Cryptocurrency and the NFT craze have taken earning money via video games to a whole new level. So how do these games work, and how, as a parent, should you navigate this with your kids?

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Once upon a time, kids played video games because they were fun. They spent hours getting to the next level, saving the princess, and defeating the bad guy. Afterwards, they shut off the console, wiped off their sweaty palms, and called it a day. But today, a new class of games have emerged—one with a whole new set of goals, including investment opportunities and potential earning streams. Welcome to the wonderful world of crypto-based video games known as "play-to-earn." Yes, this is already very much a thing.

An image of a girl playing video games.
Credit: Getty Images.

Games such as Axie Infinity, Blankos Block Party, and the upcoming Illuvium and Star Atlas have exploded in popularity recently, with complex economic ecosystems and winning graphics. Unlike popular games in the past (like Fortnite and Roblox), where in-game currency had no value in the real world, crypto currency and the recent NFT craze have taken things to a whole new level. So how do these games work, where are they heading, and how, as a parent, should you navigate this with your children?

What are play-to-earn video games?

Axie Infinity

The current leader in this new space is Axie Infinity, a Pokémon-style game created by the Vietnamese developer Sky Mavis. The game revolves around cute furry creatures called Axies, which players breed, acquire, train, use to complete challenges, and do battle with online. The object of the game is to obtain smooth love potions (SLPs), which can be used to breed new Axies that can then be deployed within the game. SLP is also a recognized cryptocurrency on exchanges—which can be converted to real money.  

Axies themselves can also be traded as NFTs (non-fungible tokens). NFTs are digital collectables that exist on online ledgers known as blockchains (such as Ethereum or Solana), and are better known for recently taking the art world by storm.

Late this summer, Axie Infinity passed one million in daily active users and one billion USD in sales. This strategy-intensive game requires its players to be 18+.

Blankos Block Party

A much more accessible game is the colorful and wacky universe of Blankos Block Party by Mythical Games. Blankos Block Party is a multiplayer party game featuring digital vinyl toys known as Blankos. These funky little characters, designed by mostly third-party artists—including fashion brand icon Burberry and DJ sensation Deadmau5—play and compete in various challenges and games often created by the game's own players. 

"The creativity is amazing," John Linded, CEO of Mythical Games, tells Parents. "I love seeing what our players come up with."

Blankos Block Party is free to play, and like past gaming models, includes in-game purchases.  The difference? A secondary marketplace (Mythical Marketplace) is available, where owners can sell their collectable Blankos for much higher prices than their original investment. Players can even level up their Blankos through gameplay by completing set daily challenges, in turn making their Blankos more valuable.

"We have been thinking about this space for nearly 10 years," Linden tells Parents. "Our mission with Blankos is to create a safe environment for players to become entrepreneurial within the games and where artists and brands can participate safely and showcase their work." 

To play Blankos Block Party, the age requirement is 13, but to cash out, you must be 18 or older. Linden confirms that the brand wants "to make sure we are fully compliant with local laws in order to protect the consumer."

With the success of current play-to-earn games, the industry has taken notice—and many more games are on the horizon: Star Atlas, a space exploration adventure, and Illuvium, the first blockchain-based AAA gaming title offering high-fidelity graphics, promise to take the level of gaming experience and revenue potential to the moon, somewhat literally. 

Should this be your child's first paycheck?

How, as parents, do we anticipate this next generation of games will affect the actual next generation? Is this just a natural evolution of collectibles—or is it an actual way to earn revenue? And if the latter, is that healthy? Is it safe?

Dr. Nisha Patel, a Child and Adolescent Fellow at the University of California San Diego, tells Parents that the most crucial aspect here is guidance from a parent or adult guardian. 

"Ideally, the child is old enough to understand what it means to earn money and be in a structured environment in which parents are monitoring spending," Dr. Patel explains.

Dr. Patel even thinks kids trading NFTs could be as harmless as kids trading or selling coins, stamps, or baseball cards. "This is a fair comparison, as long as some monitoring/regulations are put in place," she adds.

In the end, Dr. Patel explains that "video games/gaming can be a wonderful hobby for a child and can be encouraged—as long as other responsibilities are being upheld and the amount of time spent playing is monitored."

Supervised correctly, the play-to-earn model could assist children to foster early money management skills given guidance. "Most Pediatric Associations will recommend specific outlined times for hobbies like video games," Dr. Patel points out. "For the most part, recommendations are 30-60 minutes on school days and two hours on weekends. The caveat being that kids should have homework/tasks/chores completed before video games and video games should not interfere with adequate sleep."

What's next for monetized games

Now that games like Axie Infinity and Blankos Block Party are possible, it seems likely that the play-to-earn trend will continue to develop further. Many games have sustained online communities in the past, but by adding the ability to make money into the mix, play-to-earn games may be the most alluring type yet.