Web3 games have evolved a lot since their humble beginnings, with richer mechanics, sharper UX, and more complex economic models. But jazzier looks and play experience aren’t the only changes afoot. We are now witnessing the dawn of play-to-airdrop, or “P2A,” where players earn points they can later exchange for digital assets. 

And while the advent of P2A points to an evolution in the fundamental models behind Web3 games, its fast-rising popularity demonstrates something that has been true about Web3 gaming since day one: whether it’s P2E or P2A, speculation has always been the name of the game. But with P2A, game devs have a shot at creating Web3 game economies that will stay balanced for the long term. 

Corey Wilton is the CEO of Mirai Labs, the international gaming studio behind games like Pegaxy, Petopia, and Web3 gaming “SocialFi” infrastructure GuildTech.

How Play-to-Airdrop Works

P2A rewards players for the value of the time they spend playing in points rather than in actual tokens (as in P2E). These points are redeemable for tokens that will be issued by the game developer at an undisclosed time in the future. 

Points don’t have a market value and offer users no concrete call on any blockchain-based assets when issued. The idea is that users are playing to earn potential future rewards. The catch is that they do not know how many tokens they will receive in exchange, the price per token, when tokens will be generated, or the vesting schedule. 

Therefore, the opportunity for speculation on the future value of points is greater than in traditional P2E — where if you earn 100 tokens over 10 play hours, you know they will be available for withdrawal at a given time. While prices might fluctuate, you can at least be certain of how many tokens you will collect in the end. 

While the P2E model has been enduringly popular with users, the new mechanic will offer big advantages for game builders and game economies. As X user VaderResearch said, “[P2A] rewards are uber probabilistic — enabling flexibility for developers to balance the economy while achieving virality.” 

But how does the P2A mechanism fit into the expanding world of Web3 games — and their expanding pool of players? 

It’s the Money, Money, Money

Since the beginning of P2E, the people who play video games have been divided into two distinct groups along Web2 and Web3 lines. Web2 gamers were decidedly uninterested in — and even disdainful of — the blockchain elements that many major gaming studios had started to build. To be fair, in the early days, Web3 games, with their ultra-basic graphics and mechanics, were practically a joke. 

But Web3 gamers did not bat an eye at the rudimentary infrastructure of the P2E games available to them. They were primarily interested in their economic potential.

Nowadays, the lines between Web2 and Web3 games are blurring. Web3 gaming studios have worked hard to make games more appealing to Web2 players — and have received millions in funding to create blockchain-based games that offer players the quality of experience common in Web2 games. 

But even though these next-generation Web3 games may ultimately attract a more diverse group of users, Web3 gamers will always come — and stay — for reasons that have nothing to do with how a game looks or feels: they are motivated by opportunities for speculation and asset acquisition. That’s why P2A — though it is new — is already proving to be popular among “degen” gamer crowds.

Adrian Krion, CEO and founder of the Berlin-based blockchain gaming startup Spielworks, put it well in a recent article: “It’s true the thrill of turning a profit can add an exciting new element to gaming.” But although Web3 gamers still crave a fun experience and a challenging quest, he added: “Earning an NFT is as much about one’s status within the community as it is about cashing it in the marketplace.”

So even though Web2 players are an increasingly important demographic for Web3 game developers, P2A’s overriding purpose is to attract the group that’s been the most dedicated to Web3 gaming since the beginning: the very same Web3 crowd who kicked off Web3 gaming’s journey into the mainstream in 2021. 

Whether P2A will be more successful than P2E in the long term remains to be seen. It is still so new that its long-term effects on the space are not yet known. But one thing seems inevitable — it offers more of what Web3 gamers are most motivated by: blockchain-based rewards.