If you asked ten video gamers for their opinions about the introduction of cryptocurrencies and NFTs to video games, you’d probably get ten very different answers. It’s one of the hottest and most controversial topics in the gaming world at the moment, and the controversy isn’t going to go away any time soon.
To supporters, the introduction of crypto is a way to financially reward players for taking the time to invest in playing a game. To detractors, it’s a gimmick that saps all the fun out of gaming by making the financial side of things the single most important aspect.
Axie Infinity, an NFT-based battle game, is always one of the first success stories that fans of crypto in gaming point to when they’re asked for an example of a crypto game that’s genuinely fun to play. That’s unlikely to be the case anymore because £450m of cryptocurrency has been stolen from the game and its players.
Axie Infinity has been compared to Pokemon by both its publisher and those who play it. It uses a similar animation style to the popular “catch the creature” game and appeals to a similar demographic of players.
The game, the crypto coin available within it and the NFTs that go with the crypto are all provided by the Ronin Network blockchain, which confirmed the devastating news of the theft in a statement released on 29th March.
According to them, a previously-unnoticed exploit within the game allowed a single hacker to pull hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cryptocurrency away from the network and then transfer it to their own wallet before effectively disappearing off the face of the digital earth.
Ronin Network has promised that all affected players will get their money back, although it isn’t immediately clear that they have sufficient resources to honor that pledge. The money was taken in two separate transactions and amounted to 25.5m USDC plus 173,600 Ethereum.
Ironically, the theft was only possible because of features that Ronin had introduced to prevent thefts and fraudulent transactions from happening. Axie Infinity and the other games operated by Ronin make use of a series of “validator nodes” to ensure transactions are safe, but in this case, they gave special access to Sky Mavis, which is primarily responsible for the running of the game.
Sky Mavis appears to have failed to notice a backdoor in the RPC node, through which the hacker was able to find a signature for the game’s DAO validator and effectively “sign out” all of the cryptocurrency as if they already owned it.
Had the theft not been noticed after the second theft, it’s likely that the hacker would have come back for more. The game has generated more than £3bn in NFT sales alone and is played by almost two million people every day.
The consequences of the hack are likely to be severe. RON, which is the game’s native token, has already fallen by more than twenty per cent since the announcement of the hack and is likely to fall further for as long as accounts remain locked down.
The drop in value is unlikely to inconvenience the hacker, who has almost certainly already washed the money and exchanged it for Ethereum or Bitcoin in preparation for withdrawing it as real-world cash. This is the latest in a series of big-money thefts in the crypto world – a fact that pokes several large holes in the argument that decentralized currency is more secure than traditional currency.
Almost £500m was taken from the Poly Network in August 2023, and in January this year, approximately £20m was taken from the Crypto.com network despite the website initially trying to claim that the security breach it had experienced was a minor incident.
For as long as accounts remain locked down – and nobody knows how long that will be at the moment – players will remain nervous about whether their money is gone forever. Hardcore players who logged into Axie Infinity every day had built up around £10,000 worth of crypto, but it’s known that there are a few players who’d earned six figures and have theoretically lost everything.
While the game will undoubtedly continue to generate money so long as players keep playing it, there’s a huge question mark over whether this hack has shattered the confidence of players in both the game and the platform.
If that’s the case, it’s hard to see how Ronin can possibly replace what’s been lost. With crypto being an unregulated sector by design, the chances of the victims of the theft getting their money back via any other means are slim to none.
The fact that there have been three high-profile thefts involving several hundred million pounds worth of cryptocurrencies in the past few months alone appears to have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of those who embrace the arrival of crypto in conventional gaming.
It’s a trend that’s also reflected at online casinos, where it’s becoming ever-more uncommon for casinos that aren’t licensed in the UK to offer crypto as a form of payment.
We’ve been paying attention to the casino reviews and comparisons posted at sistersites.co.uk, which has been on top of this trend and records Bitcoin and Ethereum as accepted forms of payment at casinos on an increasingly regular basis.
Earth 2, which was touted as the world’s biggest MMO game, has become a huge crypto and NFT exchange platform despite the fact that the game seems no closer to being delivered than it was more than two years ago when it was first announced.
This is a trend that isn’t going away. The thefts don’t stop it, and the bad press around NFTs doesn’t seem to stop it either. Cryptocurrencies and NFTs are part of web3, and web3 is coming whether people want it or not.
Gamers have grown to loath microtransactions and loot boxes, but they continue to pay for them anyway. So long as there’s a way for companies to make money by including these features – and perhaps a way for players to make money while playing, too – more games like Axie Infinity will be released. Let’s hope that doesn’t also mean that thefts of this kind become more frequent.