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 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…
Digital currencies have already 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 very first and most popular 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 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 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 overall game mechanics which ensured that there was a never ending way to obtain 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 one another on eBay. In a genuine world phenomenon which was entertainingly explored in Neal Stephenson’s 2011 novel Reamde, Chinese gamers or ‘gold farmers’ were employed to play EverQuest and other such games full-time with the purpose of gaining experience points to be able to level-up their characters thereby making them more powerful and popular. These characters would then be in love with eBay to Western gamers who were unwilling or unable to put in the hours to level-up their very own characters. In line with the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency as a result 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 on the globe, somewhere within Russia and Bulgaria and its GDP per capita was greater 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 can be used to buy 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 a decade between 2002-13, Second Life having turn into a marketplace where players and businesses alike were able to design, promote and sell content that they created. Real estate was an especially 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 property to other players. Examples such as for example 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 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 go through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they needing to possess a degree of real world creative skill or business acumen which could be traded for cash. This may be set to change 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 taken is to ‘gamify’ what is typically the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which come into existence if they are printed by way of a Central bank, digital currencies are created 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 prone to fraud than physical currency in 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 does not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of every transaction that’s 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 extremely time consuming the one that involves plenty 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 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 known as HunterCoin. The act of playing the game replaces the automated procedure for mining digital currency and for the 1st time makes it a manual one and with no 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 to their base (other teams are out there trying to stop them and steal their coins) they can 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 whenever 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 seen as the first video game 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 purpose of building their own galactic empire. Players will be rewarded for mining in DogeCoin, a more established type of digital currency that is currently used widely for micro-payments on various social media sites. DogeCoin may 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 is usually traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video games?
Though it is start with regard 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 being considered as methods to model the outbreak of epidemics as a result of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model areas of human behaviour to real life 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 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 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 means to translate hours in front of a screen into digital currency and dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before coincapcentral 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 can’t be exchanged directly to USD, one must convert it right 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 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 maybe hire a few ‘bot’ programmes that could 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 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 casino 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 maybe this is a positive thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being a game any more?