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 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) agent…
Digital currencies have already 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 found in video games for a lot 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 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 in that it existed purely within the 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 way to obtain 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 real world phenomenon which 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 more powerful and sought after. These characters would then be sold on eBay to Western gamers who were 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 because of the real world trading that occurred Edward Castronova, Professor of Telecommunications at Indiana University and an expert in virtual currencies estimated that in 2002 EverQuest was the 77th richest country in the world, 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 which may be used to buy or sell in-game goods and services can be exchanged for real life currencies via market-based exchanges. There have been a recorded $3.2 billion in-game transactions of virtual goods in the 10 years between 2002-13, Second Life having become 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 very first 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 for example Ailin will be the exception to the rule however, only a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in 2009 2009 from Second Life activities.
How to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…
To date, the opportunity 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 life creative skill or business acumen which could be traded for cash. This may be set to improve 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’s usually the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which come into existence if they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are created by being ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a particular 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 in that it is possible to duplicate a unit of currency thereby causing inflation or altering the value 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 is made whereby using specialist hardware and software they ensure 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 a great deal 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 being an incentive to help keep maintaining the network, thus is digital currency created. Since it can take anything from several days to years for an individual to successfully mine a coin groups of users combine their resources into a mining ‘pool’, utilizing the joint processing power of these computers to mine coins more quickly.
HunterCoin the overall 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 very first time helps it be a manual one and with no need for expensive hardware. Using strategy, time and teamwork, players venture out onto a map in search of 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 worthiness of any coins deposited by players visit 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 take time to accumulate HunterCoin is an experiment that might be seen as the first video game with monetary reward built-in as a primary function.
Though still in bitcoin 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 purpose of building their own galactic empire. Players will undoubtedly 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 could 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 due to 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 test economic theories and develop responses to massive failures based on observations of how players use digital currency with real value. Additionally it is 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 example. In the mean time, players will have the means to translate hours before a screen into digital currency and dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before you quit your entire 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 game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC can’t be exchanged right to USD, one must convert it into a competent digital currency like Bitcoin. At the time of writing the exchange rate of HUC to Bitcoin (BC) is 0.00001900 while 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 equate to… $0.01 USD. This is simply not to say that as a player becomes more adept they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and maybe employ a few ‘bot’ programmes that could automatically play the game beneath the guise of another player and earn coins for them as well but I believe it’s safe to say that at the moment even efforts such as this might only realistically result in enough change for an everyday McDonalds. Unless players 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 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?