The internet is developing its own money independent of borders, banks and regulation. How will this affect how we play?
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Bitcoin isn't going away. Microsoft now accepts bitcoin deposits. Apple released its first bitcoin-based game for iPad and iPhone that may lead to bitcoin rewards for players. With the big boys in on the action, the crypto-currency is more real than ever.
According to Alasdair Rambaud of CardinalCommerce, “everyone thinks bitcoin is the currency of criminals." That idea is fading. Bitcoin, like any currency, only has value if people will trade something for it. The number of merchants and consumers accepting it is on the rise.
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South Korea has officially licensed professional gamers since 2000. In 2013, Canadian League of Legends player Danny “Shiphtur" Le was granted a P-1A visa from the United States. Those visas are designated for “Internationally Recognized Athletes." Video game competitions paid out over $35 million in 2014. That's a long way from the 1972 Spacewar competition at Stanford University, which awarded a one-year subscription to Rolling Stone.
Video game developers making large profits internationally are sharing a portion with the gamers. This is spurring an intense desire for players to excel. It's no longer about just having fun. This can be a job.
How can bitcoins affect this? With universal acceptance and low transaction fees, games can easily reward the players. The consumer has a choice in what to play. Why play for free when you can play a game that pays back?
Microsoft is now in position to offer bitcoin rewards to Call of Duty competitors. Competitors can put money in the pot with the winner taking all, minus a small rake for Microsoft.
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A major shift in handheld games recently hasn't been the quality. In fact, blocky 8-bit graphics are making a comeback. Most village-building games are only a repainting of the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans from 1994. The tossing of cars, pigs or grumpy avians at obstacles is much like Human Cannonball for the Atari 2600. Tetris has never gone away, only changed from block to jewels or fruit.
What has changed a lot has been the definition of “free." Sure, you can download a silly game and play it free on your phone or tablet, but in order to speed your progress or unlock the cool stuff, you need to pay. That's how free games make money, 99 cents or five bucks at a time.
With Apple's launch of SaruTobi, the genre is ready for the next step. Tobi is a vine-swinging monkey flying through an 8-bit jungle collecting bitcoins and power-ups. In its infant stages, the game uses fake bitcoins for in-game purchases, but developer Christian Moss plans for players to earn real ones.
“I'm hoping by working bitcoin into popular games, it can help raise public awareness and get people to start looking into the crypto-currency," he told Bitcoin Magazine. “Hopefully before Christmas we will implement some kind of real bitcoin transacting with the game."
Many bitcoin arcade games cost a tiny bit to play with the promise of a possible big payout. Handheld games are ready to be the next scratch ticket. When you're bored, grab your device and take your chances at turning a Satoshi into some real money.
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The anonymity, universality and low cost of use have made bitcoin perfect for online gambling. At least half of the bitcoin transactions take place on gambling sites. While the world's individual governments struggle to define and enforce online gaming laws, bitcoin gives them one more gray area to shed light upon.
Is gambling with bitcoin, rather than national currency, truly gambling? Is bitcoin a currency or a commodity? Perhaps the act of playing with bitcoin is no crime until one attempts to convert it into dollars, euros or something else.
Meanwhile, bitcoin gambling continues to grow. Small transaction fees and low overhead are an advantage for the sites, but the irreversible nature of a bitcoin transaction is a true blessing for them. Currency swiftly changes hands and it's done. No chargeback fraud. No risk for the operators.
Gaming sites would be wise to stay simple and operate solely in bitcoin. The US government took action against poker sites by freezing accounts and halting transactions. With no bank and no regulation, this is impossible with bitcoin gambling. Crypto-currency means safety for the operators, but gives even greater advantages to the players.
Bitcoin transactions are anonymous and yet transparent. Anyone watching the blockchain ledger knows where the money went and can see any funny business immediately. Plus, bitcoin sites typically offer a lower house cut. Chances are better for the player to win. Bettors also receive their winnings instantly. The international playing field is also leveled so from Alabama to Zimbabwe, no one is fussing over currency exchange.
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The Crypto Future
Virtual currencies like bitcoin are a natural economic reaction to the expanding world of the internet. It was only a matter of time before that place got its own form of money.
People will keep playing games of all sorts and they will play together across national lines. Bitcoin will connect them. Gambling will jump from casinos and poker to phones and flying monkeys. Money and the concept behind it will transcend banks and regulation.