NFT gaming? A community of gamers in Cabanatuan City is earning a steady income doing it.
In a mini-documentary up on YouTube, Leah Callon-Butler, a cryptocurrency journalist from Coindesk, digs into Axie Infinity, a game that’s become a full-time job for some residents of the Nueva Ecija city.
Originally writing about the game as a column, she decided to visit Cabanatuan in January 2021 to interview residents about their new sideline as NFT gamers.
Like Pokemon, Neopets, and many other similar games, Axie Infinity — which describes itself as a "digital pet universe on the blockchain" — tasks you with taking care of digital pets. You purchase little animals called Axies, each with their own unique look and stats, nurture them, have them romp around in an adventure mode, and battle them against other Axies. Battle earns you Small Love Potions, or SLPs. You can also breed Axies to create new ones.
Under the hood, the mobile game uses NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, to ensure that Axies and the other in-game items remain truly unique. This element of guaranteed scarcity undergirds the game’s digital economy. NFTs are the same mechanism that powers NBA Top Shot.
In an explainer for Trust Wallet, Farad Tarheri writes, “Quite an economy is being built up here with various different interactions. This is one of the other key areas where Axie Infinity has begun to differentiate itself. The developers have created an economy they call play to earn. And this is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the game itself.”
It certainly excited Art Art, a 28-year-old gamer and resident of Cabanatuan.
“At first, I [was not] convinced that this game [actually lets you earn] by playing it, but I tried it,” he told Callon-Butler in the documentary. “Out of curiosity, I bought three Axies. At that time, it was about $4 to $5 for three Axies.”
By amassing SLPs, Art Art was able to earn Ethereum, a cryptocurrency he was able to convert into pesos via Coins.ph.
Word of his new raket got around town.
Silverio, 75, told Callon-Butler that from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., while he’s minding his tindahan, he also plays the game. While sales in their little store have plummeted to just P150 a day, Axie Infinity gave them a chance to earn a little more money on the side.
“Pambili namin ng gamot,” said his wife Vergie.
Callon-Butler narrated that it was possible to “cash out” $300 to $400 “within their first few weeks.” That’s around P14,300 to P19,100.
"I guess the highest possible income [from Axie] is around P15,000 a month," estimated Howard, a 22-year-old fresh grad who now plays the game full time.
Players from the Philippines now comprise about 30 percent of total Axie Infinity players globally, said the game’s head of growth Jeffrey “Jiho” Zirlin in the documentary.
“I think the reason it took off was the idea of playing a fun, cute game to earn a living,” he said.
However, the documentary warns that the growing volume of players has significantly increased the prices of Axies. Callon-Butler explained the rise of a "profit-sharing model" to help out players who could not buy their own digital pets up front. In Nueva Ecija, a group of young entrepreneurs have banded together into an operation they call Axie University. Howard is a member, or "scholar", as they called it, of Axie University.
While the prospect of earning while playing is tantalizing, Axie Infinity is also still a game — a prospect of momentary escape during these difficult times.
That's something Silverio and his wife sorely needed right now. “Yun lang ang libangan ko rito,” said the 75-year-old. “Sana wag mawala yung Axie.”