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 instead of virtual princesses or gold stars point towards a future 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 in terms of their functionality and the financial infrastructure that allows them to be utilized as a credible alternative to non-virtual fiat currency. Though bitcoin , the very first and most well known of the crypto-currencies was made in 2009 2009 2009 there were forms of virtual currencies used 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 coins by undertaking quests, battling monsters and finding treasure and spend these on armour, weapons or real estate. This was an early on incarnation of a virtual currency in 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 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 even though it was prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual items to one another on eBay. In a genuine 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 to be able to level-up their characters thereby making them more powerful and sought after. These characters would then be sold on eBay to Western gamers who were unwilling or unable to put in the hours to level-up their own characters. Based on 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 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 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 get or sell in-game goods and services could be exchanged for real world 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 could actually 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 property to other players. Examples such as for example Ailin will be the exception to the rule however, only a recorded 233 users making more than $5000 in 2009 2009 from Second Lifestyle.

How exactly to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…

To date, the ability to generate non-virtual cash in video games has been of secondary design, the 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 change with the advent of video games being built from the ground up around 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 created by being ‘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 is more prone to fraud than physical currency in that it is possible to duplicate a unit of currency thereby causing inflation or altering the worthiness of a transaction after it has 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’s made whereby with the aid of 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 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 being an incentive to help 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’, utilizing the joint processing power of these computers to mine coins more quickly.

HunterCoin the overall game sits within this type of blockchain for a digital 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 go out onto a map searching for coins and on finding some and returning safely with their base (other teams are on the market attempting to stop them and steal their coins) they can cash out their coins by depositing them to 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 when 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 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 set 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 purpose of building their own galactic empire. Players 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 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 is usually 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 could be surmised that eventually in-game virtual economies could possibly be used as models to check economic theories and develop responses to massive failures based 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 regions of personal digitial ownership for instance. In the mean time, players now have the methods 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 just one 1.005 HunterCoin (HUC) for joining HunterCoin the 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. At the time of 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 consideration would mean… $0.01 USD. This is simply not to say that as a player becomes more adept they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and perhaps hire a few ‘bot’ programmes that could automatically play the game under the guise of another player and earn coins for them as well but I think it’s safe to say that right now even efforts like 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 game such as CoinHunter that’s 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 perhaps this is a good thing, because surely if you get paid for something it stops being truly a game any more?

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