Opinion: Axie Infinity and the App Store

BlockchainGamer.biz editor-at-large Jon Jordan has been writing about the games industry since 1999. He predicts blockchain is the next great disruption and in our weekly column he shares his views on everything web3 games. You can read more in his Substack and contact him via [email protected].

As everyone has been covering already, Sky Mavis announced it has finally released a version of Axie Infinity: Origins through the Apple App Store.

This is seen as big news, and in a sense it is.

What’s now known as Axie Infinity: Classic was a massive success as a play-to-earn mobile game in 2021 but it was distributed as an APK sideloaded file for Android devices.

And ever since, Sky Mavis has been working with Apple and Google to come up with a version of the game that complied with those stores’ terms and conditions, notably with respect to monetization and revenue share models.

Obviously, releasing a game through these duolopy stores — accessible to over three billion global devices — seems vital for the longterm success of any ambitious game project.

What’s still not clear, however, is whether the cutback version of Axie released today is sufficiently interesting to upsell players to the full blockchain version, or even if this version of Origins makes coherent sense in terms of the game Axie Infinity has become.

This is difficult to ascertain because Sky Mavis is only releasing Origins to specific countries. The App Store version is available in Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam — none of which are key iPhone markets, one presumes.

On the upside, however, Sky Mavis has stated Axie NFT owners can bring their NFTs into the game but that the majority of in-game blockchain activity — notably crafting with the SLP token — which is available in the Origins’ APK or Win/Mac version is not supported.

It states: “We imagine that many players will enjoy the flexibility to enjoy Origins on the go, while crafting with SLP on their desktops or Android devices.”

Basically, it means you do the gameplay on your iPhone but not the blockchain stuff. N.B. In this context, I think “Android devices” means the APK version (available here), not the Google Play Store version.

Sector-wise dilemma

And, these compromises are something an increasing number of blockchain game developers are having to deal with.

Significantly, Sky Mavis comments that “We believe this is the first time that Apple has agreed to make an externally-purchased NFT usable on the App Store”, but that’s not correct.

Mythical Games’ recently launched NFL Rivals has a similar system whereby you buy NFTs on its web marketplace and they are immediately synced into your game account, while Castle Castle has been doing something similar since August 2022.

Of course, these games all seem to be technically in breach of Apple’s reported official T&Cs, which state NFTs can only be imported into games if those NFTs can also be purchased in-game.

Equally, these game are all live on the App Store, which just goes to show how porous those T&Cs have become.

But the broader issue remains, mobile apps stores have official rules — whether enforced or not — about what can and can not happen within the apps distributed via those stores.

No pure blockchain game can ever comply with those rules and it remains unclear what distribution advantage a blockchain game gets by compromising its design and monetization to meet those restrictions, however randomly applied.

And this is a dilemma Axie Infinity: Origins’ release on the App Store does not solve but only reinforces.

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