Emerging Trend 3: Play-to-Learn-to-Earn
The best have the potential to be incredibly valuable businesses and also make significant social impact.
Four hyphens, three concepts
This trend blends three concepts, so before we dive in, let’s break them down.
1. Play to Learn
This was the fourth of our eight Edutainment 3.0 trends: gamification that also has a more direct impact on learning and growth. We believe games are a hugely powerful tool in aiding and augmenting learning - whether it’s through immersive triple-A titles like Assassin’s Creed, or DIY board games you can design from scratch.
2. Learn to Earn
This concept has grown in popularity over the past couple of years. While there are a few ways of approaching it, one that’s growing in popularity is encouraging users to complete crypto-specific tasks (such as creating a digital wallet using a tool like Rainbow or Metamask), and offering crypto rewards for doing so. The Learn to Earn company then takes a cut of the reward’s value.
There are a few issues here - including questions around intrinsic motivation, and the ethics of paying people to learn for long periods of time. However, when done well, the Learn to Earn model can be very compelling.
3. Play to Earn
Another idea that’s been around a while but has exploded in the past couple of years (again, mainly due to blockchain and web3) is Play to Earn. We could put together a whole section on this concept, but at its core a gaming platform provides its players with a chance to earn in-game assets that can be transferred to the real world.
In principle it’s hugely exciting and has enormous potential for creating more level playing fields and providing economic empowerment, but we have concerns about the dynamics being created. There’s a real risk of players being sucked into addiction and dependence, and the sustainability of many play to earn platforms is very questionable right now.
One of the most popular Play to Earn games of the moment is Axie Infinity. We don’t have room to do a full breakdown of it (here’s one), but the premise is users play a blockchain based game to earn AXS tokens. AXS tokens can also be bought and sold on crypto exchanges. Additionally, the game allows users to ‘breed’ new game characters that they can sell on the open market.
These dynamics have led to thousands of users going full-time as Axie Infinity players, particularly in developing markets. And because the game is not free to access (it typically costs $100-$300 in NFTs), there are now scholarship programs where Axie owners loan their NFTs to other players to use - on a profit share basis, of course.
Critics of games like Axie Infinity see it as little more than indentured servitude. Scholarship managers are incentivized to push players to work harder, and the game’s economics mean that there needs to be a growing number of players for the tokens to maintain value. This has led to many players who saw the game as a path to sustainable income in fact barely earning barely minimum wage.
What if Play to Earn shifted beyond financial incentives? Nick de Wilde, author of future of work newsletter The Jungle Gym, sees Play to Earn doing more than just creating new markets:
“Play-to-earn mechanics will not only shake up labor markets but also disrupt traditional education models. Building expertise in any game is inherently a learning process. In any educational environment, the scarcest resource is student motivation.
Both play and earning are powerful ways to capture student attention by stimulating the brain with dopamine-inducing rewards.”
What happens if we bring these three concepts together?
Integrate them in the right ways and we believe the ultimate Edutainment niche can emerge: Play-to-Learn-to-Earn. Through this, players will be educated, entertained, and paid for their efforts, creating a positive impact on the individual and the wider community.
It may sound utopian but we see real possibility here.
However, it’s critically important to think both systematically and long-term about projects in this area, and human-centered design is critical. And although most ideas we’re seeing in here tend to use web3 / crypto, we don’t believe it’s essential.
Let's dive into a few projects starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible in this realm.
In Action: Play to Learn to Earn
Game Academy is a career exploration tool with a difference. It analyzes the skills of video game players and then matches these skills to real-world jobs. Their team have reviewed the games, skills and careers of over 50,000 players, and analyzed the top 500 games on leading game platform Steam.
This project isn’t explicitly Play to Learn to Earn, but we’re more bullish on this type of approach.
There’s less chance of misaligned incentives, and the platform offers players more agency and choice rather than locking them into an ecosystem where they become dependent, or potentially even victims of a setup that only rewards early adopters and whales.
This platform sets design challenges in the world of Minecraft.
Participants are invited to join time-boxed challenges - inventing new architectural structures, creating artworks, and even designing skeletons - all in a virtual space.
Cash prizes are offered to competition winners, and new challenges go live each week.
The world of cryptocurrency and Blockchain is still largely confusing, opaque and overwhelming. Rabbithole offers users the opportunity to earn rewards for interacting with well-known and emerging blockchain applications.
Users can complete demonstrate their knowledge through ‘Skill’ challenges such as swapping tokens, or take on a ‘Quest’ to complete a series of tasks mapped to a particular objective within an app.
On the plus side, users can learn about the world of web3 and prove their progress and skill level. Less positive are the heavy ‘gas’ (transaction) fees that can outweigh the rewards offered by the platform, as well as two issues that affect every web3 project: environment impact and security concerns.
We’ll level with you - we don’t exactly get what this is, but we think it’s something like HQ Trivia (an online gameshow) meets Axie Infinity (a blockchain game).
"Eggheads is a mobile RPG puzzle platform that allows players to fight for cash prizes, tokens, NFTs, or just for fun! Eggheads will be the first program launched on iLearn, our learning incentivization platform, with the goal of providing a live knowledge-based gameshow experience with everyone in mind.
Play against your friends or top contenders in front of an audience. Crypto experts and your grandma alike will be able to compete!"
Wavetable’s hot tip: Play out the scenarios
Play-to-Learn-to-Earn games have the potential to take over Edutainment, but thinking about second and third order effects is crucial.
If you want to create an environment that unites the best of Play-to-Earn and Play-to-Learn, be sure your rewards and tokens provide financial benefits that are in line with the amount of work these activities need to be completed properly.