Dominic Lumabi sits on the computer in his Manila bedroom pitting his puffer fish-like cartoon NFT characters against others.
But this is not just a game; he is earning cryptocurrency to support his family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The source of his income is Axie Infinity, a blockchain-based play-to-earn game that exploded in popularity in developing nations such as the Philippines as the fallout from the pandemic destroyed jobs and forced many to stay home.
Its fans, financial backers and creators, Vietnam-based Sky Mavis, say it is a revolutionary step towards the future of the Internet.
But detractors warn the game is a “house of cards” with some likening it to a fraud scheme driven by hype and speculation.
“At first, I was sceptical because I thought it was a Ponzi scam,” said Lumabi, 26, who began playing last June after losing his job at an advertising firm and making a failed foray into online selling.
About 35 per cent of Axie Infinity traffic – and the biggest share of its 2.5 million daily active users – comes from the Philippines, where high proficiency in English, strong gaming culture and widespread smartphone usage have fuelled its popularity according to Sky Mavis.
In Axie Infinity, players participate in battles using colourful blob-like Axies, and are mainly rewarded “Smooth Love Potion” (SLPs) that can be exchanged for cryptocurrency or cash – or invested back into the game’s virtual world, Lunacia.
Lumabi plays for two hours a day in the tiny house he shares with his parents and four sisters, earning 8,000 to 10,000 pesos (€136- €170) per month – nearly half of what he makes at his current job as a content moderator working nine-hour graveyard shifts.
He has used Axie Infinity earnings for his sister’s university fees, groceries and bills his father’s struggling electrical repair business cannot cover.
The pandemic was the perfect environment for this game to attract players from all walks of life, noted Leah Callon-Butler, a blockchain consultant based in the Philippines.
“They could sit at home, protected from the virus, and play a cute game and earn money from it,” she said.
Buying Axie NFTs
But there is a catch.
To play the game, players first have to purchase at least three Axies.
An Axie is an NFT – a unique, non-fungible token, with a particular set of abilities and characteristics.
Like NFT pieces of art, they are stored on the blockchain, a digital ledger that cannot be altered once something has been recorded onto it.
Axies can be bought, sold or rented to other players. Owners can also breed them to create new Axies …….