What is NFT gaming and how does it work?

Blockchain /
Alex Lielacher

Play-to-earn blockchain games have become increasingly popular in 2022, providing gamers with opportunities to earn crypto.

While in the past, games were solely for entertainment, NFT games enable anyone with an internet connection and a crypto wallet to earn an income for playing and winning at their favourite online games. This unique form of gaming allows players to earn digital assets in the form of NFTs or cryptocurrency, essentially being rewarded for their skills and achievements inside the game.

In this guide we will explore the different types of crypto games and exactly how they work, as well as how you can start trading cryptocurrency and explore this new space.

Table of contents

What is NFT gaming?

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique digital tokens that “live” on a blockchain. NFTs can’t be copied and pasted, which means each item is cryptographically unique, like a digital version of the Mona Lisa. 

Employing NFTs in games allows developers to create unique digital assets that are scarce. This is key to how NFT games work.

NFTs are used as in-game items, characters, and avatars that players need to successfully play a game. The value of these assets depends on their rarity and importance in the game. Players can trade these in-game assets for cryptocurrency on a marketplace, and all transactions are recorded on the blockchain.

NFT games allow players to earn cryptocurrencies for playing and provide new monetisation models for game developers.

How do NFT games work?

Game developers create NFT games through the use of smart contracts that specify the rules for how the NFTs are used in-game. If you haven’t heard about smart contracts, they are self-executing code - typically involving what/if statements - that are deployed on blockchains.

Game developers can use non-fungible tokens in every area of a game's mechanics and interactions. For example, a player avatar can be an NFT, power-up items can be NFTs, weapons can be an NFT, and more.

These NFTs can be auctioned before the launch of a game to grant a few people early access or sold to raise money to fund the development of the game itself. For example, a game developer can sell game characters in an adventure game as an NFT before the game launch. Guild of Guardians raised $5.3m in their token sale of their native token GEMS in late 2021 with the game soft launching in Q1 2022.

While NFT games differ from game to game, most NFT games require you to connect your crypto wallet, purchase or collect in-game characters, play using your characters, and take part in some type of competitions or battles to win. 

Additionally, most NFT games have an element of collectibles that can be won, bought, and sold to earn crypto.

Pre alpha footage of nft game Guild of Guardians

Pre-alpha footage of the NFT game 'Guild of Guardians' - Source: Guild of Guardians

How does the play-to-earn model work?

Game players can earn income with play-to-earn NFT games. Players can earn in different ways depending on how long they play for, including token rewards and NFT collectibles. 

Most NFT games have a token, so the tokens earned are often part of the game's economics. The players' generally earn tokens as they play more often and NFTs on rare occasions. The tokens can be sold for crypto while the NFTs are tradable on the game’s marketplace.

For example, Axie Infinity is one of the most widely played play-to-earn games. The game is similar to Pokémon, where you as the ‘trainer’ acquire different types of monsters to battle for you. It requires a new player to purchase three Axies, which will cost around $1,500 to get started (there's an opportunity to get a free scholarship too). 

When you start completing tasks and challenges, you can earn a token called Smooth Love Potion (SLP), which is tradable on exchanges. Players can make $1,000+ USD a month playing the popular blockchain game.

Are there free NFT games?

While many NFT games require some upfront investment to start playing, there are NFT games that are entirely free-to-play. That means you don’t need to buy NFTs to start playing the game.

Below are some of the titles offering a free NFT gaming experience:

  1. Gods Unchained: GU is a trading card game built on the Ethereum blockchain. The game issues you a set of cards to start and you compete to earn more cards. You have to play against other players to climb the leaderboard to increase your chances of winning more quality digital cards. The digital cards are tradable for money.
  2. Coin Hunt World: Coin Hunt World is more unique because it requires you to move around your neighbourhood physically. It provides you with a digital map and requires you to work around your city in search of keys. Then, you deposit the keys in a vault and answer some trivia questions to get rewarded in BTC and ETH.
  3. The SandBox: The Sandbox is an Ethereum-based virtual gaming metaverse where players can create assets and monetise them. It has a reward system that lets players keep the right to share or sell their creations and digital real estate.
  4. Chainmonsters: Chainmonsters is a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game similar to Pokemon. There’s no subscription or purchase required to play the game, and you can earn free reward tiers to play through the whole game.
  5. Axie Infinity Scholarship: Though Axie Infinity requires upfront NFT purchases, you could kickstart for free by approaching other players with access to Axies to make a deal that will allow you to manage the Axies on behalf of the real owner. This practice is officially recognised by the platform and referred to as scholarships.

How to invest in NFT gaming?

There are two main ways to invest in NFT gaming: buying a game’s token or owning in-game NFTs.

Own NFT game token: You could invest in the tokens of games such as Axie Infinity (AXS) and benefit from its user growth and adoption. AXS, which is the token for Axie Infinity, is traded on major exchanges like Binance and Coinbase. Several other NFT game tokens are also tradable on popular crypto exchanges.

Own in-game NFTs: Another way to invest in NFT games is by buying in-game NFTs. These items are often bought and sold on NFT marketplaces or in the game’s native marketplaces. You could also participate in airdrops of in-game NFTs. Crypto gaming platforms like Gamestarter and GameFi, for example, offer Initial NFT Offerings (INO) for investors to buy in-game NFTs.

Can you make money playing NFT games?

Yes, you can.

In places like the Philippines, gamers are earning way above the country’s minimum wage with an NFT game like Axie Infinity. Generally, there are two ways people earn from NFT games.

  • Earning in-game tokens: Just like you rack up points in traditional games when you move from one level to another, participating in activities and winning in an NFT game allows you to earn tokens that you could exchange for crypto or fiat currency.
  • Earning and selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs): Players have a chance to earn in-game NFTs that are tradable for cryptocurrency on NFT marketplaces. Aside from playing to earn, you could also buy and sell these NFTs for profit.

Can I lose money playing NFT games?

Yes, it's also possible to lose money playing NFT games. 

The amount you can lose depends on the game you're playing, its structure, and the value of the in-game NFTs and tokens you have to purchase to play to game. 

NFTs are currently traded speculatively and the value of each typically depends on what people think. If most people think an NFT is worthless or few people are taking risks in the crypto market, the NFT price could crash, leading to a loss of money.

Best NFT games available right now

The NFT gaming market continues to grow in 2022, with the launch of more crypto games and announcements of more on the horizon. Our list of the best NFT games available below include some that have been around the space the longest.

  1. Axie Infinity: The game allows players to collect and breed Axies, digital monsters that can be used to battle against other players to earn crypto. Each Axie is an NFT with different traits and strengths. Players can win SLP tokens and sell Axies to monetise their gaming efforts.
  2. Sorare: This is a fantasy football collectible cards game that lets you buy, own, and sell digital player cards from more than 100 licensed football teams. Essentially, it’s Football Manager with NFTs. However, rather than picking player names from a list, you buy digital trading cards that “live” on the Ethereum blockchain. When you win competitions with your team, you collect prizes in the form of cryptocurrency and digital collectible cards.
  3. Gods Unchained: This is a free-to-play competitive card game that gives players ownership of their in-game items. Players must tactically outsmart their opponents by building decks that are able to compete. Game players completely own their digital items, allowing them to trade their cards any way they like.
  4. Decentraland: It’s regarded as the early version of the metaverse. In this virtual world, players can buy plots of land that they can be built upon and monetised. Two tokens are used on Decentraland: MANA and LAND. To purchase LAND, you need MANA, which is available on crypto exchanges like Coinbase and Binance. MANA can also be used to pay for a range of virtual stuff on the Decentraland marketplace.

Other NFT games that are still in beta or will soon be released include Guild of Guardians, The Sandbox, and Illuvium.

Battle being played in Axie Infinity

A battle sequence in Axie Infinity - Source: Axie Infinity

How can I enter the NFT gaming space? 

Most NFT games are available to play on Windows, Android, and iOS. What you need is a crypto wallet that you can connect to the game, which will depend on the blockchain the game is built on. 

If you’re a developer, you can also build your own game on the blockchain using the tools available within the crypto space.

Pros and cons of NFT gaming

Like with everything in the world of technology, there are benefits and drawbacks with NFT gaming. Let’s look at the most prominent.

Pros of NFT gaming

Ownership: Unlike traditional games where big companies make all the money from in-game items, NFT games allow players to own the in-game items they earn and do with them what they want.

Provable scarcity: It’s impossible to copy and paste NFT game items and it’s verifiable on the blockchain. 

Interoperability of in-game items: In-game NFTs can typically be transferred outside of the games, which opens up the possibility of interoperability between different games or gaming universes.

Cons of NFT gaming

Quite technical: NFT games typically don’t have the best user experience and require knowledge of using decentralised wallets and interacting with blockchains.

Speculative value: NFTs are still predominantly used as speculative assets. This could incentivise users to only buy and sell these in-game NFTs rather than actually using them to play the game.

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We hope that our guide on NFT gaming helps you understand the exciting new entertainment and trading aspect of crypto. Keep up to date on evolving blockchain trends here!

Alex Lielacher

Cryptocurrency Content Contributor

Alex Lielacher is a ‘banker-turned-bitcoiner’ who exchanged the bond trading desk for a laptop in a co-working space to provide engaging and educational content for leading companies in the blockchain technology space.



The information is not to be construed as a recommendation; or an offer to buy or sell; or the solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security, financial product, or instrument; or to participate in any trading strategy. Readers should seek their own advice. Reproduction or redistribution of this information is not permitted.

Cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin) are extremely volatile and can move or jump in price with no apparent reason due to lack of liquidity and ad hoc news. There is little or no fundamental reasoning behind its pricing and as such trading CFDs in cryptocurrencies poses a significant risk to clients. For any Cryptocurrency CFDs that we limit to Monday – Friday trading, it is important to note that the underlying market will continue to trade over the weekend, meaning there could be a significant price change between Close of Business on Friday and open for business on Monday. Therefore, these symbols should be traded by clients with sufficient experience to  understand that, subject to negative balance protection (where available), they risk losing all their investment, or more, in a  short period of  time, and only a very  small part of their portfolio should be allocated.

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