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Axie Infinity’s vision of a “play-to-earn” video game has crumbled, and the company behind it now tells the players who bought into the hype it was never about the money, anyway.

Over the course of his life, Alejo Lopez de Armentia has played video games for a variety of reasons. There was the thrill of competition, the desire for companionship, and, at base, the need to pass the time. In his 20s, feeling isolated while working for a solar panel company in Florida, he spent his evenings using video games as a way to socialize with his friends back in Argentina, where he grew up.
But 10 months ago, Armentia, who’s 39, discovered a new game, and with it a new reason to play: to earn a living. Compared with the massively multiplayer games that he usually played, Axie Infinity was remarkably simple. Players control three-member teams of digital creatures that fight one another. The characters are cartoonish blobs distinguished by their unique mixture of interchangeable body parts, not unlike a Mr. Potato Head. During “combat” they cheerily bob in place, waiting to take turns casting spells against their opponents. When a character is defeated, it becomes a ghost; when all three squad members are gone, the team loses. A match takes less than five minutes.