Blockchain Trilemma 2.0 — The Game-Fi Trilemma

STEPN Official
6 min readSep 29, 2021


The Blockchain Trilemma is a terminology coined by Vitalik Buterin. It is a list of issues that most blockchain developers are likely to encounter, namely decentralization, security and scalability. In Buterin’s view, it is very hard to achieve all three aspects, and in most cases, blockchain developers can only achieve two out of the three. Selected permissionless chains have claimed that they had solved the Trilemma three years after Buterin’s article. However, since the rise of De-Fi and Game-Fi, we are now facing a new Trilemma — The Game-Fi Trilemma. When the fine line between game and finance is blurring, we are in a whole new spectrum where gamification and financial incentive can be leveraged to achieve certain goals.

Undoubtedly, the Game-Fi concept changes how people perceive games, and this certainly draws attention from traditional game developers. What direction should the Game-Fi go? To answer this, we believe we must solve the Game-Fi trilemma before we can move forward.

Game-Fi Trilemma

The playability has two layers. The first layer is how smooth the game is running on the blockchain. If players are constantly facing the long network congestion, volatile gas fee and convoluted process of buying/selling game assets, then the game is not really playable. The second layer is how fun the game really is. It is interesting to see how people changed their perspective when it comes to Game-Fi — the gameplay seems less important than the play-to-earn component. It is true that the financial part is the driving force to keep people grinding in the game, but the game will face inevitable doom once its profitability drops — declining profitability makes player leave, and in turn creates less demand. This eventually leads to a downward spiral and pushes more players to leave. It is true players will eventually leave the game, but the playability acts as a retainer to keep them longer. In short, the playability determines how long a player stay in the game even the game’s profitability drops.

The profitability is very straightforward, it is the financial return for the money, time and energy the player invests in the game. The one issue with profitability is, to make the game play-to-earn, the game must quantify player’s in-game performance. For example, completing a set of daily tasks or winning a PvP battle must be result-orientated. In modern games, the game experience comes from both the game process and the end result. Since there is no “real” reward for the end result, the game process and the end result are more or less of equal importance. The Game-Fi concept breaks this balance, both game developers and players are tunnel visioned in the end result of the game, it is true higher profitability is the short-cut to success in Game-Fi, but it also limits the game to put repetitive grinding tasks for player to complete. In short, the profitability determines how long the players will put up with the game’s grinding mechanics until they burnout.

The accessibility refers to the barrier prevent people to participate play2earn games, this sounds strange because for crypto players, they already know how to use a decentralized wallet or swap, deposit and withdraw fiat or crypto assets — we have taken all these for granted. The famous story of Abraham Wald and missing bullet holes raises the unasked question in crypto space — what happened to the non-crypto players that missed out on Game-Fi? Why is this demographic never taken into consideration when Game-Fi developers design its game? What will be the impact if there is a Game-Fi project which can accommodate both non-crypto and crypto players?

For many Game-Fi projects, it requires a prior investment to the games’ asset, the player can then make money from play2earn mechanics, as much as this boosts the demands for game asset sales, it also prevents non-crypto people from participating the game, there are only a selected few Game-Fi projects break through the accessibility curse due to high profitability, but the game developers didn’t address this curse from a game design level. In short, the accessibility determines the potential player repertoire of the game, the bigger the repertoire, the longer the game could last.

Currently the Game-Fi’s potential player repertoire is the crypto community, however the size of crypto community is limited, a Game-Fi project can achieve rapid expansion in crypto community until it has the maximum market reach. It will soon find difficult to expand its market and the game will be forced to focus on player retention, which is an unwinnable battle base on empirical study by Harvard Business School.

For Game-Fi concept to really take off, we need to think forward of what the Game-Fi could be in the future. The first figure below shows the current status and the second figure below shows what could be in the future.

Status Quo of Game-Fi
Future of Game-Fi

Once we change our outlook about Game-Fi, we can start to deal with the Game-Fi trilemma we are facing:

1. The playable and profitable game has poor accessibility (current Game-Fi projects)

2. The playable and accessible game has poor profitability (traditional games)

3. The profitable and accessible “game” has poor playability (traditional free earning apps such as Sweatcoin)

How to break the accessibility barrier becomes the key component for the crypto native Game-Fi projects to achieve mass adaption. To do so, the Game-Fi project must meet following criteria:

1. The target demographic must be big enough and are crypto curious/friendly.

2. The financial part of the game must be simple enough to non-crypto player to understand.

3. The play-to-earn mechanics must be exploitation resistance.

4. The game’s core design must be built around a smooth game-asset-transfer capability.

Throughout our research of all the markets and communities, we believe we have found the answer to the Game-Fi trilemma. There is one niche market meets all these stringent criteria, and that is the runners’ community. There are at least 400 million runners using a mobile app to track their health data and the runners’ demographics are strikingly similar to crypto community. We believe a move-to-earn mechanics can make this work and the using NFT sneakers as a core game element will make the runners feel related to the game. Once they have made enough crypto earnings, it will be the main driving force for them to study how to cash out the crypto earnings to their local currency. After they cashed out their earnings, they would have possessed some basic knowledge to become an entry level crypto trader.

To accommodate this niche market, we have developed the first move-to-earn game called Find Satoshi on Solana and it is backed by Solana Capital. This game rewards players for their steps and we contribute portion of the game’s profit to carbon offsetting. To make the game’s assets easy to trade, we have included a decentralized wallet, a swap and a cross-chain convert to achieve a seamless game-asset transfer. We have also developed various of game elements and achievement system to keep it both mentally and physically challenging. To make the game profitable, we have developed the marketplace where NFT sneakers can be rented or traded. And to make the game accessible, new players entering the game requires zero spending and they can rent a NFT sneaker and start their play-to-earn journey. To find out more about our project, visit our website and follow us on twitter.



STEPN Official

STEPN is a Web3 lifestyle app with Social and Game elements.