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I made $45 in 6 hours playing a video game blowing up right now that uses crypto to generate real cash—but there’s a huge catch

January 20, 2022, 6:30 PM UTC

You can make real money playing video games that use cryptocurrencies and NFTs. I did it. I even made $45 in six hours of recent gameplay.

But that’s not the whole story.

The game is called Town Star, and it’s one of several so-called play-to-earn games that are blowing up in the crypto space right now. These games are also a bigger and bigger part of the crypto world. Around 52% of active crypto wallets are now tied to some kind of blockchain game, according to a Jan. 13 report by crypto tracker DappRadar

The most popular blockchain play-to-earn game, Axie Infinity, jumped to about the same level of daily active users in November as games like FIFA 22 and Madden 22—about 1 million players daily and 50 million monthly—according to blockchain company Covalent.   

Along with Sky Mavis, the company that developed Axie Infinity, Gala Games is an increasingly important player in the play-to-earn gaming space. The company’s cryptocurrency, Gala, is the fourth-biggest by market capitalization in the play-to-earn category, according to CoinMarketCap. Town Star had 5.12 million player sessions in December, which refers to the number of times players logged in to the game or took an action within the game.

For anyone thinking they can get a crypto-gaming side hustle off the ground, though, the real-world laws of business still apply. Namely, you have to pay money to make money.

Here’s the big catch to making money off play-to-earn.

A screenshot of the Town Star game
Screenshot of Gala Games’ Town Star by Fortune

Play to earn also means paying upfront

After six hours of playing Town Star, I had earned 124 Town Coins, which were worth $45 as of Thursday afternoon. But I was able to do this only with the help of in-game NFTs that made me economically productive within the world of Town Star.

Most play-to-earn games work by encouraging you to pay for at least one NFT in order to start earning any crypto from the game. These NFTs are usually tools that help you complete tasks more quickly or give you an advantage within the game. These can retail for thousands of dollars on a secondary market such as OpenSea.

Town Star is reminiscent of Farmville, in that it centers on virtual farms, which should evolve into profitable towns that produce and sell “goods.”

I had a really productive day because of a special crane bot NFT that Jason Brink, Gala Games’ president of blockchain, lent to me as a journalist. Commercial users would have to pay a whopping $15,000 for this NFT, but I got to use it for six hours to see how the game worked, for this article you’re reading right now. He also lent me a wheat-producing NFT that retails for about $4,300. 

With the crane bot NFT and the wheat maker, I was able to sell about 90 bags of flour I had produced from my land. I earned 124 Town Coin from this, worth the aforementioned $45, but I was only able to do so with close to $20,000 worth of NFTs.

A screenshot of a map in Town Star
Screenshot of Gala Games’ Town Star by Fortune

Other ways to “earn” crypto

Most people have to buy NFTs to make money on Town Star, either through the company or on a secondary market. If you buy directly from Town Star, those NFTs can cost less, but many of the game’s initially released NFTs are sold out and can only be found on secondary. In that market, the valuable Bitrue Wheat token will cost you nearly $4,300 in Ether crypto. 

Soon after its debut, Town Star gave away some NFTs for free to attract users, according to Town Star’s president of blockchain, and their value has skyrocketed since.  

Brink told me that the company is working on a marketplace that will allow users without enough funds to borrow NFTs from other gamers, which will be subject to a revenue-share in which they’ll pay some of the crypto they earn from using the NFT to its original owner and retain some for themselves.

The cheapest way to start earning crypto within Town Star is to buy the gold membership, which costs about $50 in either the company’s native crypto, Gala, or the popular cryptocurrency Ether. 

You can also join the competitive weekly challenge for building the most efficient and advanced town. If you rank among the top 400 users in this challenge at the end of the week you get a prize in Gala tokens that can be converted to dollars.

The game has an element of addiction that involves both strategy and design, said Brink. Those that like management games and world creation enjoy it, he said. Its weekly and monthly challenges also introduce a level of competition that helps you compete against other players. 

“If you get to earn [crypto] while doing this, all the better,” Brink said.

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