Every little boy’s (and several 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 instead of virtual princesses or gold stars point towards another where one’s ranking on a scoreboard could 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 with regards to their functionality and the financial infrastructure that allows them to be used as a credible option to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most popular of the crypto-currencies was created 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 real estate. This was an early incarnation of a virtual currency for the reason that it existed purely within the 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 though it had been prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual items 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 to be able to level-up their characters thereby making them better 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 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 an expert 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 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 is often used to buy or sell in-game goods and services could 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 could actually design, promote and sell content that 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 for example Ailin will be the exception to the rule however, just a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Life activities.
How exactly 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 ball player having to go through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they needing to possess a degree of real life creative skill or business acumen that could be traded for cash. This could be set to change with the advent of video games being built from the bottom up round the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has taken is to ‘gamify’ what’s usually the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies that come into existence if 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 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 value of a transaction after it has been made for personal gain. To ensure this will not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of every transaction that’s made whereby with the aid of specialist hardware and software they make sure that data is not tampered with. This is an automatic process for miner’s software albeit an exceptionally time consuming one which involves many 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 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 sets of users combine their resources into a mining ‘pool’, using 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 known as HunterCoin. Bitcoin Revolution 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 without the 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 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 to 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. While the game graphics are basic and significant rewards take time to accumulate HunterCoin can be 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 for example asteroids and trading them for goods with other players with the purpose of building their very 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 sites. DogeCoin may also be currency of in-game trade between players and the means to make in-game purchases. Like HunterCoin, DogeCoin is really a legitimate and fully functioning digital currency and like HunterCoin it can be traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video gaming?
Though it is start with regards 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 ways to model the outbreak of epidemics due to how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model aspects of human behaviour to real life outbreaks. It may be surmised that eventually in-game virtual economies could 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 that 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 methods 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 that 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 right into a more established digital currency like Bitcoin. During 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 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 state that right now even efforts like this might only realistically bring about enough change for a daily 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 really is improbable that rewards are ever likely 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?