Virtual Currency Games

Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of earning money by playing video games is edging closer to reality. Bitcoin Revolution Site 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) real estate agent…

Digital currencies have been slowly gaining in maturity both in terms of their functionality and the financial infrastructure that enables them to be utilized as a credible option 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 found in video games for 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 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 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 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 though it was prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual what 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 aim 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 have been unwilling or unable to put in the hours to level-up their own characters. Using the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency because of real life trading that took place 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 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 could very well be the most complete exemplory case of a virtual economy to date whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar which is often used to buy or sell in-game goods and services can 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 a decade between 2002-13, Second Life having turn into 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 an initial 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, just a recorded 233 users making more than $5000 in 2009 2009 from Second Lifestyle.

How to be paid in dollars for mining asteroids…

To date, the ability 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 having to possess a degree of real life creative skill or business acumen which could be traded for cash. This could 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 taken is to ‘gamify’ what is typically the rather technical and automated procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which come into existence when they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are created by being ‘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 prone to fraud than physical currency in that you’ll be able to duplicate a unit of currency thereby causing inflation or altering the worthiness of a transaction after it’s been made for personal gain. To make sure this does not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of each transaction that is made whereby with the aid of 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 lot of processing power from their computer. To reward a miner for verifying a transaction the blockchain releases a fresh unit of digital currency and rewards them with it as an incentive to keep maintaining the network, thus is digital currency created. Because 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’, utilizing the joint processing power of their computers to mine coins quicker.

HunterCoin the overall 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 first time makes it a manual one and without the 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 worthiness 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 gaming 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 be rewarded for mining in DogeCoin, a more established type 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 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 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 as a result 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 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. It is also a good test for the functionality and potential applications of digital currencies which have the promise of moving beyond mere vehicles of exchange and into exciting areas of personal digitial ownership for example. In the mean time, players will 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 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. At the time of 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 simply not to say that as a new player becomes more adept that they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and maybe employ a few ‘bot’ programmes that could 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 right now even efforts like this might only realistically result in enough change for an everyday McDonalds. Unless players are prepared to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a game such as CoinHunter that is built on the Bitcoin blockchain it really 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?