Every little boy’s (and several grown men’s) dream of earning money 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 already 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 very first and most well known 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 incorporate 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 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 as a result of the overall game mechanics which ensured that there was 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 even though it was prohibited by the game’s designer to also sell virtual items 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 sought after. These characters would then be sold on eBay to Western gamers who have been unwilling or unable to devote the hours to level-up their own characters. In line with the calculated exchange rate of EverQuest’s currency as a result 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 within Russia and Bulgaria and its GDP per capita was higher than the People’s Republic of China and India.

Launched in worldoftechnicalanalysis.com and having reached 1 million regular users by 2014, Second Life could very well be the most complete exemplory case of a virtual economy up to now whereby it’s virtual currency, the Linden Dollar that can be used to buy or sell in-game goods and services could 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 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 1st 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, just a recorded 233 users making a lot more than $5000 in ’09 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 player having to proceed through non-authorised channels to switch their virtual booty or they having 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 gaming being built from the bottom up round the ‘plumbing’ of recognised digital currency platforms. The approach that HunterCoin has had is to ‘gamify’ what’s typically the rather technical and automated process of creating digital currency. Unlike real life currencies which come into existence if they are printed by a Central bank, digital currencies are created when you are ‘mined’ by users. The underlying source code of a specific digital currency which 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 only intangible data it 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 worthiness of a transaction after it’s been made for personal gain. To ensure this does not happen the blockchain is ‘policed’ by volunteers or ‘miners’ who test the validity of every transaction that’s made whereby with the aid of specialist hardware and software they ensure that data is not tampered with. This is an automatic process for miner’s software albeit an extremely 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 being an incentive to help keep maintaining the network, thus is digital currency created. Since 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’, using the joint processing power of their computers to mine coins more quickly.

HunterCoin the overall game sits within such a blockchain for an electronic currency also known as HunterCoin. The act of playing the overall game replaces the automated process of mining digital currency and for the first 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 with their base (other teams are on the market attempting to stop them and steal their coins) they are able to 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 worthiness 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. As 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 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 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 means 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 with regards to 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 ways to model the outbreak of epidemics because 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 test 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 regions of personal digitial ownership for example. In the mean time, players will have the means to translate hours before a screen into digital currency and then 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 can’t be exchanged right to USD, one must convert it into a competent 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 equate to… $0.01 USD. This is not to say that as a new player becomes more adept they cannot 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 aswell but I believe it’s safe to say that at the moment even efforts like this might only realistically bring about enough change for a daily McDonalds. Unless players are willing to submit to intrusive in-game advertising, share personal data or join a casino game such as CoinHunter that is 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 perhaps this is a positive thing, because surely if you receives a commission for something it stops being truly a game any more?

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