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Iranians Flock to Hamster Kombat App During Economic Crisis – Echoing Axie Infinity’s Rise and Fall

Last Updated June 26, 2024 1:59 PM
James Morales
Last Updated June 26, 2024 1:59 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Hamster Kombat has taken Iran by storm.
  • Iranians struggling with the country’s economic situation have embraced the viral Telegram game’s tap-to-earn model.
  • Web3 games like Axie Infinity have a history of virality in developing economies.

After years of crippling sanctions and with annual inflation standing at around 30% , Iran’s gloomy economic outlook has left many in the country looking for alternative sources of income.  

Enter Hamster Kombat. The tap-to-earn Telegram game that rewards users with crypto has become a runaway success in Iran. Like Axie Infinity, the viral Web3 app has found a large user base in the developing world, where GameFi trends can provide (usually fleeting) relief from the dire economic reality.

How Iran Got Hooked on Hamster Kombat

Telegram has emerged as one of Iran’s most popular communication apps. In a country with strict media censorship, Telegram provides an alternative to government-blocked platforms like Viber and Line.

Its widespread usage has laid the groundwork for the success of Hamster Kombat, a Telegram mini-app in which players take on the role of a Hamster crypto exchange CEO to mine coins by tapping their screens and completing tasks.

Like its peer Notcoin, Hamster Kombat is built on TON (The Open Network), a blockchain that supports Telegram-native decentralized apps.

A token generation event for Hamster Kombat’s in-game currency Hamster Token (HMSTR) is scheduled for July, although an exact date hasn’t yet been specified.

Against the backdrop of limited economic opportunity, the promise of free crypto has got many Iranians tapping away like crazy. 

The trend has even caught the attention of Iranian authorities. Habibollah Sayyari, the deputy chief of the country’s military, described  the game as part of a “soft war by the enemy” designed to distract Iranians from the upcoming presidential election.  

From the perspective of a developed country, spending hours playing a game to earn tokens that are unlikely to ever be worth more than a few cents seems like mindless escapism. And in many ways it is. But there is also a precedent for Web3 gamers turning viral trends into real (although limited) income.

GameFi in Developing Economies

Shorthand for the world of play-to-earn Web3 tokenomics, GameFi has taken root in developing countries, where smartphone ownership has expanded significantly in recent years but underemployment remains an ongoing problem.

Perhaps the most noteworthy example of the phenomenon is Axie Infinity, a fantasy battle game that in 2022 drew as much as 40%  of its user base from the Philipines.

Blockchain gaming first kicked off in the Southeast Asian country during the COVID-19 pandemic, when nationwide lockdowns threatened the livelihoods of many Filipinos, especially those working in the informal sector.

At the height of its popularity, there were reports  of people using Axie Infinity’s governance token Smooth Love Potion (SPL) to pay for groceries as the 2021 crypto bull cycle sent the price of GameFi tokens soaring. But its success didn’t last.

From a peak of around 2.8 million daily  active users, today, Axie Infinity barely attracts a few hundred thousand. Meanwhile, Axie Infinity Shards (AXS) and SLP have collapsed by more than 90% from their all-time highs.

Virality in Blockchain Gaming

From the very first arcade games, gaming has been characterized by cycles of popularity, with new titles constantly emerging as the next must-play trend.

Without the loyalty afforded by consoles, PC- and smartphone-focused Web3 games are especially prone to virality. 

Idle clicker games like Hamster Kombat can certainly be addictive. But they don’t exactly promote long-term engagement. 

While there is no evidence to support his “soft war” theory, there is nonetheless some truth to Sayyari’s statement. Hamster Kombat is a distraction. Anyone who’s ever used games to divert their attention from problems personal or political can attest to their power in this regard.

With half of the Iranian population living below the poverty line , you can hardly blame them for seeking temporary distractions. And given its potential as a hedge against inflation, the opportunity to learn something about crypto along the way is another bonus.

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