Every little boy’s (and many grown men’s) dream of earning money 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 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 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 created 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 in that it existed purely within the overall game though it did mirror real world economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation as a result of the overall 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 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 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 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. Using 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 in the world, somewhere between Russia and Bulgaria and its own 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 example 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 could 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 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 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 are the exception to the rule however, only a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in 2009 2009 from Second Lifestyle.
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 player having to proceed through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they needing to possess a degree of real life 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 ground up around the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has taken is to ‘gamify’ what’s typically the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies that come into existence when they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are manufactured when you are ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a particular digital currency that 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 really 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 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 every transaction that’s made whereby using specialist hardware and software they make sure 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 fresh unit of digital currency and rewards them with it being 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 sets of users combine their resources right into a mining ‘pool’, using the joint processing power of these computers to mine coins quicker.
HunterCoin the game sits within such a blockchain for a digital currency also called HunterCoin. The act of playing the overall game replaces the automated process of mining digital currency and for the very first time makes it 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 to their base (other teams are out there trying 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 worthiness 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. As the game graphics are basic and significant rewards remember to accumulate HunterCoin is an experiment that might be seen 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 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 purpose of building their own galactic empire. Players will undoubtedly 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 really 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 gaming?
Though it is start in terms of quality the release of HunterCoin and VoidSpace is 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 because of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model aspects 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 based 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 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 before a screen into digital currency and then dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before you quit your day job…
… it’s worth mentioning current exchange rates. It’s estimated 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 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 equate to… $0.01 USD. This is simply not to say that as a player becomes more adept they cannot grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and maybe 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 such as this might only realistically bring about 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 really is improbable that rewards are ever apt to be more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And maybe coincapcentral is a positive thing, because surely if you get paid for something it stops being truly a game any more?