Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of earning money by playing video games is edging nearer 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 a future where one’s ranking on a scoreboard could possibly 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 utilized as a credible alternative to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most popular 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 first notable attempt to incorporate a large scale virtual economy in a game. Players could collect gold coins by undertaking quests, battling monsters and finding treasure and spend these on armour, weapons or property. This was an early on incarnation of a virtual currency for the reason that it existed purely within the overall game though it did mirror real world economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation due to the overall game mechanics which ensured that there was a never ending supply of monsters to kill and thus 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 what to each other on eBay. In a genuine 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 aim of gaining experience points in order 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 the real world 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 example of a virtual economy up to now whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar and this can be used to buy or sell in-game goods and services can 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 10 years between 2002-13, Second Life having turn into a marketplace where players and businesses alike could actually design, promote and sell content they created. Real estate was a particularly lucrative commodity to trade, in 2006 Ailin Graef became the 1st Second Life millionaire when she turned a short investment of $9.95 into over $1 million over 2.5 years through buying, selling and trading virtual property to other players. Examples such as Ailin will be the exception to the rule however, just a recorded 233 users making more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Lifestyle.
How exactly to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…
To date, the ability to generate non-virtual cash in video games has been of secondary design, the ball player having to go through non-authorised channels to exchange their virtual booty or they having to possess a degree of real world creative skill or business acumen that could be traded for cash. This may be set to change with the advent of video games being built from the bottom up around the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has had is to ‘gamify’ what is usually the rather technical and automated process of creating digital currency. Unlike real world currencies which come into existence if they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are created when you are ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a specific digital currency which allows it to function is named the blockchain, an online decentralised public ledger which records all transactions and currency exchanges between individuals. Since digital currency is nothing more than intangible data it is more prone 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’s 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’s made whereby with the aid of specialist hardware and software they ensure that data is not tampered with. This is an automatic process for miner’s software albeit an extremely time consuming one which involves a lot of 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 as an incentive to keep maintaining the network, thus is digital currency created. Since it may take anything from several days to years for an individual to successfully mine a coin sets of users combine their resources right into a mining ‘pool’, using the joint processing power of these computers to mine coins more quickly.
HunterCoin the game sits within such a blockchain for a digital currency also called 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 go 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 to their own digital wallet, typically an app designed 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. While the game graphics are basic and significant rewards take time 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 really a more polished approach towards gaming in a functioning economy. A Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG), VoidSpace is defined 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 purpose of building their own galactic empire. Players will be rewarded for mining in DogeCoin, a more established form of digital currency which 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 methods to make in-game purchases. Like HunterCoin, DogeCoin is 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 when it comes to quality the release of HunterCoin and VoidSpace can be an interesting indication of what could be the next evolution for games. MMORPG’s are currently 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 world outbreaks. It could be surmised that eventually in-game virtual economies could be used as models to check economic theories and develop responses to massive failures predicated on observations of how players use digital currency with real value. It is also a good test for the functionality and potential applications of digital currencies which have the promise of moving beyond mere vehicles of exchange and into exciting areas of personal digitial ownership for instance. In the mean time, players now have the means to translate hours before a screen into digital currency and dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before you quit your day job…
… it’s worth mentioning current exchange rates. It’s estimated that 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 cannot be exchanged right to USD, one must convert it into a more established digital currency like Bitcoin. During 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 to USD, before any transaction fees were taken into account would mean… $0.01 USD. This is not to say that as a new player becomes more adept they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and perhaps employ a few ‘bot’ programmes that would automatically play the game beneath the guise of another player and earn coins for them aswell but I believe it’s safe to say that at the moment even efforts like this might only realistically result in enough change for an everyday McDonalds. Unless coincapcentral are willing to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a game such as CoinHunter that is built on the Bitcoin blockchain it is improbable that rewards are ever apt to be a lot more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And perhaps this is a positive thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being truly a game any more?