Deep Dive
February 16, 2024

Skill-Based Gaming or Pay-to-Win In Disguise?

Let's examine the recent contender who claims to embody Skill-Based Gaming design

The paradigm shift within GameFi signals the imminent rise of the new on-chain gaming trend that’s set to dominate headlines in months to come. This upcoming wave will cast aside the outdated mechanisms focused on inflationary tokens and ever-present mercenary capital. Instead, a new era dawns, marked by games incorporating a skill-based approach at their core.

Understanding this shift leads us to take a closer look at the new games entering the market, claiming to establish skill-based economies. However, beneath these claims, these games may still hide various Play-to-Earn or Pay2Win features, potentially affecting in-game balance or destroying it entirely in the long run. That is why scrutinizing whether these are genuinely skill-based games gives us a snapshot of the current landscape, answering whether creators and studios are embracing skill-based mechanisms or sticking to the old rules of the 2021 GameFi era which will eventually lead them to share the same fate as their predecessors.

The Contender - Heroes of Mavia

Heroes of Mavia, a game inspired by the popular web2 Clash of Clans game, is making changes and improvements to fit into the world of web3 gaming, catching the attention of crypto fans and doing its best to expand its reach. The game's core idea is to bring Clash of Clans mechanisms and popularity onto the blockchain, opening up ways for money to flow into the game and its ecosystem which in web3 is less limiting than in the world of traditional mobile gaming - from the creator’s perspective. One significant channel for this cash flow is through Mavia Land NFTs, which serve as the player's base land that can, but doesn’t have to be owned to play the game - at least for now. If this changes at some point, we will reach a scenario where you can't really dive into the game without holding one of these NFTs, currently priced at around $2000 - and being limited in supply to just 10,000 Lands. While Mavia Land NFTs will probably play a vital role in the ecosystem, it is unimaginable to think that the game will limit its userbase to just 10,000 by having Mavia Lands NFT becoming an obligatory entry ticket. What will be the long-term benefit of holding such NFT then? Will it destroy the in-game balance?

It’s worth noting that there are also extra NFTs like Hero or Statue NFTs that players can create, potentially shaking up the game balance if they decide to pursue its creation and making it “obligatory” to own one if the player would like to stand a chance.

All of this strikes a big question: Is the Heroes of Mavia game all about the money as it was the case with 2021 games, or can a skilled player outshine someone whose only power move is his deep pocket? The answer to that question is a bit tricky, especially with the game being still in development, but let’s see what mechanisms can we currently find that can tell us a bit about the direction Heroes of Mavia is heading towards.

Skill-Based or Pay-to-Win?

Diving into why Heroes of Mavia leans towards a skill-based design sheds light on the differences among players who are well-versed in Clash of Clans gameplay and those who are new to this style of gaming. Veterans of Clash of Clans mechanics, unfazed by the grind needed to outperform opponents, use skill not only in constructing bases but also in planning attacks and defending their own bases against opponents' attacks. Here, things like strategically setting up walls, positioning turrets, and managing resources (Gold, Ruby, and initially given Sapphire) can seriously impact a player's standing on the leaderboard.

The upcoming PvP Arena will add another layer of competition, where players can battle it out for prizes - but the details are not yet known and all that we know today can be changed along the way. However, it's unclear whether Pay-to-Win features will find its way into the arena. Common sense suggests that if Pay-to-Win elements, like real-money-based Sapphire currency, will be commonly used in the game, they might as well be allowed in PvP Arena and influence the final outcomes. This will lead to the situation where players who don't want to shell out real money might struggle against those who invest in beefing up their bases, or in the worst case scenario, those players will not stand a chance against those with deep pockets.

Looking at the Pay-to-Win elements in Heroes of Mavia we see that those are closely linked to the in-game currency - Sapphire, which you can only get by spending real money, as it is often the case in web2 gaming. Even more, owning Mavia Land NFTs gives a significant boost to how quickly players earn Ruby, an in-game currency you can get without spending real money, but which can significantly boost your performance. While some players might prefer to grind for Ruby, those who buy Sapphire can speed up the process either by spending it or exchanging for Ruby - which cannot be exchanged back into Sapphire. Notably, Ruby and Sapphire are key players in speeding up Gold accumulation and overall base growth, replacing grind with a monetary investment. However, Ruby isn't just a way to amp up a player's performance; it's also a token sink for visual upgrades, bringing in skins for units and bases. 

This raises questions about the long-term significance of Ruby, its potential to disturb the in-game balance, and its future significance within the game. The ever-changing nature of the project suggests an ongoing shift that could swing towards Skill-Based gaming or embrace Pay-to-Win features. Depending on the path chosen it can either become an interesting case study, or the same old story we know from 2021.

The Hybrid in Development

Figuring out where Mavia stands right now is a bit tricky because it's like a mix of both skill-based and money-focused gaming. While it seems it can be all about skill in things like the upcoming PvP arena or strategic resource management, there's still some debate about the core gameplay.

On one hand, the game really hammers home the importance of skills and managing your base, making a noticeable gap between experienced Clash of Clans players and those just jumping in. On the flip side, however, there are mechanisms that let players significantly boost their performance by e.g. earning Ruby or buying Sapphire, if they decide to invest some funds in Mavia Lands NFTs or in in-game currencies. Currently Heroes of Mavia resembles a hybrid model where players with access to funds can either earn passive income, lease out their lands, and get $RUBY, or they can invest in units and bases. On the other hand though it still underscores the importance of one’s game mastery, skill, and strategic thinking.

There’s one more thing that makes Heroes of Mavia definitely deserve credit and it is for making it far easier for more people to get into the game. Being available on Google Play - the Android app store, and Apple’s AppStore, Heroes of Mavia is trying to extend its reach to players who spend their time in web2 mobile games and don’t know anything about the world of crypto and blockchain. That’s why being available on main mobile app stores is key to growing the game's network effect and showing mainstream what blockchain gaming is capable of.

This mix of skill and money puts Heroes of Mavia right at the forefront of a gaming revolution, shaking up the usual Skill-Based versus Pay-to-Win divide. However, while the revolution will definitely come, it’s questionable if Heroes of Mavia will last long enough to witness the rise of GameFi. With the project still under development it can swing to either side and the question is which side will the team choose to stay on.

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