Every little boy’s (and many grown men’s) dream of earning money by playing video gaming 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 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) real estate agent…
Digital currencies have been slowly gaining in maturity both in terms of their functionality and the financial infrastructure that enables them to be utilized as a credible alternative to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most popular of the crypto-currencies was created 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 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 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 had been prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual what to each other 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 purpose of gaining experience points so as to level-up their characters thereby making them more powerful and sought after. These characters would then be in love with eBay to Western gamers who were unwilling or unable to devote the hours to level-up their very own characters. Using the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency due to 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 the planet, somewhere between 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 is perhaps the most complete exemplory case of a virtual economy to date whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar that can be used to get 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 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 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 Ailin are 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 exactly to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…
To date, the ability 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 could be set to change with the advent of video games being built from the ground up around the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has had is to ‘gamify’ what’s typically the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real world currencies that come into existence when they are printed by way of a Central bank, digital currencies are manufactured when you are ‘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 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 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 is not tampered with. This is an automatic process for miner’s software albeit an extremely time consuming one which 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 as an incentive to help 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 groups of users combine their resources right into a mining ‘pool’, utilizing the joint processing power of these computers to mine coins quicker.
HunterCoin the game sits within this type of blockchain for an electronic currency also known as HunterCoin. The act of playing the game replaces the automated process of 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 venture out onto a map searching for coins and on finding some and returning safely to 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 when 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 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 form of digital currency that 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 start regarding quality the release of HunterCoin and VoidSpace is an interesting indication of what may 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 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. 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 areas 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 then dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before coincapcentral quit your 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 overall game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC cannot 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 then 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 perhaps hire 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 think it’s safe to state that at the moment even efforts such as this might only realistically result in 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 is built on the Bitcoin blockchain it is improbable that rewards are ever likely to be a lot more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And perhaps this is a good thing, because surely if you get paid for something it stops being truly a game any more?