Every little boy’s (and many grown men’s) dream of making a living 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 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 in terms of their functionality and the financial infrastructure that allows them to be used 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 were forms of virtual currencies used 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 property. This was an early incarnation of a virtual currency in that it existed purely within the game though it did mirror real life 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 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 aim of gaining experience points so as to level-up their characters thereby making them more powerful and popular. 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. Using the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency because of real life 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 on earth, somewhere between Russia and Bulgaria and its own 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 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 can 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 become 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 property to other players. Examples such as Ailin will be the exception to the rule however, only a recorded 233 users making more than $5000 in ’09 2009 from Second Lifestyle.
How 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 world 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 round the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has had is to ‘gamify’ what’s 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 created 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 nothing more than intangible data it really is more susceptible 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’s made whereby with the aid of specialist hardware and software they ensure that data is not tampered with. This is a computerized process for miner’s software albeit an exceptionally time consuming the one that involves many 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 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 right into a mining ‘pool’, utilizing the joint processing power of their computers to mine coins more quickly.
HunterCoin the game sits within such a 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 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 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 into their own digital wallet, typically an app made to make and receive digital payments. 10% of the value of any coins deposited by players go to the miners maintaining HunterCoin’s blockchain plus 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 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 for example asteroids and trading them for goods with other players with the purpose of building their very own galactic empire. Plateforme de trading 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 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 really is traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.
The future of video games?
Though it is early days 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 due to 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. Additionally it is 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 areas of personal digitial ownership for instance. In the mean time, players now have the means to translate hours in front of 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 game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC can’t be exchanged directly 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 as 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 equate to… $0.01 USD. This is not to say that as a player becomes more adept that they cannot 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 aswell but I believe it’s safe to state that at the moment even efforts like 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 casino game such as CoinHunter that’s 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 positive thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being a game any more?