Free-to-Play Versus Free Play-to-Earn Games: What’s The Difference?

Puzzle Game

Free-to-play games have existed for over 20 years. Any video game that lets you start playing it —the whole game or a portion of it — without paying money comes under this category. Play-to-earn games are not only newer to the field, but may often fall under the aforementioned classification. However, there is a major difference that sets these two types of games apart from each other.

Who Are The Winners and Losers?

The main difference is that the economic benefits of free-to-play (F2P) titles are enjoyed solely by the owners, and companies publishing and distributing them. On the other hand, play-to-earn (P2E) games also reward the people who invest time and effort into playing them. They have seen a sharp growth in popularity since the pandemic, when many were left without jobs or without much to do in seclusion.

Play-to-earn games like Axie Infinity, Wilderness P2E, Lost Relics and CryptoKitties have fueled the cryptocurrency and NFT marketplace, encouraging the expansion of a parallel, digital economy to a massive extent. There are sites like CasinoDays which let players indulge in roulette, poker and other casino games to earn money. But they are generally not on top of the list when talking about P2E due to several reasons.

What Sets F2P Games Apart From P2E Titles?

Space Game

One of the most important elements of mainstream P2E games is the ability for players to trade and sell the assets or winning items they earn in-game. Casino games aren’t designed for this; neither are popular free-to-play games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Overwatch and so on. You can buy loot boxes and character customization options from the publishers themselves, but you cannot sell them to or swap them with other players.

Free-to-play titles are created with the intention of raking in the money once players are hooked and get tempted to buy game passes, “pay-to-win” items and stuff that can earn them bragging rights in-game. Allowing gamers to sell special items to each other does not work for the F2P business model. Sure, developers can implement a commission-based system in place — the way Sky Mavis charges players a 4.25% fee on Axies traded in the marketplace.

But introducing a market for gamers to trade or sell skins and other items acquired by skills and/or grinding allows the possibility of exploitation using real-world currency. That’s something the traditional gaming community, which views playing games as a leisure activity, is strongly opposed to. The idea doesn’t go down well with hardcore players who take gaming very seriously either.

How Do Play-to-Earn Games Work?

Arcade pixel space game

When we say play-to-earn titles, we’re not talking about casino games which need you to spend real currency for the chance to win more. P2E or “crypto” games are based on blockchain technology. The in-game items you collect in them can be sold for cryptocurrency that can then be exchanged for actual currency. What’s more, the tradable goods are usually in the form of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens, or digital goods with unique fingerprints).

Of course, you can also “play to earn” almost any game by monetizing your streaming sessions, selling officially untradable in-game items via unofficial channels (not recommended), signing up as a game tester or participating in gaming tournaments offering prize money. But coming back to the nascent crypto gaming industry, we’re only just beginning to explore its potential.

Building a game with blockchain as part of the design enables the generation of items and rewards that are unique and transferable. Players can amass these assets by playing the game, and then sell them to others for cryptocurrency, or trade them. Adding the possibility of financial gain encourages gamers to play for more than just mere entertainment.

Inside these gaming worlds, the digitally-secured NFTs can be anything from creatures to land to clothing to cars and more. The developers don’t own these assets. They belong to the player who has acquired them. They are not duplicable. Therefore, they hold value. Of course, an NFT is only valuable as long as all the interested parties agree it has value. But so is money.

To get a basic idea of how P2E functions, consider Axie Infinity. Its economy works because people invest real-world money into buying NFT-based Axies, play to increase their creatures’ stats and then sell them to others for more than what they initially paid. Many call it a Ponzi scheme because of the fact that gamers rely on being able to sell their critters to someone willing to pay more than the initial investment amount.

The only answer would be for developers to create genuinely amazing games that people will also play for the entertainment they offer. Gamers who want to earn money should still be able to do so; but it need not be the entire point of playing a P2E title. What do you think? Do P2E games need to be completely separated from traditional games? Or can they co-exist?