Play to Earn

Carter Thomas
4 min readDec 21, 2021

The two most powerful sentences in sales copy are:

  1. “If you do this, you will make money.”
  2. “Don’t believe me, just watch.”

Everything else in the messaging is about supporting those claims and refuting the objections.

There is nothing more attractive to the average person than an easy, step-by-step way to make money.

Play to earn will be the biggest gold rush any of us has ever seen. The things we are seeing now are very early days. The bubbles and VC fueled tokenomics are all noise. Everything that involves entertainment and attention will eventually be play (or use) to earn.

Here’s a fun story: back in 2013–2014 I was building lots of casino games in the app stores. I was consulting on some AAA titles for top 10 grossing games and building some with my own teams. Slots, Coin Dozers, Bingo, you name it.

Casino apps were some of the top grossing apps in the app store because they had a clear funnel for ad spend. The APRU (average revenue per user) was around $1.80-$2 and the CAC (cost of acquiring a customer) was around $1.20-$1.50 at scale. You could turn on the firehose of Facebook ads and in-app ad networks and print cash. The glory days.

These casino apps offered nothing but entertainment. All the currency was virtual. Sure, there were some random offers like sign up for a free night in Vegas but most users were there just to kill time. There was zero utility outside of their own dopamine systems.

In 2015 I was able to get a UK Gambling license through a company called Betable. Betable had the license then allowed 9 dev studios (myself included) to integrate the SDK into our code so that we could offer real money gambling in the UK app store. Users who downloaded our apps could deposit real money and play for real money. They could lose real money and win real money.

I was excited about this but didn’t think it was that special. We got the SDK integrated and launched the app. We sat back and waited to see what happened.

A week later, I looked at the revenue report. Our ARPU was $415. Wtf.

That is a cool 250x higher than the APRU from virtual currencies. When people can make real money, they’ll put up real money. Holy mother of God.

The problem, of course, was that the UK real money gambling app population was small and the CAC was around $25, assuming you could even get the users. I also had a few calls with lawyers who told me that if I started to get big I would either A) get sued by big casinos or B) get bought out. Getting sued was much more likely. So I shut it down.

I never forgot that lesson. It opened my eyes to the how powerful the idea of making money is for people. When you give people the ability to turn labor into income in ways that are outside their job, they will go hard. Bing bong.

My first A-ha moment with Play to Earn was actually in DeFi summer of 2020. I saw thousands of very smart people locked into a video game that was full of new strategy. The Future of Finance was really just the latest version of World of Warcraft.

In many ways that’s what the entire crypto market is — a giant video game. There are loose rules, different worlds, multiple economies and strategies. Some people play one way, others play another. In the end, it’s all a Play to Earn ecosystem.

What Play to Earn gaming does is turn our complicated DeFi-Tokenomics-Ponzinomics-CapTable-Charts-YieldFarming clusterfuck into an easy to digest user experience. It systematizes everything that has been built and makes it possible for players to make money.

One could argue that a lot of crypto participants would be better off playing P2E games as their income stream but there is some weird social status associated with making money in a complicated way.

There are 2 billion gamers in the world. These gamers are all different in how they like to be entertained but all the same in that they like to be entertained with games.

What happens when you can make money playing a game? What happens when you live in a country where $500/month will completely change your life? Someone in Vietnam has access to the same games I do in the cryptosphere. There are costs of entry, but those will come down as networks grow. Scholarships/loans will become easier to get.

When people say it’s nothing but a ponzi I just laugh. Everything is a ponzi, bro. Everything is a scam. Follow the incentives and get off your economist soapbox.

There are real concerns as it relates to price around tokenomics and token unlocks. Some of the games in crypto are way over their skis and will be punished by the market. But there are many with communities that show no signs of slowing down. Organic user bases are being built.

If I have one piece of advice for 2022 it’s do not sleep on Play to Earn. It doesn’t need to be your core thesis but it will deliver more 100x winners than any other category.

The tidal wave is coming.