​Image: BitQuest

These Chilean Developers Want to Give You Bitcoin for Playing Minecraft

“Freemium” games are dead, they say—and they're giving away 1 BTC to back it up.

Dec 12 2014, 10:00am

​Image: BitQuest

If you're a Minecraft player, it sounds like the deal of the century: spend your time building stuff and making virtual friends, and you can win Bitcoin, the e-currency of the modern era.

Let me introduce you to Mego, a little video game company from Chile dedicated to developing apps for smart phones, like "Laura's Case," which was built for the Chilean FBI in order to attract new recruits, or "Escape from Montegrande," which looks like the classic SkiFree for Windows, but on acid.

Mego's latest experiment is called BitQuest, a plan to build a whole economy based on Minecraft and Bitcoin. It's been running for the last two weeks.

"Every game has an economy, like the gold you find in Diablo or the cherry you win in Candy Crush, but what can you do with that virtual money? Spend it on the same game. What happened if you win money inside a game and you are allowed to spend it in real life?" Cristian González, one of the heads of Mego, told me via Skype. "It's an experiment on the future in games. There is no way back."

What certainly has already happened, is gamers around the world getting real money for items that only exist in a game. The most notorious case is World of Warcaft, which some treat like a business: collecting gold and props for the sole purpose of reselling them.

That kind of secondary market is "inevitable," says Cristian, because of the way the game is designed—collecting gold and props the normal way takes time, and some players would rather pay cash than spend hours battling orcs. He hopes BitQuest will be different. "What we are trying to do is create a free money trade in Minecraft," he said. "People are going to decide what to do with it. The time for a free virtual world economy has come."

The time for a free virtual world economy has come

Until now, two weeks after they launched the game on Reddit, Mego has already given 0.2 BTC to the 1200 users registered in BitQuest in the form of an in-game gem called Emerald. As Mego says on its website: "You can mine it or exchange it for other elements, just like currency. You can buy food, armor or even enchanted weapons, it's up to you. Each Emerald is worth 1 BIT. To access your Bits you first go to the BANK at spawn and deposit your Emeralds into the enchanted chests (our ATMs in the server)."

The money to fund the experiment came from donations. The company is also working with Xapo, a company that is creating a Bitcoin wallet. Xapo gave them early access to a tool that make transactions easier and secure.

In two weeks, the plan is to relaunch BitQuest by giving away 1 BTC, worth around $350 at the time of writing, through a contest to build the best house in the server. "We need more landmarks in the city. With the contest we can make the users not only kill each other in the arenas, but also start to develop things, which is an important part of Minecraft."

The contest will be judged by Archdaily, a Chilean website that has become the most visited architecture website in the English speaking world.

The reward for the virtual competition is actually on par with awards for architecture students, says David Basulto, architect, co founder and editor in chief of Archdaily. He imagines that these builders could one day be in high demand.

"Who will be the first movers to bring architecture, as we know it today, to Minecraft?" Basulto said. "There are people with big fortunes, and those people are going to need to hire architects for their Minecraft houses."

Meanwhile, Cristian is working on making BitQuest an attractive place for users to spend their Emerald, even though it is possible to convert it to money that can be spent elsewhere.

That means fighting arenas and a market for being paid to build roads, as well as the "block market," where players can buy different construction materials.

"To developers like us, this is a new paradigm. If people can spend money outside our Minecraft server, we need to keep them there, make it more fun," he said. "People already know that the 'pay to win' games are boring."