How much does it cost to build a play-to-earn game?

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Play-to-Earn Game Development Services

Over the past two decades, developing a video game has gone from a side project to a multi-billion dollar income stream. Today, this revenue is earned by more than just major developers. According to Yahoo Finance, the global gaming industry is set to cross $314 billion by 2026. With the rise of blockchain technologies, the paradigm of the gaming industry has also changed. 

The p2e model is very popular and booming now (the current market cap for all P2E tokens exceeded $20B and is growing) and a lot of game businesses, crypto investors, and venture capitalists are considering an investment in a play-to-earn game. How much would it cost to develop such a game?

What are play to earn games?

The rise of play-to-earn games has revolutionized the gaming industry. Players can now generate income from non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and/or fungible ones while playing games on their computers or smartphones. Unlike traditional games where users need to deposit real money in exchange for items, users can simply play the game and earn their way to those items with the P2E model.

While playing P2E games, users generate value in different in-game forms, and that value is usually implemented in the form of crypto tokens. For example, in Axie Infinity, players generate “small love potions” that can actually be sold for real money. In Sorare, the actual football players’ cards can be sold on NFT marketplaces. The common logic applied for all P2E games is the following:

  • Players invest some “fiat” money to buy in-game values
  • Players are actually playing a game and earn more in-game value than they’ve invested
  • Players can exchange the earned in-game value for the “fiat” currency

The process of developing a P2E game has lots in common with traditional game development. The main difference lies in the in-game economy known as tokenomics. It is a whole new value exchange infrastructure that helps users to create value in a crypto token form, and exchange that value to other crypto tokens or fiat currency. To employ NFTs in games, developers need to take advantage of blockchain and smart contracts that establish the rules for the use of the NFTs. 

Features that differentiate Blockchain Game Development 

NFT games are now mainly developed on Ethereum, Tron, and Binance Smart Chain (BSC). Smart contracts and blockchain make NFT game development different from traditional web and mobile games. But before developing your NFT game, there are a number of essential things to consider:

  • Fraud prevention

In the crypto space, trust and security are paramount. But there are some ways users can try to cheat the system like faking new accounts for extra entry bonuses. So you need to protect your in-game system from any possible fraudulent actions. 

  • Tokenomics 

Tokenomics is a structure of game economics and value system. It governs the in-game economy processes like token minting, issuance, burning, staking, etc. 

  • Micropayments 

Micropayments are small transactions or online payments usually less than a dollar. The adoption of micropayments allows game publishers to build deeper connections with their players and improve gaming experience.

  • Game Currency 

Players can earn in-game revenue which they can spend to get paid versions or buy in-game assets. This facilitates players to play more, win more, and spend more. 

  • Smart contracts 

Smart contracts provide all information about vendor winning prices, conditions, and information on role-playing games. 

  • Ownership 

All game assets like shields or swords are encoded in NFTs. Players can buy, sell, and exchange these elements with other players. In some cases, in-game NFTs can be even traded outside the system. 

Development stages of NFT games 

NFT games would have sounded unbelievable only a few years ago, but thanks to the rise of cryptocurrencies, they are quickly becoming a mainstream gaming trend. Blockchain games have gained massive popularity and redefined the way users interact with games. But how to develop an NFT game and make it thrive? Here’s our brief step-by-step guide to get you through the development process. 

  1. Define your app idea 

This is the point where you need to clearly define what you intend to build. Here are some useful questions to help you narrow down your gaming ideas:

  • What game type are you going to develop?
  • Are there any similar apps on the market?
  • How are you going to monetize your NFT game?

While defining your app idea, it’s better to research the market, study its trends, and try to find similar blockchain or non-blockchain games. This can help you create a solid foundation for your game’s development. Try to identify its strengths and weaknesses and examine what does and doesn’t work in specific cases. Similar games can also serve as inspiration when you figure out how to do something better. 

Don’t forget about design. When it comes to NFT games, app design is the bread and butter of user acquisition. Without fascinating graphics, you’re not likely to attract many players. 

2. Develop your game 

When partnering with Unicsoft, you don’t have to worry about the development process. We take the development process off your back. Our developers will turn your game ideas into a fully-functioning NFT game with the help of modern technologies and tools like blockchains, smart contracts, crypto exchanges, in-game tokens, and integration with crypto and fiat payment systems. 

3. Testing 

The QA team needs to run a series of tests to ensure the flawless performance of your game. Everything needs to be checked, including usability, key user stories, tokenomics, engagement mechanics, notifications, smoothness of the actual gameplay, penetration testing, security testing, load balancing testing… Everything needs to be taken into account, as after a launch, any glitch or bug is going to impact your reputation and business.

4. Deployment and support

At this stage, you can present your P2E game to the world. But the success of your game requires more than just development. Consider kicking off your marketing campaign and user engagement initiatives before launch. 

P2E game creation team

Moreover, each development stage of your P2E game requires different specialists. So you have three common opportunities – outsource to a blockchain development company, hire freelancers, or recruit an in-house team. 

Although it does require QA testers, graphic designers, and blockchain architects – these roles aren’t involved in the whole process. In fact, blockchain works out to 10-15% of the whole development process. The number of specialists required to build your p2e game depends on lots of factors like the type of the game, its complexity, type of platforms, etc.  

A standard development team required to develop a simple p2e game consists of:

  • Project managers
  • Business analysts
  • Frontend developers
  • Backend developers 
  • Blockchain developers
  • UI designers 
  • Game designers
  • QA engineers 

Top P2E blockchain development challenges

Building a P2E game is one of the most profitable ventures in 2022 and will remain so in the years ahead as these games have the potential for rapid growth and high accessibility. Arriving among the first to the market guarantees your highest chance for success. When partnering with an experienced and renowned blockchain developer, you are taking the first step towards getting your blockchain game in the hands of users. But there are still some things you should know about:

Choosing the right blockchain technology

Actually, there are four direct ways to develop your play-to-earn game:

  1. Utilize renowned and tested blockchains Ethereum or other Ethereum-based alternative blockchains (like Polygon or Binance smart chain). This is a great choice for simple games that aren’t likely to scale into projects with millions of players. The main drawback is that you don’t have direct control of the blockchain your game is built on, its protocol, features or its fees. There is no guarantee that the transaction fees will remain the same for years or that nothing will happen to a chosen blockchain in the long run. 
  2. Develop your own blockchain from scratch or fork the existing one. For sure, it’s the most flexible option, but it requires lots of time and resources to assemble a team of specialists and launch the chain. Note that a custom blockchain requires extra rounds of security audits and a big team of developers to support it, and ensure that it is hacker-proof. The main benefit of your own blockchain is total control over the underlying infrastructure. 
  3. Make use of an “exotic” blockchain like Solana. In this case, developers can receive grants from a particular blockchain representative to develop on their platform. To succeed, you’ll need a proof of concept to get permission to develop your game on such a platform. If you decide to go with a non-mainstream blockchain, you’ll need to prepare for a limited pool of developers with the right skills and experience for your blockchain project. Hence, the developers may cost twice as much as those working with traditional blockchains like Ethereum, Polygon or Binance Smart Chain.
  4. While developing your p2e game, you can mix several blockchains. For example, Axie Infinity runs on Ethereum but also leverages the Ronin sidechain to speed the transaction processing and optimize fees.

Centralized vs. decentralized P2E games

Though there are some decentralized games in the market, they aren’t likely to scale in the long run. However, it is possible to make separate elements of in-game economics decentralized, such as the ownership of personal assets. 

Centralized games have their own list of benefits – full control over the network and users. With centralized games, it’s easier to attract users that are not crypto geeks since they don’t need in-depth blockchain knowledge to understand the game’s flow. For example, when a new user joins the game, centralized p2e games allow for onboarding the user and explaining all the basics of the Web3 environment. Thus, there are lower chances that the user will abandon the game due to the lack of understanding. 

One other key aspect in favor of centralization is responsibility and commitment. When you are building a product with a financial component, users are more likely to invest their money if there is a legal entity bearing all the responsibilities. Therefore having a centralized entity in charge is always beneficial if you aim to scale to millions of users.

In-game economy  

You need to thoroughly plan your in-game tokenomics depending on the number of users you aim to attract. Mechanisms that work with a 50K user base probably won’t be as effective as working with millions of users. When launching a p2e game and planning to attract millions of users, you need to develop the token lifecycle from generation to burning. There might be different in-game tokens, depending on their functions: they can be used as in-game currency, in-game assets or as upgrade options. Moreover, tokens can be used to attract investments.

Upgradability of smart contracts

Despite the fact that many blockchain developers strive to take smart contracts to the next level and make them upgradable, this functionality is just a gimmick, not a feature. By nature, smart contracts cannot be changed once deployed. So the upgradability of smart contracts is just a marketing trick. Most blockchain developers mean replacing an old smart contract with a new one by the term “upgrade”.

The process of smart contract replacement is fully invisible to end users, and they will never notice the change. But under the hood, there might be an entirely new smart contract with its own set of new features. Until we see the token standards evolve, this “replacement” remains one of the dominant options for “upgrading” smart contracts.

How much does it cost to develop a P2E game?

Developing any game is a multistage process and requires a team of experts to bring your app idea to life. So that’s not an easy question game developers can answer right off the bat. The end price can not be stated beforehand since a lot of factors can influence the cost of the project, like the degree of complexity, game genre, scenario complexity, the number of platforms, complexity of animations, etc. 

For sure, anyone can download free game dev tools and create a game just for fun, but not a play-to-earn one. Developing blockchain games require in-depth knowledge of coding practices, blockchain nuances, and a full understanding of in-game economics. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, and developing a top game isn’t easy. 

Before splitting the cost, you need to understand that game development may last up to 9 months before you can get something that reminds you of a P2E game. 

Extra game features influencing the cost of developing a play-to-earn game

  • Multiplayer mode 
  • Competition mechanism and esports 
  • In-game and cross-game store 
  • Highly-realistic graphics 
  • New gameplay mechanics and tokenomics 
  • A large number of possibilities for a player
  • High-end cut scenes 

Ballpark cost estimates for a P2E game 

  • Indie games

An indie game is an independent video game built without the support of a publisher. If we are speaking about an indie game, you can expect to come in around $250k to $750k. The upper amount is about a full development team working 2+ years on a game. The cost increases as you add more people or reduce time to market. 

  • AAA games 

AAA game development is used to signify high-profile, high-budget game produced and distributed by well-known game publishers. Their development requires millions of dollars but has big potential returns. Most AAA games require large teams consisting of 100+ people working for several years. For example, the development of Call of Duty games involves large studios and millions of dollars. 

  • Triple “i” games

It’s a mix of indie and triple-A games. Triple “i” games get the creativity from indie games and higher budgets from AAA games. In most cases, the development costs range from $1 million to $10 million. As mentioned above, there are a multitude of factors influencing the end price of a project. 

The play-to-earn game development cost will vary depending on features developed: you’re going to develop an indie with minimum animated pieces and a few levels, or create more epic game, like a strategy or 3D mobile game with lots of characters, hundreds or thousands of unique items, highly complex levels, and so on. The development cost of such a project can cost 10-20 times more than a mini-game. 

Summing up 

Estimating a project’s budget without knowing the number of platforms, type of game, and other key details isn’t possible. On average, developing a P2E game can take years, and project costs can quickly add up to millions of dollars. Furthermore, there are a number of variables along the way that can influence the final cost of developing a play-to-earn game. 

At Unicsoft, we are pioneering the world of blockchain technologies for games. We’ve built a variety of blockchain-based projects across a range of industries. Now Unicsoft partners with Whimsy Games to create mind-blowing NFT gaming projects and provide full-cycle play2earn game development services for our clients. Want to find out how Unicsoft can take your game to the next level? Contact us for your free kick-off consultation.