A Crypto Game Promised to Lift Filipinos Out of Poverty. Here’s What Happened Instead

Samerson Orias was working as a line cook last year in the rural Philippines when his friend told him he could make way more money playing a new video game.

Axie Infinity was created by a Vietnam-based startup called Sky Mavis Inc. as part of the rising play-to-earn gamer movement. For other popular games like League of Legends and Fortnite, it’s common for elite players to make a living through sponsorships and revenue from streaming their games to online viewers. With Axie Infinity, the earning potential is baked right into the game play itself. “We believe in a world future where work and play become one,” the game’s website stated last year.

Sky Mavis takes a cut of in-game transactions and sits on a large stash of tokens. By last October, the company had raised more than $150 million from investors including the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.