Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of making a living 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 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) 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 used as a credible alternative to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the very first and most popular of the crypto-currencies was created in 2009 2009 2009 there have been forms of virtual currencies used in video games for more than 15 years. 1997’s Ultima Online was the first notable attempt to incorporate 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 incarnation of a virtual currency for the reason that it existed purely within the overall game though it did mirror real world 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 better and sought after. These characters would then be in love with eBay to Western gamers who have been unwilling or unable to devote the hours to level-up their own characters. In line with the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency due to real life 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 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 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 they created. Bitcoin Era 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, just a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in 2009 2009 from Second Life activities.
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 proceed through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they having to possess a degree of real world creative skill or business acumen that could be traded for cash. This may be set to change with the advent of video games being built from the ground up round the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has taken is to ‘gamify’ what is usually the rather technical and automated process of creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which 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 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 only intangible data it is more prone to fraud than physical currency for the reason 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 has not been tampered with. This is a computerized process for miner’s software albeit an extremely time consuming one which involves lots 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. Because it can 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 their computers to mine coins quicker.
HunterCoin the game sits within such a blockchain for a digital currency also known as 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 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 worthiness of any coins deposited by players visit 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 remember 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 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 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 means to make in-game purchases. Like HunterCoin, DogeCoin is really a legitimate and fully functioning digital currency and like HunterCoin it might be traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video games?
Though it is early days in terms of 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 because of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model areas of human behaviour to real life 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 predicated 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 instance. In the mean time, players will have the means to translate hours in front of 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 1 1.005 HunterCoin (HUC) for joining HunterCoin the overall game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC can’t be exchanged right to USD, one must convert it right into a competent 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 not to say that as a player becomes more adept they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and perhaps employ a few ‘bot’ programmes that would automatically play the game under the guise of another player and earn coins for them aswell but I think it’s safe to say that right now even efforts such as this might only realistically result in enough change for a daily 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 really is improbable that rewards are ever apt to be more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And maybe this is a good thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being truly a game any more?