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What play-to-earn gaming can tell us about the future of the digital economy — and the metaverse

Play-to-earn games could bring digital identity, assets, and ownership into players’ hands as the gaming industry is becoming decentralized.
This is how modern video games may introduce new paradigms that lend themselves to a wide variety of emerging digital environments and forms of value creation.
These games are also spearheading a recent development: the increasing convergence of the physical and digital worlds.
This article is written by two university graduates. Surprised? Didn’t think so. But what may be more intriguing is how we each paid our tuition. One followed a ‘conventional’ route: a combination of student loans, summer jobs and the good fortune of parental financial support. The other played video games.

Long before esports—the industry of competitive video gaming—was broadly recognized as a profession, popular play-to-earn PC games like ‘Diablo II’ (2000) or ‘Runescape’ (2001) created fully-fledged digital economies, in which the best players were able to make a living simply by being good at the game. Indeed, Moritz Baier-Lentz, one of your coauthors, was able to finance his undergraduate and graduate education by completing in game challenges and selling the resulting rewards for real money—at some point, more successfully than any of the other 13 million active players worldwide.

However, the early 2000s were a ‘Wild West’ of digital assets, virtual ownership, and online identity—and video game marketplaces and transactions were never fully legitimate and secure, making stories like this a case study in crafty individual entrepreneurialism more than a viable professional pursuit.