Crypto gaming is growing, but can it reach people outside of the web3 world?

Last year was big for the play-to-earn gaming scene, which goes hand-in-hand with the crypto world, but as the games become more advanced and provide more opportunities for users, what’s next for the industry?

Perhaps it’s building out the gaming experience or creating new openings for non-crypto-native players to enter the space, but there’s a range of opportunities and challenges for builders and gamers.

“The goal is to bring the Web 2.0 traditional gaming masses to web3,” Alex Paley, co-founder of Solana-based blockchain gaming studio Faraway, said to TechCrunch. “The only way you do that is by removing as many artificial barriers as possible.”

The blockchain gaming industry grew 2,000% in the past year, according to a DappRadar and Blockchain Game Alliance report from Q1 2022. The report added there were $2.5 billion in investments for the blockchain gaming space last quarter, compared to the $4 billion raised for the sector across all of 2021, showing a significant acceleration in money pouring into this space.

While the web3 gaming world is known for play-to-earn economies, a number of crypto gaming studios are offering free-to-play options for new users who want to experiment but might not want to fully commit.

About 10 years ago, amid the height of mobile gaming’s free-to-play era, the free games market was huge. From Angry Birds to Candy Crush, there were myriad ways for non-gamers (and seasoned gamers) to pick up their phones, download an app and play within minutes.

Candy Crush has existed in both a free and premium way for 10 years and, in turn, generated billions in total revenue and over $1 billion in revenue in 2020 alone, according to a report by Business of Apps.

“That was the beauty of free-to-play; it greatly expanded the audience of people who can try your game, and it’s equally as important to do that in web3,” Paley said.

Now, some crypto games are considering the free-to-play model as a way to help new gamers enter the often gated crypto gaming market, which is known for having a play-to-earn model.

“We see a great future for web3 gaming, and in many ways I see the introduction of blockchain into gaming as transformative as free-to-play gaming was to mobile,” Phil Sanderson, managing director and co-founder of Griffin Gaming, said to TechCrunch.

But there need to be more accessible games through easier onboarding for the non-crypto-native audiences, and the fun factor will drive their success at the end of the day, Sanderson noted.

Last month, Axie Infinity launched the Origin version of the game, which allows people to try it out and get up to three free characters, known as Axies, without paying for them.

“I think having free starter Axies is an important moment for NFTs, because people can fall in love with the IP and universe and try it out and see if it’s for them before making huge economic decisions,” Jeff “Jiho” Zirlin, Axie Infinity co-founder, previously told TechCrunch.

In order to expand the web3 gaming world, these blockchain-based games have to prove to players that their games are fun, then figure out a way to get them to work and contribute to the economy by playing the game, Paley said.

And what’s most important is creating something enjoyable, aside from the financial incentives that crypto play-to-earn games provide.

“The number one priority is ensuring we’re creating a fun product,” said Michael Wagner, creator of Star Atlas. “It doesn’t matter how good the financial incentives are. Our focus is on building a cool, high-quality experience that will attract people in. Of course we have the financial incentives as well, but that’s just an enhancement to the gameplay.”