Funny things happen when you start attaching real-world value to in-game play. It’s a concept being explored by MEGO Games, a Chilean outfit specialising in integrating Bitcoin directly into games.

Earning cryptocurrency while you play is a relatively new concept. But very quickly, multiple versions of this idea have been realised. We covered cryptos in gaming and esports a while back in this guide:

A Guide to Gaming and Esports Cryptocurrencies
While your computer is playing basic games like Minecraft, it’s not using its hardware to its full capacity. In fact, games rarely do these days. Workstation tasks like video editing and transcoding are needed to really push hardware.

So while it’s not doing much, it may as well be mining Bitcoin, right?

That’s the philosophy behind many of these systems. With Minecraft, the similarities are obvious. You mine in-game, and you’re effectively mining in the real world.

MEGO takes a bit of a different approach, however. Its server is funded through a combination of donations, sponsorships, and in-house mining. The results on player behaviour are surprising.

Cristian Gonzalez is the CEO of MEGO Games. Since 2014, he’s been running a public Minecraft server called BitQuest, and observing the results of letting players mine real-world value in the game.

To create an in-game economy, he valued one bit (the equivalent of one millionth of a Bitcoin) to equal one of Minecraft‘s emeralds. Crucial to creating an even playing field, deposits of Bitcoin weren’t allowed — but withdrawals were.

MEGO is now onto its new project, Hammercoin, which is an RPG built from the ground up with Bitcoin as its currency. But not before learning a few lessons from the BitQuest project.

According to Gonzalez, venturing into the Nether zone on his Minecraft server became quite rare. Dying in the Nether leaves all of your items there for a while. All of a sudden, people had something to lose. The materials in this dangerous area became exceedingly valuable.

“Demand was created from people afraid to go into the Nether zone,” he said.

Not only did the economy change due to the new rarity of materials, some players were acting like it wasn’t a game at all. With a solid connection between in-game labour and real-world value, people started refusing to help others unless they were paid.

“If someone wanted to build a tower, they would pay other people to help build it,” said Gonzalez. “Whereas before, they might have just done it.”

Because that’s kind of what people are there to do anyway. That’s Minecraft.

Of course, it was only a matter of time for gambling to come into play.

“You can ride horses in the game, so people would collect money together into a big prize pool, and race the horses,” according to Gonzalez. “The winner of the race would get the pool.”

Though the players seemed to stop short of gambling amongst the spectators on who would win.

Unsurprisingly, Gonzalez sees the whole experiment as a fundamental shift in how games will be played. But as the head of a gaming cryptocurrency, he’s paid to think that way.

Minecraft pirate bay
“I see it as this situation in which Pay to Win has become Win to Pay,” he told us.

Certainly it’s an interesting time, when you can actually gain value for playing a game — like one of those ridiculous “Earn money while playing!” spam ads. Undoubtedly the majority of these platforms will be faring a lot better than you, as they use your graphics card’s cycles to mine away. But BitQuest, which has recently released its 2.0, seems to be more experiment than cash cow.

Either way, it doesn’t make the change in player behaviors any less interesting. And it’s surely just the beginning.