I play therefore I work

Karl Marx would have something to turn in his grave. If, for the author of CapitalMan is above all a “ animal laborans forced to sell his labor power, his dream of one day seeing the emergence of a society without workers is becoming more and more remote as, in our current era, everything becomes work: we work at work, we works at home, we work on ourselves… and now, we work while playing.

Over the past few months, marked by the breakthrough of cryptocurrencies and other NFTs[1] (non-fungible tokens), the video game industry (there are nearly 3 billion active players in the world, and video games have become the leading cultural sector) focuses on the concept of play-to-earn “, or, in French, of “game to earn… a living”. It is thanks to the emergence of digital and financial technologies that new business models make possible this promise that most philosophers who have theorized work would never have dared to imagine.

When playing becomes a job

For these games based on the blockchain and inspired by the project of Web3[2]it is a question of offering users no longer to pay a subscription or a license to be able to access a game, but to invest directly in virtual objects that make up the game in question and to create value by actively participating and regularly, at play.

In other words, the goal is to “offer” the possibility for players to not only be players but, in addition, to be proactive on a virtual market controlled by the platform, and this, by investing live in game objects or characters thanks to blockchain and NFT technologies that certify ownership. It is then up to the players to keep these digital assets, resell them or even rent them to other players… in short, not just to have fun while playing, but to speculate.

The video game “Axie Infinity [3]“, launched in 2018, is the example of this new business model “play-to-earn” or “blockchain gaming” for which we find ourselves dreaming that playing could become a job. In this game with 3 million regular users and which represents more than 10% of the total NFT market, you buy creatures that compete in battles. Logically, the creatures (or teams of creatures) that win most frequently during these fights see their valuation increase. Thanks to which the player-owners receive from the platform a remuneration in the form of tokens[4] convertible into bitcoins or dollars. In the Philippines, the country responsible for 35% of this game’s activity[5]more than 1 million regular players have played crypto games Axie Infinity their full-time job earning between $200 and $400 a month.

Loyalty bonus

But for what economic reasons should players be remunerated when no “work”, at least in the classic sense of the term, has been carried out, apart from the fact, as for example in the game Axie Infinity, of having made characters fight? virtual properties of the player itself? The business model of play-to-earn is based on the idea of ​​capturing players for as long as possible, and this, by building their loyalty thanks to this prospect of remuneration in convertible cryptocurrencies. The objective then consists of rewarding the most assiduous players by promising them that in addition to having fun, they will be able to make ends meet. Who can resist such a siren song?

Will “play-to-earn” prevail?

Because it is both recent and speculative, it is still difficult to say whether the model of the ” play-to-earn will impose itself on the whole of the video game market or if there will remain a specific mode of marketing. For Axel Buendia[6]specialist in the video game industry and professor holding the Digital Interactive Media Chair at the CNAM, “jworking and making money at the same time sounds revolutionary. In fact, it’s just a question of giving back a little of the money that we earn by making players play, and this, either through a specific model, in this case speculation around NFTs, or , and in addition, by using advertising to boost the revenues of these video game platforms. For this business model to become the norm, profitability must be proven both on the side of the player but also on the side of the game supplier. For the latter, it will be necessary to attract and retain large communities. regular players, otherwise he will have to find other resources, such as advertising. In this case, there is a chance that players will develop a kind of advertising immunity, or even, and for those who can afford it, flee such games to find others, guaranteed without advertising.

Philosophical questions around the notion of work

Philosophically, the play-to-earn » gives the illusion that it would be almost possible to live one’s life without work since it would be a question of devoting most of one’s time to video games. However, for these to really make it possible to earn a living, there is no doubt that it must be indulged in intensively, not to say mind-numbingly, almost comparable to a new form of digital slavery now made possible by all these new technologies that allow this model to exist.

Worse, this model play-to-earn » would almost manage to give the impression that the work is no more, that it would have disappeared in the interstices of our society where playfulness dominates. In his work condition of modern man[7]the philosopher Hannah Arendt describes how the last century has transformed the status of man, the latter now living in a world where technology is becoming more and more important and where work is “the answer to his vital necessities.[8] “. For the philosopher, emancipating oneself from all forms of work amounts, neither more nor less, to renouncing one’s human condition.

Returning one and the other to our time, we begin to dream of the discussions that Marx and Arendt could hold on the subject of knowing if this “play-to-earn is to be classified among the alienations of modern times or, on the contrary, constitutes a new form of freedom. The evolution of modern work has not yet said its last word…






4 On May 15, 2022, the price of the Smooth Love Potion (SLP), convertible token of the game Axie Infinity stood at €0.00506: