Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of making a living by playing video games 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 another where one’s ranking on a scoreboard could 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 with regards to their functionality and the financial infrastructure that enables them to be used as a credible option to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most well known of the crypto-currencies was made 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 initial notable attempt to incorporate a large scale virtual economy in a game. Players could collect gold 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 due to the overall game mechanics which ensured that there was a never ending supply of 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 was prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual items to one another on eBay. In a real world phenomenon that 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 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. In line with the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency due to the real world trading that occurred 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 globe, 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 example of a virtual economy to date whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar that may be used to get 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 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 more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Lifestyle.
How exactly 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 ball player having to go through non-authorised channels to switch 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 may be set to improve with the advent of video games 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 usually the rather technical and automated process of creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which come into existence when they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are created 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 for the reason that it is possible to duplicate a unit of currency thereby causing inflation or altering the value of a transaction after it’s been made for personal gain. To ensure 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 a computerized process for miner’s software albeit an exceptionally time consuming the one that 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 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 a person 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 this type of blockchain for an electronic currency also known as HunterCoin. The act of playing the game replaces the automated procedure for mining digital currency and for the very first time helps it be 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 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 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 viewed 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 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 marketing sites. DogeCoin may 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 can be traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video games?
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 ways 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 could 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. It is also an excellent 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 example. In the mean time, players will have the methods to translate hours before a screen into digital currency and dollars, sterling, euros or yen.
But before you quit your entire 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 can’t be exchanged right 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 while 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 consideration would mean… $0.01 USD. This is not to say that as a new player becomes more adept they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and maybe 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 believe it’s safe to state that at the moment even efforts such as this might only realistically bring about enough change for a daily McDonalds. Unless coincapcentral are willing to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a casino game such as CoinHunter that’s 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 a game any more?