Every little boy’s (and many grown men’s) dream of making a living by playing video gaming is edging closer 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) agent…
Digital currencies have already been slowly gaining in maturity both with regards to their functionality and the financial infrastructure that allows them to be utilized as a credible alternative to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin Revolution Official , the 1st 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 a lot more than 15 years. 1997’s Ultima Online was the initial notable attempt to add 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 game though it did mirror real world economics to the extent that the Ultima currency experienced inflation due to the 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 was 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 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 very own characters. In line with 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 a specialist in virtual currencies estimated that in 2002 EverQuest was the 77th richest country on the planet, somewhere between Russia and Bulgaria and its own 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 could very well be the most complete example of a virtual economy to date whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar and this can be used to buy or sell in-game goods and services could be exchanged for real life currencies via market-based exchanges. There were 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 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 will be the exception to the rule however, only 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 games has been of secondary design, the player having to proceed through non-authorised channels to exchange 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 change 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 had is to ‘gamify’ what’s usually the rather technical and automated process of creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies that come into existence if 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 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 really is more prone 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 every transaction that’s made whereby using 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 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 quicker.
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 procedure for mining digital currency and for the 1st 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 on the market 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 worthiness of any coins deposited by players go to 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 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 goal of building their very own galactic empire. Players will undoubtedly 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 sites. DogeCoin will also be currency of in-game trade between players and the means 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 games?
Though it is early days regarding quality the release of HunterCoin and VoidSpace is 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 because of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model areas of human behaviour to real world outbreaks. It may be surmised that eventually in-game virtual economies could 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 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 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 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 as 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 account would mean… $0.01 USD. This is simply 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 under the guise of another player and earn coins for them as well but I believe it’s safe to say 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 good thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being a game any more?