Digging for victory? Bitcoin mining not the answer to developers' F2P woes
Our Mobile Gaming Mavens talk monetisation
Recently we carried a column by plugin specialist Icoplay that called on developers fed up of free-to-play to monetise using Bitcoins.
The suggestion was, as long as consumers were alerted, games could employ a plugin that makes the game mine Bitcoins in the background, generating revenue for the developers.
Reaction to such a ploy, however, hasn't been universally positive.
Toucharcade dubbed it "evil", while commentators questioned whether Apple would sanction such tactics and if consumers would be happy essentially handing over their devices to mine Bitcoins for developers.
So, we asked the Mavens:
Is coding games so they mine Bitcoins in the background a legitimate way for developers to monetise their games? Are consumers and/or Apple likely to tolerate it, and should developers even be considering it in the first place?
Eli Hodapp, Toucharcade
My biggest problem with this plugin is that the developers are flat-out selling it as something that, and I quote, "your user will never know." That point alone seems to be setting a very dangerous precedent.
iOS devices are all networked. if Bitcoin mining doesn't pan out, why not just turn your users into a giant email spam bot network?
Many of the worst free to play games are highly engineered with the monetisation compulsion loop design coming first, and the game design coming last.
In whatever horrifying Biff-with-the-Almanac future we wind up in – one where trojan Bitcoin miners become in vogue - that's only going to get worse with fun taking an even further back seat to rewarding the player for just keeping the game open.
However, as many people have pointed out, the realities of the profitability of Bitcoin mining makes this discussion entirely theoretical. In its current state, even using hardware specifically designed for Bitcoin mining, the energy cost to run said equipment is substantially more expensive than the Bitcoin yield it produces.
Mobile devices have a microscopic fraction of the computational power of dedicated Bitcoin mining rigs, so the user base you'd need actually mining Bitcoins with this plugin to turn a profit would need to be enormous.
This all goes together to create a situation that's almost too ridiculous to bother discussing as any developer with a game that has a pool of daily active users large enough to actually mine even a single Bitcoin is likely making exponentially more money via traditional monetisation methods and wouldn't bother with such a shady practice in the hopes of a best case scenario free couple hundred bucks.
Harry Holmwood, MAQL Europe
I think it's one of those ideas that sounds exciting and clever in theory, but probably isn't in reality.
Mining Bitcoins is very processor (and hence power/battery) intensive. It also gets more and more expensive over time by definition.
That said, with handsets becoming more and more powerful, but with casual users still generally seeming to favour simple 2D games (leaving huge amounts of processing power unused), maybe it will prove viable for a while after all.
John Ozimek, Dimoso
I would much rather developers put any spare computational power towards something that might actually make the world a better place, such as a cure for cancer or scientific research.
We could start by picking some worthy causes from this list of distributed computing projects on Wikipedia.
Who knows - if it was actually doing some good, maybe Apple would allow it? Unlike mining Bitcoins, which it would shut down before you could blink.
Hmm. Must not just rant. Must not just rant. Oh, stuff it.
First, the use of Bitcoins is still a currency of exchange. It's nothing to do with the economics of free-to-play and compounding these issues is really not helpful. It might make a good headline but it doesn't really help.
Bitcoins is already a currency that is surrounded by as much myth as fact and it is as yet unclear how useful it might be in the end. I understand that the value of BitCoins recently took a bit of a crash when the authorities decided to take down the SilkRoad (which itself wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue).
To be honest, I'm bored of lazy uninformed comments about free-to-plau as a concept. I accept that there are lots of people who don't like specific games or the way they might make money. Fine! Don't play them and tell people what you don't like about that game.
That's entirely reasonable; there are some I don't particularly like too. But dismissing the model in a simple-minded way is just getting boring as it has descended into a ‘he said, she said' argument.
It is entirely sensible for a designer to decide that want to sell items in the game (freemium) rather than upfront in a store they have little control over.
The Price Elasticity effect has been known about for a lot longer than freemium games. The concept moving to 'games as a service' rather than a product has also been around for a while, but I admit that's more recent.
There is good data to support this model and they don't have to be implemented cynically. The best practice continues to evolve. Just as the language we use to describe these models is evolving.
Where there is a connection is that Bitcoins and free-to-play mechanics are tools. We can choose to use them to find alternative business models. They are not incompatible or contradictory; they can be used together.
Bitcoins is just another form of currency. The trouble is that its not yet widely understood or widely accepted either by a mass market audience or most other financial institutions. It may well end up being although, personally, I doubt it as there is a lot of vested interest in the current models of cash.
Putting these two different concepts up as if they are in competition simply seems, as I said, like a crude attempt to get a headline.
Jas Purewal, Osborne Clarke
I think it's very likely that the mobile platform holders (above all, Apple) would come down on hard on this.
Firstly for business reasons: what share do they get from all this? Secondly for legal reasons: the legal status of Bitcoin is still pretty uncertain and that's why pretty much all the major global companies are watching it (and other digital currencies) carefully but not yet getting involved with it.
Thirdly for PR reasons: Bitcoin and other digital currencies are often being viewed at best with apprehension and at worst with ignorance. This does not sound promising.
Maybe the grassroots take-up of Bitcoin and other digital currencies will mean the platforms change their mind in the future, but it feels like we're a long way from that yet.
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Neal Gafter | 20:42 - 12 November 2013
The economics of this just don't work out. Bitcoin mining is only economical with specialized hardware. You'd be earning mere cents (or less) for weeks of play.
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