Skip to content

A Billion-Dollar Crypto Gaming Startup Promised Riches and Delivered Disaster

Axie Infinity’s vision of a “play-to-earn” video game has crumbled, and the company behind it now tells the players who bought into the hype it was never about the money, anyway.

relates to A Billion-Dollar Crypto Gaming Startup Promised Riches and Delivered Disaster
Illustration: Daniel Guerrero Fernandez for Bloomberg Businessweek

Over the course of his life, Alejo Lopez de Armentia has played video games for a variety of reasons. There was the thrill of competition, the desire for companionship, and, at base, the need to pass the time. In his 20s, feeling isolated while working for a solar panel company in Florida, he spent his evenings using video games as a way to socialize with his friends back in Argentina, where he grew up.

But 10 months ago, Armentia, who’s 39, discovered a new game, and with it a new reason to play: to earn a living. Compared with the massively multiplayer games that he usually played, Axie Infinity was remarkably simple. Players control three-member teams of digital creatures that fight one another. The characters are cartoonish blobs distinguished by their unique mixture of interchangeable body parts, not unlike a Mr. Potato Head. During “combat” they cheerily bob in place, waiting to take turns casting spells against their opponents. When a character is defeated, it becomes a ghost; when all three squad members are gone, the team loses. A match takes less than five minutes.