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The Potential and Reality of Cryptocurrency in Video Gaming

Cryptocurrency promises to change the world, but it might start with games. The ubiquity of microtransactions in modern video games makes the industry ripe for a crypto insurgence. With gamers spending an average of $85 each on the (free-to-play) game Fortnite, generating $300 million a month for the game’s creators, cryptocurrency luminaries are looking hungrily for a way to get them to do it using their tech.

Probably the most obvious way for cryptocurrency to slot into the games industry as it stands is as a replacement for traditional card-based online transactions. Developers could end their dependence on external payment mechanisms by creating their own, entirely new online currencies, which players would then use to buy gear and cosmetics, both from each other and the devs. It would mean an added degree of control for the developer and, perhaps most enticingly, an end to the vagaries of regional pricing, with the price of everything being measured in the game’s own currency. Some startups even envision a world where the game pays like a job, raising $2 million for a system which rewards players with actual cryptocurrency for in-game deeds.

On the other side of the equation, there’s the potential to make those ephemeral in-game items a lot more concrete using the blockchain, the tech that powers cryptocurrencies. Players’ gear could be indelibly recorded on the blockchain, protecting it from erasure by fickle devs or the technical vicissitudes of the game’s servers. It also creates the possibility of an entire ecosystem of item-sharing between completely different games. Relying on the blockchain creates space for players to share and trade their items across entirely different gameworlds, even entirely different developers. Items could take on form and value outside the games for which they were originally made, almost like physical goods.

That’s not to say the future of crypto in games is all but assured. The tech still has its share of kinks, and some of them aren’t going anywhere. The delay between a transaction and taking place and actually being registered on the blockchain is still about 10 minutes, and that’s by design. It’s a delay that’s here to stay unless someone revolutionises the process. A bitter pill for gamers who are used to instant transactions to swallow. In terms of less permanent flaws, there’s the recent news of a blockchain ‘hack’, which has caused quite a stir despite the assurances of some experts that the story might have been over egged even though some experts point out the story isn’t quite as sensational as it might initially seem. It’s certainly not great PR for the technology.

Cryptocurrency continues to promise the moon and shoot for the stars in all spheres, and gaming’s no exception. It’s absolutely true that the tech could change the face of the gaming industry if it ever saw widespread adoption by the EAs and Ubisofts of the world, but the truth is that right now the really exciting experimentation is happening at start-ups and smaller companies. In a few years’ time, we might be making our livings with a gamepad in hand, but for now the future is still all horizon.

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