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Non-fungible token (NFT) crypto collectibles like artwork and videos exploded in popularity in early 2021, but several blockchain-based video games had already been building in the space before most people took notice.
When NFTs hit the mainstream, the promising crypto game Axie Infinity by indie studio Sky Mavis took off. And when the wider NFT market cooled a bit after all of that hype… well, Axie Infinity got even bigger.
Axie Infinity is inspired by Nintendo’s beloved Pokémon series. It sees you collect and pit adorable monsters against each other in cartoonish combat. Getting started isn’t simple or cheap, however, and there’s a vastly larger upfront investment needed than your average PlayStation or Xbox game. The upside, however, is that you own your Axie NFTs and can resell them, plus its “play-to-earn” approach rewards you with crypto tokens that can be exchanged for money.
It’s a bold new vision for gaming—and it’s catching on. Here’s how to get started.
What is Axie Infinity?
Axie Infinity is a monster-battling game where you pit teams of cute monsters called Axies against each other in battles.
The game runs on the Ethereum blockchain with the help of Ronin, a sidechain that helps minimize fees and transaction delays. It's primarily focused on turn-based battles, either against computer-controlled Axie teams or live opponents over the Internet.
In-game items are represented by NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. These cryptographically unique tokens can be linked to digital content—in Axie Infinity's case, the Axies and land plots that populate the game. Unlike conventional in-game items, the NFT confers ownership on the buyer; you can trade Axies on the game's marketplace for real money.
You can also breed Axies, which lets you build potentially more powerful teams and yields additional NFTs to sell on the marketplace. Some Axie NFTs have sold for as much as 300 ETH apiece, or more than $600,000 as of this writing.
✨A new record! ✨
300 ETH for triple mystic Axie, Angel!
Mystic Axie overview 👇https://t.co/ZISLRJmJwl pic.twitter.com/3FHx4a76xu
— Axie Infinity🦇🔊 (@AxieInfinity) November 6, 2020
How does Axie Infinity work?
As mentioned, Axie Infinity is built entirely around NFT items—and right now, there’s no way to play unless you buy the three Axie NFTs needed to create your first team.
They can be purchased from the official Axie marketplace via your Ronin wallet, which you’ll connect to the game. You can play on PC, Mac, Android, or iOS and take your Axies into battle to win rewards.
What’s so special about it?
Axie Infinity takes the fun and alluring premise of Pokémon and adds the element of ownership. These Axies belong to you and yield tangible rewards: Smooth Love Potion (SLP) crypto tokens that can be exchanged for money. The upfront costs will be a major roadblock for many players, but it’s a game that rewards players the more time and effort that they put into it.
"Play to earn" might sound like a marketing phrase or a gimmicky hook, but we’re already seeing evidence of a player-owned economy taking shape around the game.
For example, there are thousands of “Axie scholars” through programs like Yield Guild Games and others, in which Axie owners loan their NFTs to other players to use and earn with. The profits are divided amongst the parties; in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, people are playing Axie to support their families. Whether that proves to be a sustainable model remains to be seen, but it’s a potentially powerful and revolutionary idea that is already being put into practice.
How to get started with Axie Infinity
Here’s the hang-up: you will need three Axie NFTs to start playing Axie Infinity, though it's become more affordable to play in recent months. Whereas prices for individual Axies on the marketplace once hovered around $225-$250 apiece, now the cheapest Axies available cost just $28. Keep in mind that your Axies can be resold, plus they generate rewards through gameplay.
Now that Axie Infinity has migrated assets from Ethereum to its Ronin sidechain, you will need to create a Ronin wallet and have an Ethereum wallet (like MetaMask) as well. Once you have a Ronin wallet set up, you can use the Ronin bridge to transfer ETH over to Ronin, where it becomes WETH (Wrapped ETH). You can then use this to purchase Axies.
Create an account on the Axie Infinity website and download the game to your PC or Mac. You can download an Android APK to install on a smartphone or tablet, as well. The game has also been accessible for iOS via a beta release through Apple’s TestFlight program but is currently unavailable as of this writing.
Whichever version you choose, you’ll need to pair your Ronin wallet to your account, and then sync your Axies from the wallet to the game to start playing.
What is the AXS token?
Axis Infinity Shard (AXS) is the native governance token of Axie Infinity. Currently, you can use AXS to pay for breeding fees. In the future, AXS holders will be able to vote on decisions regarding the game and its future development, as well as stake AXS tokens to earn rewards within the game.
Over time, Axie Infinity plans to gradually shift into a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to allow for community governance.
Did you know?
You can’t even use Axie’s land in gameplay yet, but it’s in demand: a single plot of Genesis land sold for a record-breaking $2.48 million in November 2021.
Where can you buy AXS?
AXS is available from cryptocurrency exchanges such as Binance, FTX, and Huobi Global, although it is not currently sold by Coinbase or Binance.US, for example. Decentralized exchanges like Uniswap and SushiSwap offer it, however.
Here’s how you can purchase AXS from Uniswap. You will need a crypto wallet with ETH or another Ethereum-based ERC20 token to trade at Uniswap. If you need ETH, you can purchase it with fiat at Coinbase or Binance and then transfer it to your wallet.
Connect your wallet at Uniswap, select AXS from the list, and then choose which asset you want to swap for it. Enter the amount you want to trade and Uniswap will tell you how much AXS you will receive in return. If the numbers square up to your liking, click “Swap” and the transaction will go through.
Axie Infinity blew up in a big way in late June 2021, not long after the Ronin transition and the announcement of a $7.5 million Series A funding round featuring Mark Cuban and Alexis Ohanian, among others. Sky Mavis also has support from major game publisher Ubisoft, which mentored the team in its Entrepreneur’s Lab accelerator program and aided the Ronin launch. A Series B funding round in October 2021, led by Andreessen Horowitz, saw Sky Mavis reportedly valued near $3 billion.
Special thanks to our amazing community on this special day.
You are our inspiration and motivation for everything we do!https://t.co/d1UvDYXzuc
— Sky Mavis (@SkyMavisHQ) October 5, 2021
By September 2021, Axie Infinity had already hit a total NFT transaction volume of over $2 billion. (That was up to $4 billion by March 2022.) Long-term players were rewarded with a $60 million airdrop of AXS tokens in September 2021, followed a month later by the introduction of a staking service for AXS. In November 2021, Axie's Ronin sidechain added its own decentralized exchange (DEX), Katana, making it easier for Axie players to swap tokens without having to bridge to Ethereum. Although, Axie Infinity saw declining token prices and NFT trading volume from December 2021 through the first quarter of 2022, it started implementing economic changes to try to combat the fall. For example, the game is now issuing significantly less SLP tokens after the price of the reward token fell to less than a penny apiece.
The explosion of interest in play to earn has made improving Axie Infinity's often-clunky UX and onboarding process a priority for Sky Mavis. Co-founder Aleksander Leonard Larsen has highlighted that over half of new Axie players have never used any crypto application before, noting that "it's really hard to begin playing Axie right now." As part of this overhaul, Axie Infinity plans to eventually roll out a way of playing without requiring players to buy Axies upfront, by giving new users non-transferrable Axies with "limited earning potential."
Increased interest in play to earn has also brought negative attention from hackers. In March 2022, the Axie ecosystem suffered a devastating attack, when about $552 million worth of ETH and the USDC stablecoin were stolen from the bridge that connects Axie’s Ronin sidechain to Ethereum. Sky Mavis pledged to either recover the funds or reimburse users. The stolen funds were worth $622 million by the time the attack was revealed nearly a week after it took place.
Next up on the game's expansive roadmap is the addition of gameplay based around its land NFTs, which let players customize the terrain and develop shareable experiences. It’s another aspect that will help expand Axie Infinity beyond simply battling and breeding monsters. Other updates earmarked for 2022 include the expansion of the AXS ecosystem to include governance and expanded play-to-earn rewards, as well as the mainstream release of Axie Infinity on iOS and Android devices.