Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of earning money by playing video games is edging closer to reality. The recent release of HunterCoin and the in-development VoidSpace, games which reward players in digital currency instead of virtual princesses or gold stars point towards another where one’s ranking on a scoreboard could be rewarded in dollars, and sterling, euros and yen.
The story of the millionaire (virtual) agent…
Digital currencies have been slowly gaining in maturity both with regards to their functionality and the financial infrastructure that allows them to be used as a credible option to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most well known of the crypto-currencies was created in 2009 2009 2009 there were forms of virtual currencies found in video games for more than 15 years. 1997’s Ultima Online was the initial notable attempt to incorporate a large scale virtual economy in a game. Bitcoin Era could collect coins by undertaking quests, battling monsters and finding treasure and spend these on armour, weapons or property. This was an early incarnation of a virtual currency in that it existed purely within the game though it did mirror real life economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation because of the overall game mechanics which ensured that there is a never ending supply of monsters to kill and therefore gold coins to collect.
Released in 1999, EverQuest took virtual currency gaming a step further, allowing players to trade virtual goods amongst themselves in-game and even though it had been prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual items to each other on eBay. In a real world phenomenon that was entertainingly explored in Neal Stephenson’s 2011 novel Reamde, Chinese gamers or ‘gold farmers’ were employed to play EverQuest along with other such games full-time with the purpose of gaining experience points to be able to level-up their characters thereby making them better and popular. These characters would then be sold on eBay to Western gamers who have been unwilling or unable to put in the hours to level-up their very own characters. Based on the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency due to real life trading that occurred Edward Castronova, Professor of Telecommunications at Indiana University and a specialist in virtual currencies estimated that in 2002 EverQuest was the 77th richest country on earth, somewhere within Russia and Bulgaria and its own GDP per capita was higher than the People’s Republic of China and India.
Launched in 2003 and having reached 1 million regular users by 2014, Second Life could very well be the most complete exemplory case of a virtual economy up to now whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar which is often used to get or sell in-game goods and services could be exchanged for real world currencies via market-based exchanges. There were a recorded $3.2 billion in-game transactions of virtual goods in the a decade between 2002-13, Second Life having turn into a marketplace where players and businesses alike could actually design, promote and sell content that they created. Real estate was a particularly lucrative commodity to trade, in 2006 Ailin Graef became the 1st Second Life millionaire when she turned an initial investment of $9.95 into over $1 million over 2.5 years through buying, selling and trading virtual real estate to other players. Examples such as Ailin are the exception to the rule however, just a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Life activities.
How exactly to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…
To date, the ability to generate non-virtual cash in video gaming has been of secondary design, the ball player having to proceed through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they having to possess a degree of real world creative skill or business acumen which could be traded for cash. This may be set to improve with the advent of video gaming being built from the bottom up around the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has had is to ‘gamify’ what’s typically the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real world currencies that come into existence when they are printed by way of a Central bank, digital currencies are manufactured by being ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a specific digital currency which allows it to function is called the blockchain, an online decentralised public ledger which records all transactions and currency exchanges between individuals. Since digital currency is only intangible data it is more susceptible to fraud than physical currency for the reason that you’ll be able to duplicate a unit of currency thereby causing inflation or altering the worthiness of a transaction after it has been made for personal gain. To ensure this does not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of every transaction that is made whereby with the aid of specialist hardware and software they make sure that data has not been tampered with. This is an automatic process for miner’s software albeit an exceptionally time consuming the one that involves many processing power from their computer. To reward a miner for verifying a transaction the blockchain releases a new unit of digital currency and rewards them with it being an incentive to help keep maintaining the network, thus is digital currency created. Because it may take anything from several days to years for a person to successfully mine a coin sets of users combine their resources into a mining ‘pool’, using the joint processing power of these computers to mine coins quicker.
HunterCoin the overall game sits within this type of blockchain for a digital currency also known as HunterCoin. The act of playing the game replaces the automated procedure for mining digital currency and for the first time makes it a manual one and without the need for expensive hardware. Using strategy, time and teamwork, players venture out onto a map searching for coins and on finding some and returning safely with their base (other teams are on the market attempting to stop them and steal their coins) they can cash out their coins by depositing them into their own digital wallet, typically an app made to make and receive digital payments. 10% of the value of any coins deposited by players go to the miners maintaining HunterCoin’s blockchain and also a small percent of any coins lost when a player is killed and their coins dropped. As the game graphics are basic and significant rewards remember to accumulate HunterCoin is an experiment that might be viewed as the first gaming with monetary reward built-in as a primary function.
Though still in development VoidSpace is a more polished approach towards gaming in a functioning economy. A Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG), VoidSpace is set in space where players explore an ever-growing universe, mining natural resources such as for example asteroids and trading them for goods with other players with the goal of building their very own galactic empire. Players will undoubtedly be rewarded for mining in DogeCoin, a more established form of digital currency that is currently used widely for micro-payments on various social media marketing sites. DogeCoin will also be currency of in-game trade between players and the means to make in-game purchases. Like HunterCoin, DogeCoin is really a legitimate and fully functioning digital currency and like HunterCoin it might be traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video games?
Though it is early days with regard to quality the release of HunterCoin and VoidSpace is an interesting indication of what could be the next evolution for games. MMORPG’s are being considered as ways to model the outbreak of epidemics because of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model aspects of human behaviour to real life outbreaks. It could be surmised that eventually in-game virtual economies could possibly be used as models to test economic theories and develop responses to massive failures based on observations of how players use digital currency with real value. Additionally it is an excellent test for the functionality and potential applications of digital currencies that have the promise of moving beyond mere vehicles of exchange and into exciting areas of personal digitial ownership for example. In the mean time, players will have the means to translate hours before a screen into digital currency and then dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before you quit your day job…
… it’s worth mentioning current exchange rates. It’s estimated a player could comfortably recoup their initial registration fee of 1 1.005 HunterCoin (HUC) for joining HunterCoin the overall game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC can’t be exchanged right to USD, one must convert it into a more established digital currency like Bitcoin. At the time of writing the exchange rate of HUC to Bitcoin (BC) is 0.00001900 as the exchange rate of BC to USD is $384.24. 1 HUC traded to BC and then to USD, before any transaction fees were taken into account would mean… $0.01 USD. This is simply not to say that as a player becomes more adept they cannot grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and perhaps hire a few ‘bot’ programmes that would automatically play the game under the guise of another player and earn coins for them as well but I think it’s safe to say that right now even efforts like this might only realistically result in enough change for a daily McDonalds. Unless players are prepared to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a casino game such as CoinHunter that is built on the Bitcoin blockchain it really is improbable that rewards are ever apt to be a lot more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And maybe this is a good thing, because surely if you get paid for something it stops being a game any more?