This article was contributed by Henry Stater, an AlphaMint team member

Two months ago, NFTs offered little beyond profile pictures and generative art. Cryptopunks, Bored Apes, and ArtBlocks had a tight grip on the market. Now there are innovative projects that integrate NFTs into an expanded universe with a significant range of motion to use digital assets to create more NFTs, earn passive income, access exclusive events, and more. These changes started slowly, but then flooded the market all at once. Play-to-earn games became one of the most popular and profitable innovations in NFTs in Q4 2021.

The first successful NFT based games like Axie Infinity and The Sandbox were launched years ago. Still, it took a while for NFT projects to realize there was significant demand for gaming integrations. Wolf Game, which was released in mid-November, lit a fuse that precipitated an explosion of countless derivative projects and clones with its success.

Why most P2E NFT games suck

Most play-to-earn NFT games however just haphazardly throw together a “token ecosystem” which ends up being little more than a ponzi scheme. The main goal for many of them is to earn the most money for their founders by enticing investors to mint the NFTs needed to earn staking rewards. Often the NFTs emit the token, which can only be used to mint more NFTs. Absent other utility, (i.e. a real ‘game’), this system is doomed to fail; the value of the token and NFT is directly tied together and the supply of both is constantly increasing. With popular projects, rising demand can offset the new supply, but only temporarily. There are other ways of decreasing token or NFT supply, colloquially called token or NFT sinks, but few cash grab projects implement them given misaligned incentives.

2E NFT game that doesn’t suck

I have been in the AlphaMint Discord for a few months and have been able to watch the P2E craze ‘play’ out first hand.  For context, this is a discord server that’s awash in 24/7 discussion of NFT projects (think ~50k messages per week). Still, amidst all the rabid chatter, one NFT collection stands out from the fray. The NFT collection I have heard discussed the most, by far, is Ether Orcs.

Why? Their game isn’t particularly complex. While the initial hype around the project represented a great win for early investors, in its present form the game isn’t much more profitable than other NFT drops are. Rather, the real drivers are technology and sophisticated game theory. It’s simply incredibly seamless and fun for players to iteratively explore ‘winning’ strategies.

Ether Orcs was released long before Wolf Game, despite what wolf game founder Beanie may say in inflammatory tweets. Ether Orcs is the “OG” of on-chain NFT games if you will, even though it only launched in early October. It has built a stable play-to-earn ecosystem around a collection of roughly 5,000 genesis Orcs. While there were a few NFT collections that can be staked to earn interest (via a native ERC-20 token) like Anonymice that launched before Ether Orcs, the Orcs ecosystem is a lot more expansive.

The Ether Orcs Universe

What can you do with your Orcs? 

  • Orcs can be deposited into the Ether Orcs decentralized application (i.e. staked) to accrue a token ($ZUG) like most play-to-earn NFTs. 
  • The Orc NFTs aren’t static; they can be upgraded to improve their utility in two different ways. 
    • Orcs start at level 0 with basic gear and produce 4 ZUG per day when farming. 
    • Orcs can also ‘pillage’ equipment from tiered ‘loot pools’. The quality of the loot depends on the level of your Orc and the tier of the pool. Higher tier pools can only be pillaged by higher-level Orcs.
      • You can level your Orc at a rate of 1 level every 8 hours by training them. 
    • What’s the value of better equipment? Currently, it only increases the amount of ZUG produced per Orc, per day. It will almost certainly have more utility in the future, especially when the dungeon crawler game is released. 
  • Higher-level Orcs can also access raid zones that earn more Boneshards, the second token in the ecosystem. Boneshards are used to mint further NFTs called Orc Allies that each fit other niches in the game; let’s explore the next chapter of the Orc saga.
  • Most play-to-earn games suffer from high transaction fees because they are built on Ethereum. The Orcs team solved this problem by building a custom bridge to the Polygon network.
    • Polygon is a sidechain built on top of Ethereum that has drastically reduced transaction fees
    • After bridging, you can do everything you can do on the mainnet for less than a penny

Some of you may be asking yourselves… is this really a “game?” Fair question. Perhaps most importantly, unlike other flash-in-the-pan projects where these types of dynamics constitute the end-all be-all of the universe, the Ether Orcs team has merely laid the foundation for something more ambitious here. And that foundation is impressive in itself. Building a stable play-to-earn game is much harder, but not significantly more profitable than an unstable one.

The future of Ether Orcs

Here’s where the level of complexity that the Ether Orcs team is building out becomes critical. The team has masterfully built an ecosystem that doesn’t rely on constantly increasing demand. First of all, the Genesis Orc supply has a low cap of about 5,000 NFTs. And instead of simply minting more NFTs, ZUG is used to upgrade NFTs through pillaging and training to accrue the Boneshards token needed to mint the next generation of NFTs. Mechanisms like these are called ZUG sinks because they remove ZUG from circulation and should increase the value of Orcs.

What does chapter 2 in this evolution look like? Now, your orcs don’t have to go ZUGing by their lonesome anymore. 

  • The first class of Orc Allies, the next generation of NFTs in the Ether Orc ecosystem, are Shamans. Shamans can be minted with 60 Boneshards and can be upgraded, just like genesis Orcs. 
  • They also have a unique ability, potion crafting. They can craft potions that can be traded for ZUG or used in raids. 
  • Like Orcs, Shamans can be leveled to increase their usefulness. The higher skill a Shaman has, the faster it can stack potion charges. If you use the max amount of charges for a raid (4), it will cut the time it takes for your orc to complete the raid in half. 

Shamans are already changing up the game for orc holders and hopefully, they will improve the ecosystem as a whole by becoming a significant $ZUG sink. 

All of these existing aspects of complex game theory will (ideally) eventually come together in a dungeon-crawler game. It feels like time moves 10 times faster in NFTs than any other tech, but we have to remember that Orcs only launched a few months ago. To date, they’ve effectively been building in public, rather than creating the game behind closed doors with two years of development time.

When it does fully release, it will be one of if not the first on-chain play-to-earn (real) games. In the meantime, we already farm $ZUG, raid for Boneshards, and mint Orc Allies, which is a lot more fun and utility-laden than most of what other NFT projects have on offer. Zug zug!

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