To many investors, it is still inconceivable that anyone would pay cash for code. Here’s how it happened — and why crypto is likely here to stay.
In May 2012, Autumn Radtke, chief executive of the fledgling virtual currency exchange, First Meta, gave a remarkable talk on how otherwise intelligent people began reaching for their wallets to shell out for code.
The event where she spoke had nothing to do with Wall Street or investing. Rather, it was a game industry summit in Suntec City, Singapore. Walking the audience through what she warned would, for most, be an “exotic” journey, Radtke explained how the trading of virtual assets didn’t spring from a garage in Silicon Valley or a basement on the East Coast, but from one of the earliest metaverses: online games played by thousands, even millions, of people — known as “massively multiplayer online games.” She described how trading virtual assets began in the 1990s with players’ game accounts as they competed for “wealth, access, credentials, status inside a game.”
What was fascinating, Radtke said, is that as in-game economies rapidly evolved, so did the first type of “real money trading” for virtual assets. How did this work? Players would pay cash outside the game in bilateral transactions, in exchange for digital objects inside the game, such as gold, or a plot of land, or a magic sword.
But as soon as multiplayer games took off, something else happened. “The black market arose almost immediately,” Radtke said. “Literally, there was no lag. As soon as there were virtual currencies, there were people trading them.”
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