Splitting the ownership and utility of gaming assets opens huge investment opportunities for GameFi, potentially making game finance bigger than decentralized finance (DeFi). The GameFi sector is young but booming, and this is very exciting for investors. The financial components of GameFi include on-chain leasing solutions, fractionalization, staking, game non-fungible tokens (NFT) dedicated marketplaces, layer 2 solutions for blockchain games and others.
GameFi and DeFi have many similarities but there are also some crucial differences. The DeFi sector has more structure but without any recent major improvements, whereas GameFi is a brand-new sector with lots of rules and standards yet to be set. Moreover, GameFi has less chance of manipulation by crypto whales. It also has a much higher potential to attract non-crypto users into the crypto market, especially in emerging markets, helping with both education and conversion.
The thesis of GameFi sector investment is that it makes sense to invest in whatever makes playing blockchain games more fun, more capital efficient and more trustless. For example: 1) on-chain leasing protocols that separate ownership and the right to use it; 2) game NFT-dedicated on-chain swaps; 3) distributed cloud gaming platforms; and 4) layer2 solutions for blockchain games.
This was perhaps best demonstrated this summer, when Andreessen Horowitz – one of the biggest and most storied Silicon Valley venture capital firms – invested $4.6 million in a little-known Philippine GameFi company called YGG. Yield Guild Games was established as a way to finance the use of gaming assets. Essentially it allows users to lease NFTs and then redeem them for fiat money. The heart of the innovation is that it splits the usage and the ownership of gaming assets. In a short time, YGG has grown to be a hugely important part of the GameFi ecosystem.
It also shows how the current GameFi upcycle is different from the DeFi upcycle (2020 through early 2021). During that period, investors were largely focused on investing in lending protocols, decentralized exchanges, synthetic assets and on-chain derivatives – basically the plumbing underpinning the ecosystem of DeFi. The thesis centered on investing in the best technology that would attract the most developers, which in turn would then grow the wider ecosystem.
There are some important platform investment opportunities in the current GameFi tide. GameFi is bringing crypto to the mass market. Many people will have earned their first crypto ever through blockchain games. This means that the potential market size is orders of magnitudes bigger than the previous round. Back then, it was all about crypto natives, with high barriers to entry. This time it’s about non-crypto natives with low barriers to entry.
The potential is much bigger, as the play-to-earn model means that many gamers will receive crypto assets for the first time. The focus will be more on investing into the financial infrastructure of blockchain games rather than the game itself. The key will be to invest in the Fi part of GameFi because a single game’s lifetime could be short, but the Fi is essentially tech infrastructure that will last much longer.
Doing well and doing good
There is a further angle to the GameFi investment opportunity. Many of the early adopters of play-to-earn opportunities are gamers in developing regions of the world, whose normal incomes have been badly hit by the effects of two years of lockdowns. GameFi and play-to-earn are seen as a way to make an income in the virtual world, free from the problems that beset the real world.
YGG is a great example of this. In a blog post this summer, Arianna Simpson, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who invests in crypto, wrote about this opportunity in regard to the investment in YGG. “Right now, there is a largely untapped economic opportunity in emerging markets to provide jobs by building a virtual economy in the digital world,” she wrote. “The way we define a ‘job’ is quickly evolving because of crypto and gaming, and we think we’re just starting to glimpse what’s possible in this realm.”
It’s still early, and that means there are still opportunities to help shape the standards of GameFi, unlike DeFi. As the GameFi ecosystems expand, and more people take part, more value is created. It is a virtuous circle that also has the potential to help alleviate poverty.