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 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 with regards to their functionality and the financial infrastructure that allows 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 made in 2009 2009 2009 there were 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 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 in that it existed purely within the overall game though it did mirror real life economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation as a result of the overall game mechanics which ensured that there is 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 though it had been 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 along with other such games full-time with the purpose of gaining experience points in order 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 were unwilling or unable to devote the hours to level-up their own characters. In line with the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency because of the real world trading that occurred Edward Castronova, Professor of Telecommunications at Indiana University and an expert in virtual currencies estimated that in 2002 EverQuest was the 77th richest country in the world, 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 may be 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 10 years 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 a particularly lucrative commodity to trade, in 2006 Ailin Graef became the 1st 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 will be the exception to the rule however, just a recorded 233 users making 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 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 that could be traded for cash. This may be set to improve with the advent of video gaming 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 typically the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real world currencies which come into existence if they are printed by way of a Central bank, digital currencies are manufactured by being ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a specific digital currency that 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 nothing more than 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’s 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 a computerized process for miner’s software albeit an exceptionally 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. Since it may take anything from several days to years for an individual to successfully mine a coin groups of users combine their resources into a mining ‘pool’, using the joint processing power of their computers to mine coins quicker.
HunterCoin the game sits within this type of 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 go out onto a map searching for coins and on finding some and returning safely to their base (other teams are on the market trying to stop them and steal their coins) they can 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 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 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 undoubtedly be rewarded for mining in DogeCoin, a far 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 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 early days when it comes to 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 areas of human behaviour to real world 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 predicated 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 regions of personal digitial ownership for example. In Bitcoin Era , players now 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 just one 1.005 HunterCoin (HUC) for joining HunterCoin the game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC cannot 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 consideration would equate to… $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 maybe employ a few ‘bot’ programmes that would 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 a daily McDonalds. Unless players are prepared to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a game such as CoinHunter that’s built on the Bitcoin blockchain it is improbable that rewards are ever likely to be more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And perhaps this is a positive thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being truly a game any more?