Virtual Currency Games

Every little boy’s (and many grown men’s) dream of making a living by playing video games is edging closer 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) agent…

Digital currencies have been slowly gaining in maturity both in terms of their functionality and the financial infrastructure that enables them to be used as a credible alternative to non-virtual fiat currency. Though Bitcoin, the 1st and most well known 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 property. This was an early incarnation of a virtual currency for the reason 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 is a never ending way to obtain 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 and other such games full-time with the aim of gaining experience points in order 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 put in the hours to level-up their very own characters. Based on the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency due to real life 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 earth, 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 example of a virtual economy up to now whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar which is often used to get or sell in-game goods and services could be exchanged for real life currencies via market-based exchanges. There have been a recorded $3.2 billion in-game transactions of virtual goods in the a decade 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 an especially 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 property to other players. Examples such as Ailin are the exception to the rule however, just a recorded 233 users making more than $5000 in 2009 2009 from Second Life activities.

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 player having to proceed through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they needing to possess a degree of real world 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 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 procedure for creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which come into existence if 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 which 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 only intangible data it is more prone to fraud than physical currency for the reason 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 ensure this will not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of each transaction that’s made whereby using specialist hardware and software they make sure that data has not been tampered with. This is a computerized process for miner’s software albeit an exceptionally time consuming the one that involves lots 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 a person 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 this type of blockchain for a digital currency also called HunterCoin. The act of playing the game replaces the automated procedure for mining digital currency and for the first time makes it a manual one and with no 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 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 designed to make and receive digital payments. 10% of the value of any coins deposited by players visit the miners maintaining HunterCoin’s blockchain and also 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 remember to accumulate HunterCoin can be 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 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 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 far more established form of digital currency which 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 usually is traded for both digital and real fiat currencies on exchanges like Poloniex.

The future of video games?

Though it is start with regards to 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 as a result of how player’s reactions to an unintended plague mirrored recorded hard-to-model aspects 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 based on observations of how players use digital currency with real value. Additionally it is 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 regions of personal digitial ownership for example. In the mean time, players will have the methods to translate hours before a screen into digital currency and then 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 overall game in 1 day’s play. Currently HUC can’t be exchanged directly to USD, one must convert it right 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 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 that they could not grow their team of virtual CoinHunters and maybe hire 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 right now even efforts such as this might only realistically bring about enough change for an everyday 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 a lot more than micro-payments for the casual gamer. And maybe Bitcoin Era Site is a positive thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being truly a game any more?