The ability to earn cryptocurrency for tournament play and head-to-head battles should be the icing on the cake rather than the raison d’etre. Many of the P2E projects that launched in the last 12 months won’t make it to the next bull market. The ones that do will be there on merit.
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