Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of making a living 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 rather than virtual princesses or gold stars point towards another where one’s ranking on a scoreboard could possibly be rewarded in dollars, and sterling, euros and yen.
The story of the millionaire (virtual) real estate agent…
More info have been slowly gaining in maturity both with regards to their functionality and the financial infrastructure that enables them to be used as a credible option to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the very first and most popular of the crypto-currencies was made in 2009 2009 2009 there have been forms of virtual currencies used in video games for a lot more than 15 years. 1997’s Ultima Online was the first notable attempt to add a large scale virtual economy in a game. Players could collect coins by undertaking quests, battling monsters and finding treasure and spend these on armour, weapons or real estate. 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 life economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation due to the game mechanics which ensured that there was 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 was 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 aim of gaining experience points to be able to level-up their characters thereby making them better and popular. These characters would then be in love with eBay to Western gamers who have been unwilling or unable to devote the hours to level-up their own characters. Using the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency due to real life trading that took place Edward Castronova, Professor of Telecommunications at Indiana University and an expert in virtual currencies estimated that in 2002 EverQuest was the 77th richest country on the planet, somewhere between Russia and Bulgaria and its 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 is perhaps the most complete example of a virtual economy up to now whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar which may be used to get 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 were able to design, promote and sell content they created. Real estate was a particularly lucrative commodity to trade, in 2006 Ailin Graef became the very first 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 will be the exception to the rule however, only a recorded 233 users making more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Lifestyle.
How 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 exchange 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 could be set to change with the advent of video gaming being built from the bottom up round the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has taken is to ‘gamify’ what is usually the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real world currencies which come into existence if they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are manufactured by being ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a particular 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 only intangible data it is more susceptible to fraud than physical currency in that you’ll be able to duplicate a unit of currency thereby causing inflation or altering the value 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 one which involves lots 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. Because it can take anything from several days to years for a person to successfully mine a coin sets of users combine their resources right into a mining ‘pool’, utilizing the joint processing power of their computers to mine coins quicker.
HunterCoin the overall game sits within this type of blockchain for a digital currency also called HunterCoin. The act of playing the overall game replaces the automated procedure for mining digital currency and for the first time helps it be 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 out there attempting to stop them and steal their coins) they are able to cash out their coins by depositing them into 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 whenever a player is killed and their coins dropped. As the game graphics are basic and significant rewards remember to accumulate HunterCoin can be an experiment that might be seen as the first video game 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 set in space where players explore an ever-growing universe, mining natural resources such as asteroids and trading them for goods with other players with the goal of building their very own galactic empire. Players will be rewarded for mining in DogeCoin, a far more established form of digital currency that is currently used widely for micro-payments on various social media 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 can be traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video gaming?
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 currently being considered as methods to model the outbreak of epidemics because of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model areas of human behaviour to real world outbreaks. It may be surmised that eventually in-game virtual economies could possibly 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 an excellent test for the functionality and potential applications of digital currencies which have the promise of moving beyond mere vehicles of exchange and into exciting regions of personal digitial ownership for instance. In the mean time, players now have the methods 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 just one 1.005 HunterCoin (HUC) for joining HunterCoin the game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC cannot be exchanged right to USD, one must convert it right 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 then to USD, before any transaction fees were taken into consideration would equate to… $0.01 USD. This is not to say that as a player becomes more adept they cannot 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 think it’s safe to state that at the moment even efforts like this might only realistically result in enough change for a daily McDonalds. Unless players are willing to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a game such as CoinHunter that’s built on the Bitcoin blockchain it really is improbable that rewards are ever likely to be more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And perhaps this is a good thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being a game any more?