Play-to-Earn Is Dead. Why Tap-to-Earn Marks a Big Shift

Clicker giants like Notcoin, TapSwap, Yescoin and Hamster Kombat have shown how blockchain games can reach millions of users, says Alena Shmalko, Ecosystem Lead at TON Foundation.

AccessTimeIconJul 8, 2024 at 6:53 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 11, 2024 at 8:29 p.m. UTC

Play-to-earn (P2E) games quickly came on the scene, but they failed. Why? P2E games tried to bring gamers into crypto, which we’ve all learned is not the key to trust nor mass adoption.

Instead, the focus has shifted. Give crypto-enthusiasts what they want: a way to earn crypto quickly and easily. While traditional P2E models often require complex gameplay and significant time investments, so-called “Tap-to-Earn” games offer a more accessible and engaging approach. By utilizing the social layers, such as Telegram, that live at the hands of consumers and tap into (no pun intended) where people already spend their time, a window into mass adoption has opened, intentionally or not.

This op-ed is part of CoinDesk's GameFi Theme Week.

Over the last three months, 210 million people have become CEOs of a simulated crypto exchange in Hamster Kombat, a viral clicker game in Telegram. Other successful Tap-to-Earns have relatively lower yet still remarkable numbers for Web3 gaming: TapSwap boasts 50 million total users, and in under one month, Yescoin surpassed 26 million active players. These stats resemble traditional Web2 games, yet these games represent the center of mass adoption at the heart of the Web3 ecosystem in Telegram.

Mini apps drive adoption

Telegram Mini Apps are one of the narratives or rather engines of this adoption cycle, and the Tap-to-Earn trend seems to have become its main fuel. Though mid-core Telegram games like Gatto or fantasy sports games like Fanton have shown good progress too, their user bases remain limited compared to the clicker giants.

It all started with Notcoin, which managed to attract over 40 million players since its launch on New Year’s Day 2024. 11.5 million of these became Web3 users by claiming Notcoin ($NOT) tokens after its listing on Binance, OKX, and other top-tier exchanges.

Their strategy was genius and it’s since been adopted by other viral apps like PixelTap. Here is the process: start with completely off-chain gameplay to avoid user friction, capture as many players as possible through incentives and referrals, and then announce an upcoming token airdrop.

Other strategies have worked quite well, too. Yescoin and Catizen (a popular P2E Telegram Mini App) introduced on-chain mechanics early on. Time will clarify how the different approaches chosen by each team affect conversion and retained users, especially once Hamster Kombat, TapSwap, and PixelTap launch their tokens. Catizen and Notcoin boast a conversion rate from an off-chain to an on-chain user of 7% and 6.2% respectively – much higher than Telegram’s 0.6% average.

Success factors

What is the secret sauce of a viral Telegram game? The obvious simplicity of the gameplay (e.g., clicking and completing easy quest tasks) and an entertaining game progression (e.g., finding new daily card combinations or ciphers as found in Hamster Kombat) is a major reason why Tap-to-Earn has seen incredible growth in such a short time frame.

The promise of community airdrops is another point of success for these types of games. Unlike DeFi protocols or Ethereum L2s, clicker apps do not require any complex on-chain actions, and Notcoin provided illustrative proof of that. Around 90% of the token supply went to the community with an average reward per wallet reaching $200, according to the Notcoin team. Catizen promises to airdrop 42% of the future $CATI, while the other above-mentioned apps have not revealed their tokenomics yet.

Another essential ingredient of success is leveraging the social layer and encouraging players to invite friends and compete in squads to get higher rewards. All these viral apps chose TON’s blockchain which can be explained by the ease of onboarding into Telegram, along with its global user base of 950 million, the technical advantages of the chain, and the recent success of Notcoin on top-tier centralized exchanges.

It doesn’t hurt to have big players in Web3 endorsing this strategy as well. Prominent Web3 gaming studio and venture capital firm Animoca Brands made a significant bet on Telegram and is now choosing TON as its Web3 partner, including Animoca-owned gaming platform GAMEE, which boasts 80 million-plus users, who recently announced the launch of their token on TON following the well-tested practices of other TON projects.

Not just fun and games

Notably, the Tap-to-Earn approach is being adopted by applications other than games. A hybrid crypto exchange Blum by ex-Binance top managers started with a simple clicker and Quest-to-Earn mechanism and managed to attract 30 million users before launching the core product functionality. This is an indication that Tap-to-Earn is essentially viewed as an effective onboarding tool and lucrative revenue source.

Many reasonably question the sustainability of the Tap-to-Earn trend as well as the quality of the attracted traffic. How teams will manage to educate and retain the user and offer long-term value remains an open question. Some plan to act as game publishers or quest platforms, while others promise to deliver e-commerce or trading products. Notcoin has succeeded in keeping its on-chain metrics on a decent level, sustaining the status of the largest meme coin by the number of on-chain token holders – almost 2.5 million.

In 2024, users feel that the apps and games deserving of their attention are those that reward everyone for their sweat equity, time and attention. Only time will tell how high the cat (or hamster) jumps. Telegram and TON remain open to all game types and genres, but mass adoption will apparently be driven by a modest few. One truth has become self-evident — the next industry giant is only a few taps away.

Note: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CoinDesk, Inc. or its owners and affiliates.

Edited by Benjamin Schiller.


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Alena  Shmalko

Alena Shmalko is Ecosystem Lead at TON Foundation, overseeing support and incentive programs for TON builders and startup founders. Previously, she held managerial positions in web3 and FinTech startups and co-founded a web3 accelerator in collaboration with experts from Mastercard, AWS, dYdX, Ava Labs, among others.