Every little boy’s (and many grown men’s) dream of earning money by playing video gaming 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 a future where one’s ranking on a scoreboard could be rewarded in dollars, and sterling, euros and yen.
coincapcentral of the millionaire (virtual) agent…
Digital currencies have already been slowly gaining in maturity both in terms of their functionality and the financial infrastructure that enables them to be utilized as a credible option to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most well known of the crypto-currencies was made 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 add a large scale virtual economy in a casino game. Players 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 world economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation because of the game mechanics which ensured that there is 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 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 devote the hours to level-up their own characters. Based on the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency because of the real world trading that took place 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 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 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 may be used to get or sell in-game goods and services can be exchanged for real world 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 turn into a marketplace where players and businesses alike could actually design, promote and sell content they created. Real estate was an especially 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 real estate to other players. Examples such as for example Ailin are the exception to the rule however, just a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Lifestyle.
How to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…
To date, the opportunity to generate non-virtual cash in video gaming has been of secondary design, the 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 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 is usually the rather technical and automated process of creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies that come into existence when they are printed by way of a Central bank, digital currencies are created when you are ‘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 really is more susceptible to fraud than physical currency for the reason that it is possible 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 make sure this will not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of each transaction that is made whereby using 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 extremely 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 as an incentive to keep maintaining the network, thus is digital currency created. Since it may take anything from several days to years for a person to successfully mine a coin groups of users combine their resources into a mining ‘pool’, using the joint processing power of their 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 helps it be a manual one and without the 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 on the market 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 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 plus 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 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 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 more established type 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 means to make in-game purchases. Like HunterCoin, DogeCoin is a legitimate and fully functioning digital currency and like HunterCoin it really is 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 is an interesting indication of what may be the next evolution for games. MMORPG’s are currently being considered as ways 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. It is also 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 in front of 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 overall game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC can’t be exchanged directly 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 to USD, before any transaction fees were taken into consideration would mean… $0.01 USD. This is simply not to say that as a new player becomes more adept that they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and perhaps hire a few ‘bot’ programmes that would automatically play the game beneath the guise of another player and earn coins for them as well but I think it’s safe to state that right now even efforts like this might only realistically bring about enough change for an everyday McDonalds. Unless players are prepared to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a casino game such as CoinHunter that’s 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 maybe this is a good thing, because surely if you get paid for something it stops being a game any more?