The single most important go-to-market decision when developing a crypto / play-to-earn game is which blockchain to build upon. The choice will affect the audience you can attract, the way your game economy is structured, how your title is funded, how risky your business is, and of course the engineering effort of your team. Most essential, the chain you choose will have big implications on your players' first time experience – an afterthought in many crypto games that shouldn’t be.
At Double Coconut, we’ve been awhirl in blockchain gaming for the past few years, helping partners build games atop Tezos (Play With Brio), Hive (Splinterlands), Solana (Metawana), as well as smaller projects atop Polygon and Ethereum.
To help you make this tough choice, we’ve talked to tons of other devs, pooled our knowledge and put together a supersized chart with key details about each major blockchain along the following criteria:
- General selling points
- Biggest problems
- Ease of development: Getting up and running, smart contract writing, support and tools provided by the blockchain foundation / community
- Usability by gamers: Ease of getting set up, ease of getting fiat money in and out, cost and other pain points
- Fundraising: Cash grants and partnerships, adoption by investors, etc.
The chart is here:
We really hope you find it useful!
We’ll try to maintain this sheet based on our continued learning and feedback from the community, so let us know if we made any mistakes (a lot of data is scattered or misleading) or should add any other chains / data points.
The Lay of the Land
As of May 2022, according to the Big Blockchain Games List – a good source of serious crypto game projects – there are several hundred active games currently in development. The most popular chains being built upon are:
“Other” includes Algorand, BCD, Terra, Cardano, C2X, Elrond, Enjin, Forte, Myria, Polkadot, StarkNet, Telos, and more!
Note, however, that the number of titles on a chain is just part of the story – while it’s good to know there are viable titles running on a chain, in some cases more games means more congestion. In fact, two of the most successful current blockchain games have made unique choices:
- Splinterlands is mainly built atop Hive, a chain where the founders were early contributors.
- Axie Infinity is built upon its own sidechain, Ronin.
You can also look at sites like playtoearn.net or dappradar to see existing games sorted by chain. There are over 500 BNB games, 500 Ethereum games and around 100 games on Polygon, WAX, etc. Note that many of the titles listed here are outdated or small, hobbyist endeavors. Additionally, these sites don’t pull data from major chains such as Solana, so often miss the big picture.
Further, it may be worth it to talk to biz dev folk at smaller or newer blockchains that aren’t on this list – if you’re willing to be a pioneer on an unpopular chain there may be a lot of funding or other support to help you with your efforts.
As for where players are flocking, the data is mixed and difficult to consolidate. Some games clearly publish their active user count, others obfuscate it – and there’s no standard way of measuring what an "active user" even is. Many large games have thousands of bots in the ecosystem as well, further muddling the data.
This chart by Footprint Network shows trends across five of the top chains (missing Solana), but is useful to get an idea of which chains have staying power:
Looking at overall adoption of users who have wallets and using certain chains, the nansen.ai chart below seems to be pretty accurate and telling – showing active users (not just gamers), as well their growth rates:
The Weakest Link
Here are some take-aways we can broadly share.
Our original article about onboarding onto crypto games talks about the immense difficulty of just getting started as a gamer. At Double Coconut we believe the winning games of 2022 and beyond are going to make it effortless for non-crypto people to onboard – begin playing, setting up a wallet, and getting money in with a credit card. We prioritized a seamless initial experience for our blockchain choice. You may have your own priorities.
The worst option to build upon these days, most agree, is Ethereum. Gas fees are deadly and transactions often fail. We’d go so far as to say that unless your game is just targeting whales who are okay dropping several thousand dollars per transaction just to engage, you should avoid Ethereum.
This “bad gas” sadly also affects many Ethereum side-chains such as Polygon. While it’s potentially possible to buy crypto on these Layer 2 chains directly via a credit card on-ramp, in reality you often have to bridge tokens from Ethereum’s main network and suffer crazy gas costs.
WAX, meanwhile, is a very different chain than most others. The structure makes it easy to get on board, but most of the NFT and token marketplace happens in a central location (the WAX Cloud Wallet), not nicely integrated in the game UI. Most WAX games also riddle players with pop-ups asking them to stake tokens to power the free transactions – a confusing experience for non-crypto-natives.
Solana users can enjoy low fees and fast speeds, but the chain sometimes goes down entirely. Also, writing custom smart contracts requires extra-special care and expertise compared to Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) compatible chains. That said, Solana has robust toolsets most developers can use to build most crypto functions for their games without needing to get down-and-dirty with smart contracts at all.
Finally -- you may want to really understand the difference between a Layer 1 and Layer 2 chain. Layer 2s are usually more experimental and unproven and work at the behest of the Layer 1 -- thus a bit riskier of a foundation. But they also are usually more modern, efficient, and tailored for gamers.
Whatever you opt for, make sure to take the time to have your team code up a prototype dApp on your target chain to get the hang of it and ensure they feel comfortable. Plan to write your code in a manner where you can eventually help your players transfer tokens across chains, so those who already have some crypto on one chain easily get into your game. Also, abstracting your blockchain code can help you more quickly make the switch if the chain you choose eventually suffers a major overload, catastrophic hack, or ultimately becomes the Betamax to the winning chain’s VHS.
In the end, while your choice of chain matters a whole lot, there’s no obvious “right” answer. While early play-to-earn titles were able to have their audiences jump through hoops with the promise of easy profits, most players entering crypto games today won't ultimately care which chain they are using as long as the experience is smooth to get started with, fair to use, and full-on incredibly fun. "Easy" as that!