Stream­ers are flog­ging crypto Ponzi schemes, and it seems that Twitch is pow­er­less to stop them...

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“This time it’s dif­fer­ent” – the catch­phrase of ev­ery poor fool to ever lose his life sav­ings in a spec­u­la­tive bub­ble. From Dutch Tulip Ma­nia to Beanie Ba­bies, fi­nan­cial fads have swollen and burst through­out his­tory; re­pug­nant buboes of cap­i­tal. Even when we know it’s hap­pen­ing, we can’t stop our­selves. Cryp­tocur­rency has all the hall­marks of be­ing just another bub­ble. But this time, it might re­ally be dif­fer­ent. This time it’s a lot worse.

As video game en­thu­si­asts we like to think we can shut out the lu­nacy of the wider world in our hobby, but Bit­coin and its many im­i­ta­tors have shat­tered our tran­quil­lity. Video cards once used to lov­ingly ren­der imag­i­nary worlds are now ren­der­ing imag­i­nary money. Peo­ple who sim­ply want to waste their time are now suf­fer­ing at the hands of those who want to waste their sav­ings. Crypto spec­u­la­tors gam­bol, and we pay the price – we’re be­ing dig­i­tally vi­o­lated.

Mil­len­ni­als too young to re­mem­ber the Tech Wreck have had their first taste of cap­i­tal gains, and with it the prom­ise of es­cape. Es­cape from in­ter­minable shifts at the Ama­zon Ful­fil­ment Cen­tre, es­cape from the shame of rent­ing for the rest of their lives. Es­cape from the alt-coin they took a hair­cut on last week, be­cause there’s a new-and-im­proved alt-coin that the normies don’t know about yet, where they can get in on the ground floor and make a killing.

There are no lim­its to crypto. No phys­i­cal lim­its, as with a fac­tory mass pro­duc­ing col­lectable tat like those hor­rid ‘Funko Pops’. No le­gal lim­its, as with shares or bonds or fu­tures. Any joker can cre­ate his own coin, and

fu­elled by des­per­a­tion, crypto makes an end­less cas­cade of bub­bles

it will have value so long as peo­ple be­lieve in it. Crypto has no in­trin­sic value, but then nei­ther do the metal discs and plas­tic vouch­ers in your wal­let. De­cen­tralised, op­er­at­ing beyond the reach of the law, and fu­elled purely by elec­tric­ity and des­per­a­tion, crypto makes pos­si­ble an end­less cas­cade of bub­bles, prop­a­gat­ing like the crea­tures that swarm and mul­ti­ply in a drop of wa­ter.

In my last col­umn I pre­dicted that a video game com­pany would launch its own crypto, and it was sup­posed to be a joke. I pre­dicted that Chris Roberts would start sell­ing land in Star Cit­i­zen, and a few short weeks af­ter I sub­mit­ted my copy, it hap­pened. As of this writ­ing there are ru­mours cir­cu­lat­ing that Roberts & Co. will start sell­ing shares in Star Cit­i­zen it­self, of­fer­ing in­vestors a slice of hy­po­thet­i­cal fu­ture prof­its in a man­ner not un­like Tim Schafer’s Fig. It sounds too stupid to be true, es­pe­cially given their high stakes le­gal bat­tle with Cry­tek. But by the time this col­umn sees print, it may al­ready be re­al­ity.

Worst of all, we even have Twitch stream­ers flog­ging their own be­spoke crypto Ponzi schemes and boast­ing about how it’s a scam live on stream. Fleec­ing the iso­lated and vul­ner­a­ble; we’re reach­ing lev­els of chutz­pah that shouldn’t even be pos­si­ble. It bog­gles the mind that Twitch man­age­ment al­lowed this to hap­pen. Heads must roll!

I would posit that this bur­geon­ing ma­nia for pump-and-dump get­rich-quick schemes goes beyond mere greed, and beyond even a dawn­ing aware­ness of the up­com­ing era of zero real eco­nomic growth. It speaks of a col­lapse in so­cial trust. Per­haps in an ear­lier, sim­pler time, a per­son might toil his whole life safe in the knowl­edge that he would be cared for in his old age by a large ex­tended fam­ily and/or by a gov­ern­ment pen­sion. But now we are so­cially atom­ised; re­duced to ele­men­tary par­ti­cles. There may well be no pen­sion – there may be no gov­ern­ment! Not stopping at Sir­ius or the Pow­er­house Museum, our MPs might flog ev­ery last pub­lic as­set to for­eign in­vestors and then sod off to Monaco. Or to space!

It’s all con­nected. The ghoul­ish an­tics of Lo­gan Paul and PewDiePie; cal­cu­lated pub­lic­ity stunts per­pe­trated to earn fame at any price. In­famy equals in­come – they’re in­ter­linked.

But there is still hope, spring­ing from the most un­likely of places. Loot crates are a very re­cent trend, but when a AAA game es­chews this ex­ploita­tion it seems like some­thing from another era. Mon­ster Hunter World has DLC emotes and cos­tumes up the wa­zoo, but no loot crate econ­omy at all – the devs claim they’re com­pletely off lim­its. Con­sid­er­ing that this is Cap­com we’re talk­ing about, this demon­strates tremen­dous re­straint. They know bet­ter than to stran­gle their golden goose.

For other pub­lish­ers, it seems like the chicken-chok­ing will never cease...

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