Speed walking past Gucci on Barcelona’s modernist Passeig de Gracia, I could not help but chuckle as I remembered that the shoes I wear when I go on a run cost twice as much as the latest trends on these luxury shelves.
Plus, my shoes do not even really exist.
I glance down at my phone and see my shoes, or rather the non-fungible token, a sort of image protected by the same technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. I speed walk through the strolling shoppers in order to keep my app’s speedometer in the green zone, and thus, make more money.
Like their play-to-earn cousins that allow you to earn cryptocurrencies as you play video games, these apps give you digital coins as you exercise. To sweat and earn some coins at the same time - Who doesn’t want?
While this seems like paradise, the startup costs are high, and the application is new. When I would start making money? And is this going to be fun, like, ever?
What I found over time was that the app has no accountability. With bugs galore and on-the-fly rule changes, putting your money here promises big returns, but only if the app developers says so.
Stepn App: The Pitch
STEPN is a move-to-earn app. Users earn native currencies Green Satoshi Tokens (GST) and Green Metaverse Tokens (GMT) simply by walking, jogging, or running. This app has garnered more followers this Spring, with the native GMT token going from selling for one cent in March to $2.40 in April 2022.
Just to put that in perspective: if you have $100 in GMT in March, by April you had $24,000. This is also a measurement of how successful the app has become.
In order to start earning, users must first buy a pair of digital non-fungible token (NFT) sneakers, turn on GPS tracking, and move outdoors. Sneakers right now are running for roughly $1,200, with the possibility to rent sneakers coming soon.
At more than a grand, this is quite the investment. However, with the price of the native token on the rise, every day not in the app feels like a wasted opportunity. The cryptocurrency world moves fast. Plus, the concept sounded interesting enough to my editors, so we decided to invest some money to see just what all the hype was about.
The one-thousand-dollar Sneakers that don’t exist
The first thing I had to do was purchase the sneakers. This was not as easy as I had hoped. It was actually quite stressful. I tried for several days to send the SOL necessary to buy the sneakers, only to get notifications several hours later that the network was too busy. When you’re sending $1,200 in a transaction and it does not work smoothly, you start to get nervous about what could happen with your money in this very loosely regulated market.
After several attempts, we did get the SOL into the STEPN wallet, but that is not where the problems stopped. In order to use the tokens, you have to transfer them from the wallet to the spending account. (You can think of it like savings and checking accounts) This transaction took several hours, during which the money was in neither location.
The money did eventually arrive, but this experience made me realize that I would have no one to go to if my money simply disappeared. In the Wild Wild West, STEPN is the only Sherriff in town.
With the money safely in my wallet, I strolled through the marketplace. The shoes are a colorful collection of polygon trainers. But the real difference is in the attributes and statistics that each shoe brings.
How I Tried to Make it Work
I was eager to get started! I figured the sooner, the better. Before you buy shoes, you can use the in-app speedometer to measure your speed. I decided to turn it on as I walked to the grocery store.
I live in a pedestrian area, so on this short walk through Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, I was able to maintain a constant pace. Flicking my finger to keep the app open, with one eye on the speed and the other avoiding bicycles rushing by, I was able to decide that Joggers would be the best option for me.
Here are the three different speed levels:
Runners provide a base earning of 6 GST, joggers 5, and walkers 4. If you can get yourself to run everyday, then go with the fast ones.
You will also choose the attributes of your kicks.
Here are the four categories:
How much will you have to invest in your shoe’s upkeep
How much GST will you earn with your shoes per minute
How much GMT will you earn. (You only start to earn GMT at level 30)
What are your chances of finding a treasure box
My strategy was to go for efficiency all the way, with a slight eye to resilience, as this also effects my bottom line. I will switch to luck in later shoes, as that could be an important thing to have later. But for now, the GST is what matter most.
Shoes are also classified by how rare or common they are and how fast your most efficient speed will be (are you a walker, jogger or runner?). Each day you have 10 minutes to earn what you can. Once you have three sneakers (roughly $3,600 worth of digital footwear),
You can use SOL to buy gems to increase your shoes’ attributes, and GST and GMT to level up or to repair your worn out kicks. Feel fre to sell any of your NFT sneakers on the in-app marketplace as a way to make some extra money.
Bugs OverDetermine the Game
Standing outside my apartment, I was pumped. I was curious to see how much I would earn on my first jog and what this experience would be like.
I click “start,” and the app counts down: 3, 2, 1.
I start moving down the busy pedestrian streets, trying my best to keep the speedometer between 4 and 10 km/hr. I immediately notice that the speed is quite inaccurate-when doing the same speed, it may show 10 or 2 km/hr. It seems to depend as much on you as it does on the speed of their server and the quality of the signal.
Nonetheless, you do have some control, and they will definitely notice if you stop. So when I came to my first stop light, I panicked. Without second-guessing, I crossed the street when I normally would not have. I realized how rushed and absurdly excited I must look. After all, no one else on the streets knows I am wearing digital shoes.
While the big draw here is the promise of making some cryptocurrencies, I was surprised by how fun the game was. The actual walking or running is a uniquer experience as you are bridging the digital and physical worlds. You feel like a real-life character in a video game.
The most fun part, however, is the strategy. In addition to running, you can “burn” the native GST and GMT tokens to level up your shoe and create new ones. As you get more shoes, you can run for more time and make more money. All of this takes a lot of thinking, calculating, and, above all, patience.
With so many factors including gems, sockets, different attributes, speed levels, and running time, you can take a number of routes to get to the top.
Something makes me feel hurried in this. During my month of gameplay, the app updated so that certain levels suddenly cost nearly twice as much. I have read online that shoes used to cost around $600. In other words, the earlier you get in and the faster you level up, the more money you make.
I found myself obsessing. Opening the app every hour or so, knowing that nothing had changed. I saw at least one person who invested $10,000 in less than a month on the app. The game developers want us to keep our money in the app, burning the native tokens (and thus reducing their availability and increasing their value). With the constant feeling of being behind and needing to catch up, it is tough to know exactly when this could start to be profitable.
One month in, and i have yet to withdrawal a dime. It starts to feel like we had sunk a grand like it was the Titanic. If this had been my personal hard-earned cash, I’d be quite frustrated.
The things is, if I just wanted to withdrawal and not reinvest, I could have made a few hundred bucks back towards recovering my start-up costs, but the game incentivizes you to continually invest the money you earn back into it. Because the prices and rules are always changing, you end up falling behind if you do not re-invest. Of course, this is how they deflate their tokens and make money.
The Pressure for Continued Investing
My main strategy was to level up the shoes as much as possible, only investing the minimum in repairs. The earlier I leveled up, the more I would be making more money. EVentually I would switch from leveling up to saving to buy a second pair of shoes. Once you have three shoes, then you get more time to earn every day, drastically improving your standing.
However, this takes a long time. I am a month in, and I am still leveling up. Between a few app bugs that slowed down my progress (like when I lost all my running time and was charged $40 in shoe repairs seemingly without explanantion), and the time it necessrily takes, it can start to feel like you are running in virtual circles, never quite finding the exit that you supposedly came here for.
I love this type of strategizing. Calciulating stats and strategies with multiple variables motivates me. However, one could continue investing forever. My good time, turned into an obsession, and in some ways resembled an addiction. The constant checking in and the ups and downs of advancing, but always feeling like it is not enough.
Trying to Throw in the Towel
Once I realized that this game was hanging on by thread–the thread being the price of the token and the whims of the developers, I knew I had to get out while I could. I decided to sell my shoes back on the STEPN marketplace. Or, at least, I tried.
You have to keep in mind that the fees are 6% of the selling price, so you will have to take that out of your profits.
I put my shoe on the marketplace, however, the shoe seems to be too valuable. All the investment into it has made it unreeachable. It has been on the markert for more than a week without any buyers.
Because the economy is self-contained, if it fails, you can lose it all. The NFTs and tokens have little value outside of the app, making users very dependent on the continued functioning of a single program.
The Promise of Profit is Always Delayed
Promises of making money while staying fit sound too good to be true. And maybe they are. In this unregulated market, STEPN was able to take me for a ride, change costs and manipulate my energy levels at will. Like the Wild West, the long arm of the law does not reach very far into the metaverse.
The STEPN app has been a lot of fun, but maybe for all the wrong reasons. Getting hooked is too easy, and is there goal. The more we burn, the more they earn. Playing this game is good for the strong of will, or those willing to risk it in an unregulated economic sphere. In the end, the rewards and risks are not a huge surprise. Getting into a covered wagon and heading west has always been this way.