The company behind Axie Infinity, a popular crypto play-to-earn game, raised $150 million in funding this week to help reimburse users who lost funds worth about $625 million in a hack last week. Axie Infinity’s creator, Vietnamese gaming studio Sky Mavis, had garnered wide acclaim for building the most-played NFT game of all time, with 2.2 million monthly active players, according to the company.
What’s interesting about this funding round is that it was led by crypto exchange Binance — the highest-volume exchange globally — although Binance hadn’t participated in Sky Mavis’ prior raises. More on that later, but first, some context.
Existing Sky Mavis investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Paradigm and Accel, joined Binance in this round to help bail out Axie, but once news of the hack broke, their involvement was all but expected. Those investors already had a financial stake in the game’s success, particularly a16z, which led the company’s $152 million Series B round last October. Sky Mavis earned a nearly $3 billion valuation during that round, signifying quite a bit of fanfare for a company that had raised a total of just $7.5 million five months prior.
The hack, which took place on Axie’s Ethereum-based sidechain, Ronin, marks the largest known crypto heist to date. It was a bad look not only for Sky Mavis, but also for investors like a16z that had hyped Axie as the future of crypto. It begins to look even worse when you consider the demographics of Axie players overall — over 25% are unbanked, the company said, and many are low-income workers in developing countries who rely on Axie for a significant portion of their income.
It took six days before Sky Mavis or any of its investors discovered the hack had occurred, which infuriated a lot of people, and once the company found out, it immediately scrambled for solutions. While Sky Mavis announced it was working with law enforcement to investigate the situation, it’s very rare for funds to be recovered after a crypto hack, let alone returned to users. The search process is just too complex, given that there’s no information about the hacker readily available besides the wallet address they used to transfer funds out of Axie.
It’s worth noting that the majority of the funds are still sitting in the hacker’s wallet, although the hacker did appear to move some 2,000 ETH out of the wallet to privacy tool Tornado Cash, which allows users to mask their wallet address while withdrawing funds.
So if Sky Mavis couldn’t track down the hacker and recover the funds that way, it had to think of other ways to make up the shortfall or risk the reputational hit of letting its users take a huge financial loss that stemmed from the company’s own security weaknesses.